Wednesday, July 27, 2011

IAD 2011 In Planning Stages!

Just wanted to throw out a reminder that NYC's 2nd Annual Intersex Awareness Day events will be happening in late October! Activists present, locations, dates, and times are all TBA. But the point is that it's happening, and I'm exciteddddddd!

I think this merits some posi jumps, no? (Photo from



Sunday, July 17, 2011

"You're So LUCKY!"

My form of intersex is AIS (androgen insensitivity), more specifically CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity). Like other CAIS and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity) individuals, I never developed a uterus or other “female” internal reproductive organs. Upon learning that I subsequently can’t menstruate or give birth, a lot of peoples’ reactions are, “Oh man, you are SO *lucky*!”

We need to talk about this.

First and foremost, let’s put it out there – I agree that for me personally, for this Claudia, that statement is true in part. I’ve rarely expressed interest in hanging around little kids and playing games with them, and I never wanted to create a family with a partner that included kids. I was not exceptionally pain-tolerant when I was younger and was happy not to go through every month what looked like a very uncomfortable experience at best. That you’re-so-LUCKY! sentiment, in this context, makes me smile and laugh and agree with my conversation partners.

But that’s not where these conversations (should) end.

It’s important to recognize some stuff. First off, there are lots of intersex individuals out there that LOVE kids and have wanted to raise children of their own for a long time, that may be very upset by the fact that they cannot have children. There are intersex individuals that want to have had that experience – to know what it’s like to menstruate, to be able to do that. (At various points in my life, I’ve been a part of that latter category, and even am sometimes now, though really infrequently.) What was entirely appropriate for me – “You totally dodged a bullet with this awful period/childbearing thing, amirite?” – may be the exact opposite of how some intersex individuals may feel about these issues. It may hurt.

This issue is further complicated by the fact that some intersex individuals that WERE biologically able to have children may not be after having undergone medical procedures that essentially sterilize them. Sometimes, doctors will suggest internal sex organs be removed because they could become cancerous. While it's possible that these sex organs could become cancerous, it's not because they're from an intersex person. Non-intersex people get testicular and ovarian cancer, but doctors don't remove these healthy organs at birth because they may become cancerous in the future. This means that intersex individuals may have had internal sex organs removed with the approval/advice from parents and clinicians because they might become cancerous when, in fact, these internal sex organs are functional in terms of hormone production and/or making viable eggs or sperm, and subsequently did not constitute higher risks of getting cancer than internal sex organs of non-intersex people. It's really tragic, because in many cases, an intersex indiviudual learns that they were once reproductive, and their fertile bodies were sterilized. While I concede that not all clinicians – or perhaps even a majority of clinicians – perceive these sterilization surgeries in this way, they do not make sense except in the context of eugenics. At best, these surgeries are extremely misguided and do not allow intersex individuals consent. Even if one was to accept that the parents of intersex children should be allowed to make consent by proxy for their children when they’re too young to do so themselves (something I strongly oppose), these parents couldn’t truly give consent in these cases anyway, since they were given misinformation, perhaps deliberately. In short, stating how lucky someone is not to have to go through the pain of childbearing, or having to worry about their hypothetical kids running around causing havoc, may seem like a cruel statement to someone who not only wanted to do that, but was actually ABLE to do that until these abilities were robbed of them when it was not their choice.

Perhaps the most important thing to discuss here is that absence of pain due to menstruation or childbirth does not mean absence of pain, in general. Many, if not most, intersex individuals are shuttled through the medical system, are treated like they are sick, are treated like their bodies are fucked up and freakish and vaguely shameful, are subjected to a variety of appointments and testing and procedures that cause pain at the physical, psychological, and emotional levels. When people have said to me, “You’re so lucky you miss out on all that PAIN – auuuugh, gawd!” I am reminded of these things that I have experienced, that I did not ask for, and that I didn’t know that I could say, “NO!” to. I feel angry, because by saying, “You have no pain to suffer through!” it erases my experiences, many of which were in fact, painful, albeit in different ways than menstrual or childbirth pain. It makes it feel like I have gotten away with something by virtue of my conversation partners’ bodies’ abilities to do these things when my body does not, when I also know that by virtue of having my body, I have gone through pain that my conversation partners are likely unaware of. Just because some intersex peoples’ bodies do not menstruate or are reproductive or give birth doesn’t mean that our bodies have not suffered pain.

Lastly, I have come to find statements like these increasingly more interesting as I’ve gotten older. “You’re so lucky you can’t do this” = there’s an assumption that my body is “supposed” to be able to menstruate, is “supposed” to be able to be reproductive and specifically bear children in my case. It is assumed that because I outwardly look female, that I must be able to do actions X, Y, and Z. The fact that I can’t do them means that I’ve gotten away with something. I’m “lucky.” But the truth of the matter is that I’m not lucky. My body was never supposed to be able to do this in the first place. My body was ALWAYS that of an AIS individual, a CAIS individual. As a fetus, I wasn’t going to turn into a girl. I wasn’t going to turn into a boy. I was going to turn into me, the whole time. To me, statements with the how-are-you-lucky-enough-to-have-gotten-away-with-this sentiment are akin to me being told by a bird that I’m so lucky I don’t have to fly around for long periods of time during migrations, or being told by a trout I’m so lucky I don’t have to try swimming upstream because it’s difficult. What the hell are you critters talking about?! I’m not a bird and never was, and never will be. I’m not a trout and never was, and never will be. I didn’t get away with not being able to do those things – I was never supposed to be able to do them in the first place, because I’m ME. Saying that I’m lucky not to do something it’s assumed my body “should be” able to do erases the realness of my intersex body. My body is only supposed to do what it was always supposed to do, and that includes not menstruating or being reproductive or bearing children. MY BODY IS ALREADY DOING WHAT IT WAS SUPPOSED TO DO ALL ALONG. The problem is in the perception that intersex bodies are supposed to be like or do things that male- and female-defined bodies do. But not all male bodies and not all female bodies do the same things anyway. Why would we assume that intersex bodies will all work the same way as all male and/or female bodies? Would we assume that all intersex bodies, with our many variations, work the same way as all other intersex bodies, too? These perceptions need to change.

So if you are having a conversation with intersex individuals and what some intersex bodies can and cannot do, it is worth considering whether or not to frame things in the context of luck and beating the biological system. Because it’s not like that for many of us.


It was strange.

To be back in that place, for entirely different reasons and with an entirely different reference point for who I am, what intersex is, and my relationship with intersex. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, and I guess I am a little surprised in some ways, and not surprised at all in others, but what I am surprised about isn’t necessarily what I really expected.

Let me explain.

I am talking, first of all, about Baltimore, MD. I’ve been to Baltimore several times, since I was about 13, I guess. Although I’ve been to other places in Maryland – mostly to go to the beach with my family on summer vacations happily scrounging for tiny, tiny seashells – I’ve been to no other place more often than I have Baltimore. This is because, for several years of my life, I annually went for appointments at Johns Hopkins. You know, because I’m intersex.

Previously, I’d gone to Hershey Medical Center, from the time I was 8. It’s strange thinking about the contrast in my feelings between Hershey MC and Hopkins because I have so, so many feelings about Hopkins, and almost none about Hershey. I never really even realized that until just now. Some of my family lives in Hershey, and I’ve been there bunches of times, and it’s never bothered me once. Maybe I’d feel the tiniest bit uneasy passing HMC, but come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that I have several times (“Claudia, oh look, it’s the medical center.”), and I don’t think I really gave too much of a damn either way except to maybe purse my lips and grumble thinking about the pediatric endocrinology wing.

It’s strange, because I feel like I should have strong feelings about both of these places. In both hospitals, I had some traumatic, effed-up stuff done to me for approximately 8 years in total – principally, super-invasive, didn’t-know-I-could-not-consent-to, assumed-it-was-to-track-my-health dilation procedures, where they basically coat some cold, metal medical dildo with cold, burny medical lube and stick it inside of you to see how long your vagina is. So that they can then decide whether your vagina is of “normal length” = assessing whether or not you “need” a vaginoplasty, or a vaginal reconstruction procedure that increases the vaginal canal’s length. That's so you can have "normal sex" with your husband someday. (SPOILER: There's not a "wrong" length for your vagina to be, even if certain lengths may be more comfortable for penetrative sex. Also, I learned that I'm gay. Me getting a husband? Unlikely, at best.) I went to Hershey every 6 months for appointments. I remember having to pee in a lot of plastic cups, and being MRIed and CT scanned at least once each, but there wasn’t any tongue depressors and saying fucking “Ahhhh” (actually thinking, “AGGGGGGGH!, thatssouncomfortabbbbble!”) or listening to my heart beat and asking me how stuff was, really. I just remember having to hop up on the cold fucking metal table and all of the other cold metal and cold burny things and the dread of knowing it was going to hurt really badly, and I was going to scream and cry, and I didn’t want a grown man who could be my grandfather poking around my vagina anyway, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it because he was the doctor and he said I needed it and these checks were going to keep me healthy or make me better if I wasn’t healthy. It makes me really sad to look back and know that this perspective is entirely untrue – that these dilation procedures are not necessary, because they don’t track health, they just track whether or not your vagina is spacious enough to have “normal sex” (= accommodate a male’s penis in penetrative, male-female intercourse). This view then, is messed up because 1) these doctors are doing these procedures without giving individuals the knowledge that they can consent or NOT CONSENT to these procedures by acting like they’re medically necessary, 2) they’re not medically necessary because they tell us nothing about the individual’s health, 3) there’s a lot of different ideas about what “normal” vaginal size (and also “normal” penis size) exactly is, since there’s a lot of variation – who gets to decide?, and 4) it’s heteronormative (= holds up heterosexual standards and discounts the fact that not everyone’s heterosexual), failing to include queer experience – i.e., not everyone that’s female-bodied wants to either have sex with men and/or have penis-vagina intercourse kind of sex…there’s lots of ways to have sex and this obsession with individuals being able to do this act may be entirely not what that individual wants, anyway. Even further, not all individuals are (very) sexual – asexual individuals may not necessarily be having this kind of sex, either. I have a lot of trauma that I want to try to process and work through from these experiences. I’ve effectively healed to various degrees (and re-process and re-heal, of course) regarding many of my lived experiences surrounding intersex, but these dilation procedures are still something that I have not yet successfully had peace about. I’m hoping that I will be ready to deal more effectively with them someday.

I think it’s worth nothing here that over a decade since my last dilation procedure, I have not been able to take any steps toward emotionally healing from this, because these medical visits have been so traumatic. I just can’t think about them, even though I get flashbacks all the time in my daily life. My experience is sadly not uncommon based on testimony given by other intersex individuals who have undergone medical “treatment” that is often physically and/or emotionally damaging for a long, long time afterward. I think this says volumes about what the role of the medical community should be in terms of intersex (= nothing to do with policing and altering our bodies without our consent and doing “medical procedures” that aren’t actually medical in nature = for our health).

The point of discussing this contrast between Hershey and Hopkins, though, is that I am not largely affected being in Hershey and apparently even so much passing the medical center. Even though I had traumatic procedures happen in both of those places. If I was in that patient’s room that I had to visit in Hershey, I’m pretty sure I’d feel a freak-out coming on, but seeing the hospital itself doesn’t do much. Why is it, then, that I’ve had such strong reactions to Baltimore, to the point that I have not been back since my last dilation, up until a few days ago?

The difference is that in Hershey, I was just some kid that – for whatever reason – didn’t have a uterus, and couldn’t have a period. And also maybe had a short vagina or whatever. Short-vagina-no-uterus-no-period thing. It was probably in medical books somewhere. But I wasn’t given a name for it, and it was just something that happened sometimes, and I never wanted to bleed monthly and I expressed interest in little kids or having little kids of my own someday, so I was pretty much thrilled to hear of this multi-syllabic atypicality without a fancy science-y sounding name attached to it. Some of my classmates were just starting to get their periods when I started going to Hershey, and hearing about these experiences sounded uncomfortable at best. I thought everyone should have this magical no-uterus thing – HOORAY!

But at Hopkins, the problems really started in earnest because where it seemed I just had some innocuous-ish medical anomaly (“So I don’t have a uterus – who cares?”), it was clear that my body was more complex than that, and there actually were names after all (“I’m…intersex? Huh? Is that WHY I don’t have a uterus?”) and there were all of these psychological, emotional, and identity-based layers added on top of it – “Who the hell am I? Am I a boy or a girl? What does that even mean now? What really IS a boy or a girl if someone like me can exist? If there’s answers, who decided these things and figured them out – how’d they do it? Do I need to start dressing or acting different? Who can I go on dates with or ask to a dance – am I kind of straight AND gay either way? Am I always presenting in drag whether I wear heavy eyeliner or really big boy’s shorts? Will I be able to have “normal” sex? Am I going to be rejected by every potential love cause I’m just too fucking weird?” The list of questions went on and on.

At Hopkins, I first had to confront my identity in a whole new way, and I was angry and bitter and depressed and self-hating for a long time because I truly thought that something was deeply wrong with me and my body was one of nature’s practical jokes (“Ha, ha, humanity! Look what I can do!”) but now I had to live with that joke of a body and walk around and pretend it was totally legitimate and wasn’t freaky and horrible and was capable of being accepted and even loved maybe someday. With Hopkins, I first talked to psychologists, asking them earnestly (with discomfort) if I REALLY was REALLY a girl, and them saying yes, absolutely, no question, you’re a girl just like every girl, and no matter how many times I asked it never made me feel better because I knew if I was like every other girl, I wouldn’t be here being poked and prodded and pressured into surgery by old white men every year. (Why? My vagina’s just how it has always been – it’s normal already. And who said I’m necessarily having that kind of sex and/or with boys, anyway?) I didn’t want easy answers – I wanted a nuanced discussion. I wanted to know about variation in peoples’ identities. I wanted to know that who I was wasn’t static, that I was whoever I was, that my identities didn’t all have to match up in one of two acceptable ways. Who I later learned myself to be was in some ways actually irrelevant at that point – what I really needed to ask but didn’t know how was, how do I even start going about the process of me figuring this shit out, just wrapping my head around it enough to approach figuring out who I am in this context? Enter another decade plus of thinking and processing like crazy and agonizing a good deal about it throughout until I could really feel comfortable with my identity.

And then there were still all those fucking dilation procedures. Some of the things the clinicians wanted to talk about and ask me also got a lot more invasive (and I felt, inappropriate) than they’d been at Hershey since I was starting to get to that age where people assumed I’d be having sex any day now. I didn’t want surgeons popping in during every visit, reminding me that if I didn’t get let them hand-stitch me a brand-new, shiny vagina (like my body was an arts & crafts project or something that could be sold on Etsy afterward), I could have big problems “trying to have sex.” Despite the fact that I’d told some of them that I wasn’t READY to have sex and this was not an issue on my radar anyway, it didn’t seem to matter – still the upward inflection out of nowhere “surrrrrrgery?”, still the dilations, still my sulking and storm-cloud moods days beforehand and after each appointment clearly noted on our kitchen’s dry-erase board calendar in my mom's perfect handwriting, haunting me for the whole month. Hopkins was the period of time when I went from no-uterus to no-identity, I was a who-knows-what person – which I now know is actually anyone ever, if they are honest and everyone felt free to express themselves and their identities as they are, and that being a who-knows-what person (= I am whoever I am, and I don’t care if that deviates from societal expectations) in any sense is a fabulous, freeing existence since it allows you to be more of yourself at any time than you otherwise can, but I didn’t see the positives of doing the tough work to figure out who you are at the time.

But, yeah, so I went to Baltimore the other day.

I am dating an absolutely wonderful girl, and she is moving to Baltimore pretty soon. I visited with some of her family and one day, we took a trip out to Baltimore together. I was not sure how I would feel, if I would be triggered, if I would feel like a mess and would need to be quiet. I had vowed I never wanted to go to Baltimore ever again for a number of years, and as the years passed, that I would go maybe not never, but very rarely and only for good reasons, like to raise awareness about intersex, or to go to a conference or something.

Now I have an excellent reason to be going there, and I was both excited and nervous to see how I would react being in this place again, but for entirely different reasons. I wasn’t there, after all, to go to the hospital. I was there to just hang around a little, and NOT go to the Harbor for, like, the zillionth time. She was really supportive about the uncertainty of my feelings being in Baltimore, but even with this support, it was still scary to not completely know what would happen. I just kept thinking more or less, “Baltimore. MAN. Oh, gawd. BALTIMORE. Man.” And so on. (Also very articulately.)

Ultimately, being there wasn’t terrible. I actually had FUN, which was kind of shocking to me. I thought maybe just being anywhere, ever in Baltimore would be such a bummer that I wouldn’t be able to relax, have fun, without having an emotional meltdown knowing what this place has meant to me in the past. The historical district was really nice – I’d never been there since we’d pretty much only been to the hospital, and the nearby Bar Harbor-ish areas. As a former violin nerd, it was fun to see the Peabody Institute, and one particular church had gorgeous architecture, with some copper bits turned streaky-green from air exposure over time.

I did see the hospital, twice – once when we got into Baltimore, and once when we left it. I couldn’t not look. My head was a magnet, and I couldn’t help turning in the direction of Hopkins. I knew it was Hopkins even though we didn’t drive directly past it because of the airwalk connecting buildings over the street below. I felt triggered and scared in some ways, but more in a all-my-emotions-are-freezing-up-in-my-chest kind of way, and not in a everything-is-flooding-back-to-me-and-I’m-experiencing-everything-all-over-again kind of way, which was much preferable. I might’ve felt more triggered had I actually faced the hospital, looked at it, thought about taking the elevator all the way to pediatric endocrinology. But even then, I’m not sure it would’ve been much more. And that surprised me a little.

I think the biggest thing for me is what else I felt while I was there. I was assuming that when I hit the city limits entering Baltimore, everything would maybe fall apart, and I’d be this little girl again, terrified on the way to the place where all this trauma and shit went down. That I’d be back there, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. But that wasn’t what happened at all. Although part of me was scared, another part of me, the much more grown-up who-I-am-right-now part was like, Okay, Baltimore. We’ve been through a lot of shit, and you made my life terrible for a long time, but you know what? I’m not the same person I was back then. I know who I am, and anything that was said to me here or done to me here hasn’t prevented me from knowing who I am and not being afraid to be it. Pretty much, you didn’t and will continue not to prevent me from being who I am. I figured it out, anyway, Baltimore, despite all your shit.

It was pretty empowering.

I think some of my reactions will be more strong, maybe, if I’m really faced with the hospital. But even then, this trip was a test – and I think the results mean that I’m gonna be okay. Even if I do get triggered sometimes, I can be in Baltimore, and I still have my sense of self. Baltimore hasn’t defined me, and it hasn’t gotten me beat.

…Also, in other news I got my hand stuck in a car door, because I am very conscientious and aware of my surroundings and would never put important things, like oh, I dunno, my appendages, in unsafe places because I was too busy looking at museum buildings. NOOOOO, I’d certainly never do that. (Ha, FAIL.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday, Full Frontal Activism!

Continuing in the tradition of rainbow-cake celebrations...

I was totally taken by these adorable heart-shaped ones! <3 Awesome. Credits to

All in all, this year was a really great one in terms of activism. I've had the opportunity to discuss things with you lovely folk, begin speaking at events (and hopefully doing a lot more of that!), and meeting some other amazing intersex activists. What I am doing now is a long way from what I thought I could really do about raising intersex awareness as a confused kid in high school, and I'm so grateful to be a part of what I'm doing.

Yay activism! This blog will continue to do its part in smashing shit down, and planting flowers in its place. <333

Intersex Is Entertaining!: Baby Mama

I was pretty sickly recently when I went home to visit my parents, and was up late one night flicking through the channels. I saw Tina Fey acting in some movie I hadn't seen before, and decided to pause for a while. In this movie, Baby Mama, Fey's character Kate selects a seemingly irresponsible woman, Angie (Amy Poehler) to be her surrogate mother. Drama ensues. Throughout the movie, Kate worries a lot about her fetus's health and development (totally reasonable). One particular scene of her worrywarting to her sister Caroline (Maura Tierney), though, really caught my attention:

K: "What if the baby's a hermaphrodite?"
C: "What?"
K: "A CHICK WITH A DICK. I heard it happens to about 2% of babies."
C: "Well, that's crazy. That would mean that about 10 people from our high school were hermaphrodites."
K: "That sounds about right, actually."
C: "You can't solve your problems by worrying about them."

The conversation continues with discussions of whether 4 year old Caroline's too young to get a cell phone for her birthday, Kate's plans in helping open a new store for her work, and how radiant Kate's hair is. Ya know, things that are really relevant to intersex and stuff.

Um, also - WHAT.

I have no idea whether any baby planning books reference intersex, but if any do, it is likely very very few, considering that most experiences shared by intersex parents indicate that they'd never heard before, and at least some of them have cracked open a bably planning book. It seems bizarre, then, that Fey's character would've heard something about "hermaphrodites" in this way.

The use of the word "hermaphrodites" is also confusing. This term is still around in various forms, but is considered to be archaic and offensive to many and also biologically inaccurate for reasons that we've detailed in previous posts. Hermaphrodites refer to biological organisms, such as various species of fish, amphibians, and mollusks that have both sets of fully functioning sex organs - either at the same time, or at different times in their life cycle. Humans don't qualify in either of those respects. (Although it's worth noting that some intersex individuals may use the term "herm" ("herm hugs!," right?!) to inclusively refer to themselves and other intersex individuals, reclaiming the term.) If intersex was covered in baby planning books, it would most likely be discussed as "intersex," and not "hermphrodites." (Unfortunately, there's also a chance it would be referred to in medicalized DSD terminology, ugh. This makes me want to flip open baby planning books and see what's exactly in there.)

Intersex = chicks with dicks, huh? Hmmmm. This phrase can be offensive to many people, whether identified as intersex, transgender, transvestites, and other gender identity/presentation--fluid/non-conforming individuals, even though here it specifically refers to intersex. This again is a serious biology fail with regards to what intersex is, and the diversity of intersex variations. This also equates intersex = all about genitals, whereas intersex bodies, and the traits we recognizie as showing sex differences, are way more extensive than just external genitals. And certainly not even just internal sex organs, hormone types and levels, and chromosome types. What about body hair disribution, chest/breast development, nipple development, overall height, shoulder:waist ratios, and bone and muscle form? How we sex bodies is much more complex than just external genitalia...if this was the case, people wouldn't automatically assign sex to a person walking down the street without inspecting what's in their pants first, right? This view of intersex is too narrow.

Intersex statistics. *sigh* It's really difficult to get an accurate handle on how many intersex individuals exist in the world. Many people whose bodies conform to definitions of a particular form of intersex may not identify as intersex, and thus wouldn't count themselves in hypothetical censues of intersex individuals. Those that do identify with intersex in some capactiy may understand their intersex not as a normal, biological way of being, but have only been introduced to the "you're sick and have a medical condition" perspective on intersex, and thus may not see themselves as "really intersex," but as a male or female with an "intersex condition." Individuals that may identify as intersex in some capacity may also not want to participate in such counts of intersex individuals due to trauma from the medical establishment and/or silence within their circle of loved ones and communities, in attempts to remove themselves from intersex associations altogether. Many clinicians are also unwilling to hand over their patient records (as though we should actually be considered "patients" in the first place, ugh) for these purposes. Furthermore, some individuals that do not understand what intersex is may claim intersex identities, incorrectly thinking it is akin to a type of sexual orientation or solely a gender identity/expression, and may want to be included in counts of intersex individuals. I am very wary, then, or quoting statistics on how many intersex individuals exist, and think all statistics must be taken not with a grain of salt, but perhaps an entire shaker (or more!). The take-home message, however, in looking at these issues in obtaining demographic information on intersex individuals, is that there are likely a hell of a lot more of us than we currently recognize. Our bodies may be atypical, but we're not uncommon.

"That sounds about right, actually." --- This sentence really bugged me since, as I interpret it, considering intersex individuals may have existed in their high school was not a reveleation of, "Oh, hey! Intersex people exist pretty much everywhere! Yay, I'm more aware of this!" It sounds more like, "I remember a lot of weirdos in high school. Intersex = weird, so that pretty much fits the bill." Granted, I AM a total weirdo, but this has nothing to do with my intersex, and everything to do with me being a ridiculous person. Shame on you, Fey, for further freakifying intersex individuals. We get it enough of it from other places.

"You can't solve your problems worrying about them." --- I'm confused. Having an intersex baby = having a baby that is normal, healthy, and beautiful. How is this a problem? Why would you worry about that? Would your problems be solved if your child was not healthy and great? Is that what Kate actually wants? This statement only makes sense in the context of large-scale misunderstanding of what intersex is in many many societies and cultures. Shouldn't this sentence be referencing these skewed societal perceptions, and not the intersex individuals themselves? (A: YES.)

It gets better later in the film when out of nowhere, Kate advises someone not to read the "hermaphrodite" chapter of one of the infamous baby planning books, stating that it'll "give [them] nightmares for weeks." Nice.

All in all, I wasn't thrilled with this unnecessary jab at intersex individuals to get some cheap laughs. (*guffaw, guffaw* CHICKS WITH DICKS *slaps thigh, guffaw*) How 'bout some positive portrayals of intersex, please? 30 Rock, I'm keeping my eye on you.

Intersex and Identity: Self- and Perceived

I have been thinking about some interesting things regarding identity. Principally, how interconnected our various identities are. Each of our identities don’t exist in a vacuum, completely independent from all the others; in fact, many of our identities are built upon each other, so that it is not necessarily intuitive to describe yourself in one way while simultaneously claiming another identity that contradicts the first.

Let me explain.

Tricia, intersex activist and blogger of Intersex Unicorn, had a great post describing her sexual orientation after being asked by a reader. Her sexual orientation is, “I like girls.” Tricia explained her multiword identity by reminding us that since she identifies her sex as intersex, the use of standard terms out there wouldn’t be authentic to her. For example, lesbian didn’t feel right since it more strictly refers to a woman-identified person that is attracted to other women – Tricia didn’t feel her intersex identity matched up with this definition. Because of this, Tricia chose to express her sexual orientation as, “I like girls.”

I've also learned from accounts from intersex individuals, or in books about intersex that one’s perception of your identities may change after learning about your intersex. Casually discussing your love of sports (i.e., "They happen to be athletic!") can take on new meaning after learning about one's intersex (i.e., "They must be athletic because they're intersex. It's hormones or whatever!") A few moments before, you were just a person that liked doing something, and the fact that you liked thing thing was taken at face value. Being intersex + liking this thing, doing this thing, being this thing, whatever now just serves to reinforce your intersex. The fact that one likes, does, or is this thing isn't taken at face value - it's now perceived as a function of one's intersex.

When I think about this, I see headlines and articles of things I've read looking for the biological bases for blahblahblah or empirical reasons for being soandso or new evidence revealing why we're whosewhatsit. I think it's important to remember that there may well be biological bases for lots of things that color our self identities and our likes and dislikes. But we aren't out there trying to find the biological bases for lots of things. For example, what's the biological basis of liking blueberry muffins? There are likely biological explanations for why some individuals dislike blueberry muffins that have to do with sensory information and receptors and the genes that give rise to and control them. But at the end of the day, what does knowing where blueberry muffin dislike come from mean? What do we do with this information? Being a scientist myself, I think there is inherent value in understanding how the world works, how we work, how our bodies work. But just because we can find a biological basis for something doesn't mean that WHO WE ARE IN THAT RESPECT IS ANY LESS REAL, OR THAT IT SHOULD BE ANY LESS RESPECTED. Taken to extremes, some individuals are interested in how knowing the biological bases of something might be used to prevent people having traits that are considered undesirable, which can lead into eugenics and related scary stuff. The question then is, why are we cherrypicking what thing to investigate the biological bases for, while ignoring others? Knowing where intersex "comes from" doesn't change the fact that I'm still me, have always been me, will always be me. The point is to respect me, regardless of the minutiae of How and Why I'm Me. Additionally, focusing on biological perspectives alone is seriously limiting. Maybe some blueberry muffin haters don't eat them because they ate far too many once and became violently ill and just can't bear to stomach them again. Why someone is the way they are may be multi-facted and complex, and there isn't going to be a single "magic bullet" gene for everything that will illuminate the complexities of what it means to be a person and a biological being.

Identity is extremely complex, and I don’t feel that an individual’s many identities have to match up in a way that’s seen as intuitive or “normal” according to a culture’s mainstream views and attitudes – one’s identities just need to be authentic to that individual. Nor do I think that these identities need to be static and fixed. That being said, it is worth noting how consideration of one’s intersex shifts how that person’s other identities are constructed, described, and read by others. Many standard terms for identities are based upon the assumption of one’s biological sex as male or female, and for some of us, those assumptions simply can’t be made. How will we go about creating identities for ourselves that fit comfortably and feel authentic by accounting for our intersex? I don’t think that any such identities would need to be standardized since identity is so personal, although it’s interesting to consider that some terms could hypothetically catch on and be used in a (more-or-less) standardized way.

Although finding new ways to describe oneself can be a frustrating venture, in some ways, this could get downright fun. Let me know if you have created any identities accounting for intersex that you particularly like!

It Still Hurts. But That's Actually Okay.

It's funny. I thought that becoming an activist, in some ways, meant that by virtue of doing work to raise awareness, generate discussion, and build community, that a sticks-and-stones kind of approach to ignorance would overtake me. That I'd just be more or less immune to ignorant comments, that I could just brush it off and never think about it again because damnit, I'm helping DO SHIT about it.

This isn't true, I'm coming to find.

A few weeks ago, I was taking a summer course, and was trying to do some group work. Someone asked a question about whether an individual was male or female, and no one knew. One member of the group, in a moment of silliness, remarked that maybe they were neither since we didn't know - maybe they were a "heshe"!

Now, I have a particularly strong dislike of using terms like "heshe" and "shim," unless someone wishes to identify as those things themselves. But that's not what this was really about. This was about me just sitting there nerding out, trying to get some work done, and being shocked into remembering that my body is not quite like everyone else's, and the popular view is that this is something funny and peculiar, and acceptable to make light of when fancy strikes. This is about the fact that others laughed, oh-how-ridiculous-you-are, although the fact that I was sitting there debating whether or not to challenge this statement was proof that this heshe thing isn't a joke, and seriously misrepresents the biology of intersex individuals, transgender individuals, and others who are not sex-and/or-gender normative. That using this term morphs my very-normal-to-me body into some sort of mythical creature in the context of the conversation. (Which I guess isn't out of question when you think of the Greek mythical roots of the old term "hermaphrodite," really.)

I was uncomfortable. The fact that that happened, that we're living in a time when many people don't know that throwing around terms like this is actually offensive, deflated me a bit. And that confused me. Wasn't I supposed to just rise above this and let their words bounce off to me and stick to...something, or however the hell the sticks-and-stones thing goes? Yes, it will take time to raise awareness so that others know about intersex, what it is, what that means, what is being done to our bodies without consent, how we stop this, how we love ourselves and respect all bodies and beings as they are. I don't expect that all people know about intersex now. But why did this bum me out so much?

I think the fact that I've become open talking about intersex, generating discussion, thinking about how intersex relates to lots of other issues, it's become so incorporated in my everyday radar that it shocked me a little bit into remembering - oh yeah, not everyone is thinking about this after all. I think it can be easy to talk to other activists and read activist blogs and have something be a big part of your life to the point that it's hard to remember that many people out there do not know A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. about intersex. Part of raising awareness is being able to start at square one, with the most fundamental concepts, and be able to start a dialouge about that, and you can't do that if you're always thinking about larger perspectives that stem from that foundational knowledge. Remembering that intersex is absolutely nowhere near someone's radar is really important.

I think, too, that my becoming really invested in raising awareness and ending abuse has made these experiences more acutely painful in some ways. When you work really hard to do something, and you are able to raise awareness in a small space, among several people, in a defined locale, it's wonderful. It can also be shocking, though, to leave those spaces and realize how many people are out there that haven't received such messages, have not had these conversations. It can be staggering and overwhelming to think, "How many are there out there that must be reached?" It can make you feel small and wonder what exactly how and if your work is reaching others.

You know what though? I think the most important thing I learned is that it's GOOD that I had a strong emotional reaction to this. The sticks-and-stones thing makes sense on a theoretical level, but even if I become more USED to encountering others that unknowingly make ignorant statements about people with atypical (and NORMAL! <3) bodies, I don't actually WANT to become entirely IMMUNE to such attitudes and perspectives. Because the ability to react, to feel something, means that I have a reason to keep fighting. Feeling something, even negative, means that I care about this shit. And those negative feelings can ben channeled into positive action. Negative feelings are fuel for getting things done. And that's what I intend to do.

I wish I hadn't heard what I did that afternoon, that that "joke" wasn't perceived as a joke. But if I was to go through this experience, I think it was valuable in that I learned (and re-learned) some lessons that are important for me to keep in mind if I'm going to join others in doing this work. Maybe I do feel some bone pain from the sticks and stones, but the sticks and stones have some lessons attached to them, too. Feeling some hurt is not entirely a bad thing in context.

<3 <3 <3

Activist Spotlight: Queer Intersects

Hi, there! I've been in the dark, dark cave of applying for research grants and getting ready for another round of comprehensive exams in my grad program. *blinks, shields eyes from burning, burning light* It's damn good to be here! I hope all has been lovely for all of you lately :)

There's a new blog out there I would definitely recommend checking out: Queer Intersects. This anonymous blogger covers her experiences as a queer and intersex individual, and how intersex...well, intersects with queer communities, power, privilege, experience, identity, and more. Here's her second post (after her first introductory one) to give you a snippet of what to expect on this blog.

Enjoy! :D