Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Intersex Awareness Day 2011!


Things that would be awesome to do if you're comfortable:
Talk to someone about intersex today! Refer them to an awesome webpage, organization, blog (!), book, article, documentary, movie, WHATEVER on intersex! Generate a discussion about what intersex is, and that non-consensual medical practices performed on intersex kids needs to end! Let others know that biology can't be shoved into one of two categories, and all bodies are beautiful and worthy of recognition in their own right!

And, if you're in the NYC area, come check out our awesome workshop and performance series, respectively, this Friday at NYU and this Saturday at Bluestockings!

Happy Intersex Awareness Day! Whoo! <3

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"I'm Sorry...WHAT Did You Just Ask Me?!"

Hi, there! Intersex, as we know, isn't a household word, and isn't a concept most people have heard of before. Subsequently, people may want to know things about intersex, but may go about asking intersex individuals about it in a way that feels yucky to the askee. People asking questions really do want to understand intersex, and so they ask what is on their mind. This sometimes results in inappropriate questions being asked, or questions being asked in inappropriate contexts, that end up being stigmatizing and offensive when they likely didn't mean to be.

So, how do you tell people that what they are asking, or the ways they are asking about intersex, is inappropriate? This can be especially difficult when these are loved ones who support and love you, but have made you wince upon hearing a question you really didn't want to address.

I have some ideas about this! (As usual. Ha!)

Here we go!

1) Let them know your boundaries. As stated, I think the vast majority of the time, people ask questions that can be hurtful because they don't know that they're hurtful. But this doesn't mean that intersex individuals have to respond to questions that make us uncomfortable. For example, let's say someone asks, "Oh, you're intersex? Um, what does know...look like?" (I'm using this as an example because, in my experience, this question and subtle variants on it is probably the most common of inappropriate questions about inersex.) Some responses might include, "I'm actually not comfortable answering that question. I'd be happy to talk about intersex in general, but don't really wanna talk about my *own* body. That's private." "What my own genitals look like really won't give you good insight into the variety of ways that intersex bodies may look or function. It's not really relevant. Intersex bodies, in general, [explainexplainexplain]." These responses help make the distinction between talking about intersex in general and talking about the-intersex-person-right-in-front-of-me. This is important because many questions, if asking about intersex in general, may make an intersex individual totally comfortable answering. But when the question is focused directly on THEM PERSONALLY, it can feel invasive.

These next few responses are appropriate for individuals who aren't necessarily trying to be respectful about intersex. Unfortunately, sometimes people aren't interseted in intersex in general, and are kind of just morbidly fascinated by it (OMG IT'S SO WEIRD THAT WE'RE HUMANS, JUST WALKING AROUND AND DOING STUFF LIKE EVERYONE ELSE LAWL WHAT FREAKS, RITE?!). For these individuals, other approaches to answering their questions may be more appropriate.

REMEMBER: How you answer a question is important, and it may affect your physical safety! Be calm and respectful when answering any questions. The reason you may be upset in the first place is because the person asked something inappropriate...being inappropriate in return won't necessarily remedy the situation. It's worth considering that fighting fire with fire doesn't put the fire out - it just potentially creates a bigger fire.

2) Direct a question back to its asker. If a variant of the question, "What do your genitals look like?" is asked, a response might include, "I dunno. What do *your* genitals look like? Can you describe them in detail for me?" Look at them, and wait for a response. This tactic gets across the point that it's not any more appropriate to ask such a question to someone who's perceived as "different" than to someone that's perceived as "normal." People would likely NEVER ask such a question to someone perceived to be a typical "male" or "female." It's just as not-okay to ask these questions to those who may not fit into or identify as one of two categories.

3) Respond to an absurd question with an absurd answer. Let's say we're dealing with the same question - "What do your genitals look like?" A response might include, "Actually, I have a tiny pink unicorn where most peoples' genitals are located. I also have tiny pots of gold instead of nipples, which somes in handy when the rent's due. cha-CHINNNG!" This answer is obviously absolutely ridiculous, which serves to highlight the ridiculousness of someone asking what their genitals look like. If desired, this can totally be delivered in such a way to make the other person laugh and feel sheepish about asking an absurd question, instead of pissing them off.

Also, it's totally okay if you don't feel like having a conversation about intersex! Ultimately, it's the job of everyone to educate THEMSELVES; it's not the job of those who are perceived as "different" to educate members of the majority about whatever they ask/whenever they ask it. If you are not interested in having a conversation at that time, it's your right to not consent to it! Instead, offer some resources that they could check out regarding intersex, like Organization Intersex International (the USA chapter and Australian chapter are good places to start!), various blogs like this one, Intersex Unicorn, Fuck Yeah, Intersex!, Queer Intersects, or The Intersex Roadshow, or books such as Fixing Sex, by Katrina Karkazis.

It's all about better, respectful, non-stigmatizing communication! Let's talk it out, and keep it up!

Any of you all have ideas for how to respond to questions that might be (accidentally) inappropriate or offensive, or other intersex resources you'd recommend?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Sex Identity"

Hey, ya'll. There's something I've been thinking about a bunch, and want to discuss.

It's become increasingly common over the last several decades to have discussions about aspects of sex-&-gender-related identites in queer spaces. Slowlyslolwlyslowly, even members of various mainstream societies are beginning to think about this stuff. These forms of identity - whether gender ID, gender presentation, gender performance, sexual orientation - are starting to be recognized as perhaps non-binary, as complex, as non-static, as fluid. As LIBERATING to be able to be yourself, without denying parts of yourself to fit one of two molds when they're (sometimes) not authentic.

Biological sex, though, is one of those things that has not been thought of in terms of IDENTIFYING in a certain way. When we're talking about intersex, I think this is completely appropriate to do so.

People may be more used to thinking about complexity and fludity in gender and sexual orientation because these identities have (nearly?) always been perceived as concepts, and not as physical realities. No one can hold hands with their gender, or squint hard enough and see what someone's sexual orientation looks like. They're inherently perceived as abstract to some degree from the get-go since they don't have physical form. And since they're already abstract concepts, perhaps it's easier to switch mental tracks and think of these concepts in more complex and fluid ways. (On the other hand, it's worth noting that just because you can't SEE a gender identity doesn't mean that people don't regard them as real, and many accounts show that people will do drastic and horrible things to enforce these "real" norms. So it's not really as simple as all this.)

In the same light, it probably seems very silly indeed to think of sex as an identity. After all, bodies are PHYSICAL things. You *can* hold hands with someone else. You *can* see what they look like walking down the street. What do you need to have a "sex identity" for? You can SEE the person's body. What's to identify about?

Well, when we're talking about intersex bodies, it's not always clear what sex to assign a kid at birth. With other individuals whose gender IDs, performances, presentations, and sexual orientations may be different from what is "expected" of them based on their sex & gender assignments at birth, there was no question as to their sex assignments at birth. "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" were heralded confidently by clinicians and doulas and passers-by who accidentally got roped into to helping someone give birth when that kid started coming out RIGHT. THEN. When intersex children were born, these proclamations of "It's a ---!" are sometimes replaced with a "Hmmm...what is it?" Unlike the aforementioned individuals who may have complex and non-static gender & orientation identities, intersex individuals' sex must be CHOSEN, and not simply ANNOUNCED.

Intersex kids are born with a mix of traits traditionally considered to be "male" and "female," unlike individuals assigned M or F at birth without discussion and decision-making, who are born with all "male" sex characteristics or all "female" sex characteristics. Such sex characteristics, at this point before puberty are restricted to include external genitals, internal sex organs, hormone types, hormone levels, and chromosomes; later on, things like chest development, nipple development, bone and muscle structure, hip:waist ratio, body hair density and distribution, and others can be included during/post-puberty. Sex assignment for intersex kids (and therefore gender, as well - because they have to "match up," right?!...nooo) is largely (mostly?) based on how big or small certain body parts are. For example, the penis and the clitoris are derived from the same developmental tissue. There are a bunch of different standards that physicians may use that say if the phalloclitors (as it's called) is bigger than this, the child is a boy, and if it's smaller, then the child is a girl. But deciding on what the cutoff points are vary wildly and are arbitrary...not a very objective approach. Ultimately, intersex kids are assigned a sex (and also a gender) at birth. (Hopefully, sex assignment is done without the use of harmful medical practices, such as genital mutilation surgery. After all, it only changes that child's outer appearance...we still have no idea who that child actually IS until they grow up more and can tell us who they are, making non-consensual surgery when these kids are young tragic and unnecessary.)

But what remains is a bias that because biological sex is about physical bodies, "sex identity" is nonsensical as a concept. For intersex individuals, however, our composites of body characteristics do not fall under typical definitions of what "male" or "female" bodies are like. I think, then, that it's completely appropriate to be able to identify as a biological sex, in the same way that one might identify one's gender(s), performance(s), presentation(s), and sexual orientation(s).

What we know is that intersex people already identify their biological sex in a variety of ways. They may identify as male, female, as an intersex male or intersex female, as a male that happens to be intersex, as a female that happens to be intersex, as intersex, as their particular form of intersex. Some intersex people maybe identify as having no biological sex, or as something else I have not mentioned. Intersex people may not only identify their sex as one thing throughout their whole may not be static and change over large or very short periods of time, and may change never, rarely, or frequently.

We are ALREADY identifying our biological sex in various ways, although I have never heard others describing what they were doing as such. I think we need to discuss whether this concept is so ridiculous after all, and try to better understand the range of identities that intersex individuals have/had with regards to biological sex.

What do you think about this? How do you feel about identifying your biological sex?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Intersex Activist Event!: XXY Film & Discussion, Oct 13

Hi, everyone! Have you seen the film XXY? It's pretty great, in many ways, and is by far the most accurate portrayal of an intersex indiviudal within the entertainment industry to date.

NYU's Office of the LGBT Student Services is showing a screening of this film as a part of their Reel Queer Film Series. Here's the deatils below!

XXY Film Screening
Thurs, Oct 13th
NYU's Jeffrey S. Gould Welcome Center 50 W 4th St.

I will be present at the event! After the film is over, I'll be serving as a discussant so we can get some conversation and Q&A about intersex going, as pertains directly to the film or in general.

Yay! Come join us! Or, if you can't, check out the film anyway - you won't be disappointed!