Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy Intersex Awareness Day!

Thank you to all of you doing awesome activist work around intersex. Thank you, intersex individuals, for being brave enough to look deep into your selves and choose to share your experiences and perspectives with us. Thank you, amazing intersex allies for seeking to educate yourself and others about intersex, and why nonconsensual medical procedures that don't track intersex peoples' health is so obviously wrong.

Thank you for reading this blog, and for celebrating Intersex Awareness Day in your own way. If you are comfortable, please mention IAD to someone who has not encountered intersex before, "like" or post about IAD or an intersex issue online (e.g., blogs, Facebook, Twitter) and spread the knowledge that intersex individuals exist, and we are pretty great :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

This Is Seriously Historic

The first fully intersex-inclusive anti-discrimination bill EVER, IN THE WORLD has been proposed a few days ago in Australia. And it could pass! This is HUGE news!

Since intersex individuals are not recognized legally, we have no protection from discrimination. This is the first step toward changing that.

Yaaaay! This is so exciting!


Intersexions Documentary

Check out the trailer, and tell me you don't want to see it.

There's nowhere on the Internet that I know of where you can see a non-bottlegged copy (where the images aren't reversed...meh). I really want to see this, and am excited about it.

Any of you seen it yet? How was it?! :D

Intersex Awareness Day 2012 Events in NYC!

Hi, everyone! Just wanted to let you know that for all of you near NYC, two Intersex Awareness Day events are scheduled!

I am absolutely thrilled that Hida Viloria will be joining us again for the IAD events. She is an intersex activist currently based in LA that chairs Organization Intersex International (OII) and has done a ton of great stuff. Check her out at

This year, we're focusing less on intersex basics than we have in the past two years. We will absolutely be covering some intersex 101 stuff, because it's really important to ensure that all participants are on the same page as to what intersex is and why intersex activism exists. However, we want to have a broader conversation about relevant topics in intersex activism, including LGBTI inclusiveness, creating a visible intersex identity, how binary sex legislation affects intersex rights, and how to be a good ally. The two events will be similar in the issues discussed and their scope, so if you can't make one, you'll get a bunch of the same stuff in the other one. :)

Friday, Oct 26
New York University
Global Center, Room 383

Saturday, Oct 27
Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe, and Activist Center
27 Allen Street

Hida and I have been making plans about topics to generate discussion, and we are so excited to share with you! We hope to see you there! :)

Child's-Eye-View on Intersex: X-Men = Awesome.

Hi, everyone! I've been thinking about how my views about what intersex is, who I am, and what it means to be/identify as intersex have changed drastically over time. When I first learned I was intersex, I was 14. I was told that it was a medical condition, that I once had testes but they were removed, and that I might not be able to have "normal sex" with my husband someday because my vaginal canal might not be long enough to accomodate a penis. Today, almost a decade and a half later, I'm 28. I've rejected the medical model of intersex - that it's a congenital deficiency, and understand that intersex bodies are normal variations of biological sex. I understand that no one had any right to remove parts of my body that were not causing me health problems, and I wish I had been given the agency to keep all my own parts. I understand that the only "normal sex" that exists is the kind of sex you want to have, and that penis-in-the-vagina sort of sex between a male and a female is not more "normal" or better than other kinds of sex. I understand that even if I had a vaginal canal that wasn't long enough to comfortably accomodate a penis, that doesn't mean my sex life would need to suffer. Besides, it turned out that I'm gay - I don't really want to "accomodate a penis" anyway. (All I can picture with this image is a vulva acting as a hostess to a penis who's visited, offering Dick Dickerson cookies and making sure it's comfortable. Like, "accomodate" just seems funny to use in this way. Yes? No? Yes?)

So, things are pretty different nowadays. And that's awesome. But it's kind of funny what my kid-brain thought about intersex. I want to start a new segment on this blog called "Child's-Eye-View," where I talk about how kids' experiences of intersex may differ from what their adult experiences are like. I'm excited about doing it, and hope that you are, too! :)

The first thing I want to talk about is X-Men. (Obviously.)

So, I really liked superheroes when I was younger, and still do. I feel like most kids dig the idea of superheroes - of being special, of being powerful and assertive, of being able to help people, of being able to save yourself and others. Of being in control, and being really nifty and supernatural while you're doing it. Side note: If I could pick one superpower, it would definitely be telekinesis. I WANT TO PICK THINGS UP AND MOVE THEM AROUND WITH MY MIND, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!

But anyway.

The aspects of superheroes I want to talk about are being special, and being in control. I really gravitated toward the X-Men for a bunch of reasons. Besides the fact that they were superheroes, and had more than one female superhero on the squad, the whole reason that they were superheroes to begin with was because they had GENETIC MUTATIONS. Their having superpowers was because they had a genetic mutation that enabled them to do these awesome things, and they could even use their awesomeness for good. Watching that show as a kid, it was a powerful perspective, to see individuals that had a genetic mutation (= usually thought of as bad), but knowing that their genetic mutations actually had positive benefits.

X-Men was also provocative in that it didn't shy away from broader discussions about what's "normal" and what's "good." Lots of individuals in the X-Menverse rejected the idea that these mutants should be able to just walk around with other humans and be treated with basic respect. Non-mutants rallied for mutants to be medically altered (via a vaccine, or medical means) that would cancel out the effects of their mutations. That they would now be considered a "normal" human by removing something that they were naturally born with.

Sound a bit familiar?

Many clinicians and parents feel that they are helping their children by altering their bodies without their consent. I think that probably many of the non-mutants in X-Men world thought that they were doing good things for their mutant friends and family, too. They just wanted the best for them...they wanted to help them. Fixing their mutant kids was giving them a passport to a better life where they'd be normal - they'd know where they belonged. But most mutants didn't want to change. That's why the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters was created, to provide a safe space for mutant youth to grow and get schooling without the pressure of conforming to be a typical non-mutant. The vast majority of the world saw X-Men and their ilk as problematic people that needed to be fixed, and that it was messed up not to fix them. Then, there was a minority of people who knew that X-Men were as normal as non-mutants. That they were just people, and there was no reason why they should have to change themselves and their bodies just to fit a certain standard of normal that wasn't real.

I identified with the X-Men a lot.

I knew that my intersex wouldn't allow me to be able to control fire or walk through solid objects or become invisible or to fly. But it was still a powerful way to view my body - not as something not normal or tainted or broken, that needed fixing and approval from the "normals." No. My body was totally fine, and in fact, it was awesome. Maybe my body's uniqueness had things about it that were good, not in spite of having intersex traits, but because of it. Maybe it wasn't that I was abnormal, but that the world's vision of "normal" wasn't accurate because it didn't have space to include me. Maybe I was just fine the way I am, and I didn't have to feel bad or shameful about being this weirdo, I-don't-even-know-what-I-am thing. I was a worthwhile human being who happened to be intersex. It was comforting to consider that my difference was, at worst, something neutral that wasn't actually a big deal, and at best, something awesome that should be celebrated, something I could be proud of.

X-Men, and comics in general I think, are seen as being for kids. But I know a lot of adults who read comics and graphic novels, and I understand why. Like other forms of art and story, comics often touch upon very adult, sociological themes. I wonder what the world would look like if more people picked up an X-Men comic with intersex in mind. Would the discrimination against the X-Men be so hard to translate into the human rights abuses that are committed against intersex individuals?

I don't think so. What do you think?

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Intersex, NBD

Had another casual referencing of the fact that I'm intersex in a group of people - some of who knew, and some who didn't. One individual who knew tacfully asked if I was still doing presentations, without specifying what kind of presentations I was doing. I said that yes, I was!, and we made tentative plans to schedule an event in the future for some of her colleagues.

A new acquaintance then asked, "What kind of presentations do you do?" I felt comfortable in this group, so I said, "Oh, I give presentations about intersex - what it is, why it's considered a controversial topic, and why it's necessary to spread awareness about our bodies and the fact that they're okay and natural." I internally hesitated slightly, waiting for the reaction to "our" - clearly outing myself as intersex. No one cared, no one asked inappropriate questions, and everyone was respectful. It was really gratifying. :)

This is what it should look like. Looking forward to more no-big-deal interactions like this! :D

Monday, September 10, 2012


Hi, there, lovelies! I have been (unsurprisingly) considering language and identity YET AGAIN.

It won't stop! ;)

I have heard the phrase "dyadic" a few times since talking to intersex activists and in reading about intersex in general. I didn't really understand what this word meant at first, but in context, I came to realize that it was shorthand for "non-intersex."

This puzzled me a bit.

I don't think it would be a bad idea to have an adjective meaning "non-intersex." Having a term like "intersex" without an opposite serves to identify an individual as intersex, but doesn't really help you understand what a not-intersex person is. The implication is that non-intersex people are just "normal," and because they're "normal," they don't need to have an extra word applied to them. The extra-word burden is on those people that are different. But having an opposite-word can be really important, because instead of having the "normal" state of being and the weirdo one with the funny name, having two words means that for this state of being, there's more than one way to be. There's no value judgment implicit in having multiple terms for a different states of being like there is in having a term only for the less-typical one.

This can be exemplified by looking at the words "transgender" and "cisgender." The concept of cisgender wasn't something that existed when people initially were using the term transgender. There were transgender people, and then there was everyone else. The implication was that these non-trans* people were normal, so no other label had to be applied to them. But later, trans* individuals began using the word cisgender to refer to non-trans* people. Having both of these terms sent out a message that asserted, "Hey! There's different ways you can be. Some people are cisgender, some people are transgeder. Ya got choices, yo!" It allows individuals to see that the more common identity isn't inherently more valid or's just perceived that way by the majority.

I'm not against having another term for non-intersex people, but I don't think that dyadic is the greatest choice. The term dyadic means "two" - a dyad, a pair. By calling a non-intersex person a dyadic male or female, you're basically saying that everyone who's not intersex fits nicely into that binary of male, female. But the fact that intersex people exist at all means that there is, and never was, dyadic sex as long as intersex people were around. By using the term dyadic to refer to non-intersex people, it totally glosses over the implications of intersex people existing: that binary sex is actually real.

If biological sex isn't binary, then using a term like "dyadic" to describe non-intersex makes about as much sense as saying we've got a binary color wheel that's composed of red and blue, when we know full well that there's purple and orange and magenta out there, being awesome. What phrase could we use instead? I'd love to hear some suggestions. But whatever they are, they shouldn't uphold this idea that somehow, despite our existence, the idea of dyadic biological sex is still legit.

Anyone got any ideas for terms that could be used?

Interconnected Identities

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 a reader inquired how an intersex person determines their sexual orientation. 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, she chose to express her sexual orientation as, “I like girls.”

I've read accounts from intersex individuals, or in books about intersex, that indicate that one’s perception of your identities may change after learning about your intersex. For instance, a casual conversation about being athletic a few moments before may take on new meaning after learning about one's intersex. A doctor that learned this information from a patient getting her yearly check-up would likely have read her as a woman who happens to like to play sports, or maybe a tomboy. After learning about her intersex, this girl's love of sports meant something different. Confirming her love of sports would simply reinforce her intersex identity to this doctor. She would not be both an intersex person and a person who was athletic, separately – she'd be an an individual who was athletic as a RESULT of being intersex. This individual's sex identity is linked to her love of sports.

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. 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!

Sometimes I Take Them

Sometimes I take them, sometimes I don’t.

I often keep them on my desk, pushed back behind the stacks of bills and papers I should’ve already sent out and filed away. Or on my bureau, somewhere visible between the tissue box and my cacti and the TV I rarely watch because I don’t have cable. I try to hide them, and I try to remember them. Other times, I throw the orangey-brown vial into my purse – or more rarely, my backpack – and hear the pills shaking along as I move like maracas. I sometimes put this vial into my purse's outside flaps or the top zipped pocket of my Jansport, where I’ll hear its insistent percussion more clearly, and I’ll relent and take a pill. Other times I bury it deep under keys and papers and cardigans and gum wrappers so I can’t hear it, but get to feel slightly responsible for at least carrying them with me as though I might take one anytime. I try to remember them, and I try to hide them.

It is not particularly hard to take a pill every day. My doctors and my parents have encouraged me to get into a routine – to take it at the same time every day, so I won’t forget. Sometimes I try to do this for a day or two, but most of the time, I don’t want to be disciplined about taking those pills. I don’t want that routine. And yet I want to be able to take them every day, without these mixed feelings, because what they symbolize to me, in part, is not really what they are at all.

My body doesn’t make estrogen, and it doesn’t respond to testosterone. If my gonads had not been removed as an infant, I wouldn’t have been able to use the testosterone (at least not directly, but more on that later). I have taken estrogen since a very young age – 8 years old, at the time I first started seeing clinicians for my intersex. After being withheld information, and given “facts” that conceptualized intersex as a weird, shameful disease...after much confusion and soul-searching and internet-ing for hours and hours when I was alone in my college dorm room...after finally gaining context that intersex bodies are normal and natural and healthy and beautiful – I was angry. I was angry that intersex was presented as a medical condition, a thing to be fixed, when it was so clear that I didn’t need fixing, that there was nothing wrong with me. What really needs fixing is how intersex is perceived, how clinicians intervene to alter our bodies without our consent when these treatments don’t track our health.

And so I’m ambivalent about taking my pills. I either don’t take them for days or weeks as they stare me in the face, or when they run out, I fail to fill my prescription for weeks or even months at a time. Having to take a pill every day is a reminder of how medicalized intersex is, and my refusal to get and take pills is my own personal protest that my intersex should have anything to do with clinicians at all. Other times I’m terrified about not taking them. Sex hormones are really important for bone health, and throughout our lives, estrogen and testosterone play crucial roles in depositing new bone and removing the old stuff. I understand that if I don’t take these pills, I may have severe bone loss as I age. I don’t want my arm and leg bones to be the size of pencils when I’m forty. No way. So I take them.

I also consider that the daily pill I have taken for years would actually have been unnccessary had I been able to keep the body I was born with. My testes produced testosterone, which would have naturally been converted estrogen inside my body. Many times, I am aware that the substance contained in that chalky white pill I swallow is something I used to make, myself. I didn't need help, or doctors, or a reason to shell out for my co-pay every few weeks. I am in the fortunate position of having both access to medicine and health insurance, so comparatively, I am very privileged, and lucky. But it's strange to think that this whole process could've been sidestepped had someone just let me keep all the body parts I had at birth. Sometimes the hoops you jump through as an intersex person are really strange.

I vacillate back and forth. By refusing to take these pills, I am not rectifying any of the things I wish I could about my past. Each time I avoid my meds, I won't erase a traumatic memory from my brain – poof, gone, I don’t have to think about that anymore. Not taking a pill won’t karmically send of jolt of doubt into my former clincians’ hearts, so that they wonder whether the “treatments” I received were appropriate, these treatments that I couldn’t say yes or no to and have changed my body forever. Wonder whether they will make the same decisions when other intersex kids pass into the hospital room with one body, one sense of self, and leave the room with different ones. My choice to take or not take a pill affects only me, and no one else. My anti-pill protest is not logical. I know this. Taking these hormones every day is an act of self-care, something I want to do for myself. But sometimes I can’t, and although I understand why, my reasons for not doing so are flawed.

After holding and hiding the hundreds of vials I’ve had throughout my young life, I realize that they say something greater about my intersex. These vials perfectly symbolize how medicine and clinicians can be involved with intersex individuals by addressing our actual health concerns, instead of trying to “fix” and alter our bodies so that we’re more easily shoved into one box or the other. We don’t know what the effects of hormone replacement are on our bodies over time. We don’t know how bone density may affect intersex individuals throughout our lives, with or without taking hormones. There’s very little research out there addressing things that are medically relevant to us. Intersex is not a medical condition, but there are legitimate medical concerns that are relevant for particular forms of intersex. If clinicians shifted their focus to address our health concerns with our consent, and not our genital form without it, the relationship between intersex and medicine would be radically different.

Today I’m going to take my pill, because I’m feeling more hopeful, I’m taking my future self to heart. But I know that the next day I’m pissed off enough to chuck those damn pills out the window, let them scatter and roll all the way down the block – I have some compelling reasons to gently put the bottle back. Maybe things are looking up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"You Know What That Is!"

I had an interesting interaction with a colleague today. As a vegan, I get lots of questions about, "But what about free-range animals?" or "But what about if you know the farm?" or "But what if you were on the desert island and the only thing on it was cheese?" and so on and so on. Today I got a question about eggs.

This devolved into a lateral conversation about how this colleague has interacted with individuals who felt strange about eating eggs because they described them as "baby chickens" - something that is absolutely not true if the eggs are not fertilized. (Even if they are, I think it is worth considering whether these embryos are actually "baby chickens," but this is a completely different issue that won't be discussed here.)

My colleague laughed about this, emphatically saying, "No! Unfertilized eggs are not baby chickens! I mean, when indiviudals have their period, they're just releasing an egg - that's it! I mean, you do that - you know that!"

I smiled, and said, "Uh, yes, I do know that, but yeah, I actually don't do that." She smiled, and said, "Ohhh, right." To which I raised my leg and pumped my fist, and said, "Yes! Beating nature again, ha ha!" And we both laughed.

I obviously am not "beating nature." My body IS natural. It is a legitimate variation as to what bodies can look and function like. But the fact that I am exclusively regarded as a female operating in the world, and yet my body doesn't do this menstruation thing everyone assumes it does, is a good opportunity to make a lighthearted joke to validate the existence of intersex bodies. It was a simple, good moment, where I felt my intersex identity validated in a really casual, no-need-to-explain it way that felt natural and good. I hope to have more moments like this in the future. :)

Compelling Statistics on The Number of Intersex Individuals

Hi, everyone! I have previously posted that it's difficult to determine how many intersex individuals there are for a variety of reasons. One reason is that long-term studies of intersex individuals are not being done so that more accurate censuses can be taken. A lot of this is logistical, since in order to do this, patients would need to be contacted, and many clinicians are reluctant to give others access to their clinical files (for example, in case (former) patients or outside agencies decide to legal action against them later based on information seen in these files). Additionally, many patients may not be interested in responding if they do not actually identify as intersex. They may identify as a male or female who happens to be intersex, or they may identify as just male or female, and intersex has little to no impact on their sex identities.

A recent post by Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello, of the blog Intersex Roadshow, makes a strong case that the frequency of intersex individuals - colloquially stated as being as common as 1 in 2000 births in the United States - is a vast underestimate. Costello compellingly shows that the number of intersex individuals is not 1 in 2000 (still a pretty sizable number on its own), but actually more than 1 in 150. In order to make these nubmers accessible, activists have stated that 1 in 2000 is a statistic that approximates the frequency of individuals with red hair. Red hair is not overwhelmingly common, but many people know an individual with red hair, and would not find it strange to encounter an individual with red hair. Red hair is not rare. If we don't think that having red hair is shockingly strange, then maybe we should accept that intersex individuals' existence isn't so strange, either. However, Costello's statistic of 1 in 150 approximates the frequency of individuals with green eyes. If red hair is not considered shockingly uncommon, then seeing a person with green eyes is absolutely unremarkable for most people. If there are as many intersex individuals as there are individuals with green eyes out there, that is a LOT of people!

It's important to note that regardless how common intersex individuals are - even if intersex individuals were as common as 1 in 2 billion - it doesn't justify the alteration or manipulation of intersex individuals' bodies without our consent when these practices don't serve to track our health. However, it arguably provides more of an emotional impact to think that intersex is not so uncommon as we think. These non-consensual medical "treatments" aren't happening to like, 1 in every certain unfathomably large number of kids - a number so large it seems that almost no one has to go through this, and thus many individuals might find it less worthwhile to fight so hard to recognize intersex individuals exist and end these practices that pretty much never happen. These practices are happening to LOTS of kids out there. Understanding how common intersex really is, and considering the sheer number of lives are affected through non-consensual treatment to "fix" intersex, is really sobering.

I'm going to be thinking about this for a while. What do YOU think about this?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cisgender and AIS

Hi, there, everyone! A while ago, Queer Intersects posted some ideas about the link between AIS (androgen insensitivity) - my own form of intersex - and cisgender. Cisgender can be broadly defined as identifying that your body form "matches up" with your gender identity. For example, "I am a biological female and I feel like a female! I am a cis-gender female." This term is often used in contrast to transgender, which can be defined as identifying that your body form does not match up with your gender identity. For example, "I was assigned male at birth, but I am a female! I am a female, who happens to be transgender." Other examples may include those who identify as genderqueer, where their biological sex does not necessarily match up with their gender identity, and/or their gender identity may not be either male or female. For example, "I was assigned female at birth, but I [do not identify as male or female] [identify as male or female some of the time] [identify as genderless] [do not use any labels to describe my gender]." There is a lot of variation in what it can mean to be transgender.

Before talking more about cis-gender, let's define AIS. AIS, or androgen insensitivity - is my own form of intersex. There are two main forms of AIS - CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity) and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity). It's important to note, though, that there's not just two kinds of AIS; within each of these two broader categories, there are many variations within of how one's body may function and look. One of the hallmarks of AIS individuals, in general, is that they "look feminine" because they are adrogen insensitive to some degree (= their bodies cannot use testosterone at all (CAIS), or their bodies can use testosterone to some extent (PAIS)). Although some clinical literature states that AIS bodies may be "hyperfeminine," this concept has been challenged by Queer Intersects about what it means to be and look feminine in the first place. AIS bodies may be be albe to be accurately characterized as hyperfeminine, but regardless, AIS individuals walking down the street would not be labeled "male" by other passers-by by virtue of their intersex.

Why is this information about AIS relevant here? Weren't we going to talk about identity and cis-gender? We definitely are! This information is relevant because intersex indviduals may tend to have body features that result in others reading them as more masculine or more feminine, depending on their form of intersex. (Any individual - intersex or not - may look more masculine or feminine anyway, based on individual differences, but this isn't what we're referring to here.) Individuals with AIS variations happen to conform to stereoteypical ideas about what women look like, so they are almost alway regarded as exclusively female. Since most mainstream societies assume a link between biological sex and gender identity, AIS individuals are labeled as cis-gender females, even if passers-by on the street don't exactly use that terminology. (They'd be more likely to go, "Oh, look! A woman.").

While cisgender sounds relatively straightforward, things become more complex when considering AIS. Are AIS individuals actually cis-gender? Can an individual be both cis-gender and intersex? If you identify as intersex, does that inherently mean you cannot be cis-gender? What happens when others label you as cis-gender, but you don't feel like you are?

One thing to consider is that identity comes from different places. Self-identity and perceived identity by others are different phenomena. For example, I self-identify as intersex but am never identified as anything other than cis- female by others, unless those people know them me and are aware of my intersex identity. Since I'm read as cis-female, though, does this cancel out my self-identity? Is my intersex identity less real? No, it doesn't mean that it's less real; it simply means that there is sometimes a discontinuity between self-identities and perceived identies. If perceived identities are incorrect (= others assume you are someone you're not), it doesn't mean that one's self identity is less real, although it complicates communicating who you are since intersex is still largely misundertood or unheard of. If self-identity is about knowing who you are, then perceived identity is about visibility. AIS individuals who identify as intersex may feel uncomfortable being perceived since their intersex identity is not visibile. The fact that intersex is stgmatized, and discussing intersex in a meaningful way is uncommon, does not make it easier to clarify such situations by communicating one's intersex identity.

It is also worth nothing that identities may not be static, but fluid. Identities may shift over short or long periods of time - for example, over the course of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. Individuals that have a fluid sex and/or gender identity - whether on a frequent basis, or a one-time event - may also feel dissonance between their self-identities and perceived identities if they feel that their self-identity has changed over time and their perceived identity has not, or vice versa, or if both fluctuate.

Another interesting point in sussing out the relationship between cis-gender and intersex is that whether one identifies as cis-gender or not, AIS individuals still receive cis- privilege by virtue of being read as cis-gender. Some intersex individuals may variably be read as either male or female by others; some people may feel uncomfortable and verbally or physically assult individuals they feel are not easily labeled as "male" or "female." AIS individuals are not subject to this kind of discrimination since they are almost always identified as "female," and thus don't any difficulty in being labeled male or female by others because of their intersex. Going further, the relationship between intersex and the cocnept of cis-gender itself merits scrutiny. While Queer Intersects points out the difficulty in finding clear-cut, inclusive definitions of what "cis" really is, the concept of cis-gender is really simplified in thinking that it's when your body "matches up" with your gender identity - i.e., "I identify as female and I'm female-bodied"; "I identify as male and I'm male-bodied." (Of course, this assumes that sex and gender identities need to "match up" in a certain way, which is not the case. You are who say you are! Period.) Accounting for intersex bodies, it becomes clear that biological sex is not binary - there are many variations. If we agree that intersex bodies exist legimately in their own right, and aren't "in between" or "ambiguous" with regard to male and female forms, then the concept of "opposite" doesn't make sense. For an individual who identifies as intersex, what would the opposite be? What would the not-opposite look like? Is the concept of your-identities-don't-need-to-match-up-in-a-particular-way-to-be-valid relevant here? is that I need think more about this.

Part of me thinks that if we embraced the fact that there are not only two kinds of biological sex - male and feamle - then the utility using the terms cisgender and transgender would break down. If we accepted that there aren't just two kinds of sex, describing one's gender as the "same as" or "opposite" one's sex cease to be meaningful. However, this line of thought assumes that individuals that could be included as intersex individuals actually identify as intersex - something that is not necessarily the case. Individuals may identify as males or females, who happen to be intersex, for instance. They acknowledge that they are intersex, but it's not a part of their IDENTITY. In these cases, using terms like cis- and trans- may be more useful in describing their identity.


Intersex identities make it clear that the concept of cis-gender, and its use as an identity label, is much more complex that it may initially seem. Here, we've got several different viewpoints that may contradict one another in various ways. It may be tempting to conclude that there's no answer to how intersex and cis-gender relate, but I think that the answer is that this issue is complex and a diversity of thought exists about these concepts. The answer is that things are really messy, and more discussion is necessary to clarify the relationship between intersex and cis-gender. Answers don't = easy answers, for sure. What do you think?

Out of the Grey, Off of the Spectrum

Hi, there, all of you! How is your day going? :)

I have been starting to read and watch more intersex books and films, in order to educate myself about what intersex resources are out there. I've read and watched a little bit, but there's a volume of work that I haven't touched that I want to be better-versed in. It's important to understand what others have said or are saying about intersex.

So I'm learning, exploring, getting immersed. :)

One thing I keep encountering are metaphors that describe sex as being not black or white since intersex people exist, and thus describing human biological sex as "gray." Or describing sex as a spectrum where male and female are at the ends of the spectrum, and intersex is somewhere in the middle.

I really disagree with these metaphors, because they only make sense if you think that male and female bodies are more real or legitimate than intersex bodies. Colloquially, when we say that something is "gray," we mean that it is confusing. Issues that are complex, where there is a lot of detail to sort through and try to understand, issues that are not clear or straightforward or make a whole lot of sense - that are not black and white - are considered gray.

But intersex is not "gray." The fact that intersex bodies exist is not confusing. The existence of intersex bodies does not contradict the fact that "male" bodies and "female" bodies exist. Additionally, I'd argue that biological sex doesn't exist on a spectrum, where male and female are prioritized as being "real," and intersex people are just some manifestation that's more or less like "real" males or females.

This is sort of like saying that, in a world where only chocolate and vanilla ice cream are commonly found, that the existence of strawberry ice cream threatens the existence of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Or that strawberry ice cream is somewhere "in between" chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Or that chocolate and vanilla ice cream are the only ice creams that REALLY exist, and that strawberry ice cream is somehow actually chocolate or vanilla ice cream in disguise.

But this doesn't make any sense! Strawberry ice cream exists in its own right. It's not chocolate ice cream. It's not vanialla, either. The existence of strawberry ice cream has nothing to do with chocolate and vanilla ice cream existing. They can all exist, and be treated as legitimate variations of ice cream! Strawberry ice cream also isn't a blend between chocolate and vanilla - the only ice creams that are recognized as real. Strawberry ice cream IS real! In short, its existence doesn't have to be defined in terms of chocolate or vanilla ice cream. It's existence should simply be defined by its strawberriness, period.

This ice cream metaphor, while getting the job done, isn't super-accurate quite yet, either. Intersex isn't just a single category. There's not one way to be intersex. There are many intersex variations out there. So, it's not so much that we should recognize that chocolate and vanilla aren't the only two choices out there, and that strawberry exists. Because it's not just strawberry that exists, but also mint chocolate chip. And rocky road. And cookies n cream. And butterscotch. And raspberry swirl. And many other kinds of ice cream, each of which exist in their own right. Just like our strawberry example, it would be absurd to define butterscoth based on whether it's more like chocolate or more like vanilla ice cream ,or to try and guess whether butterscotch is "really" chocolate or vanilla at its essence. It's butterscotch! Done, and done!

I think that talking about how sex is gray, or that biological sex is a spectrum, is a good first concept to start talking about the fact that sex is more than male or female. But if the metaphors end there, we can only understand intersex as something vaguely between male or female, as something that we can't understand or start talking about without referencing male or females. This erases the fact that intersex exists in its own right, and denies the fact that intersex bodies are real.

What do you think about this?

[Photo courtesy of Natalie Dee]

Coming Clean to Clinicians: An Update

Hey, ya'll. I had recently decided that I'm sick of not being forthcoming with my intersex to health professionals, and am not going to do it anymore, as I detailed in a recent post. My previous experiences were pretty uneventful, with me explaining that I don't get my period to nurses or doctors, or literally writing, "I don't get my period," on the "When was your last cycle?" part of the medical forms. No big deal. It was even kind of easier than I had thought it might be!

So, I was feeling all confident, until I went searching for a new general practitioner (GP). Upon doing so, I've unfortunately had a few uncomfortable experiences.

The first part of my visit was the same. Sit down, fill out the forms. Draw some arrows and cross stuff out where appropriate to state that I don't menstruate. Fill out more forms, wait, wait, wait. Get called in, get your blood pressure taken. Wait, wait. Answer some questions from the nurse, as she fills out some forms. Wait, wait. Finally see the doctor. Answer some questions, suspiciously in the same order that the nurse asked them in. (Doesn't anyone read the forms you initially filled out?!)

At some point in reviewing my medical history, my prospective doctor kind of stopped. "So, it says here that you don't get your period. What is that?" I stopped for a minute, since the question was awkwardly phrased. Um, what did she mean? She must have met people that didn't get their periods before. This happens. "Um, yes, I don't." Pause. "Can you explain why that is?" "Umm, I don't have a uterus." Pause. "I was born without one." I felt that that was more than necessary to satisfy my writing I don't get my period on the form. No uterus = no menstruation. Easy, done!

The doctor had more questions, though. "You were BORN without one?" "Yes." "Why is that?" "Well, um, I'm intersex." Okay, I'd said it. I'd said the word. I waited to see what would happen. "So, uh, you were born, uh...what were you?" "I"m sorry?" "What were you when you were born?" Ohhhhhhhh, the doctor wanted to know if I was REALLY a boy or a girl when I was born. If the doctors had assigned me male or female. My heart sunk. "So, were you ambiguous? Do you have normal female genitalia?" I wish I had been in a mental place to think, "That question's obviously absurd! That's not medically relevant at all! I'm not answering that!" Instead, my mouth blurted out, "No. Yes, I do." And then the rest of the exam I just felt weird and zoned out, and I was terrified that she was going to want to do a check on my genitals to see them for some reason, even though she thankfully didn't.

The reason that I stated that I didn't have a uterus was so that I could explain why I would need prescriptions for hormones that I take daily. I could have never said anything referencing my intersex, could have made up some reason why I took estrogen that would have been entirely plausible, and went on my way.

But I think I deserve to be truthful in my medical history, like everyone else may be. The fact that I'm intersex shouldn't be something I should feel I must hide from my doctor. But it also shouldn't be something that I'm asked about when it's not medically relevant, which just serves to make me uncomfortable, when I've chosen to be honest about this (needlessly) sensitive subject. I very much understand why people just don't say anything about it at all.

It will be okay. I am glad that it wasn't worse, but I recognize that this still isn't acceptable. I want to talk to this doctor again, to let her know that those kind of questions aren't appropriate, that she should not ask inappropriate questions to other patients who happen to be intersex. Me, now? This isn't so terrible. I was upset and angry about it for several days afterward, but I know myself enough and understand enough how intersex is miscontrued in a medical context (= my body is fine, it's not disordered, any messages to the contrary aren't true) that I can bounce back. Me, a decade ago? I would have been deeply upset and felt awful about myself and wondered why I wasn't like everyone else. That I deserved the questions and whatever crappy feelings I had because, after all, who would really ever be aware of what this intersex thing was, anyway? I was not as resilient then, and am only more resilient now because I sought access to accurate information and other views of intersex besides the wow-you're-a-big-freak-BUT-IT'S-OKAY-YOU'RE-NORMAL-as-long-as-you-let-these-doctors-fix-you perspective. If I hadn't found this information, I am not sure what I would think of myself now. I'd probably just pray I'd somehow be convinced I was a "normal" girl after all, but feel awful inside.

And now I know that's not true. But that middle school kid in the doctor's office? Might be much more hurt and upset by a doctor's curiosities. That middle-aged adult that is still hurting so much they can't have conversations about their past? Might have yet another scar to tend to. This isn't fair. No one should be made to feel like this.

I don't know when or how or even if I will talk to this doctor again. It is much easier to talk about intersex in front of a room of people that are there to learn about, explore, and discuss intersex, than it is to directly engage someone who said something stigmatizing about intersex. Even now, it's hard to say, "Hey, that's actually not accurate," or "Actually, intersex people/bodies aren't necessarily like that." It is a process that, like everyone, I'm still working on, and it's not always easy to do, although I'm becoming much braver at it with regards to intersex. All I know is that as more experiences occur such as this one, the more I am reminded how important it is to have conversations about intersex, to acknowledge it exists.

I want to go to a doctor's office someday and know that I can disclose all the parts of my medical history and not feel strange about it, not feel like I need to choose between honesty and hiding. It is ironic to me that since intersex has been misconstrued as a medical issue, that more doctors are not aware that intersex exists, and they are not adequately trained or prepared to talk with intersex individuals who come into their practices, looking for basic medical care like anyone else. Maybe it won't happen soon, but I hope to fill out my medical history someday without wondering if I'll get asked shitty questions, if I'm going to have a uncommonly bad rest of the day simply because I had the absolutely common experience of going to the doctor. When that day comes, it's going to be a good day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Things This Blog Isn't For: Promoting Your Awesome Non-Consensual Surgical Techniques

I sometimes receive comments on various blog posts. (Hi, posters!) The vast majority of you are either intersex individuals or intersex allies, leaving thoughtful and supportive posts for other readers to see, comment on, and share. Of course, there have been a few comments that are hurtful or problematic in nature - largely stemming from misconceptions about what intersex is. Still, even these comments are constructive in that they allow myself and other posters to respond to those ideas with accurate information, and address issues I may not have been as explicit about in my blog posts. Haters gonna hate, but there's a silver lining in there somewhere. ;)

So, I was legitimately kind of appalled when I received this particular comment below. I have edited out the clinician's name in the comment and the website that's advertised. Information I have redacted is indicated using brackets.

Check this comment out:

With the rapid advances in knowledge, several techniques were used to create the vagina; however, [clinician]'s technique is one of a kind, “The Scarless Sexchange” wherein there will be no visible scar on the labia majora after the operation. Certainly, [gender pronoun] is the only doctor performing a high quality SRS “Scarless Sex change” in [geographic region] today. With [clinican], you can achieve a successful outcome both in appearance and function, and there are far lesser incidents of complications. The goal of [clinician] is to create female sexual organs that look as natural as possible and that allow as much sexual arousal as possible. [URL]


Dear readers, there are some THINGS we need to talk about. Let's dissect this sucker. Gooooooooo!

1) I think you sent this to the wrong blog - First off, I am kind of confused as to why this comment was sent to this blog anyway. It's pretty apparent that in reading one or two posts that this blog exists to raise awareness that intersex exists, that intersex people & bodies are normal and healthy and beautiful, and that non-consensual medical treatment that doesn't track health (like surgeries for external or internal genitals, surgeries for internal sex organs, or dilation procedures) shouldn't be performed on intersex kids. The goals of this website don't fall in line with quick & dirty advertisements to make your gentials look "normal." I hope there ISN'T a blog out there where it would be appropriate to send this thing, but whether there is or not, this blog totally isn't buying what you're (literally) selling.

2) Who is this comment directed toward? - Is this comment meant for adult intersex individuals? Is it meant for parents and clinicians of intersex kids? This comment's message is very different depending on who it's speaking to. Directing this comment toward intersex adults is one thing - I am not anti-medical treatment and I am not anti-surgery as long as the intersex individual in question actually WANTS these treatments is old enough to CONSENT to these treatments (= they understand the ramifications of treatment outcomes). If this comment is speaking to parents/clinicians of intersex individuals, the message is much more troubling. I am absolutely opposed to intersex individuals being forced to undergo treatment when they cannot understand and consent to such treatment - espeically since treatments like genital surgeries don't provide a health benefit to the intersex individuals. They are simply cosmetic, and are done under the misconception that changing an individual's appearance means you've somehow changed their sex, changed who they are, made them "normal"....when actually, they were normal all along, and they're still the same person they were before. Except now, their appearance has been permanently altered, and they had no say in it at all. Intersex individuals must be able to make decisions about what is or is not done to their own bodies - not parents or other clinicians.

3) Who asked you, anyway? - This comment came out of the blue, and thus makes for some head-scratching and face-pulling. The comment like this one would read really differently had it been a response to a poster who said, "Hi! I'm an intersex individual who's an adult, and for my own personal reasons, I am consenting to undergo genital surgery. Are there any intersex individuals who have also consented to have genital surgery, who can recommend a surgeon I might want to look into?" A comment response from one consenting adult to another would have been in an entirely different spirit, and helpful information would have been exchanged. As it is, the comment reads, "HI, I KNOW YOU DIDN'T ASK FOR ANY ADVICE, BUT I KNOW YOU WANT ALL UP IN MY AWESOME SURGICAL TECHNIQUES, AMIRITE?" Um, no. We don't. If we did, we would have asked for it. As we didn't, this comment is presumptuous at best.

4) The name "Scarless Sexchange" is offensive and misguided. - This name suggests that if an intersex frea-*cough,cough* I MEAN intersex individual gets this surgery, then they won't be this in-between-I-don't-know-what-you-are-thing, and they'll be a "real" boy or girl, hooray! This name is problematic in that even if one undergoes surgery, their sex doesn't magically change. Intersex + surgery doesn't = a "real" girl, or "real" boy. Intersex + surgery = an intersex individual whose body has been surgically altered. Whether someone gets surgery, and whether one is a boy or a girl or someone else are totally different! There are lots of intersex individuals that are just as real boys or girls as anyone else - only the intersex individuals themselves get to identify who they are. (Additionally, it's just as valid if an individual wants to identify their sex as intersex, or something else, or nothing at all. Again, each person must identify who they are, and no one else!) Sex identity and body form aren't the same thing, and they don't have to match up in one of two typical, society-approved ways.

5) "The Scarless Sexchange" is unlikely to actually be scarless. - Some intersex surgical techniques may be advertised as resulting in minimal scarring, but intersex individuals' personal stories attest that this is overwhelmingly not the case. Scarring can be painful, result in little or no sexual sensation (including orgasm), and may be considered unattractive by intersex individuals themselves. (Many intersex individuals have stated that they only found their genital form to be abnormal AFTER surgery, and not before!)

6) What is a "high-quality" surgery? What is a "successful outcome" of surgery? - Does it focus on the techniques used in the surgery? Is it related to intersex individuals' genital functionality post-surgery? If individuals feel pain? If individuals can feel sexual sensation? If individuals can orgasm? If the individual is satisfied with how their genitals look? If individuals are satisfied with results (in various respects) immediately following the surgery? 1 month later? 6 monts later? 1 year later? 2 years later? 5 years later? A decade, 2 decades, 3 decades later? If patients consented or not? What are the standards by which we can identify a high-quality, successful surgery from others?

7) "The goal of [clinician] is to create female sexual organs that look as natural as possible and that allow as much sexual arousal as possible." - Um, the sex organs that are as natural as possible? Are the ones that the individual was born with. The sex organs that allow as much sexual arousal as possible? Are the ones that the individual was born with. End. of. story.

8) I KNOW you sent this to the wrong blog! - I visited the URL in the comment to learn more about who tried to post this. Turns out that it's a clinician that specializes in sexual reassignment surgery not for intersex individuals, but for transgender individuals. While intersex individuals and transgender individuals may share some common experiences, our histories and specific needs are different. "Intersex" can't be swapped out for "transgender," or vice versa. This comment is a total fail in that it wasn't even reaching the demographic it was targeting. Although with language like this? I'm glad it didn't!

Daaaaaaaaaang. While it was frustrating to receive this comment, I think that it raises some important issues. Thoughts?

Intersex Activist Event!: Intersex Awareness Week at UC Davis, Feb 27-March 2

Hi, there, West Coasters! I have the honor of guest-workshopping at UC Davis as a part of their Intersex Awareness Week, from Feb 27 - March 2! I think it's fantastic that UC Davis devotes an entire week to education, awareness-raising, and discussion about intersex issues. I am going to be participating in two great events on March 1st, with details below. The events are open to the community, so feel free to stop by if you are in the area!

Celebrate Your Body (in conjunction with Celebrate Your Body Week)
March 1st, 12pm
UC Davis LGBT Resource Center, Meeting Room E

Intersex people may not always find it easy to celebrate their bodies. Intersex individuals are those whose bodies have a mix of body characteristics traditionally considered “male” or “female.” Clinicians attempt to “fix” intersex bodies through a variety of medical procedures that individuals often cannot give consent to, but our bodies are beautiful and healthy as they naturally are - we don't need fixing. Join intersex activist Claudia Astorino in exploring what intersex is, why intersex bodies should be celebrated, and why the widespread practice of "fixing" intersex bodies must be stopped. These issues will be explored through discussion follwed up by Q&A. Come join us to learn, explore, and CELEBRATE!

Keynote Speech on Intersex
March 1, 7pm
UC Davis LGBT Resource Center, Multi-Purpose Room

Join Claudia in exploring what intersex is, why the widespread practice of "fixing" intersex bodies must be stopped, and how to be a good intersex ally. These issues will be explored through discussion with Q&A, followed by a series of performance monologues that link Claudia's personal experiences to intersex issues broadly. Come join us to learn, explore, and share!

You can find more Intersex Awareness Week events on the UCD Facebook events page!

Some of the information on intersex basics - like, what intersex is, why intersex bodies are thought to need "fixing," and what intersex activists are trying to raise awareness about - will be covered in both the Celebrate Your Body session and the Keynote Speech. This means that individuals that attend both sessions will get a double-dose of basic intersex issues, but I think that it's really important that everyone attending the sessions is on the same page. Otherwise, we can't have meaningful discussion about intersex issues, which is a primary goal of intersex awareness week!

On a personal note, I've never been to the West Coast, so I'm exccccitttted!

See ya there!