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!