Friday, October 19, 2012

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?


  1. I think that it would be wonderful if we, as a society, could eventually accept all bodies the way they are - but I think it's a long way off, unfortunately. We're taking baby steps getting to that point, but every little bit helps, and promoting awareness of these issues and the differences in new born bodies, awareness that bodies come in more than 2 variations, is the best way to get there. Blogs like yours are what society needs so that these issues and differences don't seem foreign to the general population: exposure = less fear = acceptance.

  2. Thank you so much, Noelle! Yes, I think it's going to be a while for society to be accepting of the range of human variation, in terms of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ability, etc. But we have to keep trying, you know? Maybe everyone won't collectively all become accepting simultaneously, but individuals will change along the way. I'm aiming to help be a part of that change.

  3. So I know you wrote this two years ago and may not even see this, but I just wanted to let you know that I found this post to be really inspirational and that I'm going to be presenting on it in one of my classes. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences! :)