Friday, November 22, 2013

Intersex Activist Event (On the Internet!): Huffington Post Live Panel on Intersex Issues

Hi, everyone! This afternoon, I had a fantastic experience participating in a live discussion on intersex issues via Google Hangout. The panelists included folks I've linked to on this blog before, including Hida Viloria - Chairperson of OII-USA - and Cary Gabriel Costello - sociologist and blogger at The Intersex Roadshow (which I love). Also present were Sean Saifa Wall and David Cameron Stratchen, who were both featured in the documentary film 1 in 2000, focusing on raising awareness about intersex issues.

If you're interested in checking the video out, you can do so here!

Thank you to Huffington Post (especially Alex Berg for getting us set up and our awesome interviewer, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin), the other intersex activists on the panel, and a HUGE thanks to the NYU LGBTQ Student Center for giving me space and a laptop to do the interview! (My laptop is on its last legs - the Center's help was so appreciated!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

UPDATE: Germany's New "Third Gender" Law Is Not Progressive for Intersex People

Hi, there! The internet has been aflurry the last couple of weeks reporting on Germany's new "third gender" law, where individuals' gender can be legally identified as "M," "F," or "X." This legislation is being touted as really progressive and exciting and a step for both intersex people and people who are gender non-conforming.

But this law is far from progressive for intersex kids, even if it's a good thing for gender non-conforming adults. Intersex activists have been opposing this law since it has been publicized, for several good reasons. Let's talk about why this law is not the intersex victory it might appear to be.

1) This law is a good thing for ADULTS, who can consent to their legal gender identifier. This law is NOT a good thing for intersex KIDS, who have their legal gender ID chosen FOR them.

While this law may be a good thing for adults, who can consent to changing their legal gender designation to/from M, F, or X, this law is not good for intersex kids, who get no say in choosing their legal gender identity.

A lot of the news reported thus far focuses on the fact that one can CHOOSE M, F, or X. But for intersex people, these choices are only real choices once they're adults. A closer read indicates that DOCTORS are the ones who assign legal gender for intersex kids - who by default, must get an X.

This is messed up because intersex kids are LITERALLY being marked from birth to be societally misunderstood and potentially harassed - both emotionally and physically. Intersex activism is raising awareness that intersex people are normal, and good, and when conversations (with accurate information on intersex) are had between intersex people and others, many are very accepting and understand why intersex people aren't bad, or a big deal, and should have bodily autonomy over what body parts they do and don't keep.

That being said, there are still people out there who don't understand. We're not at a place where people really know what intersex is, and stereotypes about who we are - and how our existence should be "dealt with" societally - are abundant and draconian. I am worried about intersex kids being born in Germany, because I don't trust our societies are at a place where we will accept them as they are and not mistreat them for having the bodies we have. It is one thing to raise awareness that intersex kids exist, and another to literally "out" these intersex kids from birth, opening them up to the potentially for lifelong harassment.

Intersex activist Hida Viloria recently stated (in my own paraphrasing), "People are more accepting of gays and lesbians, but discrimination exists. If there was a way to know that a baby was lesbian from birth, would it be a good idea to mark that on their birth certificates? Wouldn't this open them up to a lot of discrimination?"

Outing intersex kids from birth is not okay. It's one thing for an intersex adult changing their gender identity to "X" (as it is for any person - intersex or not - that chooses to do so), and having the choice be made for intersex kids. This law results in some other very troubling consequences - leading us to my second point.

2) This law simply promotes non-consensual, cosmetic surgeries on intersex kids, so their parents can change their legal gender to "M" or "F" (because post-surgery, they'll supposedly be "real" boys or girls).

As stated above, doctors are the ones who assign legal gender for intersex kids - and by default, must assign "X." Parents do have some say in assigning their child's legal gender, but doctors have the final say. The way that parents can contribute to their intersex child's legal gender assignment is this: If they want their kid to have "M" or "F" on their child's birth certificate, after the doctor has assigned that child "X," parents can force their children to undergo cosmetic surgery without consent. If parents have their children undergo surgery to alter or remove atypical sex characteristic (in terms of external genitals, internal genitals, or gonads), doctors will recommend changing the "X" to "M" or "F."

This is clearly so fucked up and awful.

Intersex activists have been working for years to STOP these treatments that are not medically necessary, that we cannot consent to, that are irreversible, that scar us physically and emotionally - potentially for the rest of our lives, and that can cause ACTUAL health problems (you know, to fix the health problems we never had to begin with). Parents and doctors are recommending these surgeries because they don't want their children to be marked as "different" based on their physical form. Now, Germany is recommending these kids be marked LEGALLY as "different" if their parents don't submit their kids to surgeries...which is going to result in parents doing just that. This new law simply provides FURTHER reasons to continue performing non-consensual, cosmetic surgeries on kids. This is a gigantic step (or ten) backward for intersex people.

A new law that encourages intersex genital/gonadal surgeries? Is not progressive for intersex people, period.

3) Intersex people don't represent a "third gender" category. Sex is not the same thing as gender. (While we're at it, we don't represent a "third sex" category, either.)

I think the reason many people see the new law as progressive is because intersex people are seen as an "other" requiring a third gender category. Our genders "can't" be female, and they "can't" be male, so our gender must lie behind door number three! Right?

Actually, no. Remember that intersex is actually about bodies, about biological sex. Sex and gender are NOT the same concept. Sex is about your body form (i.e., what it looks like) and how it functions. Gender is about whether you FEEL (or identify as) male, female, and/or other identities - it's not about your body specifically, but who you know yourself to be (whether or not that gender ID is the same as your biological sex or not).

So, bodies and gender don't share a one-to-one relationship. Whatever identity label you use for sex (e.g., "male") doesn't mean that you use that label to identify your gender, too. We can't assume that because someone has a body like X, their gender must also be X, too. Their gender might be Y, or Z, or maybe X sometimes and Y other times, maybe Y and Z at the same time, or maybe this person doesn't use gender labels at all.

In this vein, it's kind of weird, then, to create a third gender category for intersex people. If sex and gender don't match up in this they-have-to-match kind of way, or in this there-are-only-two-OH-WAIT-THREE-genders way (because there are potentially as many gender identities out there as there are people to have them), then creating a third gender doesn't make so much sense. A person with an intersex body can totally have a male gender identity! A person with an intersex body can totally have a female gender identity! A person with an intersex body can totally identify as intersex in terms of their gender, too! A person with an intersex body (like anyone else) can have any kind of gender identity/ies they can define!

So like, creating a third GENDER to label people that don't clearly fall into male or female SEX categories, doesn't make sense as a concept, because we're conflating sex and gender.

People everywhere on the internet have been excited for how this law is progressive and good for intersex people. I don't like being the downer that rains on everyone's parade, but I hope that it's clear that this law is NOT good for intersex people. To read more on why this law is not good for intersex people, check out OII-USA's post by Hida Viloria - "Germany’s New Third Gender Law Places Intersex Babies at Risk."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy International Intersex Solidarity Day!

Today, we celebrate intersex people by remembering our past - specifically, by honoring the life of Herculine de Barbin, a 19th c French intersex person, who tragically committed suicide following the discovery of her intersex status and subsequent court trial (yes, court trial) to determine whether she was "really" a man or a woman.

You can learn more about the life of Herculine Barbin by reading her published diary (with a foreward by Michel Focault), available on Amazon. Keeping with the time in which it was written, there is a lot of stigmatization and sensationalization surrounding Herculine's thoughts on her own body, and her attempts to conceal these secrets from those around her - experiences that are, unfortunately, still extremely common today. In Focault's foreward, as well as the yucky afterward - where medical professionals speculate as to her "medical condition" and "true" sex in excerpts from her medical documents - are also intersexphobic in terms of the language used and how intersex is conceptualized (i.e., as a medical problem). However, it's important to understand intersex people and history from other intersex people; the fact that a first-hand account of what it meant to be intersex in the 1800's is valuable an important. It's definitely worth giving Barbin's book a read.

Happy international intersex solidarity day! May we recognize that intersex people exist, that there's nothing wrong with our bodies as they naturally are, and understand the consequences of how societal discrimination affects (and ends) intersex peoples' lives.

Vive les personnes intersexuées! (Long live intersex people!)

Intersex Activist Event!: The Pratt Institute on Nov 7th!

Hi, everyone! I'm excited to announce I'll be raising awareness about intersex issues at The Pratt Institute on Nov 7th! Details are below.

Where: The Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY), Student Union
When: Nov 7th, 8pm
Event Description: Intersex individuals are those whose bodies have a mix body characteristics traditionally considered “male” or “female.” Clinicians often attempt to cosmetically “fix” intersex childrens' bodies through a variety of medical procedures that they cannot give consent to, even though intersex bodies are healthy and beautiful as they naturally are. Join intersex activist Claudia Astorino to explore intersex issues in an engaging workshop – what intersex is, why intersex is considered to be such a controversial issue, and why intersex genital surgeries (and other unnecessary treatments) need to end. Discussion encouraged, with Q&A to follow!

Link to the Facebook event page is here. Hope to see you there! :)

Happy Intersex Awareness Day!

Intersex people are fantastic, and this day (along with International Intersex Solidarity Day, on Nov 8th) celebrates us and our bodies as they naturally are.

Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) is celebrated on Oct 26th to commemorate the day of the first public protest in the United States against intersex medical "treatments," in 1996.

OII-USA is making available two updated documents made to raise awareness about intersex people - a brief handbook for intersex allies, and a document for new parents of children with atypical sex anatomy. You can access them both here! (Links are at the bottom of the post.)

Tell someone, "Happy Intersex Awareness Day!" and maybe start a conversation about intersex, or link to/reblog our OII-USA documents on a social media site today. Let others know this is an important day worth celebrating!

And have a happy intersex awareness day, yourself! :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

4th Annual NYC Intersex Awareness Day: Events This Week!

Hi, everyone! With Intersex Awareness Day (Oct 26th) right around the corner, we've got two fantastic events in NYC this year to raise awareness about what intersex is, why intersex issues are human rights issues, and what intersexphobia is and how to stop it.

Join Claudia Astorino at Bluestockings Bookstore on Wednesday at 7pm

Join Claudia and Hida Viloria at NYU's Kimmel Center (Rm 916) on Thursday at 7pm

Hope to see you there! :)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

ILGA-Europe Adopts "Childrens' Right to Physical Integrity" Resolution

The European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe) has adopted a new resolution called, "Childrens' right to physical integrity." This resolution states that many forms of culturally or individually accepted physical modification of children is not acceptable, including female genital mutilation, religion-based circumcision, and other coerced body modification (e.g., piercings, tattoos, plastic surgery). Importantly, the cosmetic medical procedures intersex people are subjected to without their consent are included in the resolution.

ILGA-Europe has worked together with the European chapter of Organization Intersex International (OII-Europe) to make this resolution intersex-inclusive, and highlight the need to protect intersex childrens' basic bodily autonomy. Under this resolution, European countries must "...undertake further research to increase knowledge about the specific situation of intersex people, ensure that no-one is subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment that is cosmetic rather than vital for health during infancy or childhood, guarantee bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination to persons concerned, and provide families with intersex children with adequate counselling and support.”

This is another big step forward for intersex rights. Fantastic job, ILGA-Europe and OII-Europe!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Where Are All the Actually Medically Relevant Intersex Studies Out There?

There's a lot of information on intersex out there in scholarly medical journals, but so little of the information is actually relevant to intersex peoples' health. I am an academic, and I know a think or two about using Google Scholar or ISI Web of Knowledge, or other search engines & databases to find research articles on stuff. In the various searches I've done for intersex, there is surprisingly little medical-related research going on that isn't about new ways to surgically slice and dice our bodies up without our consent.

This is really unacceptable, because I have a lot of questions about how my body works, and what's going to happen to me as I age, and there aren't a lot of answers out there because no one is researching this stuff. My intersex variation is androgen insensitivity (AIS) - specifically, complete androgen insensitivity (CAIS), indicating my body has never, ever been able to use testosterone. (Individuals with PAIS can make some testosterone, but not as much as typical females do.) Testosterone isn't simply a sex hormone that helps boys' bodies virilize, or to develop along a male trajectory - it plays important roles in bone health. Testosterone and estrogen both influence the process of building up new bone (either for the first time in young kids, or to replace older bone cells in younger adults) and breaking down old bone (sometimes without replacing it in older & elderly people). This is one of the reasons that both typical males and typical females have both testosterone and estrogen, even though they're inaccurately pegged as "male" and "female" hormones, respectively.

While it has been noted that AIS people may have more bone problems like osteoporosis than typical females - and can start having these bone problems earlier - these observations seem to be more anecdotal than everything. There aren't studies out there indicating when, on average, AIS people start having bone problems, how severe bone problems may be with progressing age, and the secondary effects of these bone problems. Like, I'm kind of worried not knowing what's going to happen to me. I take an estrogen pill every day, but even if I do that, what does it mean for your bones to have not EVER interacted with a chemical that's ESSENTIAL to their long-term health?

I have no idea.

Something else I wonder about is the supposedly high risk of cancer in intersex gonads. I had a gonadectomy when I was just a few months old. During surgery for a routine hernia repair (evidently kids get hernias, like, all the time), they noted that my gonads were testicles, and not ovaries as they had expected. The prevailing wisdom, based on a medical study from 1976, is that intersex individuals are likely to develop gonadal cancer, so routine gonad removal for intersex kids is recommended to avoid cancer risk.

I think it's really unclear whether recommending gonad removal right off the bat is reasonable or medically necessary, however. There hasn't been a lot of follow-up study since this one study from the 1970's. Typically, it takes more than one round of experiments, or a single research paper to really understand what's going on with the thing you want to test and learn about. What about validation studies to verify whether this 1976 paper's results, and resulting surgical recommendations, are accurate?

I have no idea if the cancer risks reported in this paper are legitimate. I have no idea if I could have kept all of my body parts intact, could have not needed to take a pill every day for the rest of my life (and pay for them, whether or not I have health insurance) to replace the hormones that my gonads naturally made (for free).

I am tempted to think that little research has been done on intersex gonadal cancer, in part, because medics are not fully comfortable with the idea of us keeping our "mismatched" organs, perhaps especially if we can reproduce. There are unfortunately lots of people out there who don't think that intersex people should be allowed to live our lives with our natural (i.e., to them, unacceptable) bodies, that maybe don't want us to pass our intersex on to our kids. That is really fucked-up, and is discriminatory at best, and eugenics at worst.

Medical researchers could be working on this important health concern that's really relevant to AIS folks like me, but they're not. They're almost exclusively working on updating and formulating new surgical techniques to alter our (naturally healthy) genitals and gonads instead. They're not investigating how our bodies work on a basic biological level, so we'll know what to expect and how to stay healthy during our lifetimes. They're not figuring out how to better treat us, with new knowledge specific to our various intersex variations.

They're just figuring out how to change us cosmetically, without our consent, with less of a fuss.

That's really fucked up.

To medical researchers: please start caring about and investigating issues that actually pertain to our health. Please stop thinking that new surgical techniques constitute the clinical knowledge we need to have well-adjusted, healthy lives. Please start trying to help us keep the bodies we have healthy and intact, instead of trying to change them into something you think is more desirable and "normal" when it's not. Please prioritize our health and value our bodies as they naturally are. I'm sick of waiting for these things to happen. And I'm afraid that someday, lack of knowledge about my body might make me seriously physically sick, too.

My knowledge of intersex-related health issues is pretty restricted to my own form of intersex - (C)AIS. What health concerns do you have, whether your form of intersex is AIS or something else?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Poland's Next Top Model Contestant Comes Out As Intersex

Michalina Manios, a contestant on Poland's Next Top Model recently came out as intersex. I think it was really courageous of Manios to disclose her intersex status, since she clearly didn't have to. Way to be out and proud, Manios!

I don't love her media quotes or some of her characterizations of intersex, however. She referred to herself as a hermaphrodite, stating that she "had male genitalia," but that she, "had an operation to remove the male bits and changed my name." Some intersex people don't mind the term "hermaphrodite," and do self-identify in this way. But when discussing intersex issues with the public, the term "intersex" is usually used instead of older terms that are more stigmatizing (and biologically inaccurate for humans). That being said, it is possible that, in Polish, there isn't an equivalent word like "intersex" that distinguishes it from "hermaphrodite." Many languages don't have such a word - worse, the term that is used for intersex might be confusing, and sound like it's referring to trans* indiviuals, or queer/homosexual sexual orientations. Or, it's possible Polish does have an "intersex" word equivalent that Manios used, but the journalists reporting on her coming out are not well-versed in intersex issues, and THEY used the term "hermaphrodite," and not Manios. US journalists still frequently make such mistakes; it's totally possible this occurred in Manios's case, too.

I also think that it's a big oversimplification to refer to non-normative intersex genital forms as categorically "male" or "female," as in her description of removing her "male bits." Intersex exists in its own right - our body structures don't have to be understood or individually labeled as male or female. I respect Manios's decision to identify her own parts as male if she wishes, but I think it is problematic to not further explain that not all intersex individuals would characterize their body this way. It is also problematic not to state that not all intersex indiviuduals have "both" male and female bits - which is likely the assumption that readers will walk away with...that our bodies are those of the mythic Greek fable hermaphrodites after all, when they're not.

While I think the articles discussing Manios's coming out have some problems associated with them, I offer all my support to Manios herself. Welcome to the club, Michalina! :)

"Third Gender" Option on Birth Certificates Won't Necessarily Help Intersex People

A new German law has recently been passed affording parents the option of leaving their newborn's gender designation blank on birth certificates. The idea is that instead of assigning their baby's gender for them at birth, that individual can define their own gender for themselves when they are older.

I have a lot of questions about this law. First off, it's a really different concept to talk about defining a person's biological sex vs. a person's gender. These two words are used interchangeably all the time, and are conflated as meaning the same thing, when in fact, they're different concepts. I am having some difficulty figuring out if the new German law is actually legislating a new option for gender or for biological sex on birth certificates - or, whichever one is being legislated, if it makes any practical, legal difference anyway since we conceptualize them as being the same anyway.

While on the surface, this change seems progressive, it isn't necessarily so much. Aside from the sex vs. gender conflation, what this law does is to allow someone to not legally identify as male or female. It doesn't mean that the individual can identify in other ways than male or female if they choose...they can simply choose NOT to identify as those two things. That isn't necessarily a third option as much as it is as a (permanent) deferment in choosing one of the two normative options.

But, allowing your child the option to define their sex/gender when they get older, and not doing it for them, is progressive in a sense. If individuals decide the live their whole lives as "blank," however, a lot of other legislation would have to be put in place to not cause other problems. Will people not legally male or female be allowed to leave the country if their passports don't have M or F on them? Same-sex civil unions are legal in Germany, although same-sex marriage isn't. Are civil unions legal among individuals who aren't legally registered as male or female? Various countries, states, and workplaces have different minimum retirement ages for men and women. When can a person who is legally neither male or female retire? How about driver's licence insurance premiums, or (in places without universal healthcare) health insurance rates? There's a lot of legal stuff resulting in differential treatment for males and females. When you throw male and female designations out the window, and changes at different levels of a system that has only recognized M and F are slow (or fail) to follow, what happens to these people? It seems like it could be pretty easy to get lost in the mix altogether.

Finally, I fear that this legislation could get amended later to not allow parents to choose "blank," but to instead chose an actual "third sex/gender category," changing our hardline binary sex/gender system into a still-just-as-not-progressive tertiary sex/gender system. Let's say that lawmakers say, "Listen, identifying as 'blank' is a little confusing. Why don't we just create the category 'other' or something? You can be M, F, or X!" In this instance, parents of intersex kids might be forcibly assigned to category "X" instead of to M or F. This is a big problem for intersex people, because not all people with atypical sex anatomy (and COULD identify as intersex) actually identify as intersex or "other," but as males and females. Such kids who wouldn't identify as intersex would have to fight later for the right to legally change their status from X to M or F, and answer to people who think they should identify this way because they were born with a, b, and c body traits. Or, they might fight back against the system and provide alternative views: that that there shouldn't be these three categories that everyone has to fall into to begin with, because there's not only three sexes or genders.

Doesn't that sound familiar?

Yeah. Doesn't sound too appealing to me, either.

The third gender option isn't an entire fail, but I don't think it's the super-progressive legal antidote to all our sex and gender problems some people are hoping for. I'll be interested to follow this in the coming weeks and months, and see what the legislation does (or fails to do) for newborns in practical terms.

What do you think about it?

M.C. Crawford Case Update: Nonconsensual Genital Surgery Ruled Unconstitutional by Federal Court

This is absolutely incredible.

This is one important step is legislating a ban on non-consensual, non-medically necessary clinical treatments. We could maybe see this happen within our lifetimes. Holy shit.

So proud of our legal system today.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Intersex Book Club: The Ticking (Renée French)

Hello, everyone! This book isn't specifically about intersex, but is definitely relatable to intersex people, or anyone born with physical traits deemed weird, shameful, and in need of "fixing."

I first read The Ticking, by Renée French at the first independent bookstore I ever went into - !!! - in Salt Lake City, where I was doing some work over the summer. I was in college, and had already disclosed my intersex status to my three closest female friends several years before. I was still about three years away, though, from encountering perspectives from other intersex people and organizations on the internet, proposing that intersex wasn't the bizarre medical condition everyone conceptualized it to be. That intersex bodies were good and healthy, and the problem wasn't that bodies like mine existed, but that society didn't accept or make room for them. At the time of reading The Ticking, I knew that I had a lot of confused feelings about what intersex really was, and what it meant in terms of my body, my biological sex, and my place in the world as a person who didn't really fit in, in one of the most basic ways humans are "supposed" to fit into the world.

I picked up this book by chance, in part because it had a soft, textured cover, and I liked the feel of it as much as I was intrigued by the little white figure with the box over its head. What could this be about? I opened the cover and found out.

The Ticking is the story of a young boy named Edison Steelhead who, for reasons that aren't initially clear in the book, has physical features (i.e., very wide-set eyes) deemed unacceptable by his father/the world they live in. Most of the book is comprised of highly detailed black-and-white illustrations (in a style that, interestingly, makes most of the images look fuzzy). In the first of the few words included in the book, Edison's father says, "You look like we'll go away." Curiously, though, Edison's father does not, in fact, look like Edison. He has eyes that are set much closer together. Nevertheless, Edison's father takes him to a new home - the home his father grew up in - in a secluded area where Edison's eye form won't be seen by anyone else. Edison's mother died during childbirth, and is nearly absent from the book.

Edison grows up, and discovers a mask one day while playing outside. He tries it on, and it perfectly fits his wide-set eyes.

Edison, still wearing the mask, finds his father, and asks him if the mask was his own as a boy. His father does not answer, only replying, "Give it to me please."

The father takes Edison to a doctor one day, although Edison isn't sure why he needs to go to the doctor. The doctor takes a marker and makes a series of dotted lines on Edison's face, indicating to the father where his eyes will be located after the surgery Edison is evidently going to have.

Edison refuses to have the surgery, to his father's disappointment. In the meantime, the father has adopted a chimpanzee, referring to her as Edison's new sister, Patrice. He dresses her in human clothes and spends a lot of time with her, while becoming increasingly withdrawn from Edison.

In order to cope with the stressors of isolation from society and his father's non-acceptance of him, Edison spends more and more time cultivating a new skill - drawing. He illustrates many of the things around him, making sense of a world through drawing that cannot or will not make sense of him. He eventually moves away and becomes further estranged from his father, living in a hotel and making a living with his black-and-white pencil drawings. The rest of the book deals with how to live one's life with a body deemed abnormal by society, while living openly within that society with one's natural, physical form. The book also follows the relationship between Edison and his father, exploring the complexities between how you feel about someone and how these feelings translate into actions, and ultimately, life choices that permanently color a relationship's dynamics.

I couldn't help but feel super-emotional while reading this. While it's a more dramatic telling with the emotive illustrations, it felt true to life - being perceived as so freakishly different *does* feel that dramatic sometimes. Having the body you have *does* feel like it eclipses other aspects of your identity, and has already pre-determined what your life can and will be like in some senses. It is hard, and dark, and I found comfort in recognizing those larger-than-everything feelings in The Ticking.

I think I also related to it so much because of Edison's father's assumptions that these natural physical traits should be "fixed," to the extent of actually visiting a surgeon and planning procedures to make Edison "normal." There is a level of heartbreak in realizing just how Edison's father must have thought of his body by not only going through with surgery, but choosing it for his son as well. Edison's rejection of surgery and accepting the consequences of what his life would like look living openly with his body was inspiring to me, at a time when I was not at all sure if it was possible to accept your intersex and integrate it into your daily life in a not-a-big-deal way. Edison showed me that even if it didn't work out like that, it was worth trying to stay honest to yourself, even if that self is seen as flawed by everyone else. <3

Exploring how the relationship between Edison and his father change over time is also so relevant to intersex issues. Families often don't talk about intersex - what intersex bodies mean in terms of identity for the kids, how both parents and kids can learn more about intersex together, talking about why intersex is so stimatized by society and why this doesn't have to be so. Parents need to having conversations with their kids telling them they love them and accept them, not in spite of their intersex, but also because of it. Parents and kids need to work through prejudices and faulty assumptions about intersex and evolve in terms of accepting intersex as a natural, normal thing that's fine, and not as a yucky medical condition that needs to be monitored and policed and fixed, even if coming to hold those views takes time.

Edison and his father weren't having conversations like these. They became emotionally distant with the reality of the father's non-acceptance of his son. They didn't talk about and debate and try to understand each other's points of views and speak to those attitudes and opinions. They simply stopped talking. It's so easy for relationships to become strained between intersex kids and their parents because neither party knows how to talk about it, allowing for once-healthy relationships to fester. This isn't good. This inaction isn't acceptable. We owe our kids and ourselves better than that. Just because these conversations aren't easy doesn't mean we shouldn't have them.

In short, I love this book.

This book will always be shorthand for fairly universal experiences with regard to intersex. If you haven't yet checked out this book, I highly recommend doing so. :)

Australian Bill Passed! First Anti-Discrimination Bill in the World That Includes Intersex

It is an awesome day.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Australia Closer to Passing First-Ever, Intersex-Inclusive Anti-Discrimination Bill!

This is fantastic! With the work of affiliates from OII-Australia, the first-ever intersex-inclusive anti-discrimination bill has passed the House of Representatives/Parliament. Now the bill needs to pass in the Australian Senate.

This bill, which we discussed previously on FFA:IAA will make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status illegal. Most of us are familiar with legislation protecting individuals for sexual orientation and gender identity, but this is the first time intersex status is explicitly included in anti-discrimination law.

You can keep track of the bill's progress here!

Congratulations, Australia, and continued success! Hopefully, this bill will be on the books soon!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Miss USA 2013 Contestant Is Openly MRKH!

Openly MRKH Miss USA 2013 contestant, Jaclyn Shultz of Michigan, states the following in her Miss USA profile: "Jaclyn is the proud spokeswoman for “A Beautiful You MRKH Foundation.” Since she was born without a uterus, this non-profit is close to her heart."

It is so awesome to see someone competing in a mainstream event being open about her body's less-typical anatomy. Yay for acceptance and awareness!

Wishing you the best of luck in the competition, Schultz!

Thanks to Hida Viloria for the heads-up on this! :)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kenyan Lawsuit Filed Over Intersex Legal Recognition and Protection from Cosmetic "Treatment"

Kenya's second-ever lawsuit concerning intersex issues has been filed. An intersex individual referred to as Baby A is suing Kenyan authorities for 1) legal recognition of intersex individuals, and 2) the right of intersex children to not have cosmetic, "corrective" surgery unless it is court-ordered.

Because Baby A is intersex, this individual doesn't have one of the most basic forms of legal recognition: a birth certificate. At the Kenya National Hospital where Baby A was born, records denote the child's sex with a question mark, instead of an M or an F. As a result of authorities not recording M or F, a birth certificate was never created for Baby A.

Baby A's lawyer, John Chigli notes the damage of never being issued a birth certificate: “The birth certificate is of great legal importance to the life and development of a child given that it is ticket to school admission, issuance of passport, national identity card and employment."

Baby A will be legally denied these opportunities until KNH hospital administrators issue A a birth certificate.

The lawsuit is also seeking to prevent "corrective" surgeries on intersex children unless it is court-ordered. The wording of this portion of the lawsuit is worrisome, in that not all non-consensual "treatments" for intersex children are surgical. Some procedures, like vaginal dilation, are not surgical, but are still cosmetic in nature, and can serve to physically and psychoemotionally harm children that undergo them. I also hope that the lawsuit denotes that corrective surgeries do not just include altering the external genitals, but also the removal of internal sex organs. I think that intersex surgery is still largely equated with external genitals only in popular understanding, but protections against removal of internal sex organs should not be done without the intersex persons's consent, either.

Finally, I am wondering about the phrase "unless it is court-ordered." It seems like this could be a convenient legal loophole, where it could become common practice to just court-order surgery/"treatment" for every intersex person born in Kenya, or actually create new legislation making it legal to perform these treatments, and side-stepping the need to court-order treatment for each individual case. By what standards would one determine whether surgery/"treatment" should be court-ordered? What cases should be court-ordered, and which shouldn't?

I think that more legislation fighting for intersex rights and protection is necessary. I would encourage those filing this lawsuit, however, to consider whether allowing for the possibility of governing bodies to court-order intersex surgery will really be solving the problem, or simply creating more legislation and legal ways to actively change the bodies of intersex individuals without our consent.

I don't want a court system to have any say in what is done to my body. I applaud Baby A's efforts in filing a lawsuit, but hope that in court, what is fought for is intersex individuals' right alone in deciding which of our own body parts we are allowed to keep, and not other authorities who can legally court-order our body parts away without our consent.

We deserve better than that.

Thanks to Georgiann Davis for alerting me to this case!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Intersex Activists Speak Out In Support of M.C. Crawford

Hi, everyone! It's been a few days since new first broke that eight-year old M.C. Crawford's family is suing various South Carolina institutions for performing cosmetic, medically unnecessary genital surgery on M.C. when he was just 16 months old.

More intersex activists have become aware of this case, and are speaking out against the surgeries performed on M.C. without his consent, and in support of the Crawford family.

Check out this article by OII (Organization Intersex International), which nicely synthesizes what intersex activists are saying and doing with regards to this case.

There will certainly be more to come. We will keep you updated!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Parents Sue South Carolina Institutions for Subjecting Intersex Child to Non-Medically Necessary Surgery

This is historic.

This is hugggggggge.

I've written about this case and its impacts on intersex activism over here at Autostraddle.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Intersex Activist Event!: It's Allies Week at McDaniel College (Westminster, MD)

Hi, there! For those of you local to Westminster, MD, feel free to check this out!

How to Be A Good Intersex Ally
April 12th, 2pm
McDaniel College, Westminster, MD,
Hill Hall, Rm 104

I will be talking about what intersex is, and how to be a good intersex ally. Q&A time will be included to have discussions about all things intersex. I'll also be reading several slice-of-life monologues I've written on various aspects of living life as an intersex person.

Can't wait to see you there! :)

It's Not Anecdotal.


This post talks explicitly about medical "treatments" experienced by some intersex people, including vaginal dilation procedures.

Readers, I have been struggling a lot lately. I don't often talk about my own medicalization, except to say that it wasn't consensual and it messed me up, but thoughts about my medicalization have been more frequent lately, more intense, upset me a little more than it used to. Before, what had happened to me was something more abstract, with greater distance in the past. It happened, it sucked, it wasn't what I wanted, it was awful and should have never happened. It was there, but that was it. There wasn't anything to engage with. It was almost like those experiences were part of a historical consciousness I didn't experience was something important to who I am and why I am who I am, but at the same time, it has nothing to do with me, specifically. It's not really about me.

Except, until it is about you.

Those things really happened to me. I feel like the ice has broken, and now all the stuff that has been frozen, moving slowly underneath is starting to move and to thaw and be active and make me miserable. I've read personal accounts of intersex people, and several of them have stated something to the effect of, "You can't deal with what's happened to you when you're younger. Your 30's are for dealing with the trauma you've experienced from the medicalization and shame and denial." I'm 28 years old. I think it's time to start getting ready for what's happening to me now.

Part of my problem is that, even though it may seem ludicrious, I don't feel like I can really own, am really entitled to be upset about what happened to me. The way I operate is akin to someone who has been sexually abused. I wrote previously about a piece that intersex activist Emi Koyama wrote, that riveted me when I saw it: that many intersex people experience their medical trauma very similarly to children who are sexually abused. The moment I saw this written out in paper, something clicked: yes, this is how I have been feeling. I have been pushing this feeling down for so long, because it seems absolutely offensive to people who have undergone sexual abuse. My experiences are not "real" could I claim something I have not experienced and make a mockery out of the things survivors have had to face and heal from? I can't be that much of a victimizing, identity-stealing awful-thing.

But the similarities are striking. Intersex people are told that they can't talk about who they are and what their experiences are. We are made to feel shameful and freakish about our bodies. We are taught to fear our physical selves. We are subjected to experiences that we cannot consent to, do not want, and are scared of - experiences that involve touching, examining, and inserting foreign objects into our most private of parts. We are young, and do not understand the ramifications of what is being done to us. The "treatment" we experience often emotionally and psychologically scars us. We have trouble forming intimate relationships. We have fraught and unhealthy relationships toward sexual activity. Some of us avoid having such close, physical relationships entirely. We can't take the risk of being hurt again.

This sounds a lot like accounts of sexual abuse to me.

Here are the facts: From the time I was 8 until I was 16, I had grown, old men inserting medical dildos into me twice a year, and then later once a year when I got older. I couldn't control it. I didn't know it wasn't for my medical benefit. I didn't want these things to happen, and they seemed absolutely inevitable, completely non-negotiable. I didn't know I could say no to a doctor. I didn't know a doctor could perform treatments that weren't for my health unless I went to them for that express purpose - like, for cosmetic surgery. I have felt that my experiences are not the same as "real" sexual abuse, though, because these things that have fucked up my life so much were done by men in white coats, with degrees, who took oaths to do things in the best interests of their patients. They didn't intend to hurt me. It simply couldn't be the same as sexual abuse.

But if it's not, then what do you call it? Ask perpetrators of sexual abuse if they abused somebody. There are scores and scores of individuals who insist that they didn't abuse anyone...they didn't say no, they were playing hard to get, they were just trying to get some, it was okay because they knew the other person really wanted it. These people do not think they are responsible for the overwhelming feelings of fear and trauma and worthlessness that accompany the abuse for the people they violated. They didn't mean to do that, so they didn't. Similarly, the doctors that did these things to me did not mean to traumatize me and make me feel sick and bad about what happened to me. They were just doing what they thought should be their jobs.

They didn't mean to do that, so they didn't.

But they did do it. Not meaning to do something, and not doing something, are two different things. People who don't intend to do something, sometimes do that thing. Doctors who didn't mean to abuse clients are not very different from any other person who caused abuse out of ignorance and misunderstanding. "I didn't mean to," does not invalidate what happened. It does not make everything better, and take away the hurt and fucked-upness that was caused. It does not excuse or change what happened. It does not make the doer unaccountable for their actions. If what happened to me was not abuse, then what was it?

I don't think I can accurately label my experiences as anything but abuse. Anything else fails to encompass the magnitude of how not-okay what happened was, and how much it's messed me up, and how completely unable to consent to what was going on I was.

I am going to try not to feel guilty about labeling my experiences what they were. It is okay.

As I said, I am having a hard time. I feel the gross, icky feelings more acutely and more often than I used to. I feel the tunnel-vision of fear and numbness and disbelief that this really happened to me. I feel sick doing ordinary things, going about my day, when I am triggered seemingly out of the blue. I want to go to bed early, to forget, to distract myself, to stop feeling so much. I want to hibernate in a cave of comfortable feelings that don't feel extreme, don't hurt too much, don't feel like much of anything. I just want to be safe. I want the safety I didn't have as a kid. I want to take back what happened, reverse those experiences, take those memories and crush them between my fingers, stub them out like they're worthless and not real and don't mean a damn thing to me, because fuck things like that that happen to people - I'm not dealing with that.

Mostly, I just don't want to deal with everything once the thawing finishes.

I am in therapy now, which is a good thing. I can effectively deal with these things as they come. I am privileged enough to have health insurance, and to have a support system who will make sure I get access to the therapy that I need. I am in a relatively good situation. But it's hard to be as grateful as I know I should be when I am still so resistant to the fact that I need to deal with this shit at all.

My experiences are making me think about the context in which experiences like mine have largely been viewed by the medical community. Intersex activism in the US started in the mid-90's, and in the UK a few years before that. Intersex individuals started national and international conversations about the ethics of intersex medical "treatment" that wasn't medically necessary, didn't track health, and left physical and emotional scars that intersex people had to deal with for the rest of their lives. Few long-term studies have been done on intersex individuals' satisfaction with their medical treatment, partly because clinicians are often unwilling to submit (former) patient lists to collect and analyze data in case their patients are unhappy with their treatment (Fixing Sex, 2008). They are sometimes afraid that dissatisfaction could result in legal action being taken against them, and the resulting loss of their practices. Sometimes, they also don't want to emotionally face the fact that they may have damaged their patients by providing unethical medical care when they meant to do the opposite. Intersex individuals that speak out against their "treatment" are viewed as a "vocal minority," that most patients are perfectly happy with the care they received since they're not complaining. But many intersex individuals state that their silence does not mean that they are happy with their care; many indiviudals are so traumatized by their experiences and feel so stigmatized about their bodies and what has been done to them that they cannot, or can only rarely, speak about it - publicly or otherwise. Silence is not acceptance. And for those of us who do speak out, our experiences are labeled as "anecdotal," since no studies show that that intersex people are largely dissatisfied with their treatment. Swing back around to the fact that most clinicians are unwilling to submit data on their patients to such studies. Circle around, rinse and repeat. Bang head against the wall. Do it again.

My experiences are not anecdotal. The lack of studies on the relationship between intersex "treatment" that does not track our health and how we feel about those treatments does not invalidate what I'm feeling right now. I don't care how few studies are out there - no doctor can tell me that I'm somehow hallucinating the reasons why I feel so fucked up right now. No one can convince me that my trauma, and my behavior as a result of that trauma, doesn't have everything to do with my medicalization. I burst into tears for a few seconds on the walk home, have to regroup in public, I feel overwhelmed about what happened to me, about the images that flash into my mind that I did not allow to be there in the first place. I am more aware of where I am spatially in relation to other people around me, whose distance to my self I more closely monitor with self-preserving distrust. I am not okay, and it is because of what happened to me in those medical examining rooms, and that is absolutely unacceptable.

I don't understand how people can listen to what we've been through, and see what has happened to us - and what continues to happen to children every single day - as anything less than a human rights violation. It's completely unethical. And I will not stop fighting to make sure that, someday, these awful things are viewed as what they are - as things that should not, cannot ever again happen, that violate our basic rights, our autonomy, and the human dignity that we deserve. My experiences are not anecdotal. They, like the experiences of so many others, are the reason why we need a change. We need a paradigm shift in how intersex is viewed - as not a medical condition, as a natural and healthy biological way of being, as something that is not rare or strange and needs fixing, but as a part of human biological variation that's okay and good and is here to stay. We need a paradigm shift in how non-medically necessary "treatment" is perceived - as wrong, as unethical, as violating basic consent, as something we must legislate against and fight to prevent from ruining the lives of other young kids who don't know what's going on and are just following the doctors' orders and their parents wishes and end up with feelings so fucked that sometimes they can't breathe.

We need these changes. And we need them now.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"We're All Women..."

Hello, readers! I'm voluntarily spending my spring break (well, semi-voluntarily, I guess) collecting data for a research project. I'm far away from NYC, and I've been adjusting to life in my shared hostel room. It's been really pleasant so far, and all of the other guests I'm sharing this room with have been nice and pretty respectful. It's about as good a situation as you could hope for.

Something weird happened, though, while I've been here. I was slumped down on my bottom-bunk bed, in my shitty pajamas with my laptop on my lap, watching Netflix before passing out for the evening. (As I do.) My roommate noticed me all huddled up my my computer, and said to me, "I'm going to offer you some unsolicited advice. I hear it's not good to keep your computer on your lap like that because you could get cancer in your ovaries." I just kind of stared at her. This was partly because I had missed some of what she'd said; I had headphones in, and by the time I registered she was speaking to me at all, and then and pulled them out, I was still processing what she'd said after she'd finished. Second, I was thinking the obvious: "I don't HAVE ovaries."

Still not settled on how I would respond, she spoke again. "I'm sorry, it's none of my business. But we're all women, right?"

"Um, yeah," I said. I waited a few seconds, not sure if I would respond further. I was thinking about how antisocial my response already was. "Thanks." End discussion.

I knew that she was coming from a good place. But I couldn't help but be kind of haunted by what she'd said - "we're all women, right?" It felt like the epitome of one thing I've been coming to terms with nearly all my life - that there's only men and women, and I am clearly a woman. And by virtue of being a woman, my body looks like x, y, and z, and I should feel like a, b, and c, and identify as 1, 2, and 3, and I end up feeling all W, T, F.

Sometimes it's hard to live in a world where no space exists for you. But there's an added layer of not-belonging when the world doesn't even seem to know that who you are COULD exist at all. You live and you breathe and you are what you are and you're not hiding it, and yet somehow, people lives their whole lives without ever knowing that something so essential to your identity and your daily life is even a thing.

And that feels shitty.

That being said, when situations like this occur, it's not just a reminder that who you are is largely invisible, but that by virtue of being made invisible by how others read you, you can't just correct them and assert who you are without having to jump through a hoop and put yourself out on a limb and have to think about whether you're safe and assess whether you have the energy to have The Conversation tonight. Because you if you assert yourself, it's not very likely they'll know what you're talking about, and that is okay, but sometimes, you just want to be able to be who you are and be who you are out loud without having to give a definition and an explanation and host a question & answer session.

Sometimes you just want to be able to be yourself, and have that be understood, and taken at face value.

And that's it.

It makes me sad when these moments happen, because it's not like if I could go back in time, I would do anything differently. If I could grab a TARDIS and backtrack to last night, I wouldn't open my mouth when I hadn't before. I wasn't comfortable talking about everything the first time, and I wouldn't have chosen to talk about all those things in that case, either. It just makes me frustrated that I live in a world where I can't say who I am and be understood. There's a big knowledge gap that people like us exist, and the communication barrier that ensues in situations like this are kind of demoralizing sometimes.

Now, I know I'm not being quite fair. Most people don't know that intersex people exist. Hell, most people aren't familiar with sex and gender theory enough to know that not all women have ovaries, and not everyone who has ovaries identifies as a woman. Someone who looks outwardly female is most likely going to be sexed & gendered female, and is assumed to have all the body parts and gender things associated with being female. Most people who look like me do have ovaries.

I just happen to be one of the people that doesn't. And I want there to be room for me, too. I don't want to have to sweep my identity under the rug because it's unknown or not considered.

I want to be me.

And that is not something unreasonable to want, or to think I should have.

I just also have to accept that it's not in the public consciousness, and that it will take time to get there. That's part of why I talk about intersex - I want people to know that we exist.

Someday, if I have a similar conversation I want to be able to give them a good-nature sidelong glance, and a grin, and say, "Well, it doesn't really matter, I don't have those anyway." And it won't be this weird thing, and I'll be understood and I could go back to watching old TV shows on Netflix and the event would be so unremarkable I wouldn't even think twice about it.

But it's gonna be a while before we get there.

Someday. I hope that happens.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Guest Piece on Autostraddle's Website Today!

I am so happy and honored to have contributed to the fabulous website, Autostraddle is a website devoted to queer women - their tagline: "News, entertainment, opinion, and girl-on-girl culture" - and I think they do a great job of addressing relevant queer-lady issues and helping to build online community. (They're also helping to build face-to-face community with Autostraddler meet-ups in your city/area and the bi-annual A-camp, where you get to hang out with fellow Autostraddlers in the woods for a week. Omg, I want to go so much.)

I am hoping to raise awareness about what intersex is and share some of my personal stories not just on this blog, but to a wider audience via Autostraddle (and later, other corners of the internet, too). I'm specifically interested in exploring the relationship between queer issues and intersex issues - how they overlap, how intersex issues are queer issues, why intersex should be included in the LGBT (i.e., adding the "I" for intersex), and how being an intersex woman adds other layers to being a queer/gay woman (i.e., intersectionality!).

This is, I hope, the first of many posts to come. Autostraddle and Autostraddlers, thank you for welcoming me and being intersex-inclusive. (And special thanks to Laneia and Marni for getting this story up and edited!) I'm so excited to have these conversations.

You can check out the article here!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Does It Really Mean to Be "Genetically (Fe)male?"

Hi, there! I have been thinking more about the fact that a lot of articles, books, etc. on intersex people seem really fond of the phrase "genetically male" and "genetically female" when discussing the chromosomes that intersex people have. I have always conditionally accepted the assertion that people with my intersex variation (androgen insensitivity, or AIS) - with both our XY chromosomes and bodies that are read as female by others - that I was "genetically male." I never felt totally comfortable with this, because I don't identify as male, and never have. It felt strange to identify as intersex, or as female, depending on the day (and depending on how confused (pre-)teen and early-twenty-something Claudia was about this whole intersex thing), and then see in black and white on a printed page or computer screen that I was somehow still male by virtue of my chromosomes. I became more interested in this paradox between who I say I am and who my chromosomes say I am as a biological scientist. Did having XY chromosomes really make me genetically male? If I was actually genetically male, then did that somehow challenge or negate my female identity? Did it just complicate it? What?

I've spent some time wondering whether I was overreacting somehow to being called a "genetic male." I have visceral reactions when I read this; something between a pang and a slight sucker-punch to the gut, followed by a swell of fear and guilt - I felt like it just was wrong, couldn't be true that I was somehow male anything, and yet I wondered if my distaste of this phrase was my own problem. What if I somehow really need to embrace (at least in part) some male identity by virtue of my big, burly, manly chromosomes? Or maybe I needed to just calm down, it was just a phrase, a convenient way of saying I had XY chromosomes, no need to get all upset.

But I don't think I have been overreacting. I think that the phrases "genetically male" and "genetically female" aren't very meaningful. I think that they're kinda problematic.

So, one science thing I'm used to thinking about is trait complexity, and the origins of that complexity. All of the bumps and grooves and characteristics our bodies have, no matter how simple and self-evident they seem, may be the result of a whole mess of factors - genetic, developmental, and/or environmental. Biological sex seems like it should be a simple game as far a chromosomes go. XX = girl, XY = boy. But when you consider ALL of the ways that genes influence sex development, it's clear that X and Y simply don't cut it.

In my form of intersex, I have XY chromosomes. I also have a particular gene called the AR gene, or androgen receptor gene, that plays a large role in why I am intersex. The AR gene codes for androgen receptors. Receptors are basically little molecular hands on the outside and inside of cells, that grab onto some molecules it's made to grab onto (or, in other words, is "specific" to). Typically, androgen receptors will grab onto androgens (here, testosterone); once these receptors grab onto the testosterone, it can be used by the body for a variety of reasons, some of them including virilization. The genetic sequence that gives rise to my androgen receptors resulted in my receptors being a little differently-shaped. For receptors to effectively grab onto its molecule, it's important that they have complementary shapes. My receptors didn't have the right shape to grab onto testosterone, so my body couldn't use it. Thus, even though I have XY chromosomes, my body developed on a female trajectory, responding to the only sex hormone it could (= estrogen).

So, what bugs me about this whole "genetically male" thing is that this phrase belies a lazy understanding of genetics. Okay, XY is associated with typical males. But what about my AR gene sequence? This is not associated with typical males. This is just as much genetic as my XY chromosomes are. How come I'm genetically male by virtue of my X and my Y, but I'm not genetically not-male by virtue of my AR gene?

I'm not genetically male. I'm genetically myself, and I happen to have XY chromosomes and an AR gene sequence that results in me being perceived as a lady. That's it.

Chromosomal sex might seem obvious and straightforward, but it's actually pretty complex. Asserting that you're genetically male having XY chromosomes or genetically male having XX chromosomes requires broad-stroke science that doesn't account for many relevant details (like, genes I have that prevented me from developing in a male trajectory) when considering biological sex. Understanding this makes me feel some validation for my younger (and no-so-young-&-fairly-recent) self that inwardly cringed at the implication that my chromosomes were pointing and shouting that I was a dude when I knew that I wasn't. I was not, and am not, being betrayed by my chromosomes. I'm just taking a more accurate view of what it means to be genetically anything.