Sunday, February 23, 2014

Adding the "I," Revisited: A Call to Action for LGBT-Only Organizations

Since this blog began all the way back in 2009 (has it really been that long?! – and I have the gall to balk that I’m already turning thirty this year…silly me), many intersex activists like myself have moved past wondering if the “I” should be included in the LGBT acronym to firmly advocating that being intersex-inclusive is extremely important. I’ve recently written a guest post for the fantastic blog, Autostraddle, on just this topic.

I won’t go through a detailed analysis of everything discussed in the Autostraddle post, so check it out! What I WILL say is that despite the fact that there are a multitude of reasons why the intersex-inclusive LGBTI acronym should be embraced, few organizations in general – and certainly very few in the United States – actually use the LGBTI acronym, even if they occasionally raise awareness about intersex issues or talk about how understanding intersex issues is important.

I am challenging organizations who truly think that being intersex-inclusive is important, who advocate on behalf of intersex people, and whose members consider themselves intersex allies, to officially change the names of their organizations to include the “I” or the word intersex in their name.

Any advocacy on behalf of intersex people and issues is absolutely fantastic, and organizations who are doing this – thank you, you are fantastic for doing so, and I appreciate this from the bottom of my intersex heart. I also think that, if you truly care about intersex people and issues, it sends a strange message to hold events and talk about the fact that, “Intersex is important!” while the actual name of your organizations serves to keep us invisible and forgotten by not explicitly including us.

If you currently work at or volunteer at an LGBT center or organization in your community, in your school or college or university, at your place(s) of employment, etc., I encourage you to inquire why your LGBT organization isn’t an LGBTI organization, and what the members think about this. You may encounter people who don’t know much, or anything, about intersex people. People might have heard of intersex, but don’t know that intersex issues very clearly fall in with the broad goals of the LGBT movement and activism, and need to be included in LGBTI efforts and organizations. People might be aware of some of these issues, and may be intersex allies, but never actually considered that if intersex issues and people are worth caring about, then that care should be reflected in the name of the organization. State that many organizations in the US (or your home country) and worldwide are adding the “I” to reflect increased awareness about intersex issues. Indicate (if you do) that your organization should seriously consider adding the “I,” and taking the steps to do so.

On a practical level, it’s not only the fact that the visibility of being included in an organization clearly makes people think about intersex issues – and understand that evidently, intersex issues and people are important, and that one needs to get educated about intersex issues (and not doing so is unacceptable). It’s also about the fact that many LGBT organizations that receive internal or external funding to do the important work that they do are required to ONLY spend that money on activities that include L, G, B, and/or T issues. Legally, many places that would like to use money on intersex issues may run into trouble with administrative and/or funding bodies, because from their perspective, that money for the LGBT organization isn’t strictly being used for L, G, B, or T things – it’s being used for I things. Organizations may get into trouble, they may need to give money back, and it could even hypothetically reflect poorly on them when they apply for money during the next funding cycle. If your organization cares about doing I things, having the “I” in your name – and gaining money to not only do L, G, B, or T, but also I things! – may allow you to do those I events without getting into trouble.

I would love to see all the LGBT organizations out there eventually make the needed shift to proudly declare themselves to be LGBTI organizations. Will your organization be among the next ones to make that change? I hope so! <333

Facebook Gets More Intersex-Inclusive

Recently, Facebook updated their “Basic Information” options to allow users to choose from a variety of “gender” identities to describe themselves. And guess what – intersex is one of the options listed!

Now, intersex is not strictly a gender identity, but a biological way of being, so identifying one’s intersex as a “gender” category isn’t ideal. However, it’s good that Facebook is being intersex-inclusive, and this is ultimately a step in the right direction.

Log onto Facebook to check out all the new gender options available!

Intersex Peoples' Health - What Do We (Not) Know?

Hi, everyone! I’m turning 30 this year, and that number is making me reflect on my lifestyle and my choices – and how they relate to my health. I feel like there’s this attitude (at least in the US) that your 20’s are for screwing around, having fun, not caring about all the important stuff you should actually be caring about. While I wasn’t much of a drinker, it’s always been difficult to turn down pizza, chocolate cake, and other delicious things to nosh on. I’ve had to fine-tune and adjust my tastebuds to crave delicious things that are actually HEALTHY for me, and limit the amount of stuff in my diet with lots of saturated fats, lots of sugar, lots and lots of salt (oh my god, how I LOVE salt…), etc.

I’ve also been thinking a lot more about my bone health. Bone health is something that I think about more than half of the population, since women are statistically more likely to have lower bone densities, and greater risk of osteoporosis and other forms of significant bone loss.

The thing is, though, even though I often identify as female in various senses, I’m not actually a typical female biologically. It’s all well and good to consider my bone health, but I likely have different needs than typical females.

And I don’t really know what those needs are.

Actually, no one really knows what those needs are.

I’ve posted previously about how frustrating it is that intersex people often have specific health needs that we know very little about, since there’s been very little attention and focus on these problems by doctors and in clinical research. Instead, the vast vast vast majority of medical studies on intersex people? Is how to more efficiently operate on us without our consent, to achieve a more “desirable outcome” in terms of how “normal” our genitals look, how much scarring is present, if we can feel (non-painful, or any) sensation. Medical research could really benefit intersex people by focusing on ACTUAL health concerns for intersex people – like medicine does already for biologically typical males and females.

The clinical focus on intersex people should be to help keep us HEALTHY (you know, as one expects from interactions with doctors and the medical community) instead of trying to police our bodies and “fix” us for reasons that don’t track our health.

Well, I’ve been thinking about my bones lately. Since I was 8, I’ve taken an estrogen pill every day. I would not have needed to take any hormone pills whatsoever if my gonads (specifically, testes) had not been removed at birth. This is because, although my body did not respond to any androgens (i.e., testosterone) my body produced, the body does this cool thing called “aromatizing”: basically, the hormone my body couldn’t use (testosterone) is chemically converted into a hormone my body CAN use – estrogen! So, even though my body actually PRODUCED testosterone, that testosterone would have been converted into estrogen, and I assumedly would have had a healthy level of estrogen in my body.

My testes were removed at birth, however, so I have to take an estrogen pill every day. More on this in a second.

My body would never have been able to respond to, or use, testosterone, so that would still have affected my bone health. Even though we associate testosterone and estrogen as “male” and “female” hormones, most people have some level of both of these hormones, and they play important roles in regulating a lot of basic process our body does. (They’re not just floating around in there, hormonally validating the fact that we’re male or female somehow.) Some of the basic processes testosterone and hormone regulate are bone growth, maintenance of bone density, and (usually when we’re older) bone loss.

So, what does bone health look like for someone who’s NEVER had one of the two important bone hormones at work in their body whatsoever?

The short answer is, I have no idea.

But it does make me worried, because what is going to happen to my bones as I age? How have my bones been seemingly okay so far in my life to BEGIN with?

There’s just not enough research out there to answer those questions.

So, the one question I have is: what happens to bones when a body doesn’t respond to testosterone, a major player in bone health?

My second questions is, will I need to take different doses of estrogen pills as I age?

As stated, I take an estrogen pill every day, to replace the estrogen my body isn’t making (specifically, aromatizing) because my gonads were removed shortly after birth. I have been taking the same dose of estrogen every day, but I have gone through periods where I 1) was lax about taking them because I was a pretty flighty teen and early adult, and 2) I was sometimes mad about my history of medicalization, or angry at the doctors who performed procedures on me without my consent that were traumatic, and in protest, I would refuse to take my pills. (This is ultimately not a good idea since I was literally only hurting myself at that point, but it was one of the few ways I could deal with and push back against my medical trauma at that point.)

I’ve been on the same dose level for a reaaaaaaaaaaally long time – since I was about 18, in fact. This might be appropriate because I haven’t reached old age yet, but when I get older, will I need to increase the dose of estrogen I take daily?

Again, short answer? I have no idea.

My general practitioner isn’t sure either, but we’re going to work together – and maybe with other specialists, if needed – to try and figure out what’s out there in the literature, and what I can do to best navigate my aging process.

It’s strange – most people have a roadmap, a very general idea of what aging is going to be like for them. Even if the reality of aging, as you experience it, deviates a lot from your assumptions of what aging will be like, there are some kinds of guidelines in place you can fall on for some basic information.

I don’t have such a roadmap, as an intersex person. I see the future as a big, swirling, cloudy blank. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t have any expectations.

But that does make me a little worried, because I want to be healthy. So it’s frustrating.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I did during my gross anatomy course, which formed the basis for my second Full Frontal Activism post. Looking at the reproductive system we had just dissected, and whose structures we identified, I didn’t see any bodies there that looked like mine, that represented me. I felt lonely. I felt invisible. I felt like, there are clearly other options for what bodies look like and can do out there, but that information isn’t in this room.

Except for me standing there, of course.

I don’t know what my aging process is going to look like. What I do know is that clinical studies on intersex peoples’ health are crucial and needed and important, and I hope that we start seeing more studies out there that address these concerns.

Any doctors who are interested in conducting research on intersex peoples’ health needs? Please contact me! I’d love to know about what kinds of studies are going on, and where research needs to go to investigate the questions relevant to us. Thanks!

Intersexphobia: A Word We Need to Start Using

Hi, everyone! I’ve been thinking about something a fellow intersex activist, Hida Viloria, said a few weeks ago – that awareness about intersex and the frequency with which people are(n’t) out about it and (don’t) talk about it is really reminiscent of how things were for gay, lesbian, and other queer people in the 1950’s and earlier in the US. It is widely known and accepted by many that queer people exist, and not only should it be okay to state your sexual orientation, but that you should not face discrimination for it. Those same standards don’t yet exist for intersex people. Intersex is still largely something we are told by our clinicians and our families that this isn’t something we’re supposed to talk about. It’s something we’re supposed to feel “different” about, in a bad way. It’s something we’re supposed to keep on the DL, and make every effort to blend in and not stand out with reference to it. We’re not expected to be out. We’re still largely expected to comform, and to do all the things that go along with conforming – even if it means undergoing having our bodies (maybe permanently) cosmetically altered without our consent, using surgical or non-surgical means. We’re supposed to take hormone pills, get shots.

We’re supposed to be erased so that we don’t make other people uncomfortable with our existence.

This, dear readers, is so obviously bullshit that I think it goes without having to spell it out. Unfortunately, in keeping with the times, this is something that really, really DOES need to be spelled out.

And this is why we need language to call out the discriminatory views, perceptions, stereotypes, and expectations others have about intersex people.

We need to start using – and getting used to hearing – the word “intersexphobic.”

There are TONS of things out there that people are –phobic about. Culturally, in the US, we are used to hearing the terms homophobic and (to some degree) trans*phobic. While not using the term –phobic, we’re also used to identifying forms of discrimination via the –isms. Racism, sexism, classism. Ableism isn’t yet a mainstream term, but it (importantly) exists.

There is not a word that people commonly hear used to describe, isolate, and condemn discrimination against intersex people.

The word “intersexphobia” is the term – or maybe one of several terms we’ll use in time – that is going to raise awareness about the discrimination that intersex people face.

Like any new term, I think the word “intersexphobia” may initially sound strange. It might sound made up (but it is – AS ALL WORDS THAT HAVE EVER BEEN CREATED WERE). It might seem like it deserves some dismissive ridicule – why should such a word need to exist? Is discrimination against intersex people really so bad that we need a word? Are there enough intersex people out there to warrant creating a new word for it? Are intersex people just jumping on the I’m-being-discriminated-against bandwagon and creating another term for people to be PC about and induce eyerolls and anger from people who just want the freedom to say whatever they feel like without people getting all offended?

Listen up. This word needs to exist because the discrimination we face is real and pervasive. Even if others don’t see how intersex people are forgotten, not thought about, and actively erased from our sociocultural worldview, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. And that doesn’t mean that intersex people don’t feel it, and that it doesn’t hurt. No one likes to be invalidated. We don’t, either.

It doesn’t matter how many intersex people exist in the world. If an intersex person is being discriminated against, that’s not okay. Having language to be able to articulate, “You’re acting really fucked up toward/about intersex people, and you need to reconsider your words and actions,” is really important. We DO need ways to articulate this. Having a word like “intersexphobic” is an effective way to do this. Calling out discrimination does warrant creating and using this word, and spreading the concept it underlies.

Intersex people aren’t jumping on a bandwagon. We’re not, like, over-sensitive sadsacks who are just looking for reasons to get upset or something – which is how people who are brave enough to speak out against discrimination against them are often painted. (Victim-blaming at its best! Don’t ya love it? (…cuz I don’t.)) If people honestly feel that saying, “I have the right to exist as a human who identifies as x, y, and z without being ridiculed or hated for it,” is grounds to play the “oversensitive card,” that’s both 1) totally wrong, and 2) really sad. Arguably sadder? When people have the gall to play the “it’s my right to say and do hateful shit toward you because freedom of speech!” card. Well, last time I checked, I thought it should be my right to not be discriminated against because of my identity. I have very little (i.e., no) sympathy for others who feel that the problem isn’t that they’re discriminating against you and you reasonably are not thrilled about that, but that the problem is you’re denying THEIR right to discriminate against YOU if they feel like it!

Sometimes, people don’t make a lot of sense, ya’ll. But I’m sure you are well aware of this already. In case you haven’t, read just about any comments section after any article or YouTube video on the internet. (Actually, on second thought, don’t, and just take my word for it.)

Intersexphobia is a word we need. If someone is speaking about intersex people in a discriminatory way, that’s intersexphobic. If an intersex person is verbally or physically harassed or assaulted for being intersex, that is intersexphobia at work. When intersex people are used as a punch line for a joke (hermaphrodites are hilarious!), that’s intersexphobic. When others conceptualize intersex people as “natural experiments” to test ideas about sex and gender and don’t recognize the fact that we’re people who have lives and exist in our own right – and that it’s inappropriate to treat us like walking lab animals – that’s intersexphobic. When others perceive intersex as a medical condition, and not simply another natural, biological way of being, that’s intersexphobic. When our bodies are cosmetically altered without our consent to “fix” us and supposedly erase our intersex traits, that’s intersexphobic. When others consider it an acceptable practice to abort a fetus with intersex anatomy, simply because it’s considered undesirable to have an intersex kid or to bring an intersex person into the world, that’s intersexphobic.

There are so many other reasons I could list that show how badly we need this word. I invite you to being thinking about the many, everyday ways that intersex people are erased and discriminated against, and to consider just how important this word is – not just for intersex people, but for society in general, who should accept the intersex people in it.


The Sochi Olympics: Not A Game for Queer, Trans*, and Intersex People

The Winter Olympics are in full-swing, and it’s been publicized for weeks and months that holding the Games in Russia, given Russia’s (LEGISLATED) gay discrimination laws sends a troubling message to the world, to homophobic Russia, and to LGBTI Olympic competitors and spectators. The focus of Russia’s discriminatory views has been gay and lesbian competitors, but it is important to remember the other groups – within or outside the LGBTI acronym – that are also discriminated against in Olympic sport.

In December, Hida Viloria, the Director of the US chapter of Organization Intersex International (OII), was invited to speak at the special United Nations (UN) panel, “Sport Comes Out Against Homophobia.” While intersex is not specifically mentioned in this title, the panel was intersex-inclusive and historic in that Hida is the first intersex person invited to a UN panel specifically to address intersex issues. Hida discusses how intersex athletes have historically been – are today, are still – discriminated against, sometimes being asked to submit to unethical physical examinations and genetic testing to exclude intersex competitors from participating in the Games. Hida also mentions the public outing and discrimination against Caster Semenya, a champion runner, and explains why including the “I” to LGBT organizations – thus, making the acronym LGBTI – is important for raising awareness about intersex people.

Check out the UN panel here!

Thanks for including intersex issues in your analysis of the Olympic Games this season!