Thursday, October 16, 2014

G is for Gender Bending

Today G is for gender bending, also known as genderfuck (I hope my readers will forgive the obscenity, I don’t name these things).  A gender bender is a person on who rebels against gender norms and expectations, usually as a form of activism against restrictive gender roles.  This is usually done by exaggerating masculine and feminine traits to the level of parody.  It is gender performativity at its most blatant.
The common image of gender bending is of a burly, heavy set man with a full beard, wearing a dress, makeup and heels.  Because clothing is still such a part of gender presentation, it is usually the key part of a gender bending performance.  Unlike a cross dresser or drag artist, the goal is to confuse gender markers, not appear as the sex other than the one you were born as.  Androgynous people may be seen as a more subtle form of gender bending, but is usually not a form of activism.  There is also a growing trend among liberal parents to intentionally give their children toys and clothing that are gender neutral, or toys for both genders.  They are trying to prevent their children from forming sexist preconceived notions of gender and are essentially practicing gender bending.

I think in some ways intersex is kind of a biological form of gender bending.  Intersex is not necessarily political, but it can be, and we are often used in gender identity politics debates.  Like the gender benders, mainstream society also finds us disturbing because we transgress gender expectations.  No matter our politics or identity, we force the mainstream to rethink gender norms which is the goal of the gender bender.  A world with fewer gender expectations would certainly be good for intersex people.  Should we embrace gender bending?  Leave comments and let me know what you think.      

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

G is for Gonads

Today G is for gonads (not just for kicking anymore).  Gonads are the organs that make gametes (sex cells).   In biological females these are ovaries making eggs and in biological males these are testicles making sperm.  In embryos both ovaries and testicles start as identical gonad ridges.  They only differentiate later in development due to the SRY gene on the y chromosome which turns the ridges into testicles.  Without that gene, they will develop into ovaries. 

Depending on the specific condition they have, most intersex people can have normal ovaries, or normal testicles.  Depending on the condition however, there are also two different ways their gonads might be ambiguous:

 mixed gonadal dysgenesis: usually found in mosaic Turners Syndrome cases.  Due to a combination of male and female chromosomes, the person will have two different gonads.  On one side, a malformed undescended testicle will create testosterone leading to a male appearing scrotum and vas deferens on that side.  The other side is a streak gonad, a nonworking gonad that is mostly fiberous tissue.  On this side a fallopian tube and malformed uterus will form (in the absence of sex hormones the body defaults to a female form).  This hormonal imbalance usually results in ambiguous genitalia.     
ovotestis: A very rare condition, formerly called “true hermaphroditism” now called ovotesticular disorder of sexual development.  This is when the gonads have a mix of ovarian and testicular tissue in them.  This results in ambiguous genitalia.

In both cases these malformed gonads have a much higher rate of going cancerous, thus they are usually removed.    

Thursday, October 9, 2014

G is for Genderqueer

Our first G word is genderqueer.  Genderqueer is a catch all term for all non-binary gender identities.  There are five main areas where people identify outside the binary:

~ overlapping or indefinite line between the genders (demigender, androgynous)
~ multiple genders (bi-gender, tri-gender, pan-gender)
~ no gender/gender neutral (neutrois)
~ fluctuating between genders (gender fluid)
~ a third gender or something else all together

Because they identify outside the cisnormative binary there are almost infinite ways genderqueer people identify and label themselves.  I will get more into these specific identifications when we get to the right letter.  Genderqueer people, like all gender non-conforming people, often face intense discrimination and hostility in society. 

How does this affect intersex people?  Well, as I have said time and time again, intersex people can and do identify many different ways, including genderqueer identities.  If you believe gender identity is biologically derived you would expect all intersex people to be genderqueer, and many are, but many are not.  

Because the cisnormative mainstream culture has trouble telling the difference between sex and gender, and intersex and transgender, we get all sorts of assumptions and identities forced at us, often to support, or disprove political ideologies.  It is important to be clear about your identity and educate others about it so we don’t become a pawn in gender politics (more on this when I get to the letter P, so keep reading as I blog my way through the alphabet). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Big News for Gay Marriage (and Intersex Rights) in America

As a buffer between F and G, I am bringing you some news.  On Monday October 6, 2014 in the United States, the Supreme Court’s inaction resulted in a great victory for gay marriage.  11 states had court cases to legalize gay marriage appealed to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court surprisingly chose not to hear those cases so the rulings of the lower courts stand.  Thus gay marriage is now legal in those states.  This means well over half the states (30 to be exact) now have legalized gay marriage.  It is truly a great day for civil rights in America.     

I have written about gay marriage before on this blog.  Unless it is legalized the legal status of all intersex relationships will be in question.  If marriage is only between a man and a women, those who are neither, arguably can’t get married.  Even if their relationship seems heterosexual, it could always be challenged on a technicality.  On the other hand, if you happen to be intersex and gay, like me, then maybe you could get married on a technicality.  In either case it is unnecessarily complicated.  I hope someday soon the last 20 states will see the error of their ways and legalize gay marriage, until that happens, just move to another state.

Feel free to leave comments, let me know what you think of this momentous occasion.  Please keep reading my next post as I continue to blog my way through the alphabet.         

Thursday, October 2, 2014

F is for Female Genital Mutilation

Today F is for female genital mutilation (FGM).  FGM is practiced by several ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa.  The World Health Organization categorizes 4 specific kinds of mutilation:

~ I. Removal of the clitoris
~ II. Removal of the clitoris and inner labia
~ III. Removal of the  clitoris and inner labia and sewing together of the outer labia
~IV. Any other mutilations including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing

Variations 1 and 2 are the most common and 4 is the least common.  The reasons for FGM are complicated.  It is seen as a cultural way to reinforce their culture and its values.  It is mainly seen as a way to ensure the women is a virgin until marriage and to generally reduce the female libido.  In many countries women are considered unmarriageable if she is not mutilated.  Most cultures that practice FGM also see it as more hygienic.  There is also a cultural superstition that the clitoris will keep growing into a penis like organ, or if the baby comes into contact with the clitoris during childbirth, it will die.   Cosmetic procedures like genital piercings for jewelry, or procedures done for sexual reassignment are not considered female genital mutilation.  It is easy to say this is just blatant misogyny and trying to control women’s sexuality, but it is important to realize it is women who usually preform the mutilation and promote and continue the practice. 

I have mentioned FGM on this blog before because it is often compared to intersex surgery.  As I see it female genital mutilation and intersex mutilation have five major areas of similarities:

~They are both procedures done on children far too young to understand or consent. 
~They are both done entirely for the sake of family and social norms
~They are both done to try to make future sexual relationships/marriage easier but…  
~They are both done with no regard to the future sexual enjoyment of the patient  
~They are also done with little regard to health, and often require follow up procedures to correct “complications”

For all these reasons I feel the comparison is apt.  It is easy in the western world to decry female genital mutilations in Africa.  What we need to realize is that surprisingly similar things are being done in our own countries.  I hope someday all nonconsensual surgeries/mutilations will stop.  The only way we will get to that point is to raise awareness and reach out to other, somewhat similar groups.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

F is for Foreskin

Today F is for Foreskin, or the removal thereof.  In the United States (my home country) circumcision for baby boys is routine and almost universal.  The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association recommend it for all baby boys.  For Muslims and Jews circumcision is done for religious reasons.  Secular reasons for circumcision are getting hazier but revolve around hygiene and disease prevention, and historically, to prevent masturbation.  Phimosis (where the foreskin does not fully retract) is the only medically therapeutic reason for circumcision, and even then, there are nonsurgical alternatives.  

The policy of non-therapeutic, non-consensual, secular circumcision is getting quite controversial.  The intactivists (intact activists, clever!) use much of the same arguments that intersex activists use.  They claim any non-therapeutic procedure, especially an irreversible one, cannot ethically be consented to by anyone other than the patient.  They feel non-therapeutic, non-consensual, secular circumcision violates the baby’s bodily integrity (sound familiar?)  Some anti-circumcision activists extend their view of bodily integrity to oppose intersex surgery and female genital mutilation (FGM).  Laws in most western countries, including the United States, protect baby girls from FGM, but don’t protect baby boys or intersex children.

It is very controversial to compare circumcision to FGM, once euphemistically called “female circumcision.”  Circumcision does not alter sexual functioning or overall health, FGM and intersex mutilation does.  Thus I do agree that non-therapeutic, non-consensual secular circumcision is not ethical and should be stopped.  I am also glad the anti-circumcision crowd is giving intersex issues much needed exposure, but I disagree that the two are really comparable.          

Thursday, September 25, 2014

F if for Fertility

Today F is for fertility.  Common wisdom is that intersex conditions render the person sterile, but this is not entirely true.  Most intersex conditions vary considerably in where, and how much, ambiguity there is in any specific person.  Many intersex people are sterile, but many could give birth, or father children.  Often these conceptions, pregnancies, and births are quite difficult, but in some cases it is possible.  Ultimately how fertile an intersex person is should be determined on a case by case basis.   

Frankly the common practice of removing the gonads of intersex people sterilizes more people than the conditions themselves.  To be fair, there are good reasons behind removing the gonads.  There is a good chance mixed tissue gonads will become cancerous.  This cancer risk could be monitored, there is no need to take currently healthy organs.  This unnecessary sterilization is just further medical abuse of the intersexed.  As I mentioned earlier, many, if not most, intersex people are sterile, or have diminished fertility.  That being said, if they could become biological parents that option should be there for them when they reach adulthood.  I believe that keeping options and choices open for the intersex patient should be the main goal for their care so they can make the right choice for them.  That this is not considered a breach of the Hippocratic Oath is astounding.

Many people (especially heterosexual, cisgender people) consider reproduction a key part of their gender identity.  They might consider non-consensual sterilization to be psychologically devastating.  For some people it might be.  I can only discuss this from my own experience.  I had my gonads removed as a young child and chose to have a hysterectomy in my mid-twenties.  My parents were open and honest with me growing up.  As a result I grew up knowing that I was sterile and it became part of my self perception.  With no basis for comparison, it is all I know, and I accept this.  Honestly, to discover at this point that I could biologically have children would be far more disturbing then hearing I can't.