Tuesday, September 2, 2014

D is for Dating

Our last D word is dating.  This is too large an area to really get into in one blog post, so I will focus on the main issue.  The main question intersex (and transgender) people have regarding relationships is: “when do I disclose this to someone I am dating?”  This is a very important question.  Many potential partners will not be accepting of this (or have even heard of intersex).  If the relationship is heterosexual and they feel their sexuality was threatened they may even become violent.  There are four main schools of thought on when to tell.

~ right away.  This is pragmatic.  Get it out in the open before either party has invested much time or emotion into the relationship.  You might end up teaching them about intersex issues if they have never heard of it.  If they can’t accept it they can walk away with no hard feelings.  No muss no fuss.

~ before sleeping together.  Some people feel it is best to let the relationship blossom for a while first.  Let them get to know you and maybe love you first so they are more likely to stay.  Then disclose things before the clothes come off.  Also as you get to know them, and realize they won’t handle the news well, you can call it off before anyone gets too hurt.  At first this seems like a good idea.  The only potential problem is they may feel lead on.  Also if they don’t handle the news well, it will be messier if they have more time and emotion invested into the relationship.

~ never.  This is risky and somewhat radicle.  The line of thought goes cisgender people never have to go disclose their gender identity in a relationship so why should I.  If they truly love me they will accept me.  Or if I have had genital surgery or non-ambiguous genitalia they won’t find out.  Thus there is no reason to tell them since it could destroy the relationship.  Both scenarios are dangerous.  If they get into bed with you and find things are not as they expected, or somehow discover the person they love is not quite what they thought they may become violent.  Even if they may have been accepting, the feeling of being lied to may actually lead to the end of the relationship.

~ be out of the closet to begin with.  This is the option I personally think is the best.  If it is already widely known that you are intersex (or transgender) there will be no need for a big reveal.  They will most likely already know.  If they have been living under a rock and didn’t know, then tell them right away, your safety may depend on it.  As a bonus, if they approach you, you know right off the bat that they are accepting of you.  This is one more reason to come out ASAP.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

D is for Demigender

Today our D word is demigender.  This is a very new identity, so new it is not widely known.  Demigender people only slightly identify with the sex they were raised as, but are not dysphoric and don’t wish to transition.  They are comfortable in their bodies and socially live as that gender, but don’t really identify with it (especially the social roles).  Personally I find this label fits my personal identity better than anything else I have heard. 

Many demigender people see their physical sex as a matter of random circumstance.  It is not something they feel needs changing, but is not an inherent part of their identities.  I think some intersex people see being intersex the same way.  If you consider reproduction an important part of your gender identity (and some heterosexual cisgender people do); then more intersex people might feel demigendered.  This is especially true if they had their gonads/uteri etc. removed.  Of course intersex people, like everyone else, can identify any way they want, including demigender.  In any case I think it’s an interesting identity, certainly worthy of a post.  Let me know if you have any ideas for topics.     

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

D is for Discrimination

Today D is for discrimination.  In most countries intersex people are not a legally protected class against discrimination.  Wikipedia defines discrimination as “action that denies social participation or human rights to categories of people based on prejudice.”  Intersex is not well known or understood by the general populace.  As such we are not usually discriminated against for being intersex, but for being confused with transgender or gay people.  The methods of discrimination can be big and small and are too many to get into here.   

Intersexphobia is a new word that is starting to float around to describe discrimination against intersex people, but as I have said a lot of that comes from confusing us with other groups (if homophobic/transphobic people understood intersex, they would probably discriminate against it as well).  I would argue being socially hidden and expected to live binary lives (which happens in many ways, big and small) is the biggest discrimination we face specifically for being intersex.  
Most western countries have laws protecting discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation, and a few protect transgender people.  

In my home country, the United States, Wood vs. CG Studios is the only case filed for employer discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In 1987 Wilma Wood claimed her employer, CG Studios,  fired her after learning she was intersex and underwent genital surgery prior to her being hired there.  The judge ruled that this was not discrimination.  Like previous cases involving transgender people, sex was defined as strictly binary with any variance not considered a protected class.  Things are looking up.  More cases are interpreting transgender as being cover under Title VII and 17 states have laws specifically protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination, and 14 stated protect them from discrimination at school.  Federal law protects transgender people from hate crimes.  Most judges would interpret these laws to cover intersex people, but strictly interpreted, they do not.  The right to use the public bathroom of the gender you identify as is usually not protected.

Ever since the sexual revolution in the 60’s and 70’s society has slowly become more tolerant of sexual/gender nonconformity.  I sincerely believe things are getting better and will continue to do so.  The question is how do we speed the process along?  I believe the best approach is education.  Most discrimination comes from a place of ignorance and fear.  By being open about ourselves and friendly to everyone, even those who work against us, we become good ambassadors for the intersex community.  The more people who see this will move to our side and the discriminators will become fewer.  If you have any ideas of thoughts on this, or other topics to cover, leave me a comment.    

Thursday, August 21, 2014

D is for Disorders of Sexual Development

Our D word for today is Disorder of Sexual Development (DSD).  DSD is the new medical term/diagnosis for intersex conditions.  The term was created because many intersex people see themselves as fitting into the gender binary with only a medical condition.  The expression ‘intersex’ was seen as overly political.  DSD also covers medical conditions that are arguably not intersex, such as Turners Syndrome or Triple X Syndrome.  This redefinition has been very controversial.  The reaction highlights the main division within the intersex community. 

Many intersex people see themselves as men or women with a birth defect.  For them the strictly medical term DSD makes is easier to explain their experiences and identity to the outside world.  It also makes parents and doctors more comfortable talking about these things.  They also feel that DSD better shows the division between intersex, transgender and homosexuality.  They are looking for support, not gender politics and a medical fight.     

For other intersexuals, like me, who have a non-binary gender identity, intersex makes more sense for their identity.  They object to the word disordered when their medical condition does not disable them in any way.  They feel that using DSD is allowing the medical establishment to define the discussion.  That way the current treatment of intersex people will continue to be the norm.

I think both sides make good points and a pragmatic approach is best.  DSD is good in many circumstances.  While talking to people about your experiences without non-binary identities and gender politics it makes perfect sense.  DSD will also scare fewer people, off or make them go into an anti-gay tirade.  That being said, we absolutely need the fire of intersex.  We need to say what was done to us was horrific.  Explaining things in a medical way that will not be off putting has its place, but without confronting the system, nothing will change.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

D is for Dysphoria

Our first D word is dysphoria, specifically gender dysphoria.  Gender dysphoria is a psychological diagnosis for people with a strong discontent and distress over the gender they were born as.  Gender dysphoria was previously named gender identity disorder, but was changed when that name was considered stigmatizing.  Some transgender activists believe any diagnosis is stigmatizing and makes gender variance a pathology.  Getting rid of a diagnosis is also problematic.  The medical system requires a diagnosis before any insurance is paid out for treatment (many insurance companies still do not cover gender confirmation surgeries, considering them merely cosmetic).

There is strong evidence that gender dysphoria has a biological basis.  Twin studies have shown that dysphoria is 62% inheritable, suggesting a genetic root.  Studies have also shown transwomen are genetically less sensitive to testosterone then cisgender men.  Their hypothalamus also responds like a cisgender women.  Autopsies have shown transgender people have many brain structures resembling the gender they identify as.  Studies have also shown transgender people’s brains react to the pheromone androstadienone like the gender they identify as.       

Some transgender activist and doctors argue that gender dysphoria is not in itself a disorder.  The distress, they argue, is not caused by their gender identity, but from the intense harassment, discrimination and abuse they face.          

In the previous DSM IV intersex people by definition could not have gender identity disorder, it was actually a disqualifying factor.  Now in the updated DSM V gender identity disorder is called gender dysphoria.  Intersex people also get a diagnosis of disorders of sexual development (DSD, more about this in my next post).  People with DSD are now, by definition, able to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria.  While I hate the term DSD, I do feel that since many intersex people do change sexes, giving them a diagnosis of dysphoria, while stigmatizing, is more accurate.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

coping with intersex surgery

Hello dear readers.  This post is a buffer between C and D.  I will continue blogging my way through the alphabet next week.  This week I would like to give advice about coping with genital mutilation.

I underwent a clitoral recession when I was a very small child.  As a result I have little to no sexual sensation.  Thus I understand all too well the pain, rage and sense of betrayal that can accompany intersex genital mutilation.  I also am also aware of the intense feelings of violation and loss of bodily autonomy that accompany having others alter you sexually.  I have heard some intersex activists even compare the surgery to rape, I agree that there are some parallels,but it is not an ideal metaphor, rape requires malice and a will to dominate others that does not exist here. The whole reason I started this blog was to raise awareness of intersex issues and raise support for stopping these practices.  You can’t change the past, so the question becomes how do you move on with your life?  My advice is as follows:

~ Realize that your feelings are completely understandable.  It is ok to feel angry, hurt, betrayed etc.  Let these emotions out in a constructive manner.  Scream, cry, talk to people, whatever is the best outlet for you.  You could even channel those emotions into something creative/constructive.    

~ Realize that no one meant you any harm.  I know this sounds like a hollow and lame excuse, but neither your doctors or parents intended to hurt you.  They did what they thought was best with the information they had at the time (usually not much) to prevent you from being ostracized.  It doesn’t make it right, but to move on with your life you have to forgive them.  Realizing they acted out of ignorance, not malice should help with the forgiveness process.

~ Speak out.  One of the most cathartic things you can do it come out of the closet and start advocating for intersex rights.  Explaining who you are, and why what was done to you was wrong, is a major step toward self-acceptance.  By sharing your story, you might help spare other intersex babies from the same fate.   

~ Volunteer.  Many people who feel they were wronged get lost in their own heads.  Letting the bad things in your past define you is never healthy.  Helping the less fortunate will remind you it is not just about you.  There are a lot of people who are suffering in many different ways, yours is only one way.  You will also be doing some good in your community, which is always a good feeling.

That is my advice.  The emotional and physical effects of the surgery will always be with you.  They will affect how you approach many things in life, but they don’t have to ruin your life.  Let these experiences become a part of you and become stronger for them.

P.S. as part of my personal experience I would be remiss if I did not mention Buddhism.  I am not a Buddhist (though I have thought about converting) and would never tell anyone they should change religions.   That being said, I read a lot about many religions and found Buddhist philosophy extremely helpful.  In particular the three marks of existence, suffering (dukkha) impermanence (anicca) and non-self (anatta) very helpful.  According to Buddhism suffering and change are the marks of all sentient beings.  You can see how this would apply to intersex surgery.  Take it for what its worth, if it helps, great.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

C is for Coming out of the Closet

Our last C word is Coming out of the Closet.  All members of society are assumed to be straight and cisgender.  Thus all gay, bi, and trans people must make a choice whether to come out of the closet and disclose this to the world.  The expression “coming out” started as a way to poke fun at the debutante balls where the debutantes have a coming out celebration when they are marriageable.  Obviously coming out should be voluntary, but in some cases people are accidentally or intentionally outed.  There is also the glass closet where everyone knows, but the individual in question has not made their status public.

In very recent times the expression “coming out” is used by many socially unpopular groups when a new member reveals themselves.  For example Wiccans and other pagans come out of the “broom closet.”  Polyamorous people, atheists, people into BDSM, and even alcoholics sometimes use the expression “coming out”  

Intersex people also have a closet, but it is somewhat more complicated.  We are not just revealing information about ourselves.  We are systematically closeted by the medical community, not ignorant social assumptions.  This ironic thing is, if we were left unaltered and allowed to live as a third sex, there would be no intersex closet to come out of.  

Because we are hidden, most of the world does not realize that intersex conditions are real.  You are revealing a status they have never heard of and may not believe is biologically possible.  Thus more explaining is often needed.  Coming out as intersex may also affect how others view your sexual orientation.  If people no longer see you as completely male or female, by extension they may not view your relationship as completely gay or straight.  There is also an odd thing that happens if you are born with ambiguous genitalia and relatives know about it.  They tend to ignore or willfully forget this, forcing the intersex person to come out with a status the person already knew (this happened to me).

No one should have to hide who they are.  Being closeted and fearful is no way to live.  Honestly most of these fears are unfounded.  When I came out I was amazed at the support I got from family and friends.  It was truly amazing.  Not everyone really understood, but they were still as supportive and understanding as they could be.  I even got invited to do some talks on the subject.  If anyone is questioning coming out, my advise is to go for it, you'll be much happier, I promise.

For the intersex community, to stay closeted is to accept our treatment as non-persons that socially do not exist.  To stay in the intersex closet is to live in fear, shame and hide the truth, this is tragic. What the intersex community needs most is exposure.  People need to realize we exist and are being treated horribly.  In that regard, coming out of the closet is probably one of the most important things you'll ever do.