Thursday, July 17, 2014

B is for bisexual

Today our B word is bisexual.  For those of you who have been living in a cave on mars, a bisexual is someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey invented the famous Kinsey Scale.  The scale rates everyone from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).  3 would be a balanced bisexual with as much interest and experience with both sexes.  Kinsey believed that while most people gravitate toward one side of the spectrum or the other, almost no one is a perfect 0 or 6.  Almost everyone is just a little bisexual.
Bisexuals often feel that they are being erased or not taken seriously, they are often accused of experimenting or just being curious.  There is also a trend of bisexual chic, with culture encouraging young women to experiment with each other as a trendy thing and celebrities who are straight having public same sex kisses for attention and shock.  Most bisexuals don’t like this as it insults their sexuality.

What does all this have to do with intersex?  Intersex people come in all sexual orientations.  If you believe sexual orientation is biologically determined (no evidence to support this) then you might believe all intersex people are bisexual (not true).  In any case I thought it would make an interesting post. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

B is for Bathroom

Our B word for today is bathrooms.  I have written about bathrooms before, but it is an issue that many parents of intersex children are concerned about, so a short review is in order.

There is no reason parents should be concerned about public bathrooms.  There are privacy walls around the stalls (and in locker rooms, I changed this way all through high school).  There is no reason anyone has to find out you are intersex from a public bathroom. 

Sex segregated public toilets are required in all jurisdictions using the Uniform Plumbing Code.  The code does not ban additional unisex toilets, which are becoming more common.  This is good news for intersex, transgender and gender nonconforming people who are afraid or uncomfortable in a public bathroom.  Don’t sweat the bathrooms, you have every right to be there.  If you are uncomfortable for some reason, use the buddy system and bring a friend for protection.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

B is for Birth Certificates

Today is our first B word, birth certificates.  I have written about this before but a refresher course is a good thing.  In most of the world, a birth certificate requires checking a box indicating whether the child is male or female.  This unfairly pressures parents to label their intersex child.  The truth is, in most states, you have some time before you have to turn the certificate in, time to think things over.  If you are new parents of an intersex baby, please don’t let the birth certificate make you feel rushed, you really do have a few weeks.   

The good news is the gender on birth certificates can be changed.  The bad news is this not easy and most jurisdictions require documentation that you are undergoing gender reassignment.  This is good for transgender people, but an intersex person may not have such documentation if they are simply living as a gender other than the one they were raised in.

There are only four countries in the world that issue gender neutral birth certificates, Australia, Germany, Nepal and New Zealand.  This is ideal.  The worst part about the birth certificate conundrum is it forces intersex erasure.  Legally we cannot exist until we have an artificial label forced on us.  It legally disenfranchises us.  It also perpetuates the attitude that we must to be hidden, we must “really” be male or female.  We have to lie on legal documents to deny and hide a biological reality, and that is just ridiculous.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review of Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

I will be getting back to the alphabet later on this week.  As buffer between A and B, I will be writing a review of the novel Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin (spoiler alert).

Golden Boy is an excellent book, well written for teenagers and adults.  It explores the difficulties of growing up intersex.  It explores the coming of age of Max, a teenager who is intersex.  He strives to be a perfect guy, but is secretly intersex.  The story is ultimately about how he accepts this.  Golden Boy is a pretty realistic portrayal of an intersex life told in a simple, nonthreatening way.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand basic intersex issues from a personal/social perspective.  Max was concerned about being accepted, finding love, something I think all intersex people struggle with.  We should take heart that Max did find love and was accepted in the end. There are many people who can accept and love us as we are.

Golden Boy also shows the darker side of being intersex.  Max was raped in the beginning of the book.  I have always felt that intersex people are at greater risk for rape.  We are the object of fetishes, and in Max's case, seen as a non-gay alternative for deeply closeted self loathing people.  I hope Golden Boy will start a conversation about safety in the intersex community.

I learned something important from Golden Boy, I believed that if intersex people didn’t undergo surgery and could make that choice for themselves with their anatomy preserved, their lives would be better.  I still believe this, but Max was left intact and struggled with the idea of identity choice.  He desperately hoped his doctor would tell him is “real” sex is.  He was also resentful toward his parents for not making that choice for him.  Even when given autonomy, it is still difficult to be intersex in the world, but slowly we find our way.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A is for Ambiguous Genitalia

Our last A word is ambiguous genitalia.  Roughly 1 in 2000 people are born with genitals that are neither here nor there.  Ambiguous genitalia is the most obvious sign of intersexuality and are caused by a number of intersex conditions.  Ambiguous genitals come in many shapes and sizes.  Most doctors treat ambiguous genitals with surgery, though this is becoming more controversial (I don’t want to make this post another anti-surgery rant).    

Ambiguous genitalia are not medically dangerous, but are often shocking and catch the family off guard.  The family worries about their child being bullied or having sexual trouble (most ambiguous genitals are not well designed for giving or receiving penetration).  Children pick up on their parent’s attitudes.  I believe if the parents are ok with their children’s genitals, the children will be ok with their bodies and define intimacy for themselves.

Even “normal” unambiguous genitals are the most visually diverse part of the external human body.  Penises come in all lengths and girths, scrotums may or may not be lopsided.  The inner labia and/or clitoris may or may not be visible from the outer labia.  With all the diversity of genitals, ambiguous ones should not be difficult to accept.  They are normal for the person who has them.  We should learn to love ourselves and not try to erase human diversity.        

P.S.  There is an unfortunate fetishizing and fantasizing about a kind of ambiguous genitalia with a functional penis and vagina (see Japanese futanari, if you dare).  This does not actually happen in nature.  Ambiguous genitalia is not both male and female genitals, it is somewhere in between, and usually leans one way or the other (more male will mean less female and vice versa).  Fully formed genitals of both sexes on one body is pretty much impossible.  If you are trying to date an intersex person because this is a fetish you have I urge you to stop.  You will be disappointed, and their feelings will be hurt that you were only after them for some fantasy genitals.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A is for 5 Alpha Reductase Deficiency

Our A word for today is 5 Alpha Reductase Deficiency, one of the more common intersex conditions.  5 alpha reductase deficiency is a recessive mutation where a genetic male does not produce 5 alpha reductase.  5 alpha reductase is the enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone.  The lack of dihydrotestosterone can result in male, female, or ambiguous genitalia.  People with 5 alpha reductase deficiency have testicles and usually are born with female primary sex characteristics and a male gender identity.  At puberty most 5 alpha reductase deficiency will masculinize considerably.  With testicles it may be possible for them to father children, but they are at a higher risk for testicular cancer.  Interestingly, without dihydrotestosterone, they will not suffer male pattern baldness.  Because it is a recessive genetic trait, certain populations have higher rates of 5 alpha reductase deficiency.  In the Dominican Republic 5 alpha reductase deficiency is so common they have a local name for it, guevedoce (eggs at twelve, a reference to testicles descending in an often seemingly female child).         

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A is for Asexual

Today, A is for asexual.  Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction, and/or the lack of desire for sexual activity.  Asexuality is distinct from celibacy because most celibate people do have sexual attraction and desire.  Furthermore, some asexual people have sex for reproduction or to please their partner.  Many asexual people have romantic, but not sexual, relationships.  They categorize themselves as heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, or aromantic.  There are also grey-asexuals, sometimes called semisexuals or hyposexuals, who experience sexual attraction, but not enough to act on, or only enjoy sex under certain, limited circumstances.  There are also demisexuals who only feel sexual attraction after a strong emotional bond is established.

Now you must be asking, what does any of this have to do with intersex?  Certainly intersex people come in all sexual orientations including asexual ones.  Due to the terrible outcome of genital surgeries, both in terms of sensation, and function some intersex people live celibate.  Without the orgasmic incentive to be sexual, and the fact that many potential partners would not accept intersexuality, many intersex people are somewhat grey-asexual.  They have limited desire and limited opportunities for sex.  Whether this is true, innate asexuality, or a socially forced asexuality is a matter of debate.

Obviously asexuality does not apply to all intersex people, or even a majority of them.  That being said, there still is a connection between the two, and thus I gave asexuality a post.