Saturday, September 12, 2009

the problem with Middlesex

For my first post after introducing myself I wanted to talk about the book that helped make intersexuality more well known. That book is Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. I want to preface this by saying that I very much enjoyed reading Middlesex, it is very intelligent and well written, and I am glad that it has helped bring intersex issues into the public eye. That being said, the problem is there are some inaccuracies in Middlesex that need to be addressed because they could cause intersexuals and their families to be misunderstood. This should set the record straight and help you to avoid any major faux pas in dealing with intersexuals.

INCEST - In Middlesex Cal's grandparents are siblings and his parents are second cousins. This incest lead to Cal's birth with 5 Alpha Reductase, an intersex condition. The truth is the chances of having a child with an intersex condition, including 5 Alpha Reductase, are not increased greatly by incest. The birth of an intersexed child in no way means that the family is incestuous.

SEX CHANGES - Cal was raised female, but chose later to live as male. While some intersexuals choose to change genders from the one their parents assigned them at birth, statistically most do not do this (same as people who were born entirely male or female). If you are lucky enough to meet an intesexual, you should not assume they transitioned, because most likely they did not. Odds are they have lived that way their entire life.

SURGERY - It is a very sad fact but in America almost all intersexed babies, including me, are forced to undergo genital "normalization" surgery and are made to look more female, usually with terrible outcome in terms of sensation and functioning. Even worse, they are lied to by doctors and parents to promote "normal" gender identity formation. In Middlesex, Cal is lucky enough to have his condition undetected by an incompetent doctor. He later finds out about his condition by his own research and runs away before they can operate. This is how his experience differs from pretty much every other intersexual. Never assume that an intersexual has different, special, in-between parts, most of us wish we still did. Also, never ask us about this, it is an incredibly painful topic.

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