Monday, February 22, 2010

intersex on TV

Intersex has been showcased on a couple of TV shows recently. This can be good and bad since it increases intersex visibility and informs more people that such things happen. The downside is that it can sometimes misinform people, or in the case of humor, be downright offensive.

The most recent case of intersex on a TV show is on the Sarah Silverman show episode The Proof is in the Penis, aired on February 4th, 2010. In the show, Sarah's sister, Laura tells Sarah she was born a hermaphrodite to try to get her to 'man up' and get a job so Laura wouldn't have to pay her rent. The episode is actually more about gender roles with Sarah camping out and acting macho as a part of the comedy. The general moral of the story is a nice anti-sexism message with Sarah realizing she didn't need to be a man to take care of herself. There was some interesting accurate intersex moments. For example she seems genuinely upset and confused when her sister tells her. Her sister finally admits that she got the dismembered baby penis that Sarah found in her medical files from the hermaphrodite trashcan at hospital. This is hurtful, but it also recognizes the medical mutilations intersex infants undergo.

A much better and more accurate portrayal of intersexuality was on House last season in the episode The Softer Side, which actually used the term "intersex". Dr. House and his team are faced with a genetic mosaic teenager who was raised male. It has a very accurate portrayal of the parents with the pain and confusion and second guessing their choice to make the child male. Another very accurate thing is that they kept his condition secret from the child, calling testosterone injections "vitamins." His mother also forced strict gender roles, making him take basketball instead of dance which he preferred. It also shows the doctors points of view. Dr. Hadley (aka Thirteen) was tired of lying to the patient and tipped him off about being intersexed. This leads to his realistic anger and mistrust of his parents. Thirteen then gives him some good advise that all intersexuals can take to heart, saying he can to dance and basketball, and doesn't have to hide behind a mask. There are also other areas of intersexuality that are brought forward such as complications from surgery (strictures of penis, and depression in this case), and a fear on the part of the patient that he is gay, since he likes one of his team mates (homophobia is one of the leading factors contributing to intersex mistreatment. House is notorious in the show for being an asshole, however, gives some advise to the parents that is offensive to intersexuals, but also refreshingly, bluntly honest when he says "you gave birth to a freak of nature, that doesn't mean you have to treat him like one."

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