Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Special: Is Frozen Gay Propaganda?

Hello readers, this post is my holiday special.  Pour yourself an eggnog, cozy up by the fire, and listen as I regale you with a tale that is wintery, queer, and kind of funny.  The story of the latest propaganda for the gay agenda, a little movie called Frozen.

Anyone with young children has almost certainly seen Frozen, probably more times than they can count.  Kevin Swanson, a pastor of the Reformation Church and host of a religious radio show in Colorado, called Frozen “very evil” and Disney is “one of the most pro-homosexual organizations in the country.”  Swanson’s rant was inspired by a National Catholic Register blog post written by film critic Steven Greydanus titled “So, How Gay is Frozen.”  This post says Elsa’s lack of a male suitor implies lesbianism and the song Let it Go where Elsa learns to accept herself and her powers is a coming out metaphor.  He also says Anna wanting an immediate wedding to Prince Hans, who she just met, implies that straight people are harming marriage.  The post continues to claim that Kristoff’s relationship with his reindeer Sven is borderline bestiality.  This accusation of Frozen as being propaganda seems to have started with the blog A Well Behaved Mormon Women, written by Kathryn Skaggs who wrote extensively about it.  When asked about these gay accusations, director Jennifer Lee only said “I feel like once we hand the film over, it belongs to the world, so I don't like to say anything, and let the fans talk. I think it's up to them." 

Many movies, books and TV shows aver the years have been accused of spreading a gay agenda, Frozen is just the latest.  Here is my take on this ridiculous “nontorversy.”  Self-acceptance is something every healthy well-adjusted person must attain.  The search for self-acceptance by a misfit is the theme of more books, movies, and TV shows than I could ever name; most of which are not accused of being gay propaganda.  Being single does not mean one is a closeted homosexual.  Thus, Elsa is not necessarily a lesbian, just single and well-adjusted.  I feel that drunken Las Vegas weddings,, and super short celebrity marriages (I’m looking at you Kim Kardashian) all cheapen marriage and are produced by and for straight people.  That being said, the vast majority of straight people take their vows far more seriously than this, and gay people could do similar, tacky things.  Therefore, I think Anna wanting an immediate marriage to a stranger should be seen as youthful overenthusiasm, not an indictment against heterosexual relationships, most of which are serious, loving and committed.  As for Kristoff and his reindeer, I can’t comment about that.  

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope you all have a great one.  Be merry and remember not to listen to crazy people on the internet (sometime that includes me).  Frozen is a great movie, it reminds me of Pixar, pre-Cars.  If your kids get squirrely during the festivities, I totally recommend putting it on for them.

Merry Christmas To All And To All A Good Night    

Sunday, November 30, 2014

rights of high school transgender athletes in Minnesota

Today I am writing about an issue that is happening in my home state of Minnesota (I will continue blogging my way through the alphabet later).  On October 1, the Minnesota State High School League postponed voting on whether transgender high school athletes should be able to train and compete on the team who’s gender they identify as until December.  This prompted two fear mongering ads saying “males” would be showering with “girls” and the girls (who obviously can’t keep up with these “males”) would lose out on sports scholarships.

I have written about the issue of intersex people at the Olympics several times on this blog.  The issue that everything boils down to is perceived physical advantages males (or intersex people) have over women in sports.  First of all this is very sexist, the marathon finishing time for men and women in closing every year (women’s fat distribution makes them better equipped for distance running, and allegedly men hold back to protect their genitals from getting bounced around too much).  If we take gender out of the picture we realize all sports have physical features that make them easier.  For example, being taller is an advantage in basketball, and being lighter is an advantage in ski jumping.  Being intersex is not really an advantage, AIS women have less testosterone then ciswomen.  These advantages or disadvantages are in both men and women’s sports, why can’t transgender and intersex people be seen as another variation with its own advantages and disadvantages?  

As for locker room problems, that is something transgender people have been struggling with for ages.  Perhaps a separate locker room for them would make all parties more comfortable?  I honestly don’t know, but I do know that transgender people have a lot more to fear from a public restroom then cisgender people who might encounter a transgender person there.  In any case, implying a rape threat by saying a “male” is showering with your high school daughter is blatant fear mongering.  As a side note, it usually works the other way.  The few cases of transgender high school athletes have been transmen, not transwomen.

I hope the state I call home makes the right decision and stands up for transgender rights.  Everyone should have the right to compete, or at least try out for, the team they are comfortable with.  There are many cases of women competing on the men’s high school sports teams.  If we put aside our transphobia, we will realize this is not a difficult issue to solve.         

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Possible Historical Intersex Person: Queen Christina of Sweden

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to write more about historical intersex people.  Today, as a buffer between H and I, I am writing about Queen Christina of Sweden, who was possibly intersex.
She was born in 1626 in Stockholm, the only heir to King Gustav II.  When she was born she was initially announced around the palace to be a male, this was quickly corrected, but certainly fuels the suspicion that she was intersex.  They say she was hairy and had a strong, coarse voice for a newborn.  

As the heir presumptive, she received a “princely education” including masculine activities such as fencing, archery, hunting and horsemanship.  She took to these activities with great enthusiasm.  By all accounts she was quite the tomboy.  She often wore men’s clothing and was said to walk and ride like a man and curse like a sailor.  In her autobiography she wrote that that she had “an insurmountable distaste for all the things that females talked about and did” again fueling the argument she was intersex.

At the age of 16 she became queen of Sweden at in 1632 when her father died in battle.  Her court and advisors strongly pushed her to marry to create a political alliance and produce a clear heir to the throne.  She was very opposed to the idea, claiming to have “an insurmountable distaste for marriage.”  This continued to fuel rumors at the time that she was a hermaphrodite or at least a lesbian.  She named her cousin Charles Gustav her successor, but this did not reduce the pressure. 

The pressure to marry grew to the point where she abdicated in 1654, at age 22, making Charles king.  She converted to Catholicism, a religion she long admired and may have fueled her abdication since Sweden was fiercely Lutheran.  She moved to Rome and joined the court of Pope Alexander VII, who was thrilled to host her, believing Sweden might convert with her.  She lived in Rome until her death in 1689 at age 62.  She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican vaults.

Because of the strong rumors about her being intersex, she was exhumed in 1965 to see if they could find any conclusive evidence.  Anthropologist Carl-Herman Hjortsjö lead the investigation.  He admitted that “Our imperfect knowledge concerning the effect of intersexuality on the skeletal formation makes it impossible to decide which positive skeletal findings should be demanded upon which to base the diagnosis of intersexuality.”  That being said he concluded the skeleton was typically female.  Was she intersex?  She might have been.  Some historians speculate that she had polycystic ovarian syndrome which has many symptoms including hirsutism and possibly even Aspergers, leading to a disregard for social norms.  In any case she was certainly a gender nonconformist and an interesting historical figure

Thursday, November 13, 2014

H is for Homosexuality

Today H is for homosexuality.  I have written about the relationship between homosexuality and intersex before, but it is complicated, so a refresher is in order.  If you believe sexual orientation is dependent on biological sex (it’s not) then by definition you would have to believe all intersex people are bisexual (they aren’t).

Society lumps intersex together with the LGBT community all the time.  This is sometimes done by straight cisgender people (the few who know about intersex) who don’t recognize the differences and nuanced varieties of sex and gender.  Other times this lumping is done by LGBT activists who see us as having a common interest in fighting for sex and gender variance.  This automatic lumping, though usually well intended, is somewhat ignorant.  Many intersex people consider themselves to be straight, and live in seemingly heterosexual relationships.  They often do not want to be associated with the LGBT movement or sexual politics.
That being said, gays and intersex people have a lot in common.  We both face discrimination based on sexual and gender norms.  Homosexuals, transgender people, intersex people, genderqueer or any gender nonconforming people, would do well to band together.  Even if they do not identify as gay, intersex people are still discriminated against and mutilated.  Their issues and concerns overlap with gay and transgender issues to the point they make natural allies.

Sexual orientation and biological sex are separate issues.  Homosexuality depends, by definition, on biological sex categories.  Gay and straight relationships, by definition, require people to identify as men and women, you can’t have a same sex relationship if there are no socially recognized sexes.  The same is true of intersex.  Intersex wouldn’t exist as a social group that deviates from male and female if those groups didn’t exist.  Our social catagories were just made to define us as separate from the mainstream.  Can an intersex person be gay (or straight)?  That depends on their gender identity and sexual orientation, I think they can, but some might disagree with me, it’s all a matter of identity and definition.      

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

H is for Herculine Barbin

I have been wanting to cover more historical people who are intersex, so today H is for Herculine Barbin.  Most of what we know about Barbin’s tragic life comes from her memoirs.

Herculine Barbin was born in Saint-Jean-d’Angley France in 1838.  She (pronouns will change throughout this story) was raised female.  Her family was poor but sent her to study at a convent school on a charity scholarship.  She had a crush on a girl there are and was punished for going into her room.  In puberty she never menstruated and remained flat chested.  In 1857 at the age of 17 she graduated and went to Le Chateau to become a teacher.  A year later she got a job as a assistant teacher at a girls school.  She fell in love with one of the teachers there, Sara, and the two had an affair.
Barbin was often ill and suffered excrutiating pain.  She had talked about her condition in confession.  She asked the Bishop of La Rochelle, Jean-Francios-Ann Landriot for permission to break the silence of the confessional to see a doctor.  Doctor Chesnet examined her in 1860 was shocked to discover she had a small vagina, small penis and internal testicles.

A judge made a legal decision to declare Barbin officially male, with the name Abel Barbin.  This made the news in some of the French papers.  He (told you the pronouns would change, this is how it is in the memoirs) left Sara and the girls school and moved to Paris and lived there in poverty.  There he wrote these memoirs, reputedly as a part of therapy.  Obviously very depressed the memoirs say he felt punished, disinherited and subject to a “ridiculous inquisition”.

In 1868, at the age of 30, Barbin was found dead.  He had committed suicide by inhaling gas from his coal gas stove.  The memoirs were found beside his bed.

Herculine Barbin is a very important figure in the intersex movement.  The memoirs were rediscoverd by sociologist and gender theorist Michael Foucault who published them is 1980.  The French film The Mystery of Alexina and the play Herculine are based on her life.  She also is a character in the plays A Mouthful of Birds by Caryl Churchill and David Lan and Hidden: a Gender by Kate Bornstein.  The books Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides and Orlando by Virginia Woolf were inspired by the memoirs.  Her birthday, November 8, is the international Intersex Day of Rememberance.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

H is for Hermaphrodite

Our first word is hermaphrodite (no surprise there, right?).  A hermaphrodite is an organism with male and female reproductive organs.  Many animals are hermaphroditic species like earthworms, snails, starfish etc.  Most flowering plants are also hermaphroditic. 

Historically intersex conditions were classified as either true hermaphrodites (with a mix of ovarian and testicular tissue, or an ovary and a testicle) or pseudohermaphrodites (all other intersex conditions).  This has obviously fallen out of favor for the term intersex.  This is a good nomenclature switch since humans are not a hermaphroditic species.  There are no intersex conditions that result in a body that is reproductively functional as a male and female.  As I mentioned in my ambiguous genitalia post, more masculine genitals mean less feminine and vice versa, you don’t get both in humans.

I have to admit, I sometimes use the word hermaphrodite to describe myself to others.  I realize this is controversial.  Many intersex people consider the word hermaphrodite offensive, or at least not PC. Others use it as a term of empowerment.  I find it makes a good shorthand for people who have never heard of intersex.  They already have some idea what hermaphrodite means, thus shortening what would be a lengthy explanation.  Am I right to do this?  Am I being offensive or is it ok to shorten explanations in a way people will better understand?  Do you call yourself a hermaphrodite?  I would love to hear your opinions.    

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Feminism and Intersex

Today is an election.  As such I have decided to write a political buffer between G and H on feminism.  I forgot to cover it in the F’s.  Feminism and intersex have an odd and complicated relationship.  I will cover as many of the facets of it as I can.

The kind of feminist that must be reviewed is the TERF, that’s trans exclusionary radicle feminist.  TERFs don’t believe in including trans people in feminist organizations, women’s spaces or discussions on sexism.  They actively exclude transwomen from many of their organizations, most famously the Michigan Womyns Music Festival.  They are cis women but call themselves “women born women” and consider “TERF” and “cis” to be slurs.  They believe sex cannot be changed.  Thus transwomen are men who are trying to infiltrate their spaces and transmen are women who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome from the patriarchy.  TERFs also strongly believe in socialization.  Boys are raised to dominate women and girls are raised to accept this and call it femininity.  They transwomen are still trying to dominate women by forcing TERFs to accept their gender identity, use women’s bathrooms etc.  Also if they still have their penis that makes them dangerous since penises are rape weapons.  Most importantly TERFs believe that anyone born and socialized as a male is privledged and has not experienced sexism and cannot fully understand feminism.  Like most transphobic people, TERFS claim intersex is just a medical condition and too small a minority to factor in the debate.  There are transfeminists and gender critical feminists who counter this by saying intersex proves sex is a spectrum.  They also point out that socialization varies considerably.  Most importantly they point out transgender people are discriminated against far more than ciswomen.  They even go so far as to say this discrimination against transwomen comes from a hatred and fear of femininity so in a roundabout way they do experience sexism.   This is controversial.  TERFs claim the term “cis” implies having a female body is a privilege over trans people.  This is obviously not true.  A female body is not an advantage in society.  But recognizing trans and intersex people are also discriminated against does not mean cis women are not.  The only intersex supportive thing the TERFs offer is that they are opposed to surgeries on intersex infants because it is mutilation and you cannot change the babies sex anyways.

I am glad there are those who are speaking out and saying transgender people and intersex peopleare not antifeminist.  In fact there are many great transfeminist writers out there.  For more I would recommend “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano or this excellent article at the Intersex Roadshow blog found at:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

G is for Gender Roles

Today G is for gender roles.  This is a very broad topic so this is a very brief overview.  Gender roles are the social and behavioral norms that women and men are expected to follow.  Some cultures have three or more gender roles.  Gender roles influence most small day to day behaviors (what clothes to wear, how to talk, etc.) as well as major life decisions (what kind of career, if any, to have, what house chores to do etc.).  These roles are reinforced in nearly every aspect of society and serious deviation from them is severely discriminated against.  Gender roles often devolve into stereotypes, especially in entertainment.  Gender roles are so ingrained that in same sex couples it is still assumed that one has a more masculine role and the other a more feminine role.  A couple without gender roles is something mainstream society just can’t fathom.     

Whether these roles are inherent or socially constructed is a matter of great debate.  It is very difficult to separate biology/psychology and culture in this case because boys and girls are socialized very differently from birth on.  A popular theory is that social norms and expectations are created by biology (women give birth so it makes sense for them to care for the children, for example).  The problem with this is gender norms are changing fast, especially in the last sixty years, biology has not.  Feminists consider masculinity and femininity to be social constructs that reinforce patriarchy by keeping women in a subservient position.

What do gender roles have to do with intersex?  That depends on who you ask.  Personally, I think this is the only real social benefit to being intersex.  We (or at least I) don’t feel constrained by gender roles.  It is easy to say those norms don’t really apply to me, why should I try to fit a mold that will never fit me very well?  Of course some intersex people will disagree with my interpretation on gender roles, and that’s ok.  What do you think?  To what extent should intersex people try to live a traditionally masculine or feminine gender role? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

G is for Genderism

Our G word for today is genderism.  Genderism, like all –isms, is a biased, discriminatory worldview.  Genderism is the view that there are, or should be, only two genders and they are inherently linked to biology.  This obviously reinforces discrimination, biases, and negative attitudes towards all gender binary nonconforming people.  It is the overarching ideology used to justify transphobia and trans-bashing.    

Obviously intersex people’s very existence challenges genderism.  This is a two edged sword.  Because of genderism we are discriminated against (genderist people think we are disordered and too small a minority to be relevant to the debate), but because it is a scientific, biological challenge, we are in a unique position to challenge genderist views.  Genderist people like to argue that transgender and binary nonconforming people are clearly insane, denying basic anatomical facts.  Thus intersex people are especially devastating to their views.  Personally I don’t like it when intersex people are used in identity politics debates, it disregards our identity and experiences, reducing us to a fact for a debate.  That being said I can understand why people do this.  What do you think?  Leave a comment.     

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.     

Thursday, September 18, 2014

E is for effeminate/F is for femininity

For the perfect buffer between  E and F, I have a concept that can be called by an E word or an F word, effeminacy or femininity.  Both words refer to the nature, attributes, behavior, mannerisms, style, and gender roles associated with women.  When referring to a woman with these traits, feminine is used, when referring to a man they are called effeminate.  This is a very broad topic and I am bound to leave a lot out so please bear with me.

I’m sure you all know this, but I would be remiss if I didn’t define and cover what is considered feminine/effeminate.  What is considered feminine/effeminate depends on social context, culture, and time (Elizabethan men wearing lace was considered masculine, for example).  That being said, gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, compassion, nurturing, deference and sexual passiveness are usually considered feminine/effeminate personality traits.  To what extent these traits are inherent or learned through socialization is a matter of great debate.  Presentation and appearance such as long hair, cosmetics, female clothing, and an emphasis on physical beauty are almost always considered feminine/effeminate.  The professional feminine social role has traditionally been confined to the home or the nurturing/helping jobs like nurses, teachers, and secretaries. 

Effeminate men are usually far less accepted then masculine women.  Effeminacy is usually pejorative and implies passivity, and weakness, and homosexuality.  Saying gay men are effeminate is inaccurate.  Historically camp, drag, and swish have been part of gay culture; but so are Castro Clones and Bears, who are decidedly masculine.  Men who are interested in fashion have been called dandies and fops but those are usually labels they call themselves whereas, others call a man effeminate.           

Second wave feminists considered femininity to be an artificial social construct to keep women subordinate and objectified since power and authority are considered very masculine.  Modern, “lipstick feminists” counter that this devalues the feminine identity.  They claim the symbols of femininity are not inherently subjugating and can even be empowering.  Julia Serano writes (and I agree) that because society is sexist, femininity is seen through a male lens and interpreted as being less important or frivolous.  She feels that equality of the sexes will never be achieved until femininity is empowered rather than despised (including by some feminists).  She also claims that parts of femininity and masculinity are inherent but not biologically derived, they precede socialization and supersede biological sex.    

What does this have to do with intersex?  There are certainly feminine and masculine intersex people.  Like everyone, we have the right to identify and live as we see fit.  If you believe gendered behavior is biologically determined you would conclude that most intersex people must be fairly androgynous.  Feminine (or masculine) intersex people obviously disprove this.  That being said, I object to intersex people being used to prove some gender ideology, its dehumanizing.  Leave comments, let me know if I missed something important about femininity/effeminacy.      

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

E is for Estrogen

Our E word for today is estrogen.   There are actually three female sex hormones in humans, estradiol, estrone, and estriol which are all estrogens.  Estradiol is the most important one and has the physical effects commonly associated with “estrogen”.  These effects are:

~ breast growth
~changes in fat placement
~ strengthens bones
~ strengthens vagina and uterus
~ lessens melanin in skin (ever notice how most men have slightly darker skin than most women?)
~ stimulates growth of endometrium and thus causes menstruation
~ stimulates luteinizing hormone which causes ovulation (birth control pills cause a permanent surge of estrogen to mask this and thus prevent ovulation)
~ works with testosterone to increase sex drive
~Changes levels of serotonin and endorphins in the brain, causing the psychological and behavioral differences between men and women

As most people know, both men and women produce estrogen in their gonads and adrenal glands.  The balance of sex hormones is vital for a fetus to develop into a male or female.  Many intersex conditions result from their hormones being off or being unable to react to hormones.  Don't worry men, I will talk about testosterone when I get to T so stay with me as I blog my way through the alphabet.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

E is for Eunuch

Out first E word is eunuch.  Eunuchs are usually castrated men.  They were often used in ancient cultures to guard harams and the royal family and in important government jobs.  They were trusted because they would keep their hands off the women of the haram or royal family and couldn’t father their own lineage to challenge the king.  Castrati singers were castrated before puberty to sing the high notes in choirs because women were not allowed to.  

The ancients actually had a much broader definition of eunuchs.  The Bible says “there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).  In his Generation of Animals, Aristotle says procreation requires both the mental faculty and anatomical parts to do so.  By this definition homosexuals and asexuals who lack the mental faculty to procreate are eunuchs.  Roman emperor Justinian I even used the Aristotelian definition of eunuchs in his laws as “one with no generative power, an impotent person, either by nature or castration.”

By this broader definition many, if not most intersex people are “eunuchs who were born that way”.  Many intersex conditions result in sterility and we usually have our gonads removed.  There are also higher cases of homosexuality and asexuality (or at least celibacy) amongst intersex people.  I have occasionally used eunuch to describe myself.  I kind of like it because it is a gender nonconforming identity and also gives a nod to the genital mutilation I underwent (for better or worse it’s a part of me).  Eunuchs were prominent members of their societies, should we reclaim this title?  Leave comments, let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Intersex Psycho

This is a buffer between D and E.  Join me as I continue blogging through the alphabet next week.  Today I am going to talk about an occurrence that is happening on TV, the new trope of the intersex psycho.

There are two times this has happened.  The first is on the show Nip/Tuck.  The character Quentin Costa is a plastic surgeon and a serial rapist called the Carver who mutilates his victim’s faces.  It is revealed that he also has 5 Alpha Reductase Deficiency as a result of incest (not really an indicator for this condition).

The other show is the soap opera Passions.  The character Vincent Clarkson is a murderer, rapist, arsonist and blackmailer.  He has a female alter ego named Valerie.  He also has an unnamed intersex condition and was briefly pregnant.

This trope is very similar to the transgender psycho trope (see Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and Dressed to Kill).  This is obviously very offensive to intersex and transgender people.  It plays into the ridiculous belief that gender nonconformity is a sign of insanity and possibly violence.  In the case of Quentin, it implied his being mistreated by society was part of what drove him to madness.  It also plays into an ancient belief that hermaphrodites are monstrous.  It is not only offensive, but dehumanizing.   

You could argue that I am being oversensitive, it is only two TV shows after all.  I feel, however, that intersex people are a tiny, relatively unknown minority and two shows can have a disproportionate effect on public perception.  If this is their only reference for intersexuality, of course people will be less open to intersex issues and concerns.  They might even become prejudiced against us.  In any case these shows can only have negative consequences for the intersex community.  Shame on the creators of Nip/Tuck and Passions for creating this trope.  Artistic freedom aside, they may have increased discrimination against us.  Post some comments, let me know what you think.                 

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.   

Thursday, August 7, 2014

C is for Cross-Dressing

Today our C word is cross-dressing.  I have written about drag and cross-dressing before, but a refresher is always good.  Cross-dressing is wearing clothing associated with the opposite sex.  The word cross-dressing does not imply motive and can be done for any number of reasons.  The main reasons are:

Drag: a drag show is performance art associated strongly with the LGBT community.   Men called drag queens dress as women and women called drag kings will dress as men.  In character they usually dance and lip-synch.  Sometimes they do comedy routines or have formal drag balls.

Gender Disguise: people have cross-dressed throughout history to get around the social strictures of their times.  For example Deborah Sampson and Margret Corbin disguised themselves as men to fight in the American revolution (there are also stories of men who dress as women to escape military service).

Practical/Utilitarian: sometimes cross-dressing is simply pragmatic.  For example male scuba divers who wear pantyhose under their wetsuits for extra insulation.
Theater: Historically women were not allowed to act so all women’s roles were played by cross-dressing men.  There is also a common theme of characters who cross-dress as  a plot device.

Transgender: Some people who cross-dress are transgendered and wish to become the opposite sex.  Living full time for a while as the new gender is required to receive sexual reassignment surgery.

Transvestic Fetish: Probably the most common reason for cross-dressing, some people get turned on by wearing the cloths associated with the opposite sex.  This is usually a straight man dressing as a women for autoerotic reasons, but there are cases of women dressing as men.

So what does this have to do with intersex?  Since there is no intersex department at the clothing store, are all intersex people essentially cross-dressers?  Socially are we allowed to wear anything, or nothing?  We all socially must at least check off a box for legal reasons, is this the sex’s clothing for us?  I’m afraid I have no easy answer for this.  People should wear what they are most comfortable with.  Its only clothes, no reason to get your panties in a twist (pun very much intended).   

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

C is for Cisgender

Our C word for today is cisgender.  Cisgender is the opposite of transgender.  A cisgender person does not have gender dysphoria, their identity and body match (some people prefer the term non-trans, feeling it is easier to understand for laymen).  Cis is the Latin prefix meaning “on this side of” as opposed to trans meaning “across from” or “on the other side of”. 

The transgender activist Julia Serano adds the term cissexual as being someone who’s body and identity have always been aligned.  She then defines cisgender as anyone who does not identify as transgender (many transgender people prefer to simple identify as men and women after their transition).

The prefix cis has recently been used to further define and identify the discrimination transgender people experience.  For example, cisgender privilege is the privileges that come with being cisgender (easier to be hired, not afraid to use public restrooms etc.)  Cissexual assumption is the assumption cisgender people have that everyone experiences their gender identity like they do.  Cissexism is a new word for transphobia.  Cisnormativity is like heteronormativity, it is an overlaying social assumption that everyone is cisgendered or that it is normal.

What does cisgender have to do with intersex?  Many intersex people do not change their sex from the one they were raised as, but many do.  Is it impossible for intersex people to be cisgender because it is impossible in society to live completely as in intersex person with no male or female legal checkbox?  By definition are all intersex people forced to be a little transgender?  These are questions I ask myself from time to time  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

C is for Chimera

Our C word for today is chimera, a rare and interesting intersex condition.  Chimeras occur when fraternal twins fuse together in utero at an early stage of development.  The result is one individual with two different sets of DNA.  Some groups of cells in their body have one set of DNA, and other groups will have another set.

It is important to realize most chimeras are not intersex.  If both twins are the same sex, obviously they will not be.  Even if the twins where different sexes, chimeras DNA tends to stay within different organs and systems, having a male liver and female kidneys for example.  Thus even if they genetically have male and female cells, they usually develop along the lines of whichever genetics their reproductive system is.  That being said, there are rare cases where a chimera will have ambiguous genitalia and a mixed genetic reproductive system.

It is interesting.  Many people assume this is how all intersex people came to be.  My mom even said when I was a baby, people hypothesized that I was twins (I’m not).  Chimeras seem to play into an old cultural myth that a “hermaphrodite” must essentially be two people, or have some sort of soul or essence of two people (look up two spirit).  Obviously this doesn’t reflect reality at as most intersex persons are not chimeras and most chimeras are not intersex (in fact most chimeras don’t know they are chimeras).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

C is for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia

Our first C word is congenital adrenal hyperplasia, more commonly known as CAH.  CAH is one of the more common, and most dangerous intersex conditions.  It is a term for several different recessive genetic mutations that affect the enzymes that convert cholesterol into cortisol in the adrenal glands.  This throws adrenal hormone production off kilter 

CAH is dangerous because the lack of aldosterone causes salt wasting.  Dehydration will set in within the first week after birth.  Vomiting, severe dehydration and circulatory collapse can happen within the second or third weeks after birth.  The good news is with hydrocortisone and a saline drip, most infants are out of danger within a day.  They will have to take glucocordicoids for the rest of their life to supply cortisol.  This is one of the few intersex conditions where I agree that immediate medical intervention is essential.  When a baby is born with ambiguous genitalia, the first thing doctors do is check hormone levels to see if it is CAH and immediate treatment is needed.

The adrenal glands of CAH patients put out more testosterone, genetically female patients will have ambiguous genitalia, and often more masculine hobbies and interests.  Because they do not produce mullarian duct developing hormones, they retain their ovaries and uterus.  They will have some diminished fertility, but could become pregnant.  Because of the excessive hormones, they often start puberty in mid-childhood and can lose several years of growth because of this.

This post is fairly simplistic because all the hormones involved with the CAH mutation are too complicated to get into here.  There are different kinds of CAH but they tend to have similar symptoms.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Reasons why Genital Surgery on Intersex Infants is Wrong

Today I am creating a buffer post between B and C.  I will continue blogging my way through the alphabet next week.  This is a list (who doesn’t love lists) of the top 5 reasons why genital surgeries on non-consenting intersex babies is wrong.  This may seem somewhat redundant, but people tend to pay attention when things in list form.

5.  It is done for the parents, not the child.  The baby cannot express a gender preference or a desire for genital surgery.  The parents discomfort is given priority over the child’s future identity and sexuality.
4.  It is not needed.  There is no reason to operate on an infant, ambiguous genitals are not a medical emergency.  If as an adult they decided this is what they want, fine, but there is no need to force it on babies.

3.  It forces us into a role we may not accept.  There is no way to tell how an intersex baby is going to identify.  If they grow up and identify opposite of the way the surgery made them, you will have created a whole new set of problems. 

2.  It robs us of sexual sensation.  We should have the right to sexual pleasure.  Surgery permanently robs us of this.

1.  We have the right to decide what happens to our bodies.  Unless it’s a matter of life and death, any surgeries that were non-consensual and purely cosmetic are ethically questionable at best.  What happens to our bodies is our choice not our parents or doctors.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

B is for Butch and Femme

Today B is for butch and femme.  Butch and femme are gender identities within the LGBT community.
Butch usually describes a lesbian with a very masculine gender presentation and identity.  It is not uncommon for women with a butch appearance to meet with social disapproval.  A butch woman could be compared to an effeminate man in the sense that both genders are historically linked to homosexual communities and stereotypes.

Femme usually describes a lesbian with a feminine gender presentation and identity, often one who is attracted to butches.  Femmes are often accused of being straight.   They also have to deal with issues of invisibility since they are not socially read as lesbians.

Up until the 70’s most lesbian relationships were organized with a butch/femme dynamic.  In the 60’s and 70’s second wave feminists accused butch/femme relationships of mimicking straight relationships, and thus being politically incorrect.  Many lesbians have countered that while butch/femme relationships usually appear straight, they also challenge and undermine heteronormative gender expectations.  Today butch/femme is a small lesbian sub-community.
There are many kinds of butches and femmes such as:

Boi: a young masculine lesbian who behaves and dresses like a teenage guy.  Considers “butch” an older “man of the house” role.

Hard Butch: also called a diesel dyke or a bull dyke, is a very masculine butch.

Lipstick Femme: a very feminine femme.

Soft Butch: also called a chapstick lesbian, they are more masculine lesbian but don’t fit the butch stereotype.  They are usually pretty androgynous and are more socially accepted then hard butches.

Stone Butch: an extremely butch, possible transman who is the sexual initiator and does not like to be touched genitally, prefers pleasing femme.

Stone Femme: also called a pillow queen, a femme who does not like to touch others genitals, only wants to be pleased.  Usually dates stone butches.

 Butch and femme are very rarely applied to gay men.  A masculine gay man is called a bear and an effeminate gay man is called a twink or, somewhat pejoratively, a flamer.

You might ask, what does all this have to do with intersex issues?  The honest answer is not much.  I do think it is important to be aware of the vast array of gender identities and presentations.  An intersex person could of course identify and present any way they want, including being butch or femme.

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.  I hate to burn your bubble, but the genre of "hermaphrodite porn" is actually women wearing a prosthetic penis.  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.      

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A is for Androgyny

Today I continue blogging my way through the alphabet with another A word, androgyny.  Wikipedia defines androgyny as:

“The combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. Sexual ambiguity may be found in fashion, gender identity, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle. It can also refer to biological intersex physicality, especially with regard to plant and human sexuality.”

I disagree with throwing intersex people in at the end of the definition.  Organisms that are naturally biologically male and female, like most plants are called hermaphrodites, not androgynous.  Intersex people are usually called intersex or by their specific condition.  Having an intersex condition does not mean the person in question will automatically be androgynous.     

Androgyny usually refers to how one moves through the world in relation to the gender norms of their culture and time.  What is considered androgynous changes.  For example, the flappers of the 1920’s were considered androgynous because of their short hair and short dresses. 

Historically intersex people have been medically treated and hidden to reduce androgyny.  This is ironic since artists like Annie Lennox, David Bowie and Prince have made androgyny trendy.  I think if an intersex person identifies with androgyny; it can be a fantastically subversive slap in the face to an oppressive system (and will make you trendy).  However, if you do not identify this way, that is wonderful as well.