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.