Saturday, January 23, 2010

more on intersex and the olympics

My last post on the Olympics was in September, with the winter Olympics coming up, I realized I left two important facts, and their frightening potential outcome.

Officially, the Olympics have not done any gender testing since the 1996 games in Atlanta. They now only test on 'questionable' women, like Caster Semenya. One article I read compared this to the old blood quantum standards in anti-miscegenation laws to preserve the separation of the dominant class. They were only applied to blacks who looked too white, not whites who looked to black, just like these standards of women being too masculine, rather then men being too feminine. This is blatantly discriminatory, why should women undergo humiliating tests because some people view their behavior or appearance as being too gender nonconformist? The other fact is that they allow transgender athletes to compete providing they have had genital surgery and have been on hormones for two years. Personally I agree that transgendered people have every right to compete if they qualify, however, they should only undergo surgery if that's what they want (some opt not to).

This creates a disturbing, but logical platform for the International Olympic Committe to mandate that intersexuals simply need to be surgically and hormonally modified to compete. This would be morally repugnant, a continuation of the violation of intersexuals bodily and human rights. There are many alternatives such as simply stopping all sex investigations, or creating a new category for intersexuals to compete in. The basis of gender testing is out of a sense of fairness, so why not divide athletes by ability, like weight classes in boxing and wrestling rather then by sex? In any case the Olympics showcase the physical potential of the natural human body (if this wasn't the case why not use steroids to do better?). To stop intersexuals from competing as they are made hides their physical capabilities from the world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

is the intersex movement radical?

Today I am going to touch on the controversial world of sexual politics. I want to talk about an odd thing I occasionally read about on the web. This is an accusation by social conservatives that the intersex movement is socially and politically radical. This argument is best summed up on the the Wikipedia entry on "intersexuality":

"social conservatives have claimed that the talk about third sexes represents an ideological agenda to deride gender as a social construct, whereas they believe binary gender (i.e. there is only male and female)is a biological imperative"

The crux of their argument rests on the biological necessity of male and female, and they are part right. We need biological males and females having sex or else our species will die out. However this does not mean that they have to cling to the gender roles and expectations associated with their sex. This also does not mean that there can't be a third, or more sexes, many cultures throughout history have had such a system. While intersex does prove visibly that the gender dichotomy is a myth, most intersex people are not calling for its abolition. The most important part of this accusation is that the intersex movement has a radical agenda to destroy gender. This is simply not the case. First it must be said that many, if not most, intersex people identify as male of female. Most are not genderqueer. No intersex organizations are calling for an end to recognizing males and females, and their differences. We are asking for the right to decide what happens to our bodies, our our self identification notwithstanding. Granted, there are radicals out there who do want to destroy the gender binary, but most of them are not intersex. Sometimes these radicals use intersex conditions in their arguments, however what most intersexuals are asking for is far more modest by comparison. A world that does not recognize binary gender may be friendlier to intersexuals. I realize such a thing would never happen and might create more problems then it would solve. I would be happy if society recognized my bodily rights and had a proper category to place me in.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

gender versus sex, the ultimate showdown

By far the most difficult concept to get right when it comes to intersex is the difference between sex and gender. This is one area that trips up many people (both gender conformists and non-conformists alike) and prevents them from "getting it."

Let me clear this up with a little Gender Studies 101: sex is biological, whether your gonads, chromosomes and genitals are male, female or intersexed. Gender, on the other hand is social, how other perceive you, and how you see yourself, masculine, or feminine, or, often somewhere in between, like a tomboy or a metrosexual. There is also considerable variation with interests such as a guy who likes to dance or a girl who likes cars, and it can also be situational, like a woman who takes charge when the pressure is on, or a guy who is secure enough with himself to cry. In spite of the incredible variation in gender, most people still see themselves as men or women, and most of society would agree with them (there are some people who consider themselves genderqueer, but they are few and far between).

There are many different ways to look at gender. It used to be "men are from mars and women are from Venus" They are so completely different that they aren't even from the same planet. The more common way now is to look at it as a spectrum. However I think this leaves a very big piece of the puzzle out. The piece is power. It is by domination that gender is defined. Even in a single sex group there is always a dominant leader, usually chosen subconsciously based on a myriad of social status factors(race, (dis)ability, wealth ect.) and personality. This leader is seen as more masculine, the alpha (fe)male.

Now you must be asking yourselves, what does all this have to do with intersex? Well intersex is a sex, not a gender, however there some obvious overlaps. For example most transexuals would be quick to point out that their brain structures resemble that of the sex they transitioned into, not the one they were born with. Also the more older brothers a man has, the greater the odds are that he will be gay. The theory behind this is because the more male babies a women has, the better her body will be at protecting itself from him and their cellular incompatibilities. In short he is bombarded with more female hormones in utero, feminizing him, resulting in a gay guy. These overlaps in gender and sex are especially important to intersexuals. We are no different then "normal" people, many see ourselves as male or female, just a little different then most. However, as I pointed out, there is an overlap with sex and gender, and many other intersexuals have a more complicated sense of their gender. In short, most of the medical abuse against intersexuals are out of fear that they will be "abnormal" or mistreated by others. This shows a remarkable ignorance to how varied gender is as well as strong latent homophobia and transphobia which, is not only wrong, but also stupid since many intersexuals lead mundane male or female lives.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Intersex and Music

Hello readers. I'm going to switch gears for today and talk about one of the great loves of my life, music (don't worry, I'll go back to my usual serious self after this post). It has occurred to me that, as far as I know, there has never been an out intersexed professional musician.

 There was a rumor that Lady Gaga is intersex.  These rumors are based on some jokes she made during and interview and tweeted about, and an 'accidental' flashing during a concert.  Her manager has denied these claims, leading me to agree with the majority of music blogs, that it was a publicity stunt. I find this kinda sad since, at 1 in 2000 births, we are not as uncommon as most people think.  With the very emotional circumstances we undergo, and our unique perspective, we could write some great songs that could increase intersex visibility.  In any case, intersex people should never be used for publicity. If I am wrong, and Lady Gaga is an intersexual, I would hope she would use her position to further our cause, not make jokes and start rumors to further her career. Until I (or another intersexual) starts winning Grammys, there are a few good songs out there that I think really capture the intersex experience. The following songs make up my small, but nice "intersex" playlist on itunes. If you can, you should listen to them and comment this post with your opinions on them, and if you know a song that should be on the list and isn't, let me know, I'd love to hear it, enjoy!

Androgyny by Garbage
Postings on the Bodies Like Ours intersex discussion forum crowned this song the intersex anthem. While it does not directly mention intersexuality, the song is all about gender nonconformity in positive light. I think the refrain really sums it up nicely:
"Boys in the girl's room, Girls in the men's room
You free your mind in your androgyny
Boys in the parlor, Girls getting harder
I'll free your mind and your androgyny
Boys - behind closed doors and under the stars
Girls - it doesn't matter where you are
Boys - collecting jewels that catch your eye
Girls - don't let a soul mate pass you by"

Half Jack by The Dresden Dolls
According to their singer Amanda Palmer, this song is actually about her estranged father. The lyrics are so poignant toward the intersex movement that personally I have trouble interpreting it any other way. It is even used as background music on some pro-intersex videos on You Tube. For example, how could the following lyrics be about anything but intersex:
"its half biology and half corrective surgery gone wrong
you'll notice something funny if you hang around hear for too
long ago in some black hole before they had these magic pills to take it back
I'm half Jill and half Jack
two halves are equal, a cross between two evils,
it's not an enviable lot
but if you listen, you'll learn to hear the difference
between the halfs and half nots"

Hermaphroditos by Frank Black
This song is quite powerful, it can be interpreted to include the issues of surgery, suicide and how intersex people are historically mythologized, but its lyrics are quite strong, not to be listened to by the faint of heart:
Hermaphroditos is my name
"How do you love me
Deeply with your scalpel?
I got a mouthful
Of suicidal drugs
I am a dog
I am a sculpture
You hate my features
You name me for a God"

Herm Aphrodite by Stephen Lynch
Some intersexuals may not like this last song since it is meant to be funny. I like it, and say take it in the spirit it was intended, its all in good fun. It also makes some comments on gender roles in society and one verse has a good (probably unintended) message for keeping intersex people un-mutilated:
"Somethings are white, somethings are black
some girls wear makeup, mine shaves her back
but she is still beautiful, she is still fine
it's too bad her package is bigger then mine"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

intersex anger

It has recently come to my attention that some readers consider this to be a very angry blog. I am sorry that it has been interpreted as such. It is true that I (and most intersexuals) are angry about our situation, and sometimes I use this blog to vent. The purpose of the blog is to raise awareness of issues and problems that many people don't even know exist, it is supposed to be a teaching tool, and if my readers don't see it as such, then I have failed in my objective. I am not an overly angry person, It is just frustration over my situation in general and a world that often doesn't "get it". This frustration is not focused at any particular people, no one is to blame. In fact everyone involved in the medical treatment of intersexuals has charitable intentions and feel that they are doing the best thing for the child. We are just victims of groupthink and social views of normalcy. I am sorry if my readers got the wrong idea about me, or intersexuals in general, and I will try to watch my tone more closely in the future.