Monday, February 22, 2010

intersex on TV

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

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

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Former Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, was interviewed by NPR's Melissa Block about his opinion on Don't Ask Don't Tell (the law that says homosexuals must stay closeted to serve in the military). He was not even asked about intersexuals, but his answer managed to include them, and was offensive and perpetuated the status quo of intersexuals as invisible second class citizens.

BLOCK: You are not in favor of a repeal of don't ask, don't tell. Why not?

Rep. HUNTER: No, because I think that its bad for the cohesiveness and the unity of the military units, especially those that are in close combat, that are in close quarters in country right now. Its not the time to do it. I think its - the military is not civilian life. And I think the folks who have been in the military that have been in these very close situations with each other, there has to be a special bond there. And I think that bond is broken if you open up the military to transgenders, to hermaphrodites, to gays and lesbians.

BLOCK: Transgenders and hermaphrodites?

Rep. HUNTER: Yeah, that's going to be part of this whole thing. Its not just gays and lesbians. Its a whole gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual community. If you're going to let anybody no matter what preference - what sexual preference they have that means the military is going to probably let everybody in. Its going to be like civilian life and the I think that that would be detrimental for the military.

The one thing I will say in Hunter's favor is that he realized queer inclusion. All gender and sexual minorities are oppressed by the same sociopolitical forces, and as such, our fates are all intertwined. You can tell, just by his word choice, that he has nothing but contempt for anyone who does not fit into his pseudo-fifties view of gender and sexuality. He might as well have said if gays are allowed to serve, then we'll also have to let the real freaks in. He obviously has very little respect for our troops, both gay and straight and their ability to find common ground. Civilians have adapted greatly these last couple decades to work with gays, and now are working on other gender variants, our military personnel can do the same. Personally, I think anyone who wants to serve their country should be able to. There is no evidence of negative outcomes to a more open acceptance policy. The majority of Americans, both civilian and military support repealing DADT, and other countries that allow open gays to serve, like Great Britain, have not been any worse for it. To unilaterally block a minority group like that is not only discriminatory, it's also hateful and mean spirited. Plato, the father of western thought, would also disagree, he said gays were ideal for the military, because it would make them fight harder to impress their lover. In the case of intersexuals, there are probably several already in the military, we are so hidden, and it is such a taboo topic, they would never know. Intersexuals are already becoming more known in other parts of society, why should the military be any different?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

intersex valentines poetry

In honor of Valentines Day, I am going to showcase one of the oldest expressions of love, poetry. In this case poems written by intersexuals. These poems are obviously not about romantic love of another person, but of learning self acceptance, but I think they are still relevant because it is true that you have to love yourself before you can love another, and that goes double for those of us who are different. I hope you all have a wonderful Valentines day with that special someone, or with yourself if you are single or working on that self acceptance. Enjoy the poems.

Ode to a Life
Heidi Walcutt

A little child was born today,
whether it’s a boy or a girl was hard to say.
The poor, innocent mother they quickly sedated,
While the doctors and nurses stood around and debated.

One doctor said “The penis is too small,
this will never, never do at all.”
Another spoke up “No, the clit is too large,
we need a specialist who can come in and take charge.”

So the call went out across the land,
and when a group of specialists was at hand,
A series of tests was the first thing they did,
the result of these, from the parents they hid.

When all of the testing and probing was done,
the doctors said “We can never tell them of their son.”
So the parents were never told of their little boy child,
who by a miracle of nature was born to be wild.

So they sliced and they diced, a new woman to make.
“To hell with the consequences, we’ll fix Nature’s mistake!”

Counseling next became their obsession,
they hounded and pounded into the child their lesson.
“You are a girl, there’s no doubt of that,
trust what we tell you, a fact is a fact.”

So she lived in the shadows, without any life,
she was constantly battered by emotional strife.
Never voicing her fears, her hopes or her doubts,
until she found ISNA and let it all out.

Michelle O'Brien

I had to let the anger go.
It got in the way of everything.
It did not help.
It still can well up.
But the aftermath is often not good.
It hurt others, and it hurt myself.
I did not want to carry on with my life driven by anger.
It would have destroyed me.
This is the thing with this anger, it is not my anger.
Somebody else put this anger inside of me.
If I allow myself to hang on to that anger,
they are still there, inside of me.
By letting go of that anger, their power is broken.
Only by letting go of the anger could the true healing begin.
To accept the anger took half a lifetime.
To recover from it will take the other half.
I want to love, not hate, for I was born to love.
I will not waste the other half of my life on anger.

What Ails You, Hermaphroditos?
Testika Filch Milquetoast

each day is as a riddle
a giant game of twister
for I won't be your brother
nor shall I be your sister
I won't be your "disorder"
nor a "false" to what is "real"
I'm humyn, all too humyn
because that's the way I feel
your "science" won't define me
no matter how hard you try
nor shall your law confine me
as I breath a heavy sigh
your "faith" can not condemn me
for I have faith in my own
we will turn back your attack
'til we free your heart of stone

Friday, February 5, 2010

intersex fashion

Judith Butler's book "Gender Trouble" is a seminal work in feminism that helped kick start gender studies and queer theory as subjects of study. The book is too esoteric to get into on a blog. That being said, the example she uses in her conclusion, of wearing drag as a way to subvert the gender dichotomy holds great implications for intersexuals, and society at large.

Drag, for those who have been living under a rock, is the wearing of clothes typically associated with the opposite gender. The term was actually coined by Shakespeare, since women weren't allowed to act in his day, men played the female rolls, which old Bill Shaky designated in his manuscripts as "drag" short for DRessed As Girl.

Drag can be done for entertainment like Shakespeare, or "trouser rolls" for women in opera since there is a serious shortage of castrati these days. There are other people who wear drag for personal reasons, such as cross dressers or transgendered people before they transition, either they prefer the other gender's clothing or it better fits their gender identity, or both. Butler, however, was talking about drag and gender performativity for sociopolitical reasons, namely challenging people's assumptions about gender (it could be said that a drag show is political, as well as entertainment).

Drag only exists because of a quirk of human biology and culture. Humans have far less sexual dimorphism then many species (that is to say, human males and females look fairly similar to each other). What differences there are between men and women are covered by clothing, thus clothing and hair style becomes the primary method to tell men from women. What, you may ask, does this have to do with intersex? Since what clothing one is expected wear is connected to biology, what does the discerning intersexual wear to be gender conforming or variant? Many intersexuals feel that they are real men or women and live as such, and for them, what attire is normal and what is drag is self evident. For those intersexuals, like me, who have a more complicated gender identity, this becomes more tricky. There is no hermaphrodite or genderqueer department at the store, therefore, it could be argued that anything an intersexual wears is drag, since none of it was made for their sex. Luckily for those of us who were made into women (a vast majority), androgyny is quite stylish for women, with pantsuits, waistcoats (vests), and even tuxedos (thanks to Yves St. Laurent)are becoming a staple of women's fashion, it is easier to create a more androgynous, intersex style.

It should be remembered, as Butler said, that drag is a performance. Drag artists generally do not see themselves as the gender they are acting, this is why drag has the power to upset gender. This is something intersexuals always need to remember, gender itself is a performance. What you wear will label you as deviant or conforming. Whether or not you are actually male, female or lucky enough to be something in between, what you wear will determine if people see you as male, female, or a drag artist (which they may not like). Always be aware of the message you are sending.

Monday, February 1, 2010

intersex and political parties

One interesting thing about being a member of a very small minority group is that we are only recognized by very small minority political parties. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have ever made a stand on intersexuality or made intersex rights a part of their platform or agenda. However the Green and Socialist parties have included intersex on their platforms of issues they would fight for if they ever got into office. This is not to say that intersexuals should become socialists or greens, but that they should be aware of this fact, and encourage Democrat and Republican leaders to support intersex issues. Ideas, like music and fashion, originate on the fringes and become more mainstream. As such, as intersex becomes more well known, it is inevitable that the mainstream parties will recognize us and eventually we will get our full human rights. For your reading pleasure, I have included these parties statements on intersex:

Green Party 2008 platform:
"We support the right of all persons to self-determination with regard to gender identity and sex. We therefore support the right of intersex and transgender individuals to be free from coercion and involuntary assignment of gender or sex. We support access to medical and surgical treatment for assignment or reassignment of gender or sex, based on informed consent.

We support the inclusion of language in state and federal anti-discrimination law that ensures the rights of intersex individuals and prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, characteristics, and expression. We are opposed to intersex genital mutilation."

Socialist Alliance 7th National Conference:
Intersex people are people born with physiological differences that may be seen as being both male and female at once, not wholly male or female or as neither male nor female.

Intersex people are subjected to discrimination in employment, in housing, in the provision of medical services, and the provision of government services.

There are no laws preventing discrimination against intersex people.

Intersex children may be subjected to non-consensual surgery so that their bodies conform to dominant ideas of what constitutes a ‘male’ or ‘female’ body. Non-consensual genital surgery is particularly controversial and where there is little debate against prohibitions on female circumcision, similar procedures on intersex people happen with little community comment.

The Socialist Alliance rejects pathologising definitions of intersex such as “disorders of sexual development”. The difficulty for Intersex is not differences in anatomy but rather how those differences are perceived by the community.

Social prejudice against non conforming bodies such as intersex, are the issues that needs attention. Intersex people should not be compelled to change their bodies, their behavior, or themselves to meet mainstream social expectations.

The Socialist Alliance stands for:

1. All non-consensual surgery on children, where the child is denied the informed and cognizant right to consent or reject) ceasing immediately save for those cases where surgery is life preserving.
2. Children being able to declare their sex, even if that is none, when they are fully informed and able to understand those concepts.
3. Any individual having their passport marked with X rather than sex or gender if they so desire.
4. An affirmative action policy in public housing, work opportunities, education, and the provision of medical and government services.
5. Education campaigns to be conducted in schools and wider society to debunk the myth of sex and gender binaries, informing individuals about sex and gender diversity, and opposing bigotry because of perceived sex and gender differences.
6. Intersex athletes like Caster Semenya not being publicly outed. That there are no compulsory sex testing procedures in sport.
7. Legislation that provides protection against discrimination and vilification and promotes equal opportunities for intersex people.
8. Access to appropriate medication and surgery when and if required based on the needs of the individual and not on the expectations of diagnostic protocols. This includes the abandonment of the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” for those intersex who reject their birth assignment.
9. All people, particularly legislators and medical professionals, acknowledging that sex and gender is more than men and women , male and female.