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: