A queer feminist perspective on intersex activism based on my experience of sexist and racist separatist movements
Founder, Organisation Intersex International
One thing I think is essential is that everyone be able to express their own opinions openly and honestly and that each intersexed person be free to work for human rights from the perspective that best fits with their own personal experience and understanding of who they are. I want to share my own perspective and it is only my perspective.
I do not find identity politics and defining people by particular reductionist and essentialist definitions as the best way politically to work toward human rights and this is the reason that I have been a queer feminist and resisted both sexism and racism. I find that the way identity movements are constructed that they are essentially sexist and encourage separatism.
I have issues with separatist movements. This essay is not a critique of the LGBT movement per se but of the white separatist movement that I experienced in the region of the United States where I spent a lot of my childhood, Louisiana. This state has a long history of white separatism and in order to entrench this separatism into Louisiana's state laws, there had to be a definition of what a white person was and what a black person was. The solution was to define anyone who was not able to prove they were totally white as:
quadroons, octoroons and even quintroons. This was true until the 80's and all legal documentation had to reflect this. All quadroons, octoroons and quintroons had to have Black on their legal documentation
It can prove quite difficult to take a large population, regardless of the characteristic chosen to separate them, and come up with workable definitions that do not stigmatize people or which can actually divide all people into the categories proposed, especially if there are only two categories.
To me as an intersex person, I understand the sexual apartheid system with male/female legal categories as an equivalent to the racial apartheid system and the underlying political reasons for such a legal separation as somewhat analogous.
I think most people would agree that the system I just described in Louisiana is racist.
My questions are:
Are the separatist divisions posited as good within the LGBT identity movement not sexist?
Are there ethical reasons for perpetuating sexism?
As an example, what does it really mean when a parent of an intersex child is told to raise the child as a girl? To me that is sexist because the notion of "girl" carries stereotypical connotations not essentially derived just from her body which in this case was not a typically female body to begin with.
My family is biracial. If a doctor told us to raise a child as black or white, I would personally interpret that as racist.
Are racism and sexism ethically justified in some cases and if so, when and for what reasons?
I have yet to find ethical justifications for perpetuating racism and sexism as particularly helpful for human rights for all people. Someone will always be excluded and categorized as the "other" as a result of such imposed boundaries.
Now, concerning the separatism within the LGBT movement, I feel that that all separatist movements are another way that oppressed groups perpetuate oppression and divert energy, which is through the policing function necessary to make sure that the borders of "us" and "them" remain clearly bounded. It is the people who fall into the borders/liminal spaces who become the new oppressed minority within such separatist groups. And, as seems endemic, as the definitions of the identity change in response to political changes within the group, and as individuals change and grow in the fluidity of an examined life, membership in the group requires a scramble to prove one still qualifies. Policing and proving membership come to replace activism as the focus of the group. This is what I feel has happened within the intersex community. Policing and defining became the actual focus and we ended up with a intersex being redefined as a genetic defect – DSD or Disorder of Sex Development.
The enforcement of static identity is why I believe that separatisms seem to do more harm than good, particularly around an inherently fluid aspect of life such as sexuality, but even "race" is fluid and culture-dependent for its definition, and policing of racial borders has certainly been an aspect of racial separatist groups with whose histories I am acquainted. Through this insistence on a static allegiance to a particular identity, human growth is curtailed.