Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The fundamental error of conflating intersex with birth defects

by Curtis E. Hinkle

In order to make a very strict separation between intersex and transidentified issues, the North American intersex movement has made a fundamental error and that error is conflating intersex with birth defects, an error they have committed so as to differentiate transidentified issues which are viewed as gender issues and intersex which are viewed as purely a body issue. In this essay we will see that it is not that simple and that this political tactic has limited the action and growth of the intersex movement and objectified intersexuals.

The fundamental problem with viewing intersex as a medical condition only is that unlike other congenital conditions which affect the body, sex is recorded on birth certificates. Intersex can often pose serious challenges in deciding which of the two official sexes to put on the birth certificate which then affects the whole life of the individual who has been placed in one of the two categories, often resulting in treatments deemed necessary to normalize their bodies so they fit the stereotypes of that sex and furthermore can result in assigning a sex which is totally alien to the person in the body which has been normalized. This can cause very serious trauma which affects many intersexuals and the underlying justification for these crimes is the legal need to impose one of only two sex categories on all individuals born. This legal requirement to sex all bodies as male or female is the one, basic justification that the medical community has for mutilating our bodies, putting us in boxes which may be totally unacceptable to us and coming up with a very rich set of pathological terms and labels to pathologize any deviation from standard male or female.

I like the analysis that Judith Butler has made about gender as performative. Many people have misunderstood her terminology and thought that the term performative was related to “performace”. She did later incorporate that idea. However, the original use of this term which comes from the field of linguistics is the more fundamental meaning she gives to the idea of gender as performative. In linguistics, the use of the word performative refers to statements which cannot be categorized as true or false but which “perform” the action they state. For example: “I promise.” “I swear.” “I pronounce you man and wife.” By saying these sentences, you have performed the act stated.

As opposed to people with other congenital conditions, intersexuals face a series of performative discourses which affect identity issues, not just their bodies. First, the statement, “It’s a girl”. The newborn in question is a girl because the person who writes this on the birth certificate has so stated. In other words the person’s discursive power and authority over the infant has placed her in the category simply by stating it and then recording it. This is all about the use of language to make something so, whether it is or not in reality true or false. Such legal discourse is purely performative because by saying it one makes it so and the individual is categorized without consent and for what purpose?

Then we are given a name on the birth certificate, another performative use of language and these names are often “sexed”. Then we might decide we wish to get married and once again we are faced with the use of performative language which often will not “pronounce us as man and wife” with the partner of our choice.

Medical, legal and religious discourse controls our lives in ways that other people with bodies that do not meet norms do not face and this is the serious problem with conflating intersex with just a body issue.

A person who is born without an arm is not faced with legal, medical and religious discourse which separates all people into one-armed and two-armed people and then sets very rigid norms which all the people of each category must adhere to. This is not recorded on the birth certificate. It does not require sorting through different lists of names, one for one-armed people and the other for those that are two-armed and it does not prevent a one-armed person from getting an artificial limb by making them agree to psychological treatments and being categorized as mentally ill for wanting to change their status from one-armed to two-armed people. Furthermore, it does not prevent a two-armed person from marrying another two-armed person.

Conflating intersex with body issues merely objectifies the intersexual and overlooks the complexity of issues and the trauma that many intersexuals face trying to live in a world that has no place for them.

Our society has norms and these norms are not natural. They only appear to be natural because we have often unconsciously internalized them to such a degree that they seem not only “normal” but natural. Sex, gender and orientation are all part of the same basic problem which results from sexing bodies into just two categories. Some of us are granted the privilege of normalcy, while others are not and it all is based on our bodies and who owns those bodies – the state or the individual.

Intersexuality is one of the most challenging threats to this arbitrary division of people into just two categories because intersex is based on what is supposedly the very criteria for placing us in the categories male or female to begin with, the body. In this respect, intersexuality is a body issue and very few people would challenge that and to understand the topic, one has to deal with the body and how many bodies do not fit the norms imposed legally, not naturally, which are then medicalized into conformity.

However, this need to normalize bodies and to categorize people into just two categories also involves gender norms and sexual orientation norms which affect intersexuals to a much higher degree we have found out than the population in general. To minimize the issues of gender norms and sexual orientation norms which are all based on the body we have been “normalized” into or legally defined by is a very serious disregard for the intersexual who has been placed in a legal category and normalized without their consent.

Until sex is no longer a legal category imposed on people, it is a very serious mistake to conflate intersex as just a body issue. It is about forced normalization, about people assigned genders they do not agree with. It is about people who love others that society sees as the inappropriate sex. It is about all of this. About mutilated bodies, mutilated genders and identities and often being deprived of legally marrying the partner of our choice.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

About the violent construction of sex as a binary */**

About the violent construction of sex as a binary */**
by Antke Engel

This is a very good article I translated with the permission of the author.

Test your I.Q. (Intersex Quotient)

Have some fun. Take the following tests.

Test your I.Q. (Intersex Quotient)

The purpose of this test is to help you understand that sex, not just gender, is itself a social construct and that male and female are not discrete, essential categories any more than intersex is.

This next quiz serves the same purpose:

Am I Intersex?

Ten Misconceptions about Intersex

Organisation Intersex International

1. Intersex means that a person has both sets of genitalia.
2. 1 in 2000 infants is born intersex.
3. Intersex is about homosexuality.
4. Intersex is not about gender. (This is a statement on ISNA's home page)
5. Intersex is part of the transgender movement.
6. Only true hermaphrodites are real hermaphrodites.
7. Transsexualism is not an intersex condition.
8. The intersex movement is an identity movement like other GLBT movements.
9. Most intersex people were assigned female.
10. Intersexuality is a condition which can be cured.

For the whole article, click here

Why the Intergender Community is so Important to Intersexuals

by Curtis E. Hinkle
Organisation Intersex International

Often those of us who are intersex who also affirm our intergender identity are marginalized not only by society at large but by the intersex community itself. It is time that we take our rightful place at the table and articulate our own views about the importance of our presence. We must speak up and resist the erasure of our identity both within the intersex movement and elsewhere. Our inclusion in society is crucial to ending the underlying violent oppression that many different people face, not just the intersex community.

One objection that often comes from intersex activists is to dismiss those of us who are intergender as insignificant because we are a minority. First of all, how do they know this to be so? Simply looking at one’s small circle of intersex friends and extrapolating generalizations from that close-knit community is very misleading. There are many intersex people all over the world who do identify as intergender. I don’t accept the premise that those of us with intergender identities are a minority. But, what if it we were? Is that a reason to dismiss us and our issues? If so, then society is perfectly justified in dismissing intersex since the definition that most experts give for it makes it such a small category of people. So-called “specialists” have defined intersex in such a limited way in order to erase almost all ambiguity which does not confirm the binary categories for sex which have been constructed in our societies and this is the same reason people, even intersex activists, erase intergender. They are just as uncomfortable with ambiguous gender as society is with ambiguity of sex. But what is really ambiguous, an intergender identity or the definitions that we have used to define gender? For the same reason that intersex is viewed as ambiguous, the ambiguity of gender ascribed to the intergender individual is not in the person but within the faulty binary lens that others view us through.

Another disturbing reason why many activists and “experts” dismiss intergender is a direct result of their insistence on a very essentialist definition of intersex. They often appear to have a vested interest in excluding as many people as possible from their “special” class. This seems quite odd for such a marginalized group of people as the intersexed, but it is true. However, the threat to the intersex movement is not from the intergender community. It is from the very essentialist ideas about intersex that many activists perpetuate based on faulty biological and pathological definitions which not only erase our existence by being so limited but also justify the elimination of any further “ambiguity” and intersex altogether.

No one has a problem with the idea that most people with female gender identities are of female sex and do not contest this. Is it not a rational assumption that most people with intergender identities are in fact intersex (i.e. of intermediate sex)? I think so. Should I require some medical proof that they are intersex? That is absurd. I would never ask a female or male to provide medical proof that they were a woman or a man. What would be the point? Male,
female and intersex are not discrete categories. There is no clear way to determine where one category ends and the other begins. Why not let the person tell me who and what they are? I think they would most likely be more accurate than some outside expert who most likely views intersex as a rare pathology as most medical experts do – a view which is not scientific and which geneticists would not accept.

If we are ever going to expand our community and our visibility, the intergender community is essential. There is no way to exist socially without a gender. Gender is about how we perceive ourselves in relation to others within a social context. In other words, it is our most basic interpretation of where we fit based on our own core feelings and identity. To minimize intergender is one of the most effective methods for erasing intersex because it perpetuates the blindness and intolerance which is one of the main justifications for intersex genital mutilation and other pathological views of intersex.. Would it not be healthier for society to deal with the actual variations within the human population rather than to continue passing laws, making medical decisions and other intrusive forays into our private lives in order to enforce norms that most people really can’t meet? I think it would be and in so doing, we would be further deconstructing the binary construct of sex which is at the root of the binary gender expectations.

Another important contribution that intergender activists bring to intersex activism is their insistence on being viewed as whole people, not just bodies. They force us to take our focus from the body and away from an essentialist idea of who we are to the more basic idea of how we actually perceive ourselves and where we fit. For intersex activists to stay focused primarily on the body and our trauma without incorporating the needs of the actual individual in that body and his/her gender identity serves little purpose in the long run because we are seeking to be an integral part of humanity. One cannot be deemed human and intersex legally. To exist as a human legally, you must be categorized as male or female. By listening to intergender voices, we begin to understand the frustration of being silenced and mutilated psychologically and emotionally within this binary system. We have to be allowed to speak for ourselves and insist that not only does intersex exist but that it is the sex of a large part of humanity and moreover that many people are realizing this on their own, i.e. that they are not simply male or female but intergender. Their solidarity with us will help us eliminate a lot of the stigma associated with being intersex.

This is probably the most significant contribution of intergender activists. We clearly force society to deal with the fact that intersex bodies are not just mutilated but our identities are often mutilated too. This is something that many people can understand because it is obvious to a large segment of the humanity that the current social construct of sex and gender as a binary is oppressive and mutilating to their self actualization as fully functioning members of society. This increases our visibility and the solidarity from others that we so need for our very survival. Most people can see that gender stereotypes are harmful and this is something that affects not just intersex people. We welcome our closest allies who are intergender to join us. They understand our erasure, the silence that has been imposed on us. If everyone is just a man and a woman with male and female identities, then what is the purpose of intersex activism really? What do we have to offer society if we just stop a few medical treatments and disappear once again while society continues to forcefully categorize us and insist that we meet norms that are unrealistic and unnatural, while using violence and sexist propaganda to maintain this inhumane system?