Sunday, March 09, 2008

Disorders of sex development: Sexist, Classist Eugenics

DSD (Disorders of sex development): a sexist, classist ideology based on eugenics

A brief exposé by Curtis E. Hinkle
March 9, 2008
© 2008

1) What is sexism?
2) What is eugenics?
3) Who controls the definitions?
4) Who is fit to be born?
5) Is our sex a disorder?

1) What is sexism?

Sexism can be considered from different perspectives, both intricately related one to the other, one based on discrimination itself and the other on the division of all humans into legal sex categories which is the fundamental tool used to perpetuate and justify the discrimination.

Discrimination against people which is based on their sex assignment as male or female, instead of their individual merits, is sexist. This discrimination is so prevalent in our societies that it appears natural because we assume that the underlying binary division of all people into male and female is also natural, but it is not. Intersex people prove that it is not and it can be argued rather convincingly that the erasure of intersex as a natural sex variation is a result of the basic sexism which is considered normal in our society. Unfortunately, sexism is "normal" because there are medical and legal norms which justify this sexism. However, the fact that it is "normal" does not mean it is natural.

The most basic form of sexism is the biological essentialism (1) which is used to divide all humanity into just two legal categories - male and female with all deviations defined as pathological and in need of medical intervention to "correct" their sex. There would be no reason to justify this division of all humanity legally and medically into just two categories (2) if we felt there were no fundamental differences between these two categories and there would be no need to pathologize all intersex people as disorders of sex development if this unnatural division of all humanity as male or female were not politically motivated. (3)

2) What is eugenics?

"Eugenics is the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, esp. by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)."
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, (c) Random House, Inc. 2006.

Eugenics has a very tragic, racist, classist history.(4) The nature of eugenics makes it a political ideology based on definitions of people which divide humanity into those who are fit and those who are unfit. The basic problem is that those who control the definitions are those who have political supremacy over disenfranchised populations. Denying the racist, sexist and classist history of eugenics is dangerous if one honestly wants to understand the political motivations behind eugenic movements.

In the 20th Century, abortion has been introduced as a tool for eugenic movements. This is very problematic because the conflation of women's rights with eugenics often obscures the underlying racism, sexism and classism involved in the justification of abortion as a eugenic tool. Both sides of this debate overlook the serious dangers and inequalities of women as a class. The pro-choice debate does not emphasize the lack of most women in the world to make a real choice because they are deprived of that power even when abortion is provided and this can often lead to the elimination of female fetuses. The pro-life debate fails to recognize the need for women to control their own bodies and have the right over reproductive decisions concerning their bodies.

Instead of dealing with the serious oppression of people based on race, sex and class, upper middle-class pro-choice models of abortion as the model for feminism assumes that women who are lacking almost all control of their reproductive rights can benefit from such a model. What can often happen is the choice to eliminate females and all deviations from male and female with only male births being favored.(5)

3) Who controls the definitions?

Those in charge of the definitions which determine who are male and female and whose sex is a genetic defect is a group of predominantly, Euro-centric male medical experts: the Lawson Wilkins Pediatrics Endocrine Society along with Eric Vilain and Alice Dreger both associated with the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA). This is the group which is responsible for the Chicago Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders which redefined intersex as a genetic defect and recommended the new "disorder" terminology with "intersex" being replaced by "disorders of sex development". (6)

This same group published the following consensus statement on CAH which recommends surgery on intersex infants between 2 and 6 months of age:
Consensus Statement on 21-Hydroxylase Deficiency from The Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society and The European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology (Joint LWPES/ESPE CAH Working Group)

4) Who is fit to be born?

Those who are closest to the ones who control the definitions. Let's be honest and stop trying to justify racism, sexism and this abuse of power over us just because those in charge of the definitions are powerful and have great influence around the world. We are not fit to be born because we do not look like them; we do not act like them and we are a threat to their two-sex system which keeps them in a privileged position. They are "fit" simply because they control the definitions of who is fit.

5) Is our sex, that is intersex, a disorder?

We in OII firmly reject the idea that our sex is a disorder and we therefore reject the pathological definition of our sex as a "disorder of sex development" or DSD. The real danger and disorders are the racism and sexism which are developing eugenic ideologies and technologies to deal with what are social problems. Instead of empowering and valuing sex variations, the solution is to eliminate us.

Open discussions about the abuse of power by those who control the definitions is one important way to confront the real problem - eugenics, Euro-centric racism and male patriarchal models of power which are at risk of collapse if the current binary male/female dichotomies are not firmly held as sacrosanct.

We in OII do not accept the current male/female binary categories imposed on all people in most countries as sacrosanct and hope that others will help us confront the political agenda of those who would eliminate us.

(1) "Biological Essentialism: Biological essentialism refers to the idea that men and women are intrinsically different due to some internal essence. Biological essentialists argue that men and women are distinct from one another and that they are opposites. They claim that gender differences aren’t really differences in gender but that they reflect a biologically based difference that is consistent across cultures. Furthermore, biological essentialists stipulate that there is no variation in the expression of biologically essential characteristics."

(2) Project 1-0-1 intersex


(4) Brief history of eugenics:

(5) What Is Gendercide?

(6) Alice Dreger and some other women who have great privilege within the two-sex system have played a prominent role in pathologizing sex variations. For more information: click here