Thursday, July 9, 2009

Word of the Gay: "Intersex Surgery"

"Intersex Surgery" is a medical procedure to correct so called birth defects of people with ambiguous genitalia by the medical establishment.

18 comments:

genderkid said...

Maybe one day there will be a kind of surgery to become intersex :)

SteveMD2 said...

No. what we need is brain surgery or drugs to solve the mental illness called homophobia and hatred in the name of God.

Queers United said...

I like your thinking genderkid, although with gender re-assignment I suppose one could become intersex, very interesting never though of it.

Steve you are right we need to fix homophobia and genderphobia

Caitlin Petrakis Childs said...

Most intersex activists refer to surgery performed on intersex people without their consent as "intersex genital mutilation" The word surgery implies a necessity, which is absent.

genderkid and queers united: I feel nervous about those who are not intersex appropriating this language to describe their gender or sex identity. Intersex people are born into bodies that are unnecessarily medicalized and often, operated upon. We are told that we are freaks, that our bodies are shameful, wrong, and defective. We rarely get to fully consent to the operations that are performed or forced onto us. So, as an intersex person, I do not believe one can "become" intersex and wish people would stop appropriating the language that is very unique to intersex people's experiences. It is alienating and hurtful to those of us who live in this reality. Thanks for reading.

Queers United said...

Well one who was born fully male or female cannot become intersex in the sense of having been born that way. But with modern surgery, hormones one could choose to have genitalia from both genders if they choose, which would render them a type of intersex no?

Caitlin Petrakis Childs said...

Only if you are appropriating the language of an experience that is not your own. Intersex refers to a set of common experiences and medicalization that you can only experience if you were diagnosed with a certain group of conditions. It is not the same thing and it is dangerous and offensive to appropriate the language of intersex. You do not have to define your sex as male or female. That is your personal decision, however it is extremely dangerous and harmful to those of us who are intersex to co-opt our experiences and language. I have fought long and hard to have a way to talk about the experiences I have as an intersex person and to work through the pain and stigma that comes with being diagnosed with an intersex condition.

Caitlin Petrakis Childs said...

FYI: This is a pretty universally accepted definition of intersex:

Intersex – Simply put, intersex is a set of medical conditions that feature “congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system.” That is, intersex people are born with “sex chromosomes,” external genitalia, and/or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male or female.

Anonymous said...

I think that gender is an invention of society to keep people like us down.
Let's sing wer'e not gonna take it and then lets bash the walls of cultural down.
Oh but then we wouldn't have modern convienences. In solving one problem lies another.

Elizabeth said...

I think it is really important to acknowledge the voice of the one self-identified intersex person on this thread when she says it is hurtful and harmful for non-IS people to appropriate the language and experience of intersex. As queers and allies it is very important to not conflate our desire for some kind of world where people aren't oppressed by the gender and sex binary into co-opting other people's experiences to make a point about what an ideal world would look like.

We cannot be allies if we use other people's experiences to make larger cultural points. It is damaging and hurtful enough when people outside the queer community do that (ie; Jeffery Eugenidies with his book Middlesex) but it is even more hurtful when it comes from inside the queer community.

We have to hear the voices of intersex people when they say that their experiences have largely been painful, shaming, and alienating. Doing the work of intersex activism means constantly putting their stories and bodies before public scrutiny in the name of educating others. How can we expect intersex folks to share their stories and their experiences when they constantly hear other queers saying things like "wow wouldn't it be great if we were all intersexed." It is hurtful and demeaning to their experiences to be so enthused about something which has been a difficult journey for so many.

I know that mostly this kind of "why shouldn't we all be intersexed" thinking comes from a place of idealism and a sense of unity, but ironically it is this very thinking that further marginalizes intersex people and makes them feel most alone where they should feel safest.

Thanks for reading.

Queers United said...

I think your operating on the assumption that all intersex people are ashamed and in pain. While it is without doubt the intersex experience is a difficult life journey, there are many who take pride in their unique identity and set of circumstances. I don't see how showing support and encouraging intersex people by showing them that they are just fine the way they were created is problematic anymore than it would be offensive for someone to wish they were gay or transgender? Sure each of these identities has their struggles, but with it also comes a sense of pride, community, and political enrichment.

Elizabeth said...

Queers United,
I am not in anyway suggesting that intersex people are or should be ashamed. I think you missed my point. My point is that co-opting the language of intersex to futher a political goal is not helpful. Intersex people have been shamed and oppressed by the medical community. Their bodies have been gawked at, medicalized, made into "emergencies" when there was no true health risk, and been used as examples of amnormalities in textbooks. You can be the strongest, proudest person in the world and still, the stigma is there. That is what intersex people fight against. The culture that suggests there is something inherently wrong about their bodies.

The way to support intersex people is not by co-opting the language of their experiences (afterall, no one can become intersex, even through surgery, because an intersex condition is something you are born with) but by making yourself available as an ally, asking intersex people how we can be helpful in the movement, asking how our experiences are similar and also very different.

Ultimately, it should be the voices of the intersexed folks in our lives and communities that we privilege in this debate. If someone who is intersexed states, as Caitlin above in this thread states, that using the language of intersex without the experience is harmful and painful, then we, as allies must respect that and listen.

Thank you.

Queers United said...

I appreciate Caitlin's opinion but I respectfully disagree. One doesn't need to experience something to have empathy for it, I also have many intersex readers who appreciate the work being done. I have not experienced the unique struggles each identity this blog represents and advocates on behalf of but certainly one can be sympathetic to them all.

Anonymous said...

Queers United - Please go look up the definitions of sympathy and empathy before you use them as synonyms. The distinction gets to the heart of what this conversation should be about.

Queers United said...

While genderkids comment is indeed interesting, and I wonder if anyone does choose to have genitals from both sexes or has contemplated it. The point was made to me on twitter which makes sense. Just as there is a difference between consensual sex and assault, one is chosen and one is forced. While that is not analogous to intersex, the intersex person had no choice in the matter to have ambiguous genitalia, whereas someone who opts for surgery is choosing that. I don't know what you would call someone like that, but the distinction does make sense in my mind now.

Elizabeth said...

Queers United,
I don't understand why it takes a person on twitter making the comparison to consensual/non-consensual sex to understand what was stated in multiple ways above by myself and by an intersex person herself: that the reason co-opting the language of intersex is problematic is the lack of acknowledgement that being intersex is not a choice and neither is the stigma that remains attached to intersex folks.
I hear you saying you are only trying to be empathetic but it is frustrating to see that in your attempts to "be empathetic" you ignore the voice of an intersex person who is trying to explain her experience. I'm glad for whoever helped clarify the issue to you on twitter but I'm frustrated that you have not offered an apology or additional response (at least not publicly on this thread) to someone who tried to offer some constructive criticism about representation of her own identity on your site.
Your site states that it is all about building alliances; what better way to build alliances than to acknowledge when you have misunderstood something about another person's identity and attempt to move forward in coalition building? We all make mistakes in this difficult work, the difference comes in how you handle the next phase of the conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope continuing the dialog.

Hedo said...

To put what has been asserted numerous times in straightforward terms: Intersex is not a gender, it is a SEX. Hence it being "intersex" and not "intergender." (And though the term "intergender" exists, I think it's faulty.) It is biological, and is NOT a category of psychological and social identity, which gender is. One may identify as part of a third gender, but that wouldn't mean xyr gender identity could be labeled as "intersex."

To return to something more relevant to the original post, when I read that these surgeries were performed on intersex children to try and "normalize" them, I was furious. Not only is the "corrective" surgery a physical mutilation, but a way of encouraging the enforcement of gender roles of which most people might not even be aware. It should be up to the owner of the body to decide what is done with it. If a child was born intersexed and is fine with it, I think xe has the right to live in such a body. Alternately, if that child identified as and wanted to become a boy or a girl, he or she has that same right to attain it when that gender is actually realized. Not as a matter of the doctor or parents wanting to make a child's genitalia look "normal."

Chris said...

I am a genetic male who has been fascinated with the condition of intersex and those that are intersexed. I grew up with and went to school with an intersexed classmate, who from what I could tell indentified as female gender. This and my own curiousity has made me curious to the possibility of having both genitial, my sexual orientation is bisexual and I have a very dom and sub personality. To me having both a penis and a vagina would allow me to fully expeirence these very polar halves of what is not only my sexual preference but my gender identity as well. I also like to dress as a woman and very much desire to be passable. I know that I am a very unique individual and I also mean in no way to cheapen anyones struggle or pain. I do believe we all have the right to be who and what we choose without unjust judgement, that is an ideal world we wouldn't have to fight for that right.

Bex-Vicki-Alex said...

genderkid, think you for saying that! likewise, thank you Chris as well for you comment. your experience mirror's mine! I have not met someone who is intersex but I have struggled with being bisexual, having more than one gender identification (3 in my case instead of 2 like you), and wanting ambiguous genitalia with both female and male organs.

In no way do I want to demean the struggle that many intersex have faced. I offer only the suggestion that I would be proud to have an intersex body and would use it to promote love in the debate and encourage advocacy & activism.

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