It’s about time we listened to intersex people

An article posted yesterday on The Intersex Network highlights intersex erasure* at a recent House of Lords event.

Report on the intersex inclusive House of Lords LGBTI event ‘Human Rights for Sexual Minorities’ on 24th January 2012

Activist Anis Akhtar explains how this “LGBTI” event focused almost exclusively upon the “LGBT”, with LGBT groups speaking and topics of discussion including LGBT History Month, homophobic and transphobic hate crime in the EU, the forced sterilisation of trans people in countries such as Sweden and the complex intersection of LGBTI experiences and religion/faith.

Akhtar concludes:

“I was not surprised that the focus was LGBT but glad that a few people did say LGBTI on the day. What is paramount is that intersex people in the UK now have a voice – the use of the acronym “LGBT+” by the Liberal Democrats may be a good start.

It is extremely important to spread the word of what intersex is and what we experience due to society’s ignorance, negligence and outright discrimination towards any person who supposedly differs from the “norm.”

Intersex people stand up for LGBT and it is time that LGBTs include us as LGBTI, or intersex people stand alone and continue to fight for our own equality globally.”

Akhtar’s experience reminds me of a “trans youth” (25 and under) consultation at the Government Equalities Office during the autumn of last year; part of the process that eventually led to the creation of the trans action plan. A few of us asked why intersex issues were not also on the agenda. We were told that intersex people are “not on the [current government’s] agenda” and the Government Equalities Office did not intend to tackle intersex issues until (at least) 2015.

This is quite frankly unacceptable. Intersex people aren’t about to magically disappear, and people aren’t about to start magically respecting intersex rights.

So how can those of us who aren’t intersex provide solidarity? There’s a long history of the people within the trans rights movement co-opting intersex issues for their own ends or erasing intersex experience by claiming that trans and intersex issues are “basically the same”. This is totally unacceptable and has to stop.

What we can do is be there for intersex activists when they ask for help, just as trans people would like cis allies to stand by us without telling us how we identify or how to run our campaigns.

When UK LGBT organisations attended the House of Lords LGBTI event, why did they not join intersex activists in asking the Government Equalities Office to get its act together? When a conference that promoted infant genital mutilation was held in London during September, where were the trans people, the queers, the feminists who should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the intersex activists who called a demonstration?

We need to get our act together and support others as we’d like to be supported ourselves.

*Edit 16/2/12: I today recieved the below message from a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, and have appended it to this post for the sake of balance. I should also clarify that whilst Anis Akhtar’s blog was not my sole source, I was not present at the event myself.

Having read your blog about the UNA House of Lords event, I must point out that intersex identities were not erased, far from it. Intersex was included in the event rationale/publicity, intersex activists were suggested and considered as potential speakers, Oii was included in the mailing list, Anis was in email correspondence with the UNA Chair (David Wardrop) and the speakers before the event, Anis spoke at the event after the Q&A and got a very appreciative thanks from the Chair and a big clap from the audience, and two of the three international speakers explicitly mentioned intersex issues in their addresses. Do you really think that amounts to erasure? I see how you might reach that conclusion if Anis’s report was the only source, so I understand why you might say that, but to be fair I do not think ‘intersex erasure at the House of Lords’ is accurate or helpful. Erasure implies an absence or at least an attempt to censor, which is the opposite of what really happened. It’s a pity you were not there to see for yourself.

I have discussed this with the UNA Vice Chair who assures me that he will support my suggestion of a follow up event where intersex issues are discussed more fully and we get an intersex activist to be a main speaker.

In the meantime, I wonder if you would be so kind as to insert a correction into your blog or remove the ‘intersex erasure’ claim? Anis’s speech was brave and important because of what it took personally for him to get there and speak despite social phobia and visual impairment, and it deserves attention on it’s own terms, not because of some spurious claim that Anis stood up to people who wanted to erase the existence of intersex people. They didn’t – Anis was welcomed and applauded wholeheartedly.

52 thoughts on “It’s about time we listened to intersex people

  1. I want to take you up on “erasing intersex experience”. What I am doing when I compare myself to an intersex person is arguing that someone calling me a “man” is wrong as well as disrespectful, and refuting the claim that I make a “choice” to be female. And I get ratty about intersex people saying anything like, “mine is a physical condition, I am not like those transsexuals”- making a hierarchy of oppression, trying not to be oppressed by ganging up with the oppressors on a lower group.

    So I want to continue making such arguments, and I do not think that means that I am disrespectful to intersex people or dismissive of their needs.

    Use of “LGBTI” may be seen as assimilation: claiming intersex people as in some way similar to us. I am wary of using that, in case intersex people feel insulted. I want to be an ally, and I want the permission of intersex people to say “LGBTI”.

    • I have to respond. One of my closest friends was born XO. She just went through so much tjat was clearly visible to others. She had surgery on her urethra on the day she was born because it wasn’t fully developed. She had surgery on her hands and feet as a young girl to get rid of webbing. She had her legs broken and rebroken over and over to create extra height; wearing leg braces to be able to walk on broken legs. She was given growth hormone for height in her teens that caused obesity. She had been a very slim girl and her weight doubled in a year. She had to take hormones to go through puberty at all. She knew from the time she was very young that if she wanted children she would have to adopt. She has a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious health problems.

      That’s not a trans story. That’s an intersex story. There may be some cross-over of experience but there is between all various discriminated against groups. It isn’t fair to compare trans and intersex. They’re not the same and the comparison potentially has the effect of erasure.

      I get angry at my friends erasure. I see the staring, the pointing, thhe whispers and I want people to know her as I do; one of the strongest most amazing people I’ve ever met. She doesn’t let any of it get to her. She gets on with life and is really succeeding personally and professionally.

      • I am not sure this adds up to much. Your friend has gone through a lot, and transcended it. Hooray. That does not make the analogy less compelling. Gender identity is a gender marker.

        • Peoples stories matter. Most people either haven’t met an intersex perain or don’t know they have. If the only exposure they ever get is trans stories likened to intersex people, then the multiple intersex stories are buried. It’s unfair to do this to any group so marginalised and misunderstood. Gawd, there are still people who think hermaphrodite is a valid word. Awareness of intersex issues must be led by intersex people.

          • If that were so, there would be no point in making the analogy. I don’t make the analogy to everyone, just to those who will understand. Why should you define how I may explain myself to others?

      • Reverse the polarity and maybe you’ll get it.

        What if intersex people were on the cover of magazines, had their issues being made front and centre in feminism and mainstream publications. They were talking about themselves and likening themselves to trans folk. When you got on google you had to wade through hundreds of hits where intersex people talk about trans people just to find your own communities voice. When you read intersex opinions about you, some were aware and sensitive, many were self-centred brishing over your issues like an afterthought and some were outright wrong.

        Would you, in all honesty, think, ‘they have the right to the dominant voice coz ‘gender’? Or would you feel like it belongs to your community to voice your concerns?

  2. I don’t think that, “Trans and intersex issues are ‘basically the same’.” From the little that I know about intersex it’s pretty darn obvious that trans people who are not also intersexed have never had to deal with medical treatments forced upon them, their histories deliberately concealed, or the general obnoxious philosophy that pervades society with the opinion that intersex people are broken and need to be corrected. Contrast that with transsexual people, who do have a choice whether to pursue their treatments* and label themselves as needing medical treatment.

    On the other hand, I think that there are issues that trans people and intersex people share and I think that it should be about more than just being an ally in the sense described between trans people and trans-friendly cis people. It is my understanding (albeit not that well informed) that both transsexual and some intersex, non-trans people experience the day-to-day grind of being harassed for having a physical appearance that doesn’t conform to the 100% male ideal nor the 100% female ideal; the changing room issues; the awkward questions like, “Do you think you might be pregnant?” and having to explain, “Err, no because I don’t have a womb/functioning ovaries, see the diagnosis from…” (date way back when); grieving for the loss of not being able to have certain experiences generally associated with your gender identity, like childbirth; etc. Cis, non-intersex people don’t care whether you were born that way or made that way by transition they’ll harass you, discriminate or make assumptions all the same anyway! (Aside: many transsexual people believe their condition is a birth defect.)

    I think that in the areas where trans people’s and intersex people’s experiences do overlap then we should campaign from a common platform as equals, not merely as allies. Yes, I’m a trans person claiming that intersex people belong in the trans space (that is, not to assume that every intersex person is trans but to make the trans space a shared trans and an intersex one), but please explain why I’m wrong to do so, if I am! At the same time I’d steer well clear of trying to “own” intersex issues that are clearly not within the experience of trans, non-intersex people, like the ones that I mentioned in my first paragraph. Those are serious that belong to intersex people and shouldn’t be claimed by the trans community because we have no right to own them. Therefore, intersex people need an intersex-only discussion space too. Of course trans people can still be allies on those issues, but strictly allies.

    Experience: transsexual, possibly mildly intersexed (basically my T levels were between the sexes prior to starting hormone therapy, with a few symptoms visible because of it. Caused some distress a while back but makes little difference now other than an extra vigilant monitoring regime of my levels. It could have been caused by something else (anti-depressant use for example, though my experiential evidence of matching my moods to blood test results suggests the depression was caused by the low sex hormones) or could be natural but I doubt I will ever know! Not sure if I can claim the I-word or not though.

    *Albeit perhaps a superficial choice when you’re desperate to get free of the distress of gender dysphoria, it is still giving medical consent and is making a choice, though of course the condition itself is not a choice.

  3. In response to Clare and Lizzy:

    I entirely agree that there are many instances in which trans and intersex people share a common interest or problem. The issues you raise of (mis)gendering and cissexism (for lack of a better/wider term) are certainly shared, and it makes sense for trans and cis people to campaign together on issues such as gender liberation and access to services. Indeed, a recent protest outside the Swedish Embassy in London saw trans and intersex activists protesting side-by-side – it’d be wonderful to see more of this.

    The problem is, as you note, when trans people see fit to talk *for* intersex people and comment with authority on intersex issues as if they themselves were intersex when they’re not – and this is what I was trying to get at in my post. We have no right to barge into conversations and declare what the issues are or should be for intersex people: I’m pretty sure you’d both agree with me on this, but it’s something that’s historically happened quite a lot.

    Regarding the “body thing” – I *do* think it’s problematic when trans people say that they “basically have an intersex condition”. Because often the people saying this don’t.

    I’m not denying that trans phenomena have some some kind of biological cause (personally, I figure this is probably the case). Nor do I deny that many trans people are also intersex.

    The problem comes when trans people who *aren’t* intersex say that they *are* because they want to make an essentialist claim about their own biology. That’s all very well and good, but the whole point of the term “intersex” is that it refers to a particular repertoire of experiences that is distinct from the repertoire of experiences associated with “trans”, even as the two overlap.

    Ultimately “trans” experiences tend to relate to the social and physical challenges that arise from an incorrectly assigned gender. Meanwhile “intersex” experiences tend to relate to the social and physical challenges that arise from living in a body that does not strictly conform with ideals of “female” or “male” sex.

    Therefore when trans people who don’t *also* happen to be intersex claim that they’re intersex because of their incorrectly assigned gender, this erases intersex difference.

    Of course, any intersex person claiming that their oppression is more important because they were born with a certain body whilst trans people all “choose” to be different is just being an arsehole. I’m all for ending the oppression olympics!

    • Ruth,
      The problem their is because alot of Trans think that by claiming intersex, that they believe in their warped deluded mind that they can get what they want by claiming to be intersex. What they don’t realize is that it’s no joke and no party being born intersex. Some M2t’s like to think that being intersex will get them sympathy or even the fast tracked for treatment. What they don’t see and fail to see is that it’s no party and no fun being born intersex. They like to use their male inborn privilege to claim everything from women to lesbian and even intersex. Also I believe it’s wrong for any Trans to claim intersex and claim to be both. It pisses off intersex people and it cheapens and erases intersex people. Even Feminist like Gallusmag will agree with intersex people that trans have no RIGHT in claiming intersex and do not have the RIGHT to speak for intersex people.

      • Nicky,

        I entirely agree with you that this is a genuine problem; one that usually arises from the idea that being intersex somehow make gender dissonance more “real”. IMO this is harmful (albeit to a considerably lesser degree) for trans as well as intersex people – we need to learn to love ourselves without feeling the need to erase the experience of others. Trans people can be utterly shit to intersex people because they don’t check their privilege, and this is awful.

        However, I’d like to ask that you refrain from using transphobic language yourself. Please do not misgender trans women by claiming that they “use their male inborn privilege to claim” that they are “women” or “lesbian”. I may have been assigned male as birth but I identify as a woman, I move through the world as a woman; I am a woman, and when I was in a relationship with another woman, that was a lesbian relationship. My own claim to gendered subjectivity does not cheapen yours.

        • Here’s the problem, you have a lot of trans who think that by claiming intersex, that somehow, they can get fast tracked to get treated or get better sympathy from society. Somehow they believe in their mind that by claiming to be intersex or claiming to be both that people will look at them in a better light. They somehow believe in their mind that people will sympathize with them, but don’t realize, if you don’t physically show physical, genetic and biological signs & symptoms of intersex. You get zero credibility and no one will ever believe you.

          What they don’t realize, that it’s no fun being born intersex and it ain’t no party being born intersex as well. They don’t realize that your medical rights get taken away and your subjected as a medical lab rat for the rest of your life. As someone who is born intersex, your right to choose, get’s taken away from you. You have to follow what the medical and scientific community tells you.

          It’s why It makes me wonder why any trans would want to claim to be intersex when they don’t see the physical, psychological and medical harm that has done to Intersex people. Trans think it’s easy to be intersex, but don’t seem to see what kind of damage it can do to you. It also can piss off intersex like myself and every biological born intersex person out their. It cheapens their condition and it even co-opts and erases intersex people.

          As far as using transphobic comments, I don’t believe in the word transphobic because it’s no transphobic.Its is not misgendering because trans misgender women, lesbian and intersex people all the time. On top of that, Trans use their inborn birth privilege to misgender women, lesbian and intersex people all the time and it cheapens their existence as well. Here’s why and look at this site
          http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/what-is-transphobic-a-reference-guide/

          • May I ask you a question Nicky? What gender identity do you associate with? And does your gender identity match with your sex (taking sex as more than a binary) in such a way that nobody of a different sex could claim to have the same gender as you, perhaps a great many people of a different sex but same gender, more than there are of your own sex?

            If you happen to identify as a non-binary gender label (such as genderqueer) then I’m just out of luck. If you identify as a woman then what is it that makes you any more acceptable to the rad fem agenda than a transsexual woman? If you have a binary gender identity then you’re no more sex-gender congruent than a trans person is because you don’t have the binary sex that matches the binary gender. Perhaps it’s simply that people can’t determine your sex unless they know you intimately? Or, surely you’re not relying on sympathy because you were born like it and trans people just imagine their difficulties? I thought we agreed that was bogus (on both counts). Or perhaps you’re just relying on people being nice and accepting others for what they are, just as I rely on people among my gender (female) being accepting of a trans person (MtF). If so then why the rad fem?

            If you identify as a man then the same argument applies mutatis mutandis, though I’ve never heard of any “rad males”. But in the principle the argument applies.

            Trans and intersex are different, but both groups are oppressed because of our sex, in the latter case oppressed simply for existing, and in the former case for not matching with the gender identity. I, as a trans person, respect your right for your sex and gender identity to exist in whatever form that combination takes, be taken seriously and not be messed around with or reclassified against your will as something you are not. Why do you not afford the same respect to trans people? E.g. transsexual women are not men so please stop reclassifying us as such. Sure, I get it that a lot of trans people have hurt you in the past, but hurting other people in the same manner as some members of their group have hurt you doesn’t make it right to hurt people.

            Can we not love rather than hate?

          • As an intersex person, I am a Biological indeterminate intersex. Which means from a biological and scientific standpoint, as an intersex person, I am born with no gender to begin with.

            Radfems do know the difference between trans an intersex people and know that Intersex people are people more oppressed than trans. Trans just reenforces patriarch and reenforces sex stereotypes. Radfems do support Intersex people because they know Intersex are born with their conditions and intersex people didn’t have a choice. Radfems know that trans like to oppress Bio women and lesbians.

          • Hi Nicky,
            I can’t agree more with your remarks about the lack of party at the “Intersex” ranch. As a woman with an Intersex variation ( personally, I feel that Intersex is not an identity because I am more than my biology) I was fortunate/unfortunate to have had liberal/lazy partner that did not believe in childhood mutilation of my outer reproductive organ and instead raised me to be a person ( my siblings suffered the fate of being people too) rather than a girl or boy. Home schooling for all is what I imagined my folks shouting once things came apparent.
            All jokes aside, I suffer with my condition. Yes, I said suffer. You try being an adult woman with XX chromosomes, overies, uterus and a PENIS (well not quite but may as well be), not fun, I can tell you. I can’t just go to any old gp’s clinic without some form of shame, stigma or invasion. Once I went to my regular clinic due to a pyloric sinus infection but my doc was away and I had to see a locum. On review of my extensive medical file (reads: freakshow file) informs me that he can’t offer any assistance because he doesn’t know what is wrong with my body. For Petesake I had an infection. Treat me like a person. If I was male or female he would have treated me because he knows how to treat a male or female body, but he could not take the risk in treating me. What a load of hog wash. I am a body, full stop.
            Granted I live a very medicated life and drug interactions mean a very lengthy process when introducing other drugs. But that’s life. Boo hoo I get over it.
            As far as “fixing” my messy privates, anyone would think it would be easier as huddler of the Intersex umbrella but that’s not been my experience. I envy my trans friends in every way. I still need psychiatric approval for genital self mutilation but it has been a rough road of hoop jumping as I don’t present with the coveted GD symptoms. I don’t seem to remember visiting a psych to have a particular hysterectomy at 12 due to ‘cancer’ but I do remember the pain, the sorrow and the ill effects of chemotherapy.
            There is no party at my place, only medical bills and quite frankly an unhealthy amount of humour.
            So now my personal, if somewhat tactless narrative is done, I shall address some of your other comments that I found discredited you as a person.
            Yes, I want to ball up my fist and pop Intersex claiming trans persons in the face because they should be proud of WHO THEY ARE rather than smokescreening out real life issues. But your transphobic rhetoric does you no justice or that of other persons with or without Intersex variations. You can’t defend an argument with words of hate. After all we are all human (sit the fuck back down all you bloody alien hybrids, no one is talking to you) and as such each and every one of us is a unique freakshow of our own. I am sorry that I read past this post because not only have you lost all credibility but I felt compelled to write a response and let’s face it who wants to read yet another reply. Be proud you beautiful human and let your freak flag fly.

        • Hello, Nicky. Nice to see you again. Are you still wasting time at the hate site Twanzphobic? I hope people will not be too upset by the rubbish you spout, because it is so transparently worthless.

          • Aw, I see you think it’s transphobic to not like you. Well Too bad since we every feminist knows about you Namely Davesqurriel and Gallusmag knows about you.

          • A host of rad fems know about you from Dave squrriel, Gallusmag to Bev Jo. They know about you and you have posted a comment or two on Dave squrriel’s site.

          • I considered deleting some of the more blatantly transphobic comments, but they’re just too bizarre for me to find them really offensive. I don’t see any way of persuading Nicky that (a) I entirely agree with it’s really bad when trans people co-opt intersex issues, (b) uh, transphobia is a thing and (c) oppression olympics are not the way forward.

          • Nicky: I’m a feminist too! Don’t think I’ve come before Clare before this comment thread though. Hello Clare 🙂

          • if you said that to Feminist like Gallusmag, they would laugh at you. You would not survive with that line. As for Trans co-opting intersex issues, it’s been going on for a long time and until the trans community wises up and cleans up their act. Intersex people are going to distance themselves and align with feminist, lesbian and women’s groups. The oppression thing, Trans have been oppressing, women, lesbian and intersex people and that’s nothing new.

          • That’s because Gallusmag isn’t a very nice person. Her blog hardly screams “sisterhood”.

            I don’t need her approval though, so don’t worry about me!

          • I don’t, I worry about the Zoe Brains of the Trans community who like to scream about being both and worry about intersex being invaded, co-opt and erased at the hands of Trans who use their inborn birth privilege

      • I must say Nicky, until I learned a little about you, I was almost ready to take you seriously. Yet, everywhere I go on this topic, there you are, with the same trans-phobic rhetoric. Indeed, you have been at this since 2006. I begin to suspect you have GID, and are self-loathing for it. I expect, if you were to simply come out and transition to female, you will find us very forgiving, and some inner peace for yourself. Think on it.

  4. Doesn’t the problem arise because we don’t have rich enough language to easily distinguish between having an intersex condition, which is not true of most trans people, as compared with having a body that is literally “between the sexes”?

    Trans women don’t get pregnant, don’t have periods, don’t have smear tests (well, medical opinion varies…), often have to shave their face even post-transition, sometimes have fertility issues, and often have breasts and a penis! (An analogous list could be made for trans men of course.)

    Transsexualism is not an intersex condition, condition being the operative word in my opinion because it indicates that we’re talking about medical conditions. Trans simply doesn’t fit into that ontological space because of the lack of any identifiable biological cause. Transsexualism is however arguably a life existing in an inter-sex state (note the added hyphen), in both the literal sense of matching with the etymology and the very real sense of sharing a variety of practical issues with people who do have intersex conditions.

  5. Hi! Great to see that intersex is being discussed here and especially LGBTI. These URLs may help:

    http://oiiinternational.com/blog/864/stop-language-disease-describe-intersex-medicine-cure-intersex/

    http://oiiinternational.com/intersex-library/intersex-articles/what-is-intersex-oii-australia/

    http://oiiinternational.com/blog/671/intersex-new-idea-magazine-publishes-real-life-phoebe-hart-hermaphrodite/

    Intersex is not a “medical condition” or a “condition” of any kind. Intersex is a range of natural biological variations in sex, like hair colour, tallness or shortness or the colour of one’s skin are natural variations. Is having dark hair or dark skin a “medical condition” to be “cured”? No and neither is intersex.

    • Thanks for the links Angela! I’ve been trying to avoid using pathologising language such as “condition” and will endeavour to continue with this.

      Out of curiousity, how do you feel about “difference”? It’s a term I’ve been experimenting with in terms of positively describing the glorious social and physical diversity of people 🙂

    • So sorry! I didn’t stop to think how inappropriate the word “condition” is. Most of the information I know has come from the medical community :(. I only wanted to articulate that there are some variations that arise with identifiable biological causes and can be put into an organized scheme according to their similarities and differences with other variations that also have biological causes. And secondly, that trans doesn’t fit into that scheme at all because we don’t know what causes transsexualism (let alone other trans identities) but so far as we do know it doesn’t fall along any of the axes that are used to categorize an intersex variation like rare anatomy at birth, sex chromosome differences, hormonal variations, etc.

      Having brown hair isn’t a medical condition, but it does have identifiable causes and can be classified accordingly, on a taxonomy for hair characteristics rather than sex characteristics of course though.

      Have I helped redeem myself or dug an even bigger hole?

  6. Hi Ruth,

    Difference is what a terrific Australian writer calls a “weasel word”, one that weasels its way into common usage by seeming less objectionable than and while substituting for a far less acceptable one. Differences is used by some intersex-as-disease-to-be-cured model fans in “differences of sex development” instead of “disorders of sex development.” Either way they amount to DSD and all that it stands for.

    Here is an article about how DSD came about:

    http://oiiinternational.com/intersex-library/intersex-articles/a-conspiracy-of-deceit-alice-dreger-isna-the-invention-of-dsd-and-dix-poppas-of-cornell-who-cuts-up-intersex-babies-clitorises/

    • Hi Angela,

      I shall continue to strive towards simply using “intersex” Interesting to hear more about DSD.

      I suppose I use “difference” more generally to refer to all forms of human diversity: i.e. “normative” bodies/identities/experiences as well as oppressed/marginalised ones. This would make a lot more sense if I could drag out an example off the top of my head. But you make a valid point, language is careful and I shall be cautious. Marginalisation sucks for us all!

  7. Sadly, although LGB and T mix socially, there is less social interaction with the Intersex community and we have very weak links. I think I probably know more Intersex folk in Australia than I do in the UK!

    Whilst “the GEO [does] not intend to tackle intersex issues until (at least) 2015“, there are may things we’re pushing for that they don’t INTEND to tackle but we’ll still try to push through. Hopefully at some point soon we’ll be able to at least propose legislative amendments to fix some aspects of the Gender Recognition Act and it would be nice if we’re able to fix some of the problems that it causes for the Intersex community too. However, I have no idea who the best group to talk to about that would be and as you point out, trying to fix that without involving the intersex community would be pretty crappy of us and we’d likely just make a mess of it.

    None of the real policy happens at high-profile events like the House of Lords one above. It happens in coffee shops and bars in London and on mailing lists, so that’s the level we need to be talking at.

    (Translation: Any intersex folk want to go for a drink and a chat in London, let me know! Even if we can’t do anything positive, we can at least make sure we’re not tripping each other up on issues. Someone did contact LGBT+LD, I think from OII, but I didn’t get their contact details)

  8. In response to the issues Nicky raised:

    This is a MASSSIVE problem that needs to be addressed!

    One of the first places that I came across intersex was a trans textbook aimed at doctors. I was quite bewildered to read that many trans patients request tests for intersex. How strange I thought as I couldn’t see why an arbitrary trans person was any more likely to be intersex than an arbitrary cis person. So far as I could see, the likelihood would be that the tests would come back negative and they’d only be slowing down their transition. And, if we dig into it a little deeper then we notice that DSM-IV TR actually prevents diagnosing gender dysphoria if the tests come back positive! Thus this whole idea of fast tracked treatment is a myth that we (the trans community) should work to stamp out.

    My personal experience is quite the reverse. I had no intention of claiming intersex. One day my endocrinologist at the gender identity clinic made an appointment with me. Said he had some unusual test results. Gave me a half hour grilling asking lots of weird questions about things like the circumstances of my birth (How the f**k should I know? But he got me worried.) and a physical exam (which was uncomfortable). It did slow down my transition. My doctors wouldn’t approve my transition until they’d messed around doing a brain scan. Over the course of the following months my thinking weaved around through the following stages.

    At first I simply fell into line with the social compliance exerted by the endocrinologist and answered his questions as best as I could, being very confused and not really knowing what was going on. Then I got very stressed and depressed about it. I worried that perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a transsexual woman after all. Perhaps I was supposed to be neither fully male nor fully female. Perhaps I might do a lot of harm to myself in the long run if I persisted in an agenda to push for feminizing hormones. It was a very lonely time. There’s a lot support available for trans people in my city but I didn’t (and still don’t) have any intersex friends.

    In the end I realized that had it not been for my doctors using me like a lab rat then I would have happily transitioned and remained blissfully unaware of any possible intersex status I might have and that’s what I persisted to do. I still feel guilty sometimes, pondering what might have happened if I’d made a different decision, if I hadn’t used drugs to erase my variations that might possibly be attributable to intersex, how things might have turned out differently if society was more tolerant of people who don’t fit bodily norms.

    I’m sorry to say (but I’d be misrepresenting myself if I didn’t include this part) some time after making my decision I did privately harbour the thought for a while, “Well now I definitely know that I’m a woman because I’ve got physical evidence to prove that I never was 100% male.” Such attitudes are trans people’s fault and they’re my fault. But I also think that clinicians are partly to blame too. There’s still a “them” and “us” mentality at GICs. Not trans until proven trans. That kind of thing. Is it any wonder that trans people go off looking for proof in inappropriate places?

    Some time further on still I dropped the better than thou attitude and tried to get on with my life and forget my experiences of intersex altogether.

    • “Well now I definitely know that I’m a woman because I’ve got physical evidence to prove that I never was 100% male.”

      This thought process is at the core of understanding why a lot of trans people (particularly transsexed women, in my experience) “want” to be intersex in a way that ignores (and, by extension, works to erase) actual intersex experience. I’ll admit I’ve been there too.

      It’s something that we as a trans community/trans communities need to tackle if we’re to properly stand by intersex people – as Nicky right points out (albeit inbetween the transphobic rants), it’s not okay.

      At the same time, it’s damaging to us. The essentialist discourse of a “real womanhood” or even a “real transsexualism” rooted in a normative “female” body does no-one any favours. Ironically, Nicky and other transphobic feminists such as Gallusmag (her blog should come with a big trigger warning, incidentally!) perpetuate a related discourse.

      I feel a discourse of gender liberation based upon a recognition of identity and the gendered manner we move through the world is far more valuable than this kind of biological essentialism!

      • I don’t doubt that this is a huge problem for the trans community. In what little pathetic comment I may offer in defence of myself I knew from the outset that intersex is a physical thing, not a common physical thing at that, and you can’t just will yourself into having a rare physical characteristic because it’s either there or it isn’t. I want to stress that it was my doctors that approached me first, not the other way around.

        Plus, not that it necessarily makes it any better, but apart from posting it in my comment on this article (where it was accompanied by an apology and an explicit condemnation of myself) I have never spread this message to anyone else. Heck, the way that the doctors explained it made me feel ashamed because I felt deficient for not having normal working sex organs. Yes, that’s a weird thing to say when you’re transsexual and have strong thoughts about wanting them hacked to pieces and reshaped differently but people do having conflicting feelings sometimes. On the wider point, the whole issue of intersex has given me far more angst than comfort, but peppering over the cracks in my confidence by having that occasional fleeting private phobic thought, yes I am guilty as charged for that.

      • The damage has been done by the trans community and that is because trans has failed to police their own and tell them to knock off claiming to be intersex. By them wanting to be intersex as either a way of using it as either an excuse or to bypass the gatekeepers. It hurts Real biological born Intersex people like myself in the long run. It cause more damage and more confusion with society because trans people like to go around and pretend & claim to be intersex, without the diagnosis of an intersex condition. You have to wonder why Intersex people like me, who are very defensive and very pissed off at trans people and the trans community.

        • So it’s impossible for someone who is Intersex to transition from their assigned-at-birth gender? Or for people who have presented with gender dysphoria to later find out that they have some intersex condition?

          The UK Gender Recognition Act caused many Intersex folk in the UK problems because it requires a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria to get recognised in your aquired gender. (It has many other problems, the government of the day passed it only grudgingly after being prosecuted in the European Court of Human Rights) A diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria explicitly excludes any Intersex or related diagnoses being present.

          This needs fixing, but your approach of “You are eiter Intersex or Transsexual, you can’t be both” smacks of some sort of internalised phobias and does not help those people. You are as guilty of throwing members of your own community to the wolves as the “Harry Benjamin Syndrome” Transwomen who claim to be intersex are of both appropriating intersex conditions and erasing older or bisexual/lesbian transwomen.

          • Nope, It’s the other way around. Trans has made life very hard for Intersex people to exist. Trans have constantly co-opted, erased and even claiming to be intersex when they are not diagnosed as intersex. Trans have done more damage to Intersex people than the medical community put together. This is why Intersex people like myself are pissed and very defensive because Trans has done more damage and more harm to Intersex people

            In America, Under the current WPATH & HBSoC, Intersex people are exempt from being diagnose as trans. Whereas DSM, Intersex people can be diagnosed as GID, if they reject what is medically assigned to them.

            My approach is to throw out Trans people from intersex spaces to allow biological born intersex people a space of their own to heal and grow. The only people who are guilty are trans who are misgendering, misappropriating and and even claiming to be both and even erasing intersex people. They are also guilty of cheapening what it means to be a biological born intersex.

          • Their are plenty of evidence of Harm that Trans has done to Intersex people. Such as Co-opting intersex issues, Pretending and claiming to be intersex without a diagnosis or medical testing.Misappropriating intersex people, including their history, life experience and their medical condition. Claims of intersex using pseudoscience and unproven theories that have been disproven time and time again. Intersex people have suffered social harm because people in society think intersex people are trans when they don’t know what the difference is. Intersex people have suffered so much damage from trans people because trans ignorantly like to assume that intersex people are part of them. One harm I have seen done to Intersex people, is colonization. I have seen trans try to colonize intersex people and Intersex community.

            Here’s why it’s wrong and very damaging to align with intersex people and groups. This was written by Raven Kaldera, called “Dangerous Intersections: Intersex and Transgender Differences”
            http://ravenkaldera.org/intersection/DangerousIntersections.html

          • So you are blaming transsexual people for the actions of ignorant bigots who don’t like transsexual people either, and would not listen to them.

            Instead, I blame you. Your hatred for TS folk can only give encouragement to the other bigots.

          • Nope, I blame you for your colonization of intersex people an the Intersex community. It just goes to show how narcissistic trans can be.

  9. I think the essentialism comes from attempts to persuade ourselves and transphobes that it is not a choice. So I love the idea of “variation”. This is me, this is how I express myself, this is how I feel comfortable, it is a variation, I don’t have to justify myself to anyone. It is as harmless as red hair.

    Then, we still have to make anti-discrimination arguments, but on the whole they have been won. The ECHR and EU recognise that this is an identity and a reality (whatever that reality might be) and so in need of protection. So do most Europeans.

  10. Pingback: Variation | Clare Flourish

  11. Pingback: The intersex analogy | Clare Flourish

  12. So why are transsexuals comparing themselves to intersex people? Is it to validate their own identity?

    *drum roll*

    Nope. This is why. https://www.bu.edu/news/2015/02/13/review-article-provides-evidence-on-the-biological-nature-of-gender-identity/

    It’s because every piece of evidence post 1990 says so. So if you are on of the nay Sayers. please just leave trans people alone and go an take your anger to the scientists because they are the ones saying this.

    • Hello! Thanks for commenting.

      So, there’s two separate arguments here. The first is about scientific evidence.

      The scientific jury is still out on biological causation with regards to trans “brain sex”. Yes, there have been a number of studies, but they remain very few and far between, and with very small sample sizes.

      Personally, I believe that the relationship between gender identity and what Julia Serano refers to as “subconscious sex” is really complex and involves both biological and social factors. But that’s just that – a belief. There is not a lot of hard evidence.

      The second argument is about “trans” vs “intersex” identity. So yes, technically speaking, there is a good chance (if not hard evidence, yet) that trans people (including myself) experience dysphoria as a result of our body having some form of “intersex” condition, insofar as our brains map a body that doesn’t “fit” with what we have. *But* there is also the issue of the social categories of “trans” and “intersex” that have emerged to explain gender and sex variance.

      As a general rule, trans and intersex people have quite different experiences and issues in most countries, particularly witin the Western world. We’re brought up differently, face different challenges, different kinds of discrimination. Our bodies are pathologised differently. For instance, one of the key issues with regards to surgery for trans people is gaining access to it – for many intersex people, there is instead the issue with surgery being forced onto them non-consensually as infants. So, we share issues of consent and control, but under radically different circumstances.

      One of the best ways we can work together is to acknowledge our differences of social circumstances, rather than pretend they don’t exist. This is particularly important because – in spite of us generally being screwed over in many ways – the trans movement is a lot larger and louder than the intersex movement. So, as a result, when trans people say “we are intersex” without thinking too hard about what that means in social terms as well as intersex terms, we often end up drowning out intersex voices.

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