Intersex by birth, honest by choice.
I'm Cary, and my sex is neither male nor female; I'm intersexed. I was born that way. Because my nonstandard set of parts included an ovotestis, which is a gonad that's in between an ovary and a testis, I'm classified medically as a "true hermaphrodite." But doctors don't get to decide who I am.
I'll explain more about the sorts of bodies that get one classified as intersex in a later post. I'll also go into more detail about how we get treated by doctors, institutions, families, and people on the street. The simple story is this: we live in a society that acts as if there are two sexed flavors of people--male and female--but reality is more complicated and more interesting. Intersexed people are all around you, though often you'd never notice us. We live in a culture that treats intersex status as shameful, and most of us born this way have been told all our lives to hide it. I'm not hiding anymore.
I am not defective. I am not disordered.
It is a simple fact of nature that sex is not dyadic, not black-and-white, not limited to two categories. Real bodies come in a rainbow of possibilities. But our medical establishment today insists on allowing for only two, male or female. Intersex conditions are deemed "birth defects" that must be "corrected" surgically, as soon as possible--even though the surgery leaves us with scarred genitals that don't look typical and have limited or no sensation. The idea is that somehow the surgery will make us have "normal" identities as men or women, and that this is vital for everyone's wellbeing.
The power of the medical establishment is so great that what limited intersexed advocacy there is focuses on doctors. The aims of advocacy are basically two: one, to stop infant genital surgery, and two, to get access to medical resources to undo earlier medical interventions. To try to reach these goals, our advocates have been forced into bizarre postures. Again, I'll explain more in a later post, but in brief, doctors dismissed intersex advocates' calls to end infant genital surgery, saying, "What?! You want to keep us from doing surgery so these poor infants will grow up to be some third-sex intersexed freaks? Never!" To placate the doctors, these advocates said, "Oh no! We just want to delay surgery a bit, but we'd never want people to grow up to be unsexed freaks! In fact, we'll never use the name 'intersexed' again. We're just people with Disorders of Sexual Development who are a bit miffed because you cut off the parts we wanted, so please give us more surgery and hormones so we can be normal men and women living with well-managed DSDs."
Well, I am not defective. I am not disordered. I am an intersexed person. And if both doctors and people who speak in my name recoil in horror when I say that I don't indentify as a man or as a woman, too bad for them.
United we stand.
A couple of years ago, something happened to me that changed my life: I met my partner, Beta. I was doing research on embodiment in virtual worlds and was interviewing people with gendertransgressive avatars. In the course of interviewing Beta, I found myself in the presence of someone smart and appealling. . . and openly intersexed. As I've said, most intersexed people have been well-schooled in stealth, so this was a rare treat. One of the joys of having Beta in my life is how things that seemed implausible in isolation became possible in tandem. Like coming out, and being honest about my birth status, or using neutral pronouns (like the pronoun "ze" instead of "he" or "she"). Like being able to assert my masculine gender identity, my intersex sex status, and a femme flair to my style of gender expression all at once, unapologetically.
Lots of people live genderqueer lives, though it' not easy for anyone, given the gender role policing commonplace in American society. Oddly enough, though, it's particularly hard for an intersex person to step outside the confines of dyadic gender, and it wasn't until Beta entered my life and lent me hir support that I was really able to do it myself.
Don't fence me in.
Something that really frustrates me is hearing advocates tell the world that "real people with DSDs" almost always identify as male or female and conform to gender norms. They say that exploitative academics want to use the idea of intersex to subvert gender, against the wishes of "real people with DSDs." They say, "Of course we have nothing against transgendered people who don't want to go all the way and like confusing others with their odd gender presentations, but really. . . people with DSDs are usually quite happy with normal male and female labels."
I was female-assigned, female-reared. I never identified as a "real woman" and wanted out of that box, but it just seemed implausible for me to do anything about it. When you're facing not only the usual transphobia, but the voice of Intersex Authority saying you shouldn't attempt to escape the dyadic gender boxes, it's hard. All I can say is that when I finally, finally came out, it was such an extraordinary relief.
So, I'm an academic, and I do think acknowledging intersexuality presents a strong critique of dyadic gender ideology. I'm not going to keep quiet about that just because it freaks out doctors with regressive gender beliefs. I am profoundly concerned that those doctors are performing lifealtering cosmetic genital surgery on unconsenting infants, but I don't think my keeping silent and closeted helps matters.
The intersex roadshow. . .
What I think will help is just the opposite. I want to take my intersex, androgynously masculine, gendertransitive self public. I want to talk about things I've been thinking about for many years, personally and academically. I want to reach out to my intersex sibs, and to genderqueer folk, and to thoughtful, interested people of every stripe. Hence this blog . . . Hope you enjoy.