Sunday, April 26, 2009

Intersex Roadshow: A Personal Introduction

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.


  1. Hooray for honesty! Welcome to the Blogosphere, Lumi.

  2. Ah, my first comment. Thank you, Udge, for the welcome.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences and the thoughtful introduction to intersex.

  4. My pleasure, rubblebornthoughts :)

  5. Someone posted a link to your blog on - checkin' it out I was stunned by how much we have in common.
    My personal field of expertise is esoterics versus myths versus modern psychology.
    I myself was born male physically - at least on the outside(...) - was never able to relate to that "status" and considered myself psychologically "both".
    Had my body altered (without any interference of "advisors" !) to fit my psyche - so I myself made (after a long and thorough self-evaluation) the deliberate choice to be me : intersex.
    Can we connect ? I have some serious information I would like to share with you.
    Email :

  6. You are truly a wonderful person. You are who you are and you loved being yourself. Such facets are so admirable and lovable in anyone. Keep on accepting yourself now matter what happens and your love is much more important than everything else. It shines so beautifully in you. May you live a fulfilling and rich life and God bless you in this journey.

  7. simpatizei hum c vc. quero ser seu amigo, como faço?

  8. I think you're an amazing and intelligent person. Thank you for being you.

  9. Hi Cary! Thank you for this profound blog and most of all your COURAGE! I would like to link you and this blog to a couple of my personal blogs concering Sexual & Gender Ambiguity, discrimination, and the farce that is DOMA, if that is alright with you? Also, I am hetero but TOTALLY a fighter for "all human beings from the planet earth" no matter how ignorantly others want to pigeon-hole people! Keep writing & standing firm in your beautiful journey!

  10. I've only come across your blog today as I've watched a movie (XXY)and wanted to learn more about the intersex subject. I think it's ridiculous how we get categorized by what is or isn't between our legs! Although, I was born and continue to enjoy being a woman I would love to learn more and speak up against infant genital surgery.

  11. I think you are closer to God/spirit. Living amoungst the periphery, you open our minds to the new possibilities...thank you.

  12. Hi, I enjoyed reading your blogpost. I have a friend whose grandchild was born intersex several years ago (I heard) and I often think about the issues involved. I will try to spread the word about avoiding surgery and not stereotyping people in boxes.

  13. I am very grateful to have a blog and online community to communicate with on intersex/gender identity issues. I have been coming out to myself recently and I don't know if I fit clearly into any categories and am not sure if I want to. It is rich and liberating to come home to being both male and female. I often want to dress half and half, while some days one gender is more than the other. It seems to be very fluid. For me this seems to be a huge soul rather than anatomical issue. I was born anatomically female. Yet, I always wore boys clothes as a child and was convinced I would never menstruate. In college I learned to be female (kinda) and am now coming home to my male side again,integrating the two. The idea of ever surgically undoing someone's anatomy from birth is beyond criminal. It seems to violate every ethic about do no harm on the level of body, mind and spirit. Is there a place where we can petition against this online or otherwise? It is hard enough to honor one's natural gender orientation without this extreme abuse. I would love to hear more in the way of positive strategies and education. Also in my therapy work with adolescents I will integrate psycho education/information with teens who are disclosing gender identity issues. Thank you so much for your passion and commitment...and not giving up!

  14. People like you I support because it emphisizes the question of what people really are: human. And as long people can't deal with that then the whole quest of finding the answer on if we are alone in the universe is a total humaritan joke.

    1. I have only just discovered intersex after seeing embarrasing bodies on TV, the issue was not being intersex but problems with hair loss and implants which needed to be rectified. She was born intersex and raised as a boy, given male hormones but in her twenties decided to adopt a female identitiy. It just shows that the doctors can not know the mind of the infant that they butcher and should not make those decisions lightly. I think a lot of the worlds problems with gender come from the bible, god made men and women, male and female, Adam and Eve and if anything else should crop up it is the work of the devil and a freak. They need to accept that we were not created we have evolved and evolution knows no boundaries only those of survival and if humans play god by stopping the survival of intersex in the natural state then they are interfering with life, with evolution and may well be depriving the world of a natural progression. It is sad that our physical body has to define us so much, eg gay marriage it is surely just the joining of 2 people so whats the problem? I am just a rural housewife but if I had the power...!! I am so glad that you are free to speak your mind and give support to others to live freely too. :0)

  15. You know as lucky as I have been not to be criticized for being intersexed. I completely get what you're saying.

    Good for you for being yourself. I simply don't let stupid people bother me.

    Don't forget that we are humans too. We are normal people. And that is how we should be seen as.

    Good luck to you :)

  16. If physically as an infant everthing is working, the baby isn't sick in anyway. That is terrible that a parent would have this type of surgery performed. The part I don't understand is why do
    people put their bodies through these dangerous and expensive operations, at any age, just for the physical apperance? Aren't we, as people, so much more than what we appear on the outside? I would never change my body, unless I were sick.