An intersex perspective on gender critical ideas
January 22, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

 
That last link has another link on the page that I found valuable, but regrettably, the presentation he gave at that event is not available online. I posted it so you could see the author's perspective and approach to intersex and trans topics, but the page itself is pretty thin.

Here's the direct link from that page that I found pretty cool:

http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/2011/01/phalloclitoris-anatomy-and-ideology.html Maybe NSFW!!!!
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:10 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The links here are really interesting, thanks.

(What is gestational father? I'm assuming that it means that he still has/had a functional uterus and was pregnant with his daughter?)
posted by jeather at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


MeFi's own! Really great and interesting stuff - thanks!
posted by rtha at 8:16 AM on January 22, 2015 [17 favorites]


How could I *even* miss that LOL.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:18 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The "Byline" rang a bell for me but I figured it was just because I'd read the name linked in another thread - it was your possibly-NSFW link where I was all OH YEAH because DrMew linked that a while back in a thread and I remembered it because it's really good and taught me things I didn't even know I didn't know.
posted by rtha at 8:21 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of these days I hope we're just going to get over all the hangups and let people be who they are instead of cutting and cutting and cutting into smaller and smaller segments until the segments can no longer regenerate as functional wholes.

Then again, I don't think modern humanity has many examples of successfully resisting the mental ease of endless categorization and moralizing on which categories are "good" and "right".
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:26 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Have only read the first linked article so far but it was really interesting, a lot of food for thought. Looking forward to going through the rest. Thanks for posting.
posted by billiebee at 8:27 AM on January 22, 2015


Drewbage: I agree, and long-term that will happen, but as a tactic to get us where we need to go we have to thread the needle of all these labels so that others may begin to understand how the current construction of sex assignment and gender is harmful. It's a process, we are going through it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:32 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I was struck by the point at the beginning that labeling any person who is intersex as "cisgender" is alienating. He goes into this argument a bit more in depth in a prior blogpost that has a lot of food for thought. I don't really feel equipped to comment on the substance of his proposal, but these kinds of discussions interest me because they remind me that activists have to work within a framework and a cultural language that they fundamentally disagree with.
posted by muddgirl at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Drewbage, that's similar to something I heard from an administrator -- a very kind and generally thoughtful administrator -- on a college campus: "I don't understand why we need to have a Multicultural Homecoming as well as a regular Homecoming. We're all just people; we were all here at the same school; why can't everybody just go to the same event together?"

Well, for starters, the experiences of the people who want that multicultural event (let's call them the Ms for short) were very, very different from the people who generally go to the big main event (let's call them the Hs).

The Hs typically go because they want to reconnect with friends and enjoy being in a huge group and re-experiencing all the fun they had when they were in school.

The Ms... didn't exactly have fun in school. I mean, they made their own fun like anyone would, but they felt left out and ignored. The people around the Ms didn't seem interested in including the Ms in their activities, perhaps because they assumed that the Ms had vastly different interests and experiences. That might be true in some cases, but it only served to emphasize the divide.

So of course the Ms gravitated towards other Ms, because they understood the kinds of things that the non-Ms didn't even imagine existed, or ignored because they were seemingly so trivial. I mean, it's like sitting down at a lunch table or on a seat on the bus: you gravitate toward people who are like you because you can relax a bit more in the assumption that it'll cause less friction.

So why would the Ms celebrate an experience that, for them, didn't exist?

That's the same idea as saying that "I don't see race/disability/gender/orientation." Well... those things affect the way someone experiences the world, so if you say you don't see someone's race/disability/gender/orientation you are basically negating something that is a crucial part of the way their life has been shaped.
posted by Madamina at 9:16 AM on January 22, 2015 [20 favorites]


Intersex people are often uncomfortable with the application of the terms “cis” and “trans” to intersex experience. The terms apply very poorly because they presume that physical sex is binary (even if allowing that gender identities may be nonbinary). For example, if a person is born genitally intermediate, is surgically assigned female in infancy, and grows up to identify as a woman, is she “transgender” because she was surgically altered to become female, or “cis gender” because she identifies with the sex she was assigned at birth? Either term winds up misrepresenting something about her experience.

I've always thought of intersex as a category that can replace or complement cis or trans, personally. I wouldn't call an intersex person cisgender (unless they self-identified as such) and certainly wouldn't imply they had cis privilege. Similarly, I wouldn't call them trans unless they self-identified as such.

I guess I don't see why cis/trans has to be a complete system dichotomy where everyone falls into one of the two categories - the terms don't lose their usefulness because they don't necessarily apply to literally everyone, and I think the urge to dispose of them because they aren't 'complete' is a misguided notion. I also don't think there's necessarily an implied sex binary inherent in the term - "gender matches/does not match assigned sex" doesn't have to be tied merely to 'male' and 'female', even if it often is in practice.

But then again, I'm trans, not intersex, so it may not be my place to say.
posted by Dysk at 9:19 AM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


I guess I don't see why cis/trans has to be a complete system dichotomy where everyone falls into one of the two categories

It doesn't have to be this way, but I think everyone tends to fall into this binary thinking, because that's the culture we live in, and breaking out of that thought pattern is just as difficult for everyone, even people who don't fit into it. Like, how many times has anyone said, "cis- and trans- and everyone else"?
posted by muddgirl at 9:24 AM on January 22, 2015


I have actually seen "cis, trans, and intersex" a few times in trans communities, though I guess I'd argue for an "and/or" in the middle of that instead. But again, probably not really my place to say.
posted by Dysk at 9:48 AM on January 22, 2015


Interesting post, thanks. I wonder if some of the problems may stem from the fact that the usage of "cis" and "trans" is meant to increase accuracy and inclusiveness. This makes things more hinky when that very division is neither one hundred percent accurate nor one hundred percent inclusive.

I wonder what the best phrase would be to convey something like "irrespective of one's relationship to sex and gender". So that you're not simply listing categories, in the hope that you'll get everyone, but rather so that you're instead referencing the underlying concepts, to accommodate future information.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:54 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this -- looking forward to reading through all of the links.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:08 AM on January 22, 2015


Hope I'm not breaking confidences here when I post this text conversation from a fellow MeFite, who loves to send me the doings of her four-year-old son:
So T has had same sex parents around in his social group since before he could walk, and this was his response just now on finding out that some friends coming over have a second mom:

"Argh! It's just... Everyone has differences... and diversity... and it's confusing!"

I reassured him that no one would be offended if he didn't know what kind of parents a friend had, and he could ask if he thought it was important.
That basically sums it up for me. He has the mechanics down of caring about people and their families, but coming up with the proper language (to show respect) in a way that isn't awkward is sometimes difficult.
posted by Madamina at 10:33 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Very enlightening post. thanks for bringing this issue to the blue.
I haven't seen it linked, but I found the wikipedia entry on intersex to be helpful for getting a sense for the prevalence of variation in the population, and some of the current (international) laws that apply to bodily autonomy and human rights.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:34 AM on January 22, 2015


Articles like these are helping me sort out some things that confuse me:

1. What is "social gender" and why does sex assignment even matter in relation to it?
2. What makes a sex assignment?
3. Why does my apparent sex assignment cause me massive quantities of self loathing, anxiety and depression?

Recently I've been telling people that I am medically transitioning. Social gender is secondary, getting things right where I like them and eschewing the expectations placed on me by the world around me, not trying to fit anyone's expectation of gender at all, just being who I am.

In my conversations with intersex-assigned people, they have all had a very clear physical and biological truth to start their transition with, they are able to access care easier without therapy and having to "prove it". That in some ways it may make it less confusing to be able to say "I have this physical thing I am medically solving for" (but really, it's all difficult as hell to deal with). So I am at this place right now where I find a lot of the discussions that intersex people have to be extremely helpful, in that it completely deconstructs sex assignment and provides for me a pathway for exploration to ask the question "are there trans people who have non-apparent intersex conditions that causes this internal crisis I've felt since, well, forever?"

I don't know the answer and I am not sure I want to. But here's thing thing, I really do not care at all about styles of dress as being "feminine or masculine" or labeled any gender expression at all. IMO all the socially constructed aspects of gender are methods of communicating a gender, not the capacity to have and communicate a gender itself. I feel like I am struggling in that place where my capacity for my gender to exist meets my sexual biology, and it's all broken to hell.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:45 AM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks for these links. I'm just recently starting a trans journey and love to learn more. I highly recommend The Gender Book if anyone's looking for some basics about why gender, why sex, etc.
posted by odinsdream at 10:52 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am aghast that a group of people who hold that gender is immutable and binary also believe that it is both genetic and socialized. How can that possibly be? It's like thinking two impossible things at the same time!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:55 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


They say gender is a made-up tool created by the patriarchy solely to subjugate and rape women and that sex assignment via known genetic and apparent sex parts is the "one true thing" that must be adhered to for life.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:01 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


They say gender is a made-up tool created by the patriarchy

But (per the first article), they also say that men are socialized to dominate and rape and women and socialized to put up with it. Which doesn't really work with the "biology as destiny" line. It's not only nasty and bigoted, it's positively incoherent. Of course, bigotry and incoherence are often fellow travelers.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:12 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a very myopic and narrowly defined argument that is set on a pre-loaded set of arbitrarily right assumptions for sure. I am only allowed to be exactly what they define me as, and any attempts to have a nuanced discussion with those groups are met with a level of resistance and discord that is, well, let's just say it sucks at whole new levels of suckitude and brings up lifelong feelings that are very, very bad beliefs I held about myself for a long time about who and what I am.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:23 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


When Orrin Hatch talks about environmentalists, they are always radical environmentalists, if they oppose any development. Are all Feminists radical, or just some? What attitude makes a feminist radical? Is it just the rapist/dominator vs, women/victim statements? Are the TERFs typically lesbian feminists?

I am curious about the TERF label. What's in the box?

For the record I think it unwise and unkind to label infants and children as anything but male or female on school records. This stuff is not the business of school secretaries or, their neighbors, or the state, what's in the undies of little kids is no ones' business, and it sets kids up for harrassment and discrimination. I think that parents of small children who want to go all public about this at school have a disorder similar to Medical Meunchausen's syndrome.
posted by Oyéah at 12:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


For the record I think it unwise and unkind to label infants and children as anything but male or female on school records. This stuff is not the business of school secretaries or, their neighbors, or the state, what's in the undies of little kids is no ones' business

So why the hell are we labelling them as 'male' or 'female'?

I think that parents of small children who want to go all public about this at school have a disorder similar to Medical Meunchausen's syndrome.

Because no one could deal with a complex and challenging situation differently to how you imagine you might, without being mentally ill child abusers?
posted by howfar at 12:13 PM on January 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


RE: What's a TERF?

From the main article:

"Gender-critical feminists...hold a...position: that all interventions into the sexed body are mutilations, not just those imposed without consent. Just as it is a mutilation to surgically alter the innocent bodies of intersex babies, they say, it is a pointless self-mutilation for an adult to choose to have their sexed body medically altered, because sex cannot be changed. Chromosomes can’t be altered[1]. A vaginoplasty cannot produce a real vagina, nor a phalloplasty a real penis, they say, and all interventions into the sexed body are motivated by patriarchy and thus counter to the interests of women. The only healthy and feminist response to unhappiness with one’s body presented is to learn to accept it as it is."
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:13 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are the TERFs typically lesbian feminists?

This stuff is not the business of school secretaries or, their neighbors, or the state, what's in the undies of little kids is no ones' business, and it sets kids up for harrassment and discrimination.

There are situations when it does become the business of the school, and not just for "little" kids. Children should be protected from harassment and discrimination without being forced to present as the gender they are not.
posted by rtha at 12:19 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


When Orrin Hatch talks about environmentalists, they are always radical environmentalists, if they oppose any development. Are all Feminists radical, or just some? What attitude makes a feminist radical?
Generally speaking, radical feminists are feminists who believe that the oppression of women is the root oppression out of which all other oppressions flow. That's the definition of radical: pertaining to the root, rather than extreme. Nobody identifies as a TERF, I don't think, but lots of feminists identify as radical feminists.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:21 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


The self-assigned term by people who are really active in those circles is from what I understand, "gender critical feminist", which has a nice, nonviolent ring to it. I don't think anyone wants to be a TERF, and if I am correct, the TERF term was applied by trans-inclusive 3rd-wavey feminist groups. Seems to me like the "gender critical" term was an attempt by those groups to re-brand themselves into something more palatable? I could be wrong though...
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:33 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thank you for your replies. We live in a world where it is not easy to be, on many days. We live on a world massively polluted by human made chemicals that imitate many organic processes, even processes as seemingly simple as the formation of (dirty word warning) gender.

One female scientist gave her rat subjects hysterectomies, then the WHO accepted amount of Cadmium, a level deemed safe for women and children. This "safe" level of Cadmium did the work of full female hormone replacement. It is argued by some scientists that everything we feel, is hormone induced, hormones are certainly part of a very basic messaging system. The sheer amount of Cadmium in the ground from discarded nicad batteries may be changing how we feel, and obesity levels in the young.

Anyway contrarian thinking among humans especially those who should be allied but instead stake intellectual territory, well it shouldn't be the expectation.

Parents of intersex kids have to be strong for them over the long haul, and protect their childhoods, so they can mature, strong in basic identity, and choose for themselves their place in this bi-gendered world.
posted by Oyéah at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Intersex and trans people have been around for as long as humans have, and binary gender systems are a relatively recent construct, so I'm not sure what human-introduced cadmium levels in the ground has to do with this discussion?
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:59 PM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


I recognise that you're not trying to be offensive, Oyéah, but talking about intersex people in the context of pollution in that way is pretty problematic. Being intersex is not a deficiency induced by pollution (although it may sometimes have chemical environmental triggers) it's a normal part of the sex spectrum. It's easy to stray into very difficult territory, here, and I fear you may have done so.
posted by howfar at 1:03 PM on January 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


There's a fairly succinct history of the term here; it was coined by a cis woman with, by her own estimation, "a pretty strong radical streak" in order to differentiate radical feminist activism from exterminationist bigotry. 'Gender-critical' is and has always been nothing but a smokescreen; you can search and search and find no substantive 'criticism' of anything but trans women's lives and right to exist without harassment and violence.

'TERF' tends to go through cycles of adoption and abandonment in trans women's spaces, in my experience; generally either people feel it's too narrow and lets transmisogynist feminists of other stripes off the hook, or that it fails to specify the targets of their instinctual loathing and shoddily-constructed theory baffles are exclusively trans women, or that it unfairly paints radical feminists in general as transmisogynists. You see attempts to replace it with things like TWEF (trans-woman-exterminationist-feminist) here and there. If you ask me that's snatching defeat from the jaws of victory now 'TERF', imperfect as it might be, has finally breached into the awareness of complacent, complicit mainstream feminism. But so these things go.
posted by emmtee at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am curious about the TERF label. What's in the box?

For the record I think it unwise and unkind to label infants and children as anything but male or female on school records.


If only there were some kind of resource for you to learn more about ideas you're not familiar with before talking.
posted by odinsdream at 1:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


there are gender critical trans people too! it can be kinda fun to watch them, in a sad way. they sure spend a lot of time worrying about "what makes someone a real trans person" and "what makes someone a real woman".

i think no matter what their answer, what's important is the feeling they get when they picture themselves precisely defined in relation to the group that they've carefully constructed as oppressed in exactly the right ways.
posted by thug unicorn at 1:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


if intersex people aren't necessarily cisgender than i guess we just gotta bring back julie serano's distinction between cissexual and cisgender so we can talk about stuff like how cafab/intersex women can use transmisogyny against trans women.
posted by thug unicorn at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2015


that was worded really badly, i'm sorry. i mean to say, "if intersex people who identify with the gender they were coercively assigned at birth aren't cisgender, then..."

anyway i don't think the cisgender/cissexual distinction is great, im being facetious by bringing it up. big picture, i think building activism and rhetoric around a sex/gender distinction is harmful and unnecessary.

I think talking about concepts like indegeneity, intersex, and nonbinary as existing independently or alongside cis/trans offer an alternative to making "trans" more inclusive. I see efforts to making "trans" more inclusive come at the expense of unambiguously trans people especially trans women.
posted by thug unicorn at 2:42 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can certainly understand having a complicated relationship to the cis/trans distinction- I'm non-intersex but non-binary, and I don't always feel like I fit cleanly into one or the other. Anyone trying to create a binary one-size fits all schema for the world out of a complicated and messy thing like trans identity has missed some important lessons along the way.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:24 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, hi, DrMew here, feeling all warm about having some of my writing being the subject of an FPP. I can now die happy!

But before I get around to doing that, there's a lot of work to do. As an intersex gender transtitioner, I try to be a bridge between intersex and trans communities, which would seem to be natural allies, but sadly, in the U.S., tend not to work together, each retaining common misperceptions about the other community. In that spirit, since there are not other intersex folks chiming in as such in this thread, I do want to respond to a few musings posted by trans folks in the conversation.

First, on inapplicability of cis/trans terminology to intersex people--the reason I think we need an additional term (I use ipso gender) to refer to intersex people assigned to a binary sex at birth who grow up to identify with that assigned sex is that cissexism has made it necessary. There's a lot of very public fighting going on between trans advocates and cissexist people who don't want to be called cis people ("I'm just a woman, I don't think of myself as cis," or " I'm a normal woman, and you are a freak," or "You're saying I'm a gender-conformist dupe, you oppressor!"). In this context, it's very hard to assert, "This dichotomy doesn't apply to me, just leave me unlabeled," without raising the hackles of a lot of trans people. Beyond that, the fact that binary cis/trans language reinscribes the ideology of the sex binary is a real problem--and particularly odd when that reinscription is being voiced by people with nonbinary gender identities.

Regarding another terminology issue, I don't think as an intersex person that trying to get people to use Serano's distinction between cissexual and cisgender will solve the problem of ipso gender intersex people acting in transphobic ways (which, as thug unicorn notes, happens too often). The reason transphobia is unfortunately well-entrenched among intersex people is that children born genitally variant are often uniquely brainwashed into such bigotry from infancy. Doctors and many parents monitor the child intensively for conformity to their assigned binary sex. The child learns that gendertransgression is considered frightening. Some parents basically tell their children that they are freaks by accident, whose problem has been fixed, while trans people are freaks by choice. So in the case of this particular terminology distinction, while we could start speaking of both cissexism and cisgenderism, I think it's a lot more productive to speak in different terms altogether, and decry policing the binary. Policing the sex/gender binary is the thing that causes both intersex and trans people great harm. So let's unite around fighting that, in society at large, and in our own communities.

The final thing I wanted to address in terms of trans folks' comments has to do with intersex people as gender transitioners. While Annika Cicada's personal friends who are intersex gender transitioners may have been fortunate to secure easy access to transition services, this is in fact very much not the norm. The idea that intersex people get free and easy access to gender transition services is a myth that is widely believed in trans communities. But as an intersex gender transitioner who has encountered many people who share this particular adventure, I can assure you it is at best just as difficult to access transition services, and in many cases harder to do so.

There are several factors that explain why. First off, while some intersex children are lucky enough to grow up with parents who let them take the lead in expressing their gender identity, this is still quite atypical, and was even more so in past decades. Instead, as I noted above, parents, under doctor's advice, have enforced gender conformity and been "on guard against" trans expressions in their intersex children. So: it's hard enough to come out to parents as trans and fail to get support from them. But it's particularly hard to have parents opposed to your transition before you've even learned how to speak, let alone articulate your gender identity.

Then there's the issue of accessing gender transition services, when one is already under medical supervision by doctors deeply invested in believing that they have made the right choice of sex for you. Rather than getting treatment for gender dysphoria earlier in life due to intersex status, the opposition of one's own doctors means that most of us must wait to reach our majority and escape these doctors' care to do so.

The usual manner people have accessed medical transition for some decades is to start by seeing a therapist to get a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder--now Gender Dysphoria. Endocrinologists, GPs and surgeons require a note from a therapist stating that diagnosis before they offer medical transition services. But the GID diagnostic criteria explicitly excluded intersex people (the presumption being, I suppose, that gender dysphoria in intersex people is par for the course--which is strange, since surgeries are imposed upon us based on the idea that they are the "right ones"). Anyway, under this regime, intersex trans people who have gone to a therapist to complain of gender dysphoria were routinely offered supportive psychotherapy, but not issued a GID diagnosis which would allow access to transition services. Whether or not the revised Gender Dysphoria diagnosis should apply to intersex people isn't clear, but anecdotal evidence shows that some therapists continue to exclude intersex people from the diagnosis. For this reason, most of the intersex people I know who have gender transitioned have kept their intersexuality in the closet during the process. Like people with nonbinary gender identities who present as binary to a therapist to get their letter, intersex people have learned that presenting as a "classic case" is the safest route to accessing services.

Finally, there's the question of having medical transition services covered by insurance. It's true that our nonconsensual childhood genital surgeries and hormone treatments are covered as "medically necessary." But only those procedures meant to "normalize" our bodies to the binary sex we are assigned at birth are covered. Most intersex Americans live in states where medical insurers are permitted to exclude coverage for transition-related services. So any hormones or surgeries we seek that do not "match" our legal binary sex are no more covered for us than they are for those who aren't intersex.

Beyond any of these pragmatic issues, I'm really uncomfortable with the idea that an intersex person's gender transition is somehow more "justified" than that of an nonintersex person. And the idea that it would be helpful if we could find some yet-undiscovered intersex characteristic shared by all trans people makes me twitchy on a number of levels. "Born this way" rhetoric may sound nice, but it's really no protection from bigotry (consider the Holocaust, a genocide of peoples "justified" by the way those people were born, or the ongoing racial inequalities in the U.S. that are anything but improved by biological attribution). What we need , I believe, are campaigns for acceptance of sex and gender diversity based directly on human rights and dignity, not granted because we got an excuse note from a doctor saying we can't help being weird. (As for all of us being intersex on some level, I'm all for us embracing that. We all start out intersex in the womb!)

Oh, and one last comment, responding to the question of what it means to be a gestational father. It means that I once had an odd, but in the end sufficiently functional, uterus, and after much misadventure I successfully carried a pregnancy to term. But since I'm a man by identity and now law, and my daughter called me her dad, I'm a gestational father, like my fellow travelers, the seahorses.
posted by DrMew at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2015 [48 favorites]


I consider myself pansexual (not in the "kink" way that I've heard it used, but more in a very open minded approach to sex/gender).

It hurts me to see so many people who should be allies, all telling each other what they should or shouldn't do with how they feel about themselves. I wish we could respect someone's feelings of being a particular gender (or ... pan-gender, which sort of is part of my thinking, really), who they love, or not love at all. It hurts to see so many people fighting over the "right" way to have sex or to be gendered. It hurts to see people who should know better hating on others who are also oppressed. Huey Newton woke up in the 70s when he came out in support of Gay Rights and urged his fellow black radicals to support the gay rights movement, and I wish all these enclaves could fucking get along and fight against oppression, period, but because they all feel that somehow another person's right to be a certain way is somehow oppressing them (similar to gay marriage somehow oppresses straight marriage (wha?)), there's all these things that people are just fucking bigots and hateful about and I just wish we could just fucking live and be who we are, with whatever body parts we have, feel we should have, or desire to have, how we want to be - if we want to be queer, glam fairyboy but straight, if we want to look like a bulldyke, but be straight, if we want to have breasts and a penis, if we want to be a straight feminist, if we want to be a guppie, (ok, that brings class into it, which is a whole other discussion)... I say "want" but I don't like that term, necessarily, because it makes it sound like "choice" only - and I think there are some things that are choice, some that are innate/genetic, and the whole point to me is to fucking respect how someone feels with regards to their gender/sexual views of themselves and their right to love who they love, and none of us should have a right to tell them how they feel in that regards.

But once you start telling someone you're not allowed to be that way - you're not allowed to be gay, straight, trans, intersexed, pangendered, queer, androgynous, what-the-fuck-ever, then you are an oppressor.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen to certain statements and try to address concerns about why something may be problematic; that doesn't mean that the transphobic bathroom slur/fear bullshit is right, and it gets fucking OLD trying to argue that every single fucking time. Like any other issue of justice.

It just hurts me to know that people just can't love and be who they are without being judged (consent, of course, an obvious limit when dealing with these issues), and that is straight up bull-fucking-shit...
posted by symbioid at 4:25 PM on January 22, 2015


I wish everyone could just respect everyone else, and the respective life journeys we are all on. I expect some trans people have had it tougher than some intersex folks, and vice versa. I wish we could be allies, without judgment.
posted by triage_lazarus at 4:29 PM on January 22, 2015


Just to clarify, I am not looking for something to describe all trans people, I am looking for something to correct the painful discordance I feel inside with regards to my own sexual biology as it was when I came out of my momma. If that's "trans" then so be it I'll let it go.

I'm also totally down with allowing people to be whatever gender they want for whatever reason they feel or think.

Another thing, having seen what my intersex friends have gone through, I in no way believe it is easier. I appreciate you explaining the frustrations and barriers that intersex people face. What I experienced was that at the start of the intersex people I know coming to terms with, and asserting their claim to their rightful gender, it seemed they had a stronger conviction when they stated "I have this biological thing I am dealing with", because it makes more obvious sense, whatever is going on presented itself in a way that can be seen or measured. But here's the thing, I feel the same way about myself, there is a biological thing inside me that I am trying to correct, but in my case I have zero way to prove that to anyone and it bothers the fuck out of me to be excruciatingly honest. It seems like so much of the "trans" discussion is centered on the socially constructed aspects of gender and I couldn't care less about the politics of that. at. all.

All that to say, I read what you write because it comforts me and lets me know that I even though I don't know what the hell I am really, there are some amazing intersex people out there (such as yourself) saying some really freaking awesome things that resonate with me on a very deep level that is hard to articulate, and I really really appreciate it from wherever the heck it is I am standing.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


like my fellow travelers, the seahorses.

Thanks, DrMew. And a altogether great comment.
posted by jeather at 4:49 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


As my partner and I talk seriously about having a child in the next year, I've become increasingly concerned about assigning our child a gender at birth. I wish it was socially acceptable or at least not unheard of to just refuse. It's not just something I want for my putative child, but something I feel could give space for other children who don't feel comfortable being assigned a gender to refuse labels and roles forced on them.

At the same time, I worry about the consequences of forcing my child to become some kind of experiment or political statement. All this adds even more to my profound anxiety about the ethics of even having a child given climate change and overconsumption, especially as a Canadian.

At the very least, I've been thinking very hard about what I can possibly do as an individual to help trans and intersex kids grow up feeling safe and accepted. Reading this helped tremendously, but I was wondering if anyone can recommend resources on helping trans and intersex children navigate a society that places so much emphasis on enforcing a strict cissexist and transmisogynist gender binary on children far too young to even begin to understand what gender even is.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:11 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Annika, I absolutely hear you on the pain of not being about to "prove" your gender identity is real to transphobes who deny the very existence of gender identity. Those people speak only of an immutable genetic sex and a perverse desire to deny its "biological reality." And the desire to shake them and say, "See, I have proof that my reality is a biological one and not just in my head" in response is strong.

But these are the same people who once said in droves, and now in trickles, that heterosexuality is a biological imperative, and homosexuality a perverse choice to flout Nature, God, the Family, etc. etc. etc.

So what turned that flood to a trickle when it comes to same-sex attraction, turning the conversion therapies that were once mainstream psychology into today's fringe pseudoscience? It's not that we found the Gay Gene--the hope of many gay rights activists in the later decades of the 20th century. It was people coming out and protesting and insisting on the right to be treated with respect. Social change, not biological "vindication."

Notice that today, we still have no idea what determines a person's sexual orientation, though we do know some things that DON'T explain it (it's not some adult sex steroid "imbalance," it's not domineering mothers and absent fathers, it's not some simple genetic inheritance). But people have mostly stopped caring about "etiology," because our society no longer thinks of same-sex attraction as a disease. News articles will just say, "sexual orientation, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, is established by an early age, and cannot be changed via psychotherapy."

And that's the place we need to get to with gender identity, I think. One where "etiology" is irrelevant, because being trans is fine. How do I know what your "true sex" is? Why, I ask you, just as I find out what your religion is by asking you. I don't demand to see and fMRI proving your brain is spiritually engaged when hearing the sacred text of your claimed religion.

It'll be great when we get that point, but meanwhile here we are, individuals dealing with a whoooole lot of misunderstanding and marginalization. And it would be so much easier in the present day if you could just hand over some sort of proof to the people who deny your reality.

I personally comfort myself by celebrating selfhood as a mystery. I can't tell you why, but I've always loved the color purple, been fond of sour things, been ever-curious, and partial to the company of small animals. My gender identity, like those things, remains a mystery--and one of the things that makes me me. The fact that our personalties and identities and quirks are mostly poorly measured and little explained by the sciences we have today certainly does not reduce my enjoyment of human diversity. I don't know if that comforts you or others, but it helps for me.
posted by DrMew at 5:28 PM on January 22, 2015 [23 favorites]


That is hugely personally helpful. Like right now. Thank you.
posted by odinsdream at 5:53 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


There was an fpp a few years ago about a family (in England, I think?) that had decided to not disclose the gender of their youngest child except to immediate family. The parents knew; the child's older siblings knew; maybe the grandparents knew (I can't remember). People freaked out. Right there in the mefi thread people were accusing the parents of child abuse and stuff. It was awful and bizarre.

People get so anxious when they don't know what word they're supposed to use. We've seen that here on this site, and it's certainly common in the wider world. Part of it is that people are afraid of being wrong, and so they want there to be defined words that everyone agrees on so that they are never in danger of being wrong. And I get that - being wrong in front of other people is no fun, and hurting someone's feelings when you don't even mean to is also no fun. It's an awful lot to ask, though, that a large number of people who may have only one particular thing in common (moving away from their assigned birth gender, e.g.) to all agree to be called [This Word] so that people who are not them don't have to be anxious or afraid.

I feel so, so lucky to live in this bubble that is San Francisco, and very specifically a bubble within that bubble, where I know so many people of such a variety of genders and identities, and where I can ask what a person's preferred pronouns are - my friend Kelly doesn't have any, they say! So sometimes he is a him and sometimes a they and sometimes a she and it is amazing how fast you can adapt and how easy it is if you can stop being so afraid and so in need of there being only one way of referring to someone.

Thank you, DrMew, and everyone else, too, who writes and thinks and puts themselves out there. It helps. It helps so, so much.
posted by rtha at 6:53 PM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


I get the feeling that a great deal of discussion happening, especially online, is driven by a Marxist dialectic which struggles quite a bit to deal with gender and sexual orientation plurality. Couple that with the properties of online discourse that encourage interpretation of disagreement as enemies and we end up with a big mess. That, and there's a lot of talk right now in trying to put our mess of socially constructed gender and sexuality into some sort of systematic categorical framework, so lots of questions of "what is the difference between...?" and statements of "why do you call yourself ... when there's ...?"
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:23 AM on January 23, 2015


rtha, I don't mean to stir the pot here, especially since I think it's right and good that your friend(s) can hear whatever pronouns they prefer in that moment.

When you say "it's amazing how fast you can adapt and how easy it is if you can stop being so afraid..." well, I'm mainly afraid that my innate Midwestern courtesy [read: attempt at making people feel comfortable, even if they say it's no big deal] will somehow fail with people I'm NOT acquainted with that well.

I imagine it must be tiring for people to start every single conversation with "hello, my name is K-and-I-prefer-they-them-pronouns." That's what one of our staffers does (and more power to them, especially with an always-feminine name). But with them or with people who DON'T introduce themselves as such, I worry that I am then making them UNcomfortable, and OH GOD MY MOTHER AND GRANDMA ARE JUDGING ME INVISIBLY.

I am very, very much not trying to be all "wah-wah, majority is hard" but I feel like that's my own stumbling block. It has less to do with out-of-the-ordinary gender stuff and more to do with something akin to passive-aggressive Scandinavian guilt.
posted by Madamina at 8:08 AM on January 23, 2015


People get so anxious when they don't know what word they're supposed to use. We've seen that here on this site, and it's certainly common in the wider world.

Back when I was a wee internet troll, I would engage in forums and use feminine pronouns intentionally knowing that almost certainly the audience was your average male teen. Oh my god the freak-outs, you would not believe.
posted by odinsdream at 8:26 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you have an opportunity to ask - and you don't always, I know - then ask. There was a barista at my fancy donut place and I didn't know what pronouns to use but then I realized that since I only ever spoke to them (him, actually, it turned out!) and not about him, it didn't really matter. But I know that's not always the case.

At some level, you have to stop being afraid of being afraid. Or maybe, just be okay with being uncomfortable sometimes, and with apologizing when you accidentally the wrong pronoun. I get misgendered and it's always weirder when the person makes a big huge deal out of it - how sorry they are, oh they're so sorry! - than if they just go, oh, oops, my apologies! and we move on. This won't apply to everyone (does anything?) of course, but there isn't anything you can do about that. There is no guaranteed universal rule. I've found it easier over the years to just accept that, and the discomfort that sometimes comes with it, than to succumb to the anger/resentment/fear that comes from insisting that there must be rules. That's much too exhausting and I am pretty lazy.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on January 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


I get misgendered and it's always weirder when the person makes a big huge deal out of it - how sorry they are, oh they're so sorry! - than if they just go, oh, oops, my apologies! and we move on.

This, a thousand times this. I usually try to strike a deal with people - I'm not going to freak out or make a big deal of it if and when you fuck up my pronouns, so long as you don't freak out and make a big deal of it when I correct you.
posted by Dysk at 10:03 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


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