A friend of mine recently relayed that she told some friends about my intersex activism, and me, and they said, “She’s just doing that for attention, that doesn’t exist.” Yes, intersex is to today’s two-sex system what the idea of the world being round was to the dominant earth-is-flat view: something most people couldn’t imagine– or didn’t want to imagine—could be true.
Of course, most people I know totally get it, but statistically speaking, they’re still the minority. And if you’re reading this thinking: how are people not getting it? Just look at the fact that every day intersex babies are subjected to cosmetic genital surgeries that will drastically reduce, if not totally eliminate, their ability to have an orgasm—just so that they’ll look and hopefully grow up to be “normal.” FYI, by a wildly lucky fluke I escaped this, and I feel just as blessed as Moses floating away from the fate of all similarly bodied babies of his day that I did.
Despite what we’re subjected to, the lack of acceptance still seems strange to me. I’ve often thought about how abolitionists during slavery days must’ve felt this too. The is-it-me-or-is-it-them feeling when you know in your gut that your view is the correct, humane one, but the majority of people not only don’t share it, but also think it’s so radical it’s crazy.
Yes, crazy. As the African National Congress’s Youth League (ANC YL) said, in response to the gender-verification testing of South African track star Caster Semenya, “Even if a test is done, the ANC YL will never accept the categorization of Caster Semenya as a hermaphrodite, because in South Africa and the entire world of sanity, such does not exist.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/6175415/Jacob-Zuma-attacks-critics-of-Caster-Semenya.html
In one sense he was right, because humans cannot have both fully functioning sets of male and female reproductive organs, which is the biological definition of hermaphroditism. But intersex people do have combinations of reproductive sex organs, genitals, and/or chromosomes that are typically considered both male and female (like female genitals with internal testes and xy chromosomes, for example). That’s why the label “hermaphrodite,” based on the Greek myth of the god/dess Hermaphroditus, who was both male and female, was originally chosen for us.
Besides the myth, in most modern cultures, intersex flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught to believe about humans. That’s why I’m still subjected to reading things like, “’People from time immemorial have had accidents of nature and presented kids with partially formed genitals that they didn’t understand,” from the mouth of Dr. Norman Spack, an endocrinologist and co-director of the Gender Management Service at Children’s Hospital in Boston. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wallis-simpson-intersex-doctor/story?id=15546967#.UIogss0hcno
A doctor whose clinic helps make “normal” girls or boys out of gender-variant, aka transgender, kids — by giving them hormone blockers at the cost of $1000/week per patient– doesn’t benefit by painting intersex people in a positive light, but “accidents of nature”? Really?
Of course it’s easy to bad-mouth a group of people if none of them are ever in the room to defend it. And that’s why I urge my intersex peeps to come out come out wherever you are! I know it’s not easy. Coming out means challenging people just by telling them what you are, because most people don’t want to see beyond the binary view of sex. But the bottom line is: if people don’t want to accept that we exist, so much so that they’re still trying to eradicate our differences, we’re just gonna have to show’em that we do.
Until then it’s a totally trippy reality to live in, like being a citizen of a nation that doesn’t exist (as a philosopher I once met and adored, David Ozar, has written), but ultimately I feel honored to be here. After all, intersex people were viewed as shamans by various American Indian tribes, who felt that those who could “see down both sides of the mountain” had a gift to share with humankind. And since I’ve always respected American Indian cultural viewpoints, I’m gonna go with that one too.
Happy Intersex Awareness Day everyone!
By Hida Viloria
Intersex-American Latina Lesbo Herm doin’ my thang….