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The Intersex Roadshow Reports

A Tumblr Companion to the Intersex Roadshow Blog
(http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com)

Posts tagged intersex

Jan 2 '13
Let me tell you about bluebanded gobies.  In this hermaphroditic species, the greatest number of offspring are produced when most of the fish are laying eggs.  So they form mating groups or families, typically of 3-7, in which one of the gobies’ bodies shifts to sperm-producing mode, and the rest shift to egg-laying mode.  The fish that takes on the inseminating mode needs to be robust, because it must continuously mate with the rest of the fish.  When mating groups form or change, the members all swim about actively, zipping toward one another.  (Actually, this behavior is quite common, and regularly occurs between all of the bluebanded gobies, including the egglaying ones in established groups.)  What determines which goby in a new group will take on the sperm-producing role is the behavior of the other fish.  A goby being zipped at by a zippier fish will dodge out of the way.  This gets called “submission” by scientists, but could just as well be termed “peacekeeping,” and would most accurately be simply called “getting out of the way.”  By engaging in this dance of zipping about, a new group of gobies determines which of the fish is the most energetic and robust.  Often it’s a large fish, but that’s not always the case.  That fish shifts to sperm-producing mode (unless it is already in that mode), and the others shift to egg-laying mode (unless that is already the case).
This story is sadly distorted in most sites and articles about the bluebanded goby.  To find out more, see my full post here.

Let me tell you about bluebanded gobies.  In this hermaphroditic species, the greatest number of offspring are produced when most of the fish are laying eggs.  So they form mating groups or families, typically of 3-7, in which one of the gobies’ bodies shifts to sperm-producing mode, and the rest shift to egg-laying mode.  The fish that takes on the inseminating mode needs to be robust, because it must continuously mate with the rest of the fish.  When mating groups form or change, the members all swim about actively, zipping toward one another.  (Actually, this behavior is quite common, and regularly occurs between all of the bluebanded gobies, including the egglaying ones in established groups.)  What determines which goby in a new group will take on the sperm-producing role is the behavior of the other fish.  A goby being zipped at by a zippier fish will dodge out of the way.  This gets called “submission” by scientists, but could just as well be termed “peacekeeping,” and would most accurately be simply called “getting out of the way.”  By engaging in this dance of zipping about, a new group of gobies determines which of the fish is the most energetic and robust.  Often it’s a large fish, but that’s not always the case.  That fish shifts to sperm-producing mode (unless it is already in that mode), and the others shift to egg-laying mode (unless that is already the case).

This story is sadly distorted in most sites and articles about the bluebanded goby.  To find out more, see my full post here.

Oct 12 '12
Aug 3 '12
As someone who is intersex by birth and who has gender transitioned, I object to the framing of trans identity as an intersex condition. Hoping to diffuse transphobia, some trans people today are looking for a brain structure housing gender identity. They argue that people are born with a “brain sex,” and that if this “brain sex” differs from the individual’s genital sex, they suffer from an intersex condition that must be treated via gender transition.

The difficulties faced by intersex people can indeed relate to gender identity, since children born intersex today are forcibly assigned a dyadic sex at birth, and often subjected to sex reassignment surgery to which they cannot consent. If the child grows up not to identify with the sex to which ze was coercively assigned, gender dysphoria results. But no test has ever been developed that can determine what the eventual gender identity of an intersex person will be—not in the brain, the chromosomes, the gonads or the genitals. And the issues intersex people face center on forced sex assignment in childhood—something which advocates of the intersex brain thesis tacitly support when they argue that since trans status arises from an intersex brain, it “must” be treated medically. Like many intersex people, I boggle resentfully at the idea held by some trans people that intersex people are “lucky,” have a privileged relationship to the medical community, or are free from stigma in our lives. The belief that being categorized as intersex would lead to advantages, which causes trans people to frame trans identity as an intersex condition, is deeply flawed.

In any case, trying to find the cerebral structure that “houses” gender identity is as silly as Descartes’ claim in the 17th century to have found that the soul was located in the pineal gland of the brain.  It’s not that simple.


Trans people will win our rights though political activism, not neurology.






For more, see here.

As someone who is intersex by birth and who has gender transitioned, I object to the framing of trans identity as an intersex condition. Hoping to diffuse transphobia, some trans people today are looking for a brain structure housing gender identity. They argue that people are born with a “brain sex,” and that if this “brain sex” differs from the individual’s genital sex, they suffer from an intersex condition that must be treated via gender transition.

The difficulties faced by intersex people can indeed relate to gender identity, since children born intersex today are forcibly assigned a dyadic sex at birth, and often subjected to sex reassignment surgery to which they cannot consent. If the child grows up not to identify with the sex to which ze was coercively assigned, gender dysphoria results. But no test has ever been developed that can determine what the eventual gender identity of an intersex person will be—not in the brain, the chromosomes, the gonads or the genitals. And the issues intersex people face center on forced sex assignment in childhood—something which advocates of the intersex brain thesis tacitly support when they argue that since trans status arises from an intersex brain, it “must” be treated medically. Like many intersex people, I boggle resentfully at the idea held by some trans people that intersex people are “lucky,” have a privileged relationship to the medical community, or are free from stigma in our lives. The belief that being categorized as intersex would lead to advantages, which causes trans people to frame trans identity as an intersex condition, is deeply flawed.

In any case, trying to find the cerebral structure that “houses” gender identity is as silly as Descartes’ claim in the 17th century to have found that the soul was located in the pineal gland of the brain.  It’s not that simple.

Trans people will win our rights though political activism, not neurology.

For more, see here.
Jul 29 '12
Recently I was disturbed to come across this photograph (in unedited form) in an exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Naked Before the Camera.”  It is titled “Hermaphrodite,” and was taken in 1860 by a French photographer who named himself Nadar.
All the other photographs in the online exhibit are art portraits of nudes, their subjects apparently consenting to serve as models.  The poses are classical or arty, mostly full-body, and none of them gynecological.  So it was very jarring to me to come across this photograph of an intersex hospital patient, hiding hir face behind hir arm, hir intermediate genitalia the focal point for this prurient spreadshot.  I see exploitation, nonconsent, shame and exposure—disturbing factors mostly absent in the other, nonclinical, photos.  (The rest of the series by Nadar can been seen on Wikipedia, and contains even more humiliating and uncomfortable photographs, which I will not share here.)
I fail to understand why the Metropolitan would include such a shockingly disrespectful image in their collection of nudes—at least, not without discussing how clinical nude photography has been used to marginalize and other and exploit patients with marked bodily differences.  As an intersex person and a Jew, I’d say this is rather like including a photograph of a nude victim of medical experimentation in a concentration camp, without remarking on the Holocaust or the horror involved.  It’s creepy and upsetting to see a member of my community forced to spread hir legs, not only for a 19th century medical audience, but for a 21st century museum crowd to stare at and go “Hmm.  Interesting use of depth of field to foreground the strange genitalia!”

Recently I was disturbed to come across this photograph (in unedited form) in an exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Naked Before the Camera.”  It is titled “Hermaphrodite,” and was taken in 1860 by a French photographer who named himself Nadar.

All the other photographs in the online exhibit are art portraits of nudes, their subjects apparently consenting to serve as models.  The poses are classical or arty, mostly full-body, and none of them gynecological.  So it was very jarring to me to come across this photograph of an intersex hospital patient, hiding hir face behind hir arm, hir intermediate genitalia the focal point for this prurient spreadshot.  I see exploitation, nonconsent, shame and exposure—disturbing factors mostly absent in the other, nonclinical, photos.  (The rest of the series by Nadar can been seen on Wikipedia, and contains even more humiliating and uncomfortable photographs, which I will not share here.)

I fail to understand why the Metropolitan would include such a shockingly disrespectful image in their collection of nudes—at least, not without discussing how clinical nude photography has been used to marginalize and other and exploit patients with marked bodily differences.  As an intersex person and a Jew, I’d say this is rather like including a photograph of a nude victim of medical experimentation in a concentration camp, without remarking on the Holocaust or the horror involved.  It’s creepy and upsetting to see a member of my community forced to spread hir legs, not only for a 19th century medical audience, but for a 21st century museum crowd to stare at and go “Hmm.  Interesting use of depth of field to foreground the strange genitalia!”

Jul 28 '12
I understand that intersex communities could use a logo.  Intersex people are erased in so many ways, and the visibility we do have is highly problematic.  Just do a Google Image Search, and what you see are crotch shots of unconsenting children, stills from porn videos, circus slideshow photos, and images of genital surgery.  It would be great to have visibility for our communities—visibility that does not involve prurient displays of our genitals for gawkers and chasers.
So well-meaning people create logos.  I don’t want to dump on whomever created this one that’s been circulating for a while, but this image just doesn’t work for me.  Yes, I see how it visually represents that the two stick-figure sex icons that get pasted up on bathroom doors are joined by additional stick figures.  Instead of two sexes, we get five (à la Fausto-Sterling’s classic article).  Except… these are not representations of sexes.  They’re representations of gender norms—boys wear pants, girls wear skirts, and now, apparently, intersex people wear… skorts.  Boys like blue, girls like pink, and intersex people like purple.  OK, it’s true that I do like purple, but this is reproducing reductive gender stereotypes, and perpetrating the idea that people born with an intermediate sex must thereby have an intermediate gender identity, and look androgynous in their gender expression.
I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable situations I’ve been in where some (nonintersex) person has expressed disappointment at the banal appearance of an intersex person.  ”There was this intersex speaker who came to my university, but she just looked like a woman.”
Intersex folks are growing up in the same society as everyone else, which means we’re raised under a binary gender system, and plenty of us identify with a binary gender.  Lots of us are genderconforming in our self-presentation.  Yes, just like people who are not intersex, plenty of us identify with a gender but don’t conform to gender expectations (we identify as men and love pink, or we identify as women and are engineers).  Yes, some of us identify as intermediately gendered.  But we’re not “less intersex” if we look and act like suburban moms in sundresses or average joes who like macrobrewed beer.  We’re not here to entertain others with our gender performances.
The fact is, knowing someone is intersex tells you nothing about their gender identity or gender expression.  We may be born with bodies that get labelled atypical, but we are totally not born wearing culottes.
So I’d say we need a logo that doesn’t frame our status through the lens of gender performance.

I understand that intersex communities could use a logo.  Intersex people are erased in so many ways, and the visibility we do have is highly problematic.  Just do a Google Image Search, and what you see are crotch shots of unconsenting children, stills from porn videos, circus slideshow photos, and images of genital surgery.  It would be great to have visibility for our communities—visibility that does not involve prurient displays of our genitals for gawkers and chasers.

So well-meaning people create logos.  I don’t want to dump on whomever created this one that’s been circulating for a while, but this image just doesn’t work for me.  Yes, I see how it visually represents that the two stick-figure sex icons that get pasted up on bathroom doors are joined by additional stick figures.  Instead of two sexes, we get five (à la Fausto-Sterling’s classic article).  Except… these are not representations of sexes.  They’re representations of gender norms—boys wear pants, girls wear skirts, and now, apparently, intersex people wear… skorts.  Boys like blue, girls like pink, and intersex people like purple.  OK, it’s true that I do like purple, but this is reproducing reductive gender stereotypes, and perpetrating the idea that people born with an intermediate sex must thereby have an intermediate gender identity, and look androgynous in their gender expression.

I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable situations I’ve been in where some (nonintersex) person has expressed disappointment at the banal appearance of an intersex person.  ”There was this intersex speaker who came to my university, but she just looked like a woman.”

Intersex folks are growing up in the same society as everyone else, which means we’re raised under a binary gender system, and plenty of us identify with a binary gender.  Lots of us are genderconforming in our self-presentation.  Yes, just like people who are not intersex, plenty of us identify with a gender but don’t conform to gender expectations (we identify as men and love pink, or we identify as women and are engineers).  Yes, some of us identify as intermediately gendered.  But we’re not “less intersex” if we look and act like suburban moms in sundresses or average joes who like macrobrewed beer.  We’re not here to entertain others with our gender performances.

The fact is, knowing someone is intersex tells you nothing about their gender identity or gender expression.  We may be born with bodies that get labelled atypical, but we are totally not born wearing culottes.

So I’d say we need a logo that doesn’t frame our status through the lens of gender performance.

Jul 28 '12
Um, no.  That’s not how intersex people work.  Which is good, because shopping for clothes looks like it would be a real hassle.

Um, no.  That’s not how intersex people work.  Which is good, because shopping for clothes looks like it would be a real hassle.

Jul 28 '12
Intersex lobsters are fascinating, but intersex people don’t look like this.

Intersex lobsters are fascinating, but intersex people don’t look like this.