About Intersects

Language is based on sets of associations. One word can have many meanings that are related and many meanings that aren’t related. This can be helpful and clarifying in the way that it can help us understand a new concept by using the metaphor of an old concept. It can also be really, really confusing. For example take the word “sex”. Sex can mean intercourse, it can mean anatomy, it can mean a range of sexual activity, and it is used interchangeably with the word gender. Each of these definitions comes with a loaded history and its own set of current issues. Gender identity is different than gender performance is different than sex is different than sexual orientation. But each of these categories are related as well. Going back to the concept of “sex” we find that even when we specify (for example: sex as it relates to physical properties of the body) it is still a very general and confusing topic. This is made obvious when children are born with ambiguous genitalia and members of society want to know the “true sex” of a child. The medical community and others have scrutinized this issue and realized how complicated sex is. Sex is more similar to a spectrum than a binary. What makes “true sex”? Is it a person’s gonads? Hormones? Chromosomes? Genitalia? Does being a certain sex mean that you like to do “boyish” things or “girlish” things? Is gender completely separate from sex?

I am getting myself tongue-tied. So why does clarifying all these terms matter? It matters because the confusion currently leads to oppression. Our misunderstandings lead to irresponsible decisions. Our ignorance causes us to be wary of what we don’t understand. We pathologize people who aren’t sick. We leave minorities out of much needed research.

There are many cases where these different concepts are so mixed up that it is difficult to begin to disentangle them. Here are three examples that I’ve encountered recently:

1. In the hard science section of Barnes and Noble there was a book I found called “Mutants”. In this book there was a chapter called “Gender”. In this chapter there was a story about an ambigiously sexed person (although they don’t use the word intersex) and how their “malfunctioned” development eventually led to a miserable life, a “disorder of desire” and eventually suicide. There are so many hurtful misunderstandings in that chapter (even just in its titles) that I don’t know where to begin.

2. This is a comment I found on an online survey asking people whether they would agree to operate on their intersex child.

“Lets say your child turns out to be a girl, but you’ve waited [to operate] until they’re 16. I’m not an expert on intersex people however I’m still pretty sure that’s a lot of time to get unintentional erections. Don’t think I’m trying to make a joke either, you can hide a vagina, it’s a lot harder to hide a penis. even still you can’t assume that the child would remain oblivious to the issue, they would figure it out and be confused as hell.

I seem to be in the minority in thinking that the surgery should be done, If she is a supposed to be a he I would feel like shit but being homosexual is easier than being intersexed for long enough to be embarrassed by it.”

Sexual orientation is not directly linked to gender identity. She is not supposed to be anything and homosexuality is not the sign of a failed gender assignment.

3. The last example I’m going to show is an environmental concern as well. Due to PCBs, DDTs and other hormone mimicking chemicals the rate of intersex cases in animals (especially fish and frogs) has increased.[1] This information is just misunderstanding mayhem waiting to happen in my eyes. Here is an example of how this can be confusing. (This comment was found on an article online about hormone mimicking chemicals and the potential of an all female future)

“Hang on, though. Do we really want a world where everyone is from Venus and no one is from Mars? Where Frenchmen no longer have any différence to vivre? A land where the man of the house is more Mrs Doubtfire than Mr Atlas? Where pubs no longer echo to loud-mouthed arguing over the merits of back fours and deep-lying strikers, but where, instead, hair-netted old men clack their knitting needles over glasses of lukewarm sherry? Boating accidents where the cry goes up: ‘Hermaphrodites and children first!’ Editions of Top Gear fronted by Jemima Clarkson?”

As these comments show many people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender let alone what being intersex means. Add on top of that the loose way that our reproduction is and isn’t related to animal reproduction and there are just mountains of misunderstandings waiting to occur.

I hope that some of the problems with those three examples are already clear to you readers and if they are not I hope that they will be at some point. The purpose of this zine is to begin to untangle all these mixed up issues. We will untangle them slowly and carefully by giving readers (and ourselves) different sides of all types of related issues. This will allow us all to better understand the complexity of our sex, gender, and sexuality associations and, in the process, to understand whom our misunderstandings have been harming, how they have been harming, and how we can change.

(Written by Bethany)


[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/11/AR2009111118805.html

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