By Hana Aoi
Opinion article by Hana Aoi, intersex person. Originally published in the blog Vivir y Ser Intersexual (link to the article in Spanish: https://vivirintersex.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/lgbt-i)
In past November, during the training on intersex matters for personnel from the National Council for Prevention of Discrimination (Conapred by it’s name in Spanish, link to the council site: http://www.conapred.org.mx), an apparently unnoticed issue came up, something obviated before the event, that I deemed necessary to rethink. In Mexico City there’s an acronym of common use to cover and give visibility to all groups from the sexual diversity, LGBTTTI. No doubt, this has enormously helped many people to be aware of the existence of something called “intersex”. But is this approach actually informative? The original perception of many attendants to the training was that intersex was just another element of the diversity, thought as a sexual orientation or a gender identity. When the event was over, the understanding (I hope) was a different one, closer to reality: that intersex wasn’t a sexual orientation nor a gender identity; of course, these are aspects of the life of any person, and intersex people are no exception. We are undoubtedly related to the LGBTQ community in this regard. But there’s also to consider that our own struggle is to get respect of our human rights and acknowledgement of our body autonomy. Put in other words, it’s about being able to call the shots about the biological characteristics that make our bodies different, and the ground work to make that heterogeneity of the human body visible to society, as well as stopping any practice on our bodies as early as the moment of birth, because they’re aimed only to ease the social anxiety caused by the noncompliance of our bodies to the binary notions of sex and gender, and which only perpetuate fundamentally violent and irreversible procedures justified by a false rationalization: the one that claims that these procedures help to reduce the risk of stigma and discrimination.
The debate I’m proposing over the inclusion of the “I” in the collective acronym may seem pointless. It’s not, and I bring it to the table for a specific purpose. Let’s begin by stating the obvious: for years, the LGBTQ community has made huge advances towards human rights acknowledgement and civil rights vindication, something that should be granted for any given person within a society that calls itself free and democratic. While I’m casting the shadow of my musings, I couldn’t possibly minimize these accomplishments, for I deeply respect the battles they’ve fought (and won) without me being there (I mean at the time when their claims were open for debate, because either I was too young or too ignorant). Indeed, we, the members of the intersex community share many aspirations as many of us can directly relate to the sexual diversity. For example, there’s a considerable number of intersex people who also are trans; so many intersex people identify as genderqueer or non-binary; there are too those who enjoy a full androgynous life experience; there’s even those who opt for surgeries willingly to transition their gender identity along with their sex characteristics, regardless of sexual orientations. And that too bind us to the LGBTQ community: many, whether embracing or not a label from a cisgender-point-of-view of their gender, experience freely and healthily their sexuality, sometimes assuming gender roles and sometimes not. So, yes: many intersex people are LGBTQ.
So, what am I ranting about?
It’s about our demand as a community. As LGBTQ, there are specific demands. But as Intersex, it’s all about human rights, those meant get full control of our bodies and the recognition of such rights even if we’re talking about minors (which is actually my particular view on this matter). This demand requires a very specific approach towards medical community and society in general, because it implies a redesign of medical practices and the changes and construction of legal frameworks that allow human rights to be respected and protected by law. Let’s recall that the intersex movement emerged as a response from the intersex people to the clinical approach of their bodies and beings (one that sadly lasts to the present day), promoted by sexologists, urologists and endocrinologists, among other medical specialists from the early 50’s (for a compelling reading on this and many other relevant intersex topics, look for Katrina Karkazis’ Fixing Sex). This approach has tried since then to “normalize” our different bodies, this is, to force them to fit in this typical definition that binds sex and gender, by the means of surgeries, hormonal replacement therapies and other clinical practices. But the struggle of the intersex community isn’t just to eradicate these practices (at least eradicate how they are performed without full consent of the interested person just because of them being underage), but also to transform the binary notion of sex and gender. This is one aspect from which I believe the LGBTQ movement could take benefit. Taking off the gender marker from official documents could be a good start. More realistic would be to make it easy for any person (trans and intersex) to change their gender marker in such records. But let’s dare dream: it also implies the possibility of challenging the concept of gender identity, regardless of biological traits, thus offering a liberating perspective for future generations who shouldn’t have to struggle to fit, since there would be nothing to fit in.
Having stated this, I think that it isn’t accurate to include intersex as an element of the sexual diversity. Not for the time being. Not as long as average people keep thinking of it as a gender identity or a sexual orientation. And this is why: while there’s a part of society who could care less about sexual diversity, and indeed accept it as such, there’s a need to get rid from the stigma that comes with homophobia and sexism in the heteronormative society we’re living in. The main purpose of intersex activism is visibility, visibility to their reality, their issues and claims. It’s lack of information, prejudices and fears in the minds of intersex children’s parents that make them go for the surgeries, taking away their kids liberty to choose, to voice their opinion about their own bodies. Sure, we, as grown-ups, can bite the bullet and answer back when we’re questioned. But children need to be protected from the very bigotry that parents fear. Fears and prejudices are expressed in phrases such as “I can’t deprive my kid from having a gender, because children can be cruel”. When we say this, we forget that it’s us who teach children to discriminate and bully, that it’s us who socially sanction such behaviour, that it’s okay to take the “perverts” and the “weirdos” apart, even when we say otherwise. By keeping on living in a social contract of control and domination we’re acknowledging discrimination and violence against what’s different. And this is what fuels the fears of parents of intersex children. So, if we can’t success at making intersex visible and intelligible first, and then we fail to address parents’ fears, then the association of the “I” with the LGBTQ community really won’t help kids and babies yet to be born. And parents will keep surrendering to their understandable fears and giving up their children to surgeons.
This is why I believe the “I” should stand out by itself, as long as it takes for people to get what intersex is. Even when it will still be associated to the LGBTQ community for the reasons stated above. It’s necessary that parents of intersex children first speak out their fears and confront their mixed feelings, and then embrace the diversity of humankind embodied in their kids. By stepping out we wouldn’t ignore the LGBTQ struggle, but we’d acknowledge the specificity of our demands and the way they must be addressed in order to make them happen.