I ≠ T (intersex is not equal trans)
By Hana Aoi
To Laura Inter, partner in a thousand battles.
Intersex is not equal trans
Intersex is not equal transgender
Intersex is not equal transsexual
Intersex is about a body born with variations of sex characteristics.
Let’s say things as they are.
This is a subject rather tiresome to me, but I have to write about it because few people will do likewise. Why? For starters, many people are still unaware of intersex. Very few people get what means being intersex or having an intersex body. Yet everyone guesses, everyone fantasises. Everyone seems entitled to have an (often uneducated) opinion on the matter. Apparently, that’s all it takes to assume yourself as intersex.
As if intersex was a subject of a self-perceived identity discordant with a sex assigned at birth. It isn’t.
I understand why people (trans people included) can be lead to believe so. After all, many intersex persons were forced to a gender identity along with medical interventions aiming for genital and bodily normalisation. Indeed, some intersex persons are trans too, but not because of surgeries, but because the discordance felt between the sex assigned at birth and their gender identity/expression. I also see how trans people could find comforting, or even useful at some point, to identify themselves as intersex (even when they’re not), in the midst of their private process of coming to terms with their identity, in regard of the sex they were assigned at birth. But there’s a problem: by doing this, they are mixing up the medical violence of those of us who, due to a social imposition of a sex at birth, have been force in our childhood and adolescence to surgical interventions and made dependant to a lifetime of HRT. They’re mistaking the stigma we live through our formative years and even adulthood (no matter how liberal the times may appear) as the rejection they too experience in our societies.
I acknowledge the empathy and the way they could relate and identify with the intersex experience, but it’s just not the same. It’s not same as having survived the appalling violence to the body’s intimacy that means being mutilated and artificially built. There’s no glamour, no vindication of the identity in having undergone to such aggressions, at an age so early that there’s not the slightest possibility of fighting back, of stating an opinion, of freely reject or consent, with knowledge, with information.
Claiming to be intersex without being it, just because there’s a tacit code among intersex persons of not being nosey on the diagnosis given at birth and about our personal experiences —unless it is shared by oneself in the context of a therapeutical space, of peer support, of personal empowerment and political fight—, seems disrespectful to our daily struggle to reclaim our bodies and lives, and a gross way to disparage the violations to our rights, frequently lessening it to a matter of gender identity, and twisting the purport of the intersex movement to the mere recognition of gender identities to allow us to be “proudly intersex”, while week after week hundreds of children are still being mutilated, in the social-validated, cold ignominy of ORs.
Peggy Cadet and Marc Feldman have pointed at this before in their 2012 article «Pretense of a Paradox: Factitious Intersex Conditions on the Internet» (International Journal of Sexual Health, 24(2): 91-96). After observing though a lapse of 15 years in different intersex support groups, they stated the fact that there are many trans persons who introduce themselves as intersex, making up rare —when not fictitious or impossible— conditions, just so they can justify their presence. This has also been perceived in the intersex movement by activists like Daniela Truffer (who cites Cadet and Feldman), who has indicated so in her comment on this article:
“Trans persons claiming they’re intersex for personal gain and comfort, and both the short and long-term harm they’re inflicting to intersex self-help groups and the intersex human rights movement, is a longstanding and painful issue often ignored or trivialised also by some intersex people and their organisations (in my experience often those who weren’t submitted to IGM as children).”
Trans persons posing as intersex (and the damage they do to intersex rights) <http://stop.genitalmutilation.org/post/Intersex-Posers> [Date of consultation: March 26, 2018]
The real damage, following the idea of the authors, is made when the participation of non-intersex trans persons (whether they’re pretending or making their own interpretations of what intersex could be) are integrated to documentaries, publications and other cultural products. Even more: when intersex persons look for support in these groups and they meet these other persons who pretend being something they’re not, they end up alienated and walk away again. In the case of the intersex movement, this could discourage activists and advocates, seeing how their claims are diluted in the sight of political goals of those who only use intersex for their own ends.
On a personal level, I admit I’ve felt like this. Several times I’ve considered leaving advocacy and stop educating people about intersex and about our rights, because I’ve witnessed how some trans people who aren’t intersex hijack the speech, sometimes not even caring anymore if they’re deemed as intersex; worse, some “allies” entitle them with credibility and a space just because they’re “visible”, in the belief that visibility is the same than showing the face and showing up at every public LGBT+ forum.
I’ve often thought about how relevant could be to draw a line between the intersex movement and the LGBT+ movement. I understand, however, why some allies insist in in sticking together, as a strategic partnership. But my thoughts aren’t original (Daniela Truffer opinion is an example of it); our links to the LGBT+ movement is defined mainly because of the history of how the American intersex movement came to be in the 90s. Of course, there are many intersex persons who identify themselves as queer, identities that suit themselves well on a personal level, but does that equal intersex to queer? No. On the other hand, in the survey to intersex persons that took place in Australia, published in 2016, 48% of the intersex persons reported that their sexual orientation was heterosexual (almost 1 in 2 persons); but that doesn’t equal intersex to heterosexual either. From the intellectual thinking capacity of the movement, we need to seriously and critically pose LGBT+ in our community as yet another interseccionality, this is, to put horizontally gender identity/expression and sexual orientation on the same level as other categories of our individualities, such as age, class, nationality and ethnic origin; thus acknowledging that the common aspect that bonds intersex people is their congenital variations of sex characteristics, as well as the personal life experiences caused by stigma, rejection, discrimination and, most of time, medical violence instrumented by non-consented medical interventions. In this way, we could reformulate our participation in the LGBT+ movement as a separate aspect of a whole, building alliances based in mutual respect and recognition. By doing so, the intersex movement would be able to make its denounces in an independent struggle for our rights, making clear claims of the medical violence that affects the future of intersex children (ironically, the one thing physicians supposedly are concerned about and the reason why medical violence is perpetrated), and educating society about what intersex really is.
I’d like to invite the intersex persons who also are trans, to emphasize the damage caused by the presence in the movement and support groups, of trans people who pretend to be intersex, especially how harmful can this be in the difficult labour of trusting and bonding. It is not about them feeling comfortable with the idea of being intersex, as a defence mechanism or a mental justification that it is because of it that they’re trans: it’s about respecting the life experiences of intersex persons, and acknowledging the real goal of our movement: our human rights.
You can also read LGBTQ… I?