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The Intersex Roadshow: Five Myths that Hurt #Intersex People

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Five Myths that Hurt Intersex People

I’ve had conversations with some intersex acquaintances recently about painful situations in which (nonintersex) people have accused my friends of not “really” being intersex. Besides revealing how rude people in our society can be about policing sex and gender, what these conversations have illustrated are some central myths about intersex status that come up over and over again. It’s these that I will address in this blog post.

Myth 1: Intersex people all have intermediate genitalia

Imagine this: you’re an intersex person, nervous about dating and finding a partner. You work up your courage to disclose your status to people you’re interested in, and after a series of them seeming polite but disinterested in dating, you finally meet a guy who expresses interest. You date for a while, and get to the point where the clothes come off. Your boyfriend gets a good look at you naked, accuses you of “making up that story of being intersex” because your body looks female to him, and breaks off the relationship, leaving you feeling misunderstood and ill-used. Many people are intersexed in ways that are not visible to their partners.  …

Myth 2: Intersex conditions are always diagnosed in infancy

Here’s another unfortunate scenario: a person is having infertility problems, so they visit some doctors. They receive a diagnosis and turn in shock to an online gender forum to post “I was just diagnosed as intersex.” Somebody responds, “Stop trolling this blog. You’re not really intersex—intersex people all know what they are from childhood. You probably have sick fantasies or think saying you’re intersex will give you an excuse to gender transition without controversy.” The non-intersex person is accusing the intersex individual of being a non-intersex person exploiting intersex individuals, which is pretty ironic. …

Myth 3: All infant sex-assignment surgery is aimed at creating “female” genitalia

Imagine this situation: you were born with intermediate genitalia but surgically assigned male at birth. However, you grew up hating your male sex assignment, and so you transitioned to female. Your experience has given you a lot of empathy for people viewed as gendertransgressive, so when you notice that a friend of a Facebook friend identifies as genderqueer, you write her a nice message and offer her friendship. She refuses your offer and writes you a nasty note back about how she knows you are lying about being intersex, since “all intersex children are made into girls.” She accuses you of being a stalking, posing, creepy man-in-a-dress. Ironic and sad, isn’t it—that a woman who identifies as breaking down the boundaries of sex and gender is policing those boundaries so rabidly and wrongheadedly? …

Myth 4: Intersex people should be genderqueer

This myth comes up again and again in academic, activist and feminist circles: that intersex people, being neither male nor female in physical sex, must be genderqueer and androgynous. We’re supposed to be standard-bearers for the fight to subvert artificial dyadic gender categories. Encountering an intersex person with an ordinary and “boring” masculine or feminine gender identity who doesn’t look at all androgynous, these activists express puzzlement and disappointment—and in private, speculate that the person must have some minor, mild intersex condition, so they are not “intersex enough” to be insightful.

Intersex people face pressure from doctors and families and society at large to genderconform. Facing the opposite pressure to gendertransgress—subversivism— is just as unfair. …

Myth 5: “Real” intersex people are not genderqueer

Frustrated and upset by pressure from gender activists to gendertransgress, as descibed in Myth 4, some intersex people have created a reactionary opposite myth: that “real” intersex people have no interest in subverting dyadic gender understandings of male and female. These genderconservative individuals often don’t actually identify as “intersex” but as “people with DSDs (Disorders of Sex Development).” And they go around arguing to institutions that “real” intersex people don’t identify as genderqueer—that people who say they are intersex and argue for third gender categories and the like are posers, probably crazed feminist zealots or deceptive trans people. …

Lots of cuts, to tempt you all to go read the whole thing.

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