Okay, so it’s not “new” in that it wasn’t written recently, but it’s still a new outlook within the intersex community/movement. We are not just our bodies, and it’s time we move beyond the discourse of “medical conditions” and “medical treatment” to expressing a unique intersex culture that encompasses our whole selves. This essay, written by OII founder, linguist, and American activist Curtis Hinkle, whose vision and skills established the international intersex community, is republished here in honor of OII’s tenth anniversary this April. Curtis’s views on the need to embrace intergender identity as well as intersex biological reality are still sound and revolutionary, and deeply match my own, and that of many of our allies around the world, both intersex and otherwise. Happy 2014 to us all, and to all a more loving, accepting world!
This piece was written by Curtis for OII’s original website, between 2004 and 2007.
Why the intergender community is so important
to the intersex community?
by Curtis E. Hinkle
Often those of us who are intersex who also affirm our intergender identity are marginalized not only by society at large but by the intersex community itself. It is time that we take our rightful place at the table and articulate our own views about the importance of our presence. We must speak up and resist the erasure of our identity both within the intersex movement and elsewhere. Our inclusion in society is crucial to ending the underlying violent oppression that many different people face, not just the intersex community.
One objection that often comes from intersex activists is to dismiss those of us who are intergender as insignificant because we are a minority. First of all, how do they know this to be so? Simply looking at one’s small circle of intersex friends and extrapolating generalizations from that close-knit community is very misleading. There are many intersex people all over the world who do identify as intergender. I don’t accept the premise that those of us with intergender identities are a minority. But, what if it we were? Is that a reason to dismiss us and our issues? If so, then society is perfectly justified in dismissing intersex since the definition that most experts give for it makes it such a small category of people. So-called “specialists” have defined intersex in such a limited way in order to erase almost all ambiguity which does not confirm the binary categories for sex which have been constructed in our societies and this is the same reason people, even intersex activists, erase intergender. They are just as uncomfortable with ambiguous gender as society is with ambiguity of sex. But what is really ambiguous, an intergender identity or the definitions that we have used to define gender? For the same reason that intersex is viewed as ambiguous, the ambiguity of gender ascribed to the intergender individual is not in the person but within the faulty binary lens that others view us through.
Another disturbing reason why many activists and “experts” dismiss intergender is a direct result of their insistence on a very essentialist definition of intersex. They often appear to have a vested interest in excluding as many people as possible from their “special” class. This seems quite odd for such a marginalized group of people as the intersexed, but it is true. However, the threat to the intersex movement is not from the intergender community. It is from the very essentialist ideas about intersex that many activists perpetuate based on faulty biological and pathological definitions which not only erase our existence by being so limited but also justify the elimination of any further “ambiguity” and intersex altogether.
No one has a problem with the idea that most people with female gender identities are of female sex and do not contest this. Is it not a rational assumption that most people with intergender identities are in fact intersex (i.e. of intermediate sex)? I think so. Should I require some medical proof that they are intersex? That is absurd. I would never ask a female or male to provide medical proof that they were a woman or a man. What would be the point? Male, female and intersex are not discreet categories. There is no clear way to determine where one category ends and the other begins. Why not let the person tell me who and what they are? I think they would most likely be more accurate than some outside expert who most likely views intersex as a rare pathology as most medical experts do – a view which is not scientific and which geneticists would not accept.
If we are ever going to expand our community and our visibility, the intergender community is essential. There is no way to exist socially without a gender. Gender is about how we perceive ourselves in relation to others within a social context. In other words, it is our most basic interpretation of where we fit based on our own core feelings and identity. To minimize intergender is one of the most effective methods for erasing intersex because it perpetuates the blindness and intolerance which is one of the main justifications for intersex genital mutilation and other pathological views of intersex.. Would it not be healthier for society to deal with the actual variations within the human population rather than to continue passing laws, making medical decisions and other intrusive forays into our private lives in order to enforce norms that most people really can’t meet? I think it would be and in so doing, we would be further deconstructing the binary construct of sex which is at the root of the binary gender expectations.
Another important contribution that intergender activists bring to intersex activism is their insistence on being viewed as whole people, not just bodies. They force us to take our focus from the body and away from an essentialist idea of who we are to the more basic idea of how we actually perceive ourselves and where we fit. For intersex activists to stay focused primarily on the body and our trauma without incorporating the needs of the actual individual in that body and his/her gender identity serves little purpose in the long run because we are seeking to be an integral part of humanity. One cannot be deemed human and intersex legally. To exist as a human legally, you must be categorized as male or female. By listening to intergender voices, we begin to understand the frustration of being silenced and mutilated psychologically and emotionally within this binary system. We have to be allowed to speak for ourselves and insist that not only does intersex exist but that it is the sex of a large part of humanity and moreover that many people are realizing this on their own, i.e. that they are not simply male or female but intergender. Their solidarity with us will help us eliminate a lot of the stigma associated with being intersex.
This is probably the most significant contribution of intergender activists. We clearly force society to deal with the fact that intersex bodies are not just mutilated but our identities are often mutilated too. This is something that many people can understand because it is obvious to a large segment of the humanity that the current social construct of sex and gender as a binary is oppressive and mutilating to their self actualization as fully functioning members of society. This increases our visibility and the solidarity from others that we so need for our very survival. Most people can see that gender stereotypes are harmful and this is something that affects not just intersex people. We welcome our closest allies who are intergender to join us. They understand our erasure, the silence that has been imposed on us. If everyone is just a man and a woman with male and female identities, then what is the purpose of intersex activism really? What do we have to offer society if we just stop a few medical treatments and disappear once again while society continues to forcefully categorize us and insist that we meet norms that are unrealistic and unnatural, while using violence and sexist propaganda to maintain this inhumane system?