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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] ISGD Claiming intersex ‘privilege’ is transphobic

Claiming intersex ‘privilege’ is transphobic

transphobia_intersexThere are some academics, members of diagnosis groups, and activists who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or intersex who accuse transgender or transsexual people of claiming to be intersex when they are not. There are also those who accuse some intersex people of being transsexual or transgender and not really intersex. Both these positions are transphobic, writes Gina Wilson.

Consider this:

Very few transsexual people have their DNA inspected as a part of their work-up to surgery. A surgeon is unlikely to notice DNA differences while performing surgery.

Most transsexual surgery is conducted on the genitals and breast, sometimes on the face. Not all intersex is evident in genitals, faces or breasts, so that assumes intersex is about reproductive parts and appearance.

Consider further:

A surgeon is conducting urogenital surgery on a transsexual woman (MtF). The surgeon discovers the remnant of a uterus and one ovary. Does the surgeon continue with ‘reassignment’ surgery, given that the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) WPATH Standards of Care specifically exclude intersex from Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID) as defined in the DSM-IV TR and the current Standards of Care? Or does the surgeon proceed and declare “nothing unusual?”

One observation made to OII Australia was: “It’s usually said that the vast majority of Harry Benjamin Syndrome (HBS) people wish they had some sign of physical intersex, but nothing is ever found.” (Editor’s note: Harry Benjamin was a German endocrinologist known for his work with transsexual people. WPATH was formerly known as the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association).

This kind of accusation should not be made. It is a baseless assertion and to our minds is defamatory.

We have no knowledge of people who are diagnosed with GID and thought to be transsexual being routinely examined for possible underlying intersexuality. It cannot be said with any certain knowledge how many HBS individuals or transsexuals or transgender people have concurrent well-known intersex differences or even if HBS is a form of intersex.

It cannot be said with any certain knowledge how many people in the general population are intersex. Indeed you, dear reader, may have differences that could be considered intersex and not know it.

The only way we know someone is intersex is as a result of four things:

  1. Obvious physical differences at the time of birth or later, especially genital differences.
  2. Difficulties with puberty.
  3. Difficulties with reproduction.
  4. Serendipitous discovery – the most common is paternity testing these days. Paternity testing locates people who have never known they have unusual genomes.

It is thought 20% of all XXY people are fertile. How would we know they are XXY if they are fertile? Why would they come to the attention of medicine? How do we know only 20%, why not 50% given most people are not routinely tested for unusual genomes?

Why would these circumstances change for any intersex differences?

There is every likelihood the majority of people with underlying intersex differences are not aware of it and have no need to know. There is every reason to suppose that individuals who present as transsexual are likely to be intersex. Being intersex is a reasonable explanation for the kind of feelings and experiences most transsexual people have.

Intersex is not about genitals or our reproductive parts. Intersex is about congenital, hormonal, genetic and physical differences that can be thought of as being both male and female at once, not entirely male or female, neither male or female, or something else again.

Intersex is about sex diversity. It is not possible to tell if a person is intersex by external examination, and it is not always possible to tell if someone is intersex with an internal examination.

There are some scathing things said about HBS people and there are some HBS people who are themselves scathing.

Irrespective of the politics, when physical differences are found in individuals who consider themselves HBS or transsexual and those differences account for the way their mind identifies the sex of their bodies, then there is no logical way to exclude that from being intersex. That is, they have physical differences that could be seen as both male and female at once, not entirely male or female, neither male or female, or something else again.

There are many misapprehensions about intersex. The idea that intersex is an advantage and someone would claim it for sympathy’s sake is an absurdity.

The accusation that transsexuals claim intersex privilege is transphobic, pure and simple.

Transsexual and transgender people have clear medical pathways and access to appropriate medicine. The surgery is well trialled with predictable outcomes. There is appropriate consensual surgery available. Transsexual and transgender people have some protection at law and in many places enjoy anti-discrimination and anti-vilification protection and are even included in some human rights legislation.

Intersex people have no rights at law anywhere in the world. We have no protection against discrimination and vilification anywhere in the world. We are routinely subjected to non-consensual untrialled surgery with unpredictable outcomes. We are as discriminated against, prodded and poked, experimented on, classified and vilified, treated as freaks, as it is possible for any human to be.

The reason some people claim there are intersex activists who are transgender or transsexual is simple: it is seen as an insult.

The claim rests on some basic logic:

  1. Intersex people get more sympathy because they are born that way and there is nothing they can do about it. So are you saying that transgender or transsexual people are not? So the logic is: Intersex people don’t choose to be intersex but transgender or transsexual people choose to be weirdos and deserve what they get. “Poor old intersex freaks, don’t you feel sorry for them? Bleccccch, awful transsexual weirdos, let’s punch a few out!” This portrayal is not too far from the truth.
  2. Transsexual or transgender people are somewhat known in the community and there is a good deal of revulsion against them. Calling an intersex person ‘transsexual’ brings that revulsion on to that person. Vilification of both intersex and transsexual people in a single stroke.

So you ponder:

“I wonder if the surgeons see many odd things when they do Sex Affirmation Surgery (SAS aka Sex Reassignment Surgery or SRS) on transsexuals?”

Do you think they would tell anyone? They might be liable for breaching the Standards of Care guidelines, they might be liable for removing parts the individual might have wanted to keep, or they might be forced to reveal a darkly held secret about the person on the operating table.

The worst? Medicine might be forced to acknowledge how injurious mistaken birth assignments are and how deeply tragic the consequences.

In conclusion

  • Accusing any person of being transsexual or transgender so as to diminish their standing is transphobic.
  •  
  • Asserting that a transsexual or transgender person’s claim to being intersex is a bid for greater standing is transphobic.
  •  
  • Intersex, in western society and in most other places is not an advantage.
  •  
  • Intersex remains a dark, shameful secret for most, a difference so reviled that desperate attempts to ‘normalise’ us are taken at the earliest opportunity, whether or not the individual concerned consents or understands.
  •  
  • Our bodies are considered so outrageously shameful it is thought we can enjoy no acceptable life without our differences being camouflaged by cosmetic surgery.
  •  
  • Yet despite these efforts we remain… Intersex.

Gina Wilson is the president of Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia.

 

Comments   

0 #12 Missy 2012-04-20 12:39
I believe that the reason why transsexuals are not labeled as intersexuals is because they would then have legal access to free sex reassignment surgery, something the government is cheap about and doesn't want to pay for those expenses.
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0 #11 julien 2011-11-20 18:23
Angela the only thing changed is the headline, which sums up the piece. The rest is taken from the OII site (with an additional explanation in brackets as an editor's note of who Harry Benjamin was for those readers who don't know).
My website : packshot 360 (packshot360.wordpress.com/)
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0 #10 Melinda 2010-07-21 05:41
Is there a difference between Sex Reassignment Surgery or Sex Affirmation Surgery? It's the same procedure isn't it, just interpretated differently dependending on emphasis. When required to meet the government requirements for the legal "re"-assigning of the sex assigned to a child at birth, as it is my home state of Victoria, it's appropriate to think of it as SRS. However the procedure is primarily affirming one's sex identity or gender both socially and personally - in that sense it's GAS. It's kind of both -reassignment is the procedure's legal social dimension, the affirmation aspect is both personal and social. Where there's no legal requirement for SRS to reassign legal sex then I guess GAS is appropriate term.
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0 #9 Stassa 2010-06-15 09:38
A surgeon is conducting urogenital surgery on a transsexual woman (MtF). The surgeon discovers the remnant of a uterus and one ovary.

Ovaries (and testicles) are found laterally in the abdomen. Surgeons make the incision for the neovaginal canal centrally. Therefore they are extremely unlikely to "discover" an ovary, or an undecended testis.

Accordingly, the "remnants" of a uterus would be too high up the abdominal cavity for the neovaginal incision to reach them. That is assuming the surgeons would be able to notice any "remnants" as they make the -usually- blunt incision.

In short, even if there are as many transsexual women with an intersex condition as the article claims, reassignment surgery is not likely to reveal such a condition.

I note that the article focuses on male-to-female transsexuals to the relative exclusion of femalt to male ones.
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0 #8 Penny Sautereau-Fife 2010-06-15 04:39
I only found out 8 years ago through testing at a gender clinic that I'm intersexed, (In my case femnale with one ovary, a sadly functional uterus, and NO OPENING thanks to idiot doctors butchering me at birth). Prior to this I had just assumed I was trans. However I still identify with trans folks being a woman with boy bits, and as autopsy research has proven that transsexuals have the physical/biolog ical brain construction of the sex opposite their body, I believe personally that even "just a" transsexual is afflictedf with a mild form of being intersexed.

A small correction though. Here in Canada there ARE legal considerations for Intersexed people, though small and few. Sadly supposedly "corrective surgery" at birth is not outlawed, although thankfully successful lawsuits have somewhat discouraged the practise here. However, by law, an adult who can offer confirmed medical documentation that they have been tested and proven to be what fits the legal definition of intersexed may legally choose whether M or F appears on their Identification and documentation, and our Universal Health Care pays for surgeries to correct infant surgeries if applicable and/or desired. I know it's not much but it IS a legal consideration of sorts, so it's something at least.
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0 #7 Tamara Jeanne 2010-06-15 04:35
Gina, Thank you for writing this article.

For non-trans trans-phobic people who are filled with hatred against trans-persons of any type, it doesn't make one bit of a difference if a person is transgender, transsexual or intersex. All these haters see is someone who they consider to be less then human and who therefore should be discriminated against, beaten, or worse, wiped from existence.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence that there are physical differences in the anatomy and function of the brains of transsexuals which closely match with the sex that they self identify with. The brain is often called the most important sex organ and Intersex is a range of conditions of having internal and/or external physical mixed sex differences that can range from very obvious to so subtle as to go undetected for a life time. It could be said that transsexuals are neurologically intersexed. As more studies are done and this body of evidence grows, it is likely that transsexuals will come to be considered as having a form of intersex condition. There are several leading experts in this field of study that already believe this to be the case.

Therefore, it is pointless for trans people to be wasting so much time and energy arguing over whether or not someone is transgender, transsexual, intersex, HBS, or whatever. Such arguments only divide us and keep us from focusing on the real issues that we all face no matter which part of the spectrum of humanity we belong to. We are all human beings who deserve to to be treated as equals. If we are to ever reach the goals of equal civil rights, access to medical treatment, housing and employment, we must find a way to end all the petty and pointless bickering about who is and who isn't one or the other. We need now more then ever to stand together to fight the oppression and discrimination that far, far to many of us face.

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0 #6 Zoe Brain 2010-06-15 02:15
Well said, Gina. +1 Insightful. Pithy and succinct.
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0 #5 Katrina Fox 2010-06-14 16:31
Angela the only thing changed is the headline, which sums up the piece. The rest is taken from the OII site (with an additional explanation in brackets as an editor's note of who Harry Benjamin was for those readers who don't know).

Katrina Fox
Editor-in-chief
The Scavenger
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0 #4 Angela 2010-06-14 16:18
There has been some debate about whether some elements of the text of this article have been altered since it was first published in the OII Australia website a year ago. Readers may wish to go to the original version at http://oiiaustralia.com/concept-of-intersex-privilege/ to compare.
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0 #3 M Italiano, MB BS AM 2010-06-14 10:51
Dear GIna, This is an excellent article. Nice going. It is an article that we need out there.

Regards,
MI
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