I have to own up to a certain concern about the claim to intersex by people who have fathered children – because until relatively recently I never came across any intersex person who claimed to have parented children (male or female). I do not think that intersex means people won’t have issues about gender assignment, but I am not clear that means that people who learn they were intersex will deal with that in the way that a transsexual might.
The only people I come across who have fathered children and who claim to be intersex seem to have a transsexual history; this recent phenomenon does make me wonder, and it seems to strain the definition of what is and isn’t intersex. I get concerned when, while denying the pathologisation of intersex and opposing DSD, a diagnosis of a ‘condition’ that only in certain situations results in intersex, is trotted out to establish intersex ‘credentials’ (seems odd when those doing so state opposition to intersex as a disorder). This stretches the definition of intersex to include people who were formerly fertile anatomical males with intact reproductive systems, simply on the basis of their having some unusual genetic anomaly.
CAH, AIS, XXY, 5AR, XO, etc. all feature in some disorder, syndrome, condition, whatever, that can give rise to and manifest as signs of intersex. They are not intersex in and of themselves. Intersex is having a human anatomical variation that sits somewhere between male and female, and includes sex reversal and what used to be called hermaphroditism, it is not the same as a disorder of sex development.
I find it quite ironic that those who are vocal about the resistance to pathologising intersex are often the quickest to quote some medical diagnosis that seems to confirm something for them. I say I am intersex because of my childhood history, because of how my body was/is, because of what I experienced when people tried to fix that, how people related to me when I was growing up, the scars on my body, and my inability to have children – not because some clinician has given me a clear diagnosis that I can use to establish some kind of credibility (I have been told so many contradictory and dubious things by clinicians…), nor because I am uncomfortable living as either gender.
So, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a lot of time for XY folk who had no physical indications or interventions in their medical history connected to intersex growing up, then got married, impregnanted wives, had kids, did the whole straight career and ‘normal’ family thing; then some time around 50 years old, drop a bombshell on their spouse and childrn that they are going to transition because they feel like they were really a woman all along; then announce that they were intersex all along really, and everybody should accept them on that basis. Sorry, I am sure this is wrong of me, politically, but I take it with a pinch of salt. I don’t really see how people with 5AR, modern techniques such as sperm-washing, or FtM transsexual men who retain their wombs and have babies, or even DES, has that much to do with this particular type of ex-man. And if I am going to apply that idea equally, I’d have to say I’m skeptical about a person raised female who first claims to be transgender, then goes on to say they are intersex and identifies as a male yet can still give birth.
When I was trying to figure out what had gone on earlier in my life, it was transsexual people who were the most dismissive about trying to find out more about my intersex history. While I was putting the pieces together, it was transsexual people who told me that I could not be transsexual. Most of the intersex people I met and got to know were not only accepting, they affirmed and encouraged me to find out what I could. What I also saw was certain transsexual people denigrating people who were (in their opinion) ‘transgender’. It was transsexual people who railed about associations with LGB – often at the same time as they complained when the ‘T’ was disregarded in LGBT. Now, some of us do not fit this cozy little world where there are men, women, gay, lesbian, transsexual – all neatly defined by their biology, gender identity and sexual orientation. Some of us have taken the hand we were dealt with in childhood, and try to live in a way that might be described as ‘gender variant’. Some of us have intersex histories. I have never had a woman, gay, lesbian, transgender, FtM transsexual or intersex person say to me, quite rudely “what exactly are you supposed to be?” I have only got that from two groups of people – straight men, and a certain type of Male to Female transsexual activist. Not all MtF transsexual people are like this, but I really am sick of the ones that are, because they are among the most intolerant people in the world.
I am sure that in my case sour grapes does come into all this; being childless carries its own sort of stigma, something I suspect only those who never have children really appreciate – I get the feeling that most people who have the privilege of having children don’t even see what a privilege it is, because people talk about it as if it is some sort of right, and a right that most take for granted. If I had been fully informed of my situation as an adolescent, not only would I have chosen to live my life completely differently, I would have adopted while I was young enough to. By the time it was confirmed that I was infertile, and I was in a position to be able to adopt, I considered it would be irresponsible to take on a commitment which I did not know if I would be around long enough to fulfill.
I am OK focusing on childlessness now, as it is a hugely important part of my life and my sorrow, but it is something myself and others often find it very difficult to talk about. All the intersex people I know seem to have been in the same boat, although I do know of some who adopted. It has taken me about ten years to come to terms with it, and to be able to even think about it without tears. The world is full of spaces for people with kids – you cannot avoid them; go to any shopping mall, restaurant, beach, park, etc., and it is full of them. I don’t think it is too unreasonable for people to want a space where they can quietly lick the wounds that being left out of that leaves. I have had some friendships where I have got to know people’s kids, and I enjoyed that, and now I am in a position where I am accepted as a part of an extended family, which is great. But, never having had kids myself, and having never had brothers or sisters and therefore no experience of family life that involved kids, I find it quite difficult to know how to relate to them. Once they reach an age when they can discuss Philosophy, then I begin to feel more comfortable with them. I am sure that to people who have kids, that sounds a bit messed up – but that is the way it is.
For me, intersex is about having some kind of experience involving genitalia, gonads, phenotype that are not either typically male or typically female, or sex-reversal, and either having medical interventions to correct these, and some form of gender reinforcement during childhood, or escaping these somehow. Having some medical condition may be the cause of these things, but having such a medical condition may not always cause these things, so the medical condition itself is not in and of itself intersex. Similarly, developing something later in life like LOCAH or PCOS has little to do with any history of intersex experience, as far as I can see. Just as with including transsexualism as intersex, if people who have no history of intersex are included as intersex because of some diagnosis late in life, it kind makes the whole concept of what is intersex meaningless really.
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