A recent altercation between myself and a guy on a radical feminist website recently led me into a world I have been reluctant to even look at. The intersex video blog war that has been going on on YouTube for the past couple of years, apparently. I’m not sure how I could have missed this, but I did. I guess living the other side of the world, and never having heard of two of the three protagonists, until fairly recently, and finding video blogs a bit weird. Seems taking time out from the “community” for a while had some unappreciated benefits.
A couple of entries in Encyclopedia Dramatica were drawn to my attention by a friend in Australia last week. (I have subsequently removed these links, as somebody at whom one of those pages was directed at has expressed concern about my posting a link to the page about him). Well, as a one-time-and still-occasional-Wikipedia-editor, this has to be the first time I ever saw or heard of Encyclopedia Dramatica. Apparently it was established around 2004 as a satirical site by people who were fed up of their Wikipedia entries not being allowed. While I am all for something radical, other than Conservepedia, or the clones of Wikipedia, I found ED quite disturbing. It is hard to draw a distinction between satire and downright nastiness, TBH.
Which leads me into what the point of this post is. I used to have problems with some of the satirical posts a good friend of mine used to make in OII, because I couldn’t see how they were funny, and understood why somebody on the receiving end might find them offensive. When it is somebody with power, well maybe offence is the only way – but when it is simply somebody who holds an opposite viewpoint, I’m not so sure.
In the examples above, Nicky and Graeme clearly seem to have “issues”, both with themselves and each other. Graeme also seems to have “issues” with Peaceandparty (who seemed like quite a nice peaceful – if a tad egocentric – guy, when I first became aware of him). Peaceandparty, Graeme, and Nicky, all seem to have in common something about intersex, and don’t seem to agree about it. I don’t really understand what the problem is, because I haven’t followed the spats, so correct me if I am wrong: Peaceandparty has Klinefelter’s and regards this as intersex, Graeme has Klinefelter’s and doesn’t, and Nicky has Kallman’s and regards this as intersex even though nobody else does. All three also seem to have big issues with OII, but not so much so that it helps them get along. I think I understand where Peaceandparty is coming from,
I have no idea where Graeme is coming from, I think I now understand where Graeme is coming form, and I’d rather not have had any idea where Nicky is coming from.
OII itself is not unfamiliar with this kind of on-line squabbling, although I don’t think things ever got quite as bad as this. We deal with important issues, and I understand people can take things very personally, and discussions do get heated at times. It doesn’t excuse bad behaviour, though.
There are plenty of people who think OII is wrong for being OK about trans people, but there are also people who think OII is wrong for not being OK about trans people. And of those who think OII is wrong for being OK with trans people, it is because they believe trans people can’t be intersex, while for others it will be because they are genderqueer, and being OK about trans people is taken as not being OK about people who are genderqueer – even though OII includes people who are genderqueer themselves. OII includes all sorts of people. There are also people who think OII is wrong because they think OII sees all people affected by certain medical conditions as intersex, even those who don’t and who see themselves as having a disorder (DSD).
My own view is I want to respect how people see themselves, if they see themselves as having a disorder, that is up to them – as long as they don’t expect me to see it that way for myself, and allow me to see myself the way I see myself. Ditto for people’s gender assignment – what it is, and what they do with it, that is their business, and I think they should extend me the same respect.
OII itself started out being pissed at ISNA for only accommodating English and Spanish speakers in North America, but not French speakers, and set up as an alternative intersex organisation that included French speakers. Then, when the founder of ISNA, who had always been known as Cheryl Chase (the fake internet name of somebody who was really called Bo Laurent – to everybody’s surprise) and an Academic called Alice Dreger (who had taken over as president) decided it would be a really good idea for the medical profession to recategorise all intersex people as having a “disorder”, OII objected and really started to attract people. In the process, ISNA – which had always had a strong radical feminist influence, and a reputation for not really liking trans people – decided to call it a day, and a new organisation was set up to support medical people and parents do whatever it was they wanted to do with their intersex kids, but ask nicely if they could stop doing things to them that would damage them for life. OII kind of took up the mantle of pointing out that what parents and surgeons tended to do to intersex kids was pretty barbaric really, and became subject to a disnformation campaign that they were all transsexual really.
The misrepresentation of OII happened despite OII having people who were former ISNA members involved, people from other condition-specific intersex groups, people who had no gender issues, and people who were quite clear that they had (or had had) gender well as intersex issues. But, some people seemed so stuck in dualist thinking, they persisted in the dogma that having gender issues means you can’t possibly be intersex as well – even though Zucker found that a statistically important number of intersex people had gender issues, as do gay and lesbian people. That is how trans became an issue within OII, and we had to learn to walk a fine line between pro-trans and anti-trans lobbies. It was an issue for other people, not OII, and everytime somebody tried to inject pro-trans or anti-trans arguments, our energy became dissipated by having to maintain that we were not a trans organisation, there were plenty of those around already, unlike intersex organisations of and for intersex people, and we did not want to get bogged down with trans issues, we wanted to focus on intersex issues. However much we tried not to get drawn into arguments about trans, it never went away, and it weakened us.
Reflecting on my own experience, my experience before, during and after my time with OII, and this recent video-war I used to open this piece, and generally the way many of us intersex (and trans) people seem to actually relate to one another, especially those of us who had/have gender issues, and how many of us have related to parents, siblings, friends, specialists, academics, and so on, and how we relate to those outside the “community”. I had to ask myself a simple question:
Why are so many of us so socially dysfunctional?
The answer has to be because of what happened to us, the way we were treated. We did not choose to be this way. We did not ask to be this way. We just are. And it is the very people who complain if we behave dysfunctionally who need to be made aware of this more than anybody.
It is no good to me if somebody points at me and says “but look, this is what you do, this is what you are like…” getting all high and mighty, and claiming some kind of moral high ground. People like that need to take a long hard look at how some of us have become, and ask themselves some serious questions. I try to take as much responsibility for the way I am, but at the end of the day, I am the way I am because of the way I was as an infant, the things that happened, the treatment to try and make me normal, the things that were intended to reinforce the gender that related to the sex I was born and assigned as, and all the crap I got at school because of being the way I am. It messed me up a bit. Sorry, but it did, and there’s not a lot I can do about that. I survived, and I learned submission and not to get angry, I learned to maintain self-control, in a kind of passive-aggressive way. But to try and achieve some balance has not been easy, and now and then I lose my equilibrium. I have had some pretty dark thoughts at times. I still feel pissed at the sorts of people that do some of the stuff to young kids that happened to me, and really needn’t have happened.
So, treating people the way they have been as kids, and then writing them off as adults when they are still trying to deal with the after-effects, lying to them and about them, and getting all indignant when they behave like the dysfunctional fruit-loops some specialists or their predecessors helped to create – it is just not good enough.
They need to wake up! However well intentioned they might believe themselves to be, they are messing with people’s lives, so they have no reason to act all surprised if some of them end up a bit screwed up and are pissed with certain specialists and their colleagues about it.
Same goes for those who have such huge issues about manning (yes, I do appreciate the irony) of the barricades to maintain some artificial cultural segregation between the genders that insists people cannot migrate between them. Trying to force people to conform to their separatist ideology is not helpful to those of us who fall between the genders, it is just as dehumanising as what we experienced by paternalistic health providers in our childhood.
People only have to look at what can go wrong when somebody doesn’t deal with their gender dysphoria properly, such as in one of the examples I gave at the start. It seems as if some who are hyper-critical of trans people do so because it is the only way they can manage to deal with their own gender dysphoria. Projecting their internalised transphobia outwards and onto people who do try to own and manage their own dysphoria effectively, and thereby have be less of a problem to themselves or society as a whole.
The problems that affect intersex people affect a variety of types of people, some of whom are happy about their assignment, some of whom are not, some of whom grow and develop healthy and well-adjusted, some of whom do not. Some people see the things that mark them out as intersex as being a disorder, and some do not, preferring to see the way they developed as an unusual human variation. Some people who experienced diagnosis and interventions grow up to live lives as heterosexuals, some lesbian, some gay, some transsexual, and some gender-non-conforming or “genderqueer”. What many of us agree on is the deferment of non-critical interventions until the individual is in a position to choose for themselves what interventions or assignment they want, and some of us feel that if such a child has issues about their gender assignment, they be allowed some flexibility in how they work this out for themselves.
It seems pointless for such a marginalised group of people to focus on our differences and be fragmented. There is no need for those who did not have to deal with gender dysphoria to denigrate those who did and ended up rejecting the gender they were assigned. Nor for those who regard intersex as variations to vent their anger upon those who see intersex as disorders. Given what so many people have experienced, it seems unnecessary for those who have emerged well-adjusted to deride those who didn’t.
We need to try to cherish one another, even if we don’t always agree with one another. Our lives are too short, some of us are sick, and there is so much to do. This is my olive-branch, in the hope we can all find a way of getting along and working together. My wish for Christmas. Peace.
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