Tag Archives: intersex

AnnaMagdalena 4Christ, on “WHAT IS GENDER? PART 2” (Reblog)

GENDER AS DETERMINED SEX

This post is the second in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post.

EDIT: I added two paragraphs on the politics of sex determination that I meant to discuss in the original post. 


THE CONVERSATION ON “GENDER AS DETERMINED SEX.”


Our experience of gender begins, whether we’re conscious of it or not, at birth. When the doctor pulls us from the womb, she looks at our genitals and makes an evaluation – does the child look male or female? This evaluation isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. When the doctor looks between the child’s legs, the only thing she sees is the apparent genital morphology. She can’t see the child’s chromosomes, test the child’s gonadal tissue, or perfectly predict the child’s hormonal trajectory. All she sees is whether the child’s genitals look phallic or yonic, and from that she makes a broad biological assumption. This assumption is the child’s assigned sex.

For intersex persons with ambiguous genitalia, this process of assigning a sex is thwarted because their genitals don’t read one way or the other. In a more rigorous medical atmosphere, the doctors will then do hormonal and genetic tests to check on the person’s other sexed characteristics. If they find, for example, that the person has xy chromosomes, they may assign that person a male sex even though their genitals are undetermined. This is what I calldetermined sex, the biological pronouncement made once doctors do a thorough evaluation of chromosomes and hormones as well as genitals.

Problems arise when the doctors can’t determine one single dominant sex. What if the chromosomes are mixed as well? Often times, in this situation doctors will surgically assign a sex (what we might call constructed sex), and then assign a gender.

Assigned gender is the verbal pronouncement the doctor makes after she reads the child as male or female. She pronounces it “a boy” or “a girl.” From assuming the child’s sex, she then foretells – usually correctly, but sometimes incorrectly – that child’s entire gender destiny. This pronouncement most immediately determines the child’s legal sex, the little M or F that appears on their birth certificate, which will determine their legal status in all walks of life.

For intersex people, their site of embattlement includes all the above. The doctors aren’t certain about how their sex characteristics add up, so they not only guess at the person’s sex, but also guess at the person’s gender. If a person has both xy chromosomes and a vagina, the doctors are assuming what this mix means. Is the person a single sexed thing – male or female? And can we know from their biology how they will embody those sexed characteristics – as a boy or a girl? In this case, the facts of sex are clearly in question, which throws the world of gender into question as well.

Gender breakdown intersex

[EDIT] Determined sex is largely a medical issue, although brushing it under the rug as “something for the doctors to figure out” overlooks the gender politics that overshadow intersex issues. When a doctor decides the sex of a physiologically “ambiguous” child, he never achieves complete objectivity on the issue. To choose the child’s sex, he first has to choose a theory of gender: often either based on genetics (the person is male because they have xy chromosomes), predominance (the person is female because most of their sex characteristics appear female), or convenience (the person will be made female because it’s easier to surgically create a vagina).

The underlying problem is the social pressure to immediately determine the child’s sex and “normalize” it. When a child is born sexually ambiguous, doctors, parents, and clergy often freak out and treat it as a medical emergency. This forces the medical team to make brazen decisions which often leave the child scarred from haphazard invasive surgery. When the child’s sex is undetermined, in many cases the doctors’ guess is as good as anyone’s as to whether they will grow up to be a boy or girl, and so any choice that’s made on behalf of the child is essentially Russian roulette (see the discussion in Part 3 on David Reimer). This is why many intersex activistsadvocate forgoing surgical interventions until the child is old enough to both know their gender identity and make an informed decision.

To a limited degree these problems also apply to transsexuals. There is thebiological possibility that transsexuals have a brain that is physiologically sexed as the gender they identify as. This is what I call brain sex. So we can talk tentatively about transsexuality as an intersex condition (what I call being transsexed), in which case assigned and determined sex are thrown into question. If I have a “female” brain and male genitals, why should the doctors assume that my genital sex trumps my brain sex? I think these are valid questions, although I don’t think they’re the primary site of embattlement for transsexuals. I talk about this more in the next section.


Click here to proceed to Part 3, the conversation on “gender as subconscious sex.” 

 

Senate committee recommends new anti-discrimination law be passed listing ‘intersex’ separately as a protected identity 

Gina Wilson, President of Organisation Intersex  International (OII)Australia

21 FEBRUARY 2013 | BY ANNA LEACH

Following calls from LGBTI rights groups and legal experts, the Australian Senate committee drafting the new Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill has recommended that ‘intersex’ be included as a category in its own right in the proposed law.
‘The committee recognizes that intersex individuals are often the subject of discrimination in public life, and that as such there is a need for protection on the basis of intersex status in Commonwealth anti-discrimination law,’ said the report published today.
The report said the committee agreed with campaigners that ‘intersex is a matter of biology rather than gender identity,’ so protection from discrimination was not covered by the definition of gender identity in the draft bill.
‘This is a profoundly important report in that it recognizes that intersex is a “matter of biology rather than gender identity”, and reflects “innate biological characteristics”,’ said Gina Wilson, president of Organization Intersex International Australia (OII Australia).
‘Internationally it represents best practice, proposing the explicit inclusion of intersex people in anti-discrimination legislation for only the second time anywhere [after Tasmania].’
The Senate committee’s report added that ‘since intersex status is a condition related to the innate biological characteristics of an individual, it should not be an attribute to which any religious exceptions apply’.
Regarding religious exceptions, the committee recommended that they be removed from religious groups who provide services, but remain for employment.
Wilson thanked the many LGBTI rights groups and legal experts, including New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, the National Association of Community Legal Centres and Australian Human Rights Commission, who added their voices to the call for ‘intersex’ to be listed separately on the Bill.
If passed, the new law would protect the rights of sexual orientation and gender identity minorities from discrimination in Australia for the first time.
‘This is an historic reform that is long overdue, and will provide significant benefits to sex and gender diverse Australians,’ said the Senate committee’s report.
Victoria Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL), OII Australia and TransGender Victoria released a joint statement today calling for the government to pass the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill into law before the next election.
‘We urge the government to adopt the recommendations of the committee and pass the legislation as soon as possible, to deliver on its commitment to introduction discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said VGLRL convener Anna Brown.
Intersexion, a documentary about the difficulties that intersex people face in society, is showing at Sydney Mardi Gras film festival this month and Melboure Queer Film Festival next month.
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Australian Passport Regulations to Reflect Gender Complexities

Gender and biological sex are not simple matters of binary opposites. It is simply not true that we are all either male or female. A small but significant proportion of people are born with one or other intersex condition (although the deviance from male or female norms may be so small, they may not even be aware of it). Others   may experience a disconnect between their biological sex and their experienced gender identity, leading them to a journey of gender transitioning. For all these, myopic bureaucracies that attempt to force everybody into simple “male” or “female” categories consistent with birth certificates create real problems. 
Now, in a welcome move, Australia is introducing changes to its passport procedures that move towards greater recognition and accommodation for the complexities of gender in the real world. For intersexed people, there will in future be a provision for a “neither” category, in addition to the usual “male” and “female”. For those who are undergoing gender transition, regulations permit applicants to identify themselves either by birth sex, or by the new gender identity – according to choice.
“In an effort to boost sexual and gender equality, Australia will make it easier for its citizens to apply for passports that reflect a third gender that is neither male nor female, or a gender different from the one on their birth certificate.
Transgender people who haven’t had sex-reassignment surgery will now be able to select their new gender on the passport application, and the process of applying for a passport designating the holder as intersex—neither male or female—will be simpler, the government said.” 
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