Gender and Culture Studies Essay Example

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Introduction

Intersex activists have continuously engaged in wide-ranging efforts to change medical and professional approaches towards infants born with the intersex condition. Babies born with ambiguous genitalia have long been subject to medical procedures that attempt to address the ‘problems’ attributed to their bodies (Chase, 1998, pg. 189). Cheryl Chase actively advanced intersex issues in the early 1990s and also helped form the Intersex Society of North America to fight genital mutilation targeting individuals born with the intersex condition. Medical approaches to the intersex condition mainly meant an individual who possessed congenital ambiguous genitalia would undergo non-consensual genital surgeries as a baby at a point in life when the baby is not in a position to make a personal choice. According to Chase (1998, pg. 189), almost all cities in the United States had hospitals with medical experts who would perform drastic surgical measures to ensure that intersex infants assigned to either female or male categories. According to Davis (2015, pg. 31), intersex activists who consider sex and gender as binaries developed by society have over time criticized the therapeutic approach on intersexuality and particularly the irreversible surgical measures doctors perform on infant and children. —

The intersex movement and activism have significantly contributed to the intersex community. Organisations within this movement have over time brought together individuals who share similar experiences such that they can bring about change at different levels of the gender nomenclature such as individual, interactional, and institutional levels. According to Greenberg (2012, pg. 85), Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) was mainly seeking to challenge the long standing medical practices directed towards infants who had the intersex condition at birth and also provide a support network for individuals living with the intersex condition. ISNA sought to convert the shame and secrecy undergone by persons living with the intersex condition to a tool of empowerment.

Intersex advocates have also put in considerable efforts to change the way society views and treats the intersex condition. There is significant progress achieved regarding changing the way society perceives and treats genderqueer individuals. This progress made through the provision of gender neutral title such as “Mx” in addition to the traditional Mr. and Ms and “other” gender option in official documents as well as the move by workplaces, schools, and other organisations to provide gender-neutral bathrooms (Kean and Bolton, 2015). Those who oppose the drive for the rights of persons born with the intersex condition to advance their gender identity risk instigating prejudice, insecurity, and marginalisation of individuals who do not fall on either side of the gender binary.

Issues and Practices Intersex Advocates are Confronting Today

Intersex advocates are always confronting problems that persons born with intersex conditions are facing in their daily life. According to Chase (1998, pg. 191), the majority of the genital surgeries involving babies born with the intersex condition involving congenital ambiguous genitalia were not consensual on the part of the infant. According to Greenberg (2012, pg. 86), surgeries are not necessary; they interfere with sexual functioning because they are meant to satisfy parents and doctors who are not ready to cope with the intersexual condition of a baby that is neither a «girl» or «boy.” Additionally, these genital procedures on intersex infants resulted in shame, physical injuries, and physical issues as opposed to the idea that they saved the children from physical trauma.

The legislation also poses fundamental challenges to the efforts by intersex organisations to advance their cause. According to Greenberg (2012, pg. 87), the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995 did not include a ban on genital surgeries on infants born with the intersex condition despite ISNA’s efforts to fight for the legislation together with the feminists in the United States. This Act specifically excluded the ban on genital procedures carried out by licensed medical practitioners as long as its necessary for the individual’s health. This law gives doctors authority to perform genital surgeries on infants when they perceive it necessary for the psychological health of the child.

There is widespread transphobia directed towards post-operative transgender individuals (Kean and Bolton, 2015). The intersex condition often than not translates to individual facing challenges in the process of making their gender identity legitimated. These persons born with the intersex condition face marginalisation because they do not fall on either side of what the society considers to be the borders of gender classification (Kean and Bolton, 2015). Intersex activists are therefore always challenging the societal stand on the biological binary of sex and driving the fact that not all babies are male or female at birth. According to Davis (2015, pg. 31), intersex scholars such as Fausto-Sterling (1993) and Suzanne Kessler (1998) disputed on the binary sex system. Fausto-Sterling proposed the adoption of five sexes namely males, females, “herms”, “merms”, and “ferms” but Kessler critiqued this proposition arguing that once a multi-dimensional sex variability was adopted, it would no longer be viable to retain the sex system.

The adoption of the DSD terminology has seemingly been detrimental to the efforts of intersex activism. The DSD terminology resulted in a profound impact on the intersex community since medical practitioners cleverly appropriated this language as a tool for legitimizing and reclaiming their control over intersex at a point in time when intersex activism was gaining tremendously in the fight against that control (Davis, 2015, pg. 54).

What Disputes or Controversies Exist Among Intersex and Other Gender Critics/Activists/Scholars

The distinction between sex and gender has been an area of contention among intersex and other gender activists and critics. According to Kean and Bolton (2015), some feminists argue that sex is the biological setup of female or male; on the other hand, they claim that gender is the social creation and experience of femininity and masculinity. The «natural» assigning of individuals to either male or female based on the biological binary of sex is also an area of contention since not all babies fall entirely on either male or female categories at the time of birth (Kean and Bolton, 2015). The controversial Germaine Greer profoundly opposes this stand through strong views against individuals who do not fall within the gender binary prescribed by the society (Kean and Bolton, 2015). There is need to allow people to freely explore their genders and articulate their gender identity as opposed to instantly assigning them to either gender. Since in a society individuals are bound to be different in one way or another, people should strive to respect and appreciate the complexity of individuals’ gender experiences.

Different intersex organisations have varied views on ways and methods to achieve their desired change. OII uses public confrontation of the medical authorities in their efforts to bring about change similarly as ISNA which employed confrontational mobilization strategies against gender marginalization before it changed to Accord Alliance (Greenberg, 2012, pg. 90). On the other hand, Accord Alliance and AIS-DSS Support Group do not view the public confrontation of the medical fraternity on the issue of gender to bring about change (Davis, 2015, pg. 51). These two organisations have engaged in a constructive and collaborative approach through which they can work with medical practitioners to facilitate change within intersex medical care. Accord Alliance mainly seeks to inform and educate the medical fraternity by sharing personal stories, and traumatic experiences whereas the AIS-DSD Support Group primarily provides support to intersex individuals and their families as well as availing resources.

Over time, intersex activism and rights movement has undergone tremendous changes and are now diverse. All intersex organizations primarily endeavor to improve the livelihoods of individuals born with the intersex condition but the strategies they apply in their efforts to achieve this common goal very based on how they interpret the gender structure and their views on how it is related to the issues facing intersex condition. This diversity has contributed to the emergence of smaller groups within the intersex movement with diverging goals and views on how to bring about change. According to Davis (2015, pg. 27), the diversity of groups resulted in conflict with the objectives of the movement and the meaning of intersex became politicized and an area of contention. According to Greenberg (2012, pg. 94), the intersex movement started as an identity movement and currently it is experiencing disagreements about if it should remain within this path and whether to join efforts with other identity movements. Some members who identify themselves as intersex seek the third sex whereas others argue for intersexuality, others argue that intersexuality is a disorder or condition that should not reflect an individual’s “identity” and some oppose the use of identity politics to fight for the goals of the movement.

Intersex organisations and activists also differ regarding adoption and the use of certain terminologies in diagnostic language. Chase and other international experts on intersex came up with the “Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders” in 2005 during the Chicago conference that adopted the disorder of sex development (DSD-terminology) (Davis, 2015, pg. 44). This new terminology received mixed reactions from activists, members of ISNA and other intersex organisations. This new diagnostic language marked a significant change in the intersex community since it represented a shift from the confrontation with the medical fraternity to focused cooperation with the medical fraternity. According to Davis (2015, pg. 38) intersex activists and organisations such as Organisation Intersex International (OII) are strongly opposed to the labeling of individuals with the intersex condition by medical authorities as Disorders of Sex Development (DSD). The members of the organization argue that this terminology seeks to pathologize them since intersexuality is not a disorder for them but an indication that they are different and could increase the need to correct this disorder (Greenberg, pg. 93).

Some measures taken by some intersex organisations in their efforts to improve the livelihoods of intersex people have attracted controversies. According to Davis (2015, pg. 50), the move by AIS-DSD Support Group to collaborate with doctors through continuing medical education (CME) conference alongside the organisation’s annual meeting and giving medical practitioners an opportunity to address the members on medical issues about intersex condition has elicited a lot of controversies. Some members of the intersex community feel that collaborative efforts with the medical fraternity do not present any particular gains since the organizations are seemingly working with the medical fraternity which is the perpetrator (Greenberg, 2012, pg. 91). Through these collaborative measures, doctors have found their way into the boards of these intersex organisations, and some intersex members feel that the DSD terminology originated from medical practitioners, and they have forced it on them (Davis, 2015, pg. 50).

The fact that intersex organisations are at times recipients to financial donations made by members of the medical fraternity has also brought about a lot of controversies. According to Davis (2015, pg. 51), intersex individuals feel that once these intersex organisations start collaborating with the medical fraternity, they get too engaged in holding discussions with the doctors that they lose the close links with the intersex people for whom they are supposed to be advocating. Additionally, this collaboration attracts financial donations from medical practitioners which result in a real conflict of interest (Davis, pg. 51).

According to Davis (2015, pg. 52) OII strongly disagrees with the collaborative approach employed by AIS-DSD Support Group and Accord Alliance and it still publicly criticizes medical practitioners. OII strongly campaigns against surgical normalization of intersex condition purely based on opinions of other people that these differences are undesirable hence creating new problems. According to Bettcher (2015, pg. 2), the perception that intersex condition is a treatable medical condition has contributed to genital surgical measures or hormones. The medical fraternity has gender ideologies which it imposes. These ideas on bodies and identities contribute to the misinterpretation that intersex is a gender problem requiring surgical intervention. The majority of medical practitioners are still clinging onto binary ideologies of gender and sex which contribute in forming recommendations as well as carrying out procedures on intersex individuals.

Which of The More Contests Positions or Proposals Do You Agree With?

I strongly feel that the use of public confrontation towards medical authorities in the efforts to bring about change in how they deal with the intersex condition is the best option for intersex organisations to adopt as opposed to collaboration. The use of confrontational approach contributed to the remarkable achievements made by the intersex community. ISNA before its closure only used confrontational mobilization strategies against gender marginalization and by this means it achieved considerable gains in the fight against genital surgeries on intersex infants. ISNA changed to Accord Alliance and adopted a collaborative approach with the medical fraternity. Accord Alliance and AIS-DSD Support Group seek to engage in constructive and collaborative approach in which they work with physicians to facilitate change in the scope of intersex medical care without confrontation.

Based on above research, the efforts by Accord Alliance to inform and educate the medical fraternity by sharing personal stories and traumatic experiences have not been productive on the side of the intersex community. This failure is evident through the use of the DSD terminology by medical practitioners to legitimize and uphold their previous stand and approach towards intersex condition despite being in collaboration with Accord Alliance and AIS-DSD. The doctors have been the cause and remain the perpetrators of these current practices and given that they still uphold their ideologies on gender and sex, they are not ready to drop their use of surgical normalization on intersex condition. Since collaborative efforts used by intersex organisations are no longer successful in advancing the needs and goals they seek to achieve, public confrontation is the most viable option since it has been proven to work before.

Conclusion

The Intersex community remains marginalized by the medical fraternity despite years of activism. The continued practice of non-consensual genital surgeries is a violation of human rights since a baby or infant does not get an opportunity to make a personal decision on the procedure. The intersex condition is a complex issue given that different individuals born with the condition perceive and regard it in a variety of ways. The surgeries performed on infants can cause physical injuries and emotional or psychological issues in later years. As such, non-consensual genital surgeries should be discouraged to allow the child born with the condition to make a personal decision on how to deal with the condition based on personal preferences.

References

Bettcher, T. (2015). Intersexuality, Transgender, and Transsexuality. Oxford Handbooks Online.

Chase, C. (1998). Hermaphrodites with Attitude: Mapping the Emergence of Intersex Political Activism. [online] Glq.dukejournals.org. Available at: http://glq.dukejournals.org/content/4/2/189.full.pdf+html?ijkey=997cd2ffdf8c7b1f69fb3b f757d23328c1879283&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
[Accessed 11 Jul. 2017].

Davis, G. (2015). Contesting Intersex. NYU Press, pp.26-54.

Greenberg, J. (2012). Intersexuality and the Law. NYU Press, pp.85-95.

Kean, J. and Bolton, R. (2015). Explainer: what is genderqueer?. [online] The Conversation. Available at:http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-genderqueer-48596 [Accessed 11 Jul. 2017].