Tue, 05/19/2009 - 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Intersex activists talk about sex, gender and unneccesary surgery
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
It's the first question asked after the birth of a baby. But sometimes the answer isn't obvious. In about one out of every 1,500 births a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist is called in. Out of every thousand birth one to two children have traditionally been exposed to surgery to "normalize" the appearance of their genitals. Even more people are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations some of which won't show up until later in life.
Since the 1990s intersex activists have been fighting for an end to unnecessary surgeries, especially those performed at an early age when the person can’t make their own decisions.
Tuesday, May 19th, Gender Blender host Jacob Anderson-Minshall talked with three guests about the intersex experience and what it can teach us about gender, sex and the medialization of natural diversity.
This month Rebecca sat in for the engineer while Jacob hosted the show. The evening started with in-studio guest, activist Emi Koyama, who provided an intersex 101 and talked about the national activist and advocacy organization she founded and directs, Portland’s Intersex Initiative
Then Jacob played a song, "Just a Girl" from the album Don't Tell a Soul by San Francisco's all trans woman band, Lipstick Conspiracy. The song is about being a regular girl even though one's body doesn't match social expectations for females.
Following the song, Gender Blender played an pre-taped interview with intersex activist Thea Hillman, author of the award nominated memoir, Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word. She talked about the book, the differences and similarities between trans and intersex lives, and the argument for using intersex versus Disorders of Sexual Development to describe her bodily difference.
Then Katrina Karkazis, joined the conversation by phone. She's a Senior Research Scholar in the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University; and although she's not intersex herself, Katrina is the author of Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience, an in-depth study into how intersexuality is understood, treated and experienced today. Katrina was able to expand the discussion a little more to talk about genital surgeries and the values behind them, and how surgeries themself may not cause the greatest harm to the patients long term happiness. Instead, she and Emi both argue that it is the medicalization of and shame and secrecy surrounding their bodies, that often leads intersex people to feel freakish and other.
Emi had the opportunity to add a few things about the importance of recognizing the values each birth family and doctor is operating under, and how education can make all the difference, especially in learning that the birth of an intersex child need not be a bad thing, nor a medical emergency that must be resolved immediately.
The show ended with a few notes of Lipstick Conspiracy's song "Living in America" from the album Don't Tell a Soul.