I Is for Intersex, Not for Invisible

I have been concerned about the oppression of people with intersex variations ever since I started trying to understand about gender (roughly 1998). Building an intersex section on the new Transfaith website in 2007 was one way that I pursued that commitment. Curtis Hinkle was kind enough to help me sort out some questions about how intersex organizing had been evolving up to that point.

Fast forward to 2020 and education about intersex variations and intersex people is a little bit more available–and still pretty hard to come by.  I see lots of well-meaning people linking to the Intersex Society of North America website (ISNA), even though it closed its doors in 2008.

The OII Intersex Network is a much more active source than ISNA, even though it is also decentralized. InterAct Advocates for Youth has been quite active in the U.S.  and maintains the ISNA website for historical perspective.

Between 2005 and 2008, the term “Disorders of Sex Development (DSD)” was introduced, adding more confusion to a community that already had many challenges. While DSD is often used in medical settings, in my experience, “intersex people” or “people with intersex variations” is the language preferred by those who are most impacted by these issues.

While I am not intersex, I believe that it is very important to cultivate solidarity between people of intersex experience and people of transgender experience. Trans folk tend to be in the cross-hairs of the culture wars, for better or worse, but that does not make our experience better or worse than folk with intersex variations. However, we face many of the same enemies who would have us conform to their expectations, one way or another. As a result, we have many similarities in our experience–and many differences as well. So, effective solidarity demands that we seek understanding of one another.

To my mind, it is a small gesture of solidarity for transgender educators to include a basic introduction to intersex experience in our presentations and discussions. I feel that this is especially important in faith communities, because faith communities are places where cishet (not transgender, not same-gender-loving) parents are often invited to explore issues of gender. Parents of intersex children are rarely prepared and often pressured by medical professionals when they discover that they have a child with intersex variations.

It is also important that trans folk not pretend that we are experts on intersex experience. Moreover, the temptation to use intersex experience as a prop in an otherwise transgender-centered presentation must be avoided. Still, a short conversation about how our experiences differ can make a difference.

In OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation (2019), I defined “OtherWise-gendered” in a way that seeks to include people with intersex variations, as well as people with gender identities that may not be based in Western binary thinking:

I will use “OtherWise-gendered” to mean “any gender identity or expression that transcends the simplistic Western settler-colonist narrative of two and only two mutually exclusive and unchangeable genders, defined strictly and easily based on biology at birth.” OtherWise-gendered people“ includes both modern “transgender” people as defined by Merriam Webster as well as some (not all!) modern intersex people. However, the definition here has to do with resisting or transcending Western settler-colonist gender ideology, rather than suggesting that transgender and intersex experience are the same.

OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation (2019), Chapter 2
By Mx Chris Paige

It is in this spirit of solidarity that OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance includes contributions from five openly intersex authors. Meanwhile, it is my hope to develop another volume in the OtherWise Christian series that will specifically explore intersex theology and experience in more depth. If you might be interested, you can explore further opportunities to contribute.

Watch for more information from intersex authors and resources on this blog in the weeks to come!

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on January 18, 2020.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have additions, corrections, or concerns.

3 thoughts on “I Is for Intersex, Not for Invisible

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