Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Exploding the Binary: Hida Viloria and Intersex Activism

The fantastic Hida Viloria, http://hidaviloria.com/
In this historical moment, our U.S. society is really into binaries. We're used to check-boxes and
opposites, and clear yes or no answers about identity. Multi-racial people, trans and genderqueer people, bi/pan/omnisexual people, and intersex people confuse our media, our schools, our government records. Folks in these communities are constantly fighting for the right to be accepted just as they are; are constantly asked to defend or justify their existence; and are constantly asked to contort themselves to fit into rigid identity categories.

For intersex people--as intersex activist Hida Viloria explained in a recent lecture, "Intersex People: Beyond the Binary"--efforts towards intersex visibility and acceptance are currently where lesbian and gay rights efforts were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is to say, intersex people are pathologized and seen by most non-intersex people as abnormal and in need of medical treatment--just as "homosexuals" (can we stop using that word now?) were seen at the beginning of the lesbian and gay rights movement. As I discussed in a previous post, part of that pathologization of intersex people is un-medically necessary surgeries on infants' genitalia at birth so that the infants can better "fit" doctors' determinations on what a "normal" size penis or clitoris is.

Hida, who is the Chairperson of Organisation Intersex International (OII) also shared that there is no evidence that "normalizing" surgeries and hormone treatments benefit intersex people, and in fact they are often irreversibly damaging to intersex people. She explained in her lecture that intersex people are medically pathologized for cultural reasons, not medical realities.

We have a lot of work to do to right those wrongs. A huge first step is working on awareness--Hida shared the helpful statistic that intersex people are just as common as people with red hair! Both constitute 1.9% of the population (according to Anne Fausto-Sterling's research in "Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality"). But because of the physical invisibility of many intersex people's intersex identity (many of the 40 intersex categories are not visible, more info here) and the discrimination intersex people face when they are out or outed, many intersex people (understandably) choose to keep their intersex identity a secret.

We need to be talking more about intersex people and their importance in LGBTQI movements in our LGBTQ Centers, our classrooms, our homes. Making those spaces safer for intersex people to come out is a crucial first step. Then together we'll get to the rest of the list: institutions and society at large!

To do more self- and community education, check out:
Hida's awesome videos
OII's Brief Guidelines for Intersex Allies
OII-USA's list of online resources

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