It’s an interesting clip, but this story by Matt Tullis – the story of the intersex Olympian – is ever better, detailing, sympathetically, some of what she and her fans experienced as a result of her autopsy and revelation.
This is a great short article on the ambiguities of sex as expressed by humans, mammals, fish and various other creatures, and covers topics like chromosomal variety, embryonic sex determination, and reproductive strategies. It’s a nice Sex 101 – and by that I don’t mean sex as in f*cking, but sex as in male/female. A lot of reasonably smart and educated people seem to think that gender is variable but sex is “natural” and binary when in fact that’s not nearly as true either.
You’ve had your turkey. Now get your learning back on.
A few years ago it looked likely that we’d discover a drug that might be taken prenatally by mothers whose children might have a high risk of CAH – in order to prevent it.
Since CAH is the only intersex condition that can necessitate medical treatment, and specifically might prevent an “adrenal crisis” that can be life threatening to a newborn with CAH – this development could have been a good thing.
Except that it’s off-label use it intended to prevent lesbians and tomboys. And career women. Depending on how exactly you’re going to define female masculinity.
It’s nice to see Slate finally reporting on it, despite the dumb-ass & sensationalist title of the article, & I’m hoping that means this question gets put to a much wider range of parents and potential parents.
Wow, this is huge news. Since Caster Semenya’s case first hit the headlines – which it never should have done for the sake of her privacy – there’s been a lot of speculation about women and competition.
That is, there wasn’t just a desire to define “woman” – since most experts know that’s impossible. (Trust me.) But the Olympics Committee instead are trying to define “woman athlete” or what might give a woman an “unfair” competitive edge against other women, and they’ve just decided how it’s going to be.
First, here’s what they came up with:
- Under the new policy, an investigation into the possibility that an athlete has hyperandrogenism can be requested by an athlete concerned about her own condition; a medical official for a country’s Olympic committee; a member of the I.O.C. Medical Commission or a member of the Olympic organizing committee’s medical commission; or the chairman of the I.O.C. Medical Commission.
- If the chairman decides to conduct an investigation, relevant documents like medical records will be gathered. If further investigation is needed, a panel of one gynecologist, one genetic expert and one endocrinologist will try to determine whether hyperandrogenism is present and if it offers a competitive advantage.
- If need be, the athlete and her international federation can appeal the decision within 21 days to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. She can also compete in men’s events if she qualifies.
- The guidelines do not address whether a woman found to have hyperandrogenism could undergo a treatment to make her eligible to compete as a woman.
So, point by point:
- Any female athlete can request another athlete’s sex and gender tests. No potential for bullying or gender baiting or witch hunting or policing of gender there. *sigh* What a nightmare: women judging other women’s “acceptable” level of womanness.
- There’s no distinction being made between people who take androgens and people whose bodies produce them.
- I have to say, I love the idea of women being able to compete in men’s events if they want to. That fucking rocks. & Just lit a nice green light for trans guys, too.
- Could undergo could mean: be encouraged to, be bullied into, willingly choose, feel required to. Problematic, but when it comes to many other decisions about gender, it can be hard to judge whether a person is choosing freely or making a coerced decision. This one will be no different.
I first thought that their decision to use T levels at the determining factor was a good idea. I still think it is. BUT:
And another via my friend Matty, with whom I will be team teaching Gender Studies 100 this fall, about Caster Semenya’s return.
She added: “Even if she is a female, she’s on the very fringe of the normal athlete female biological composition from what I understand of hormone testing. So, from that perspective, most of us just feel that we are literally running against a man.”
To which I might say: isn’t the whole point of athletic competition pushing the envleope / finding the fringe of “normal”?
So what do you call it when a female doctor walks into a gene lab & doses all the pregnant mothers with a drug to prevent their daughters from wanting to work in “masculine” careers? Hypocrisy? Insanity? Female chauvinism? Pulling up the ladder under you?
I call it bullshit, but it’s happening. Dr. Maria New, an endocrinologist, is trying to prevent CAH in female infants, but as it turns out, the drug that prevents this masculinizing intersex condition in XX infants seems also seems to decrease incidents of lesbianism and bisexuality while simultaneously decreasing girls’ other “natural” impulses like playing with dolls and fantasizing about pregnancy and childbirth.
(Do little girls fantasize about pregnancy & childbirth? I had no idea. I never did, and I did play with dolls.)
And it isn’t just that many women with CAH have a lower interest, compared to other women, in having sex with men. In another paper entitled “What Causes Low Rates of Child-Bearing in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia?” Meyer-Bahlburg writes that “CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”
In the same article, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms: “Long term follow-up studies of the behavioral outcome will show whether dexamethasone treatment also prevents the effects of prenatal androgens on brain and behavior.”
In a paper published just this year in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, New and her colleague, pediatric endocrinologist Saroj Nimkarn of Weill Cornell Medical College, go further, constructing low interest in babies and men – and even interest in what they consider to be men’s occupations and games – as “abnormal,” and potentially preventable with prenatal dex:
So dex might have prevented Dr. Maria New, which right about now looks like it would have been a good idea.
I’d also like to point out right about here that, for the record, for all the people who pooh-pooh non-trans, gender variant women when we talk about being “third sexed” along with trans women, that it looks like us dykey, tomboy, uppity types are the first on the chopping block.
Still & all, Dan Savage asks an important question:
Gay people have been stressing out about the day arriving when scientists developed treatments to prevent homosexuality . . . Well, here we are—the day appears to have arrived. Now what are we going to do about it?
So what are we going to do about it?
Congrats to all the winners!
21st LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNERS for BOOKS PUBLISHED IN 2008
Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
This year’s Lambda Literary Awards Finalists have been posted. In the Transgender category:
- 10,000 Dresses, Marcus Ewert & Rex Ray, Seven Stories Press
- Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
- Two Truths and a Lie, Scott Schofield, Homofactus Press
- Boy with Flowers, Ely Shipley, Barrow Street Press
- Transgender History, Susan Stryker, Seal Press
I highly recommend the last of these, which I’ll admit is the only one I’ve read this year, but I’m hoping to read Scott Schofield’s soonly.
In LGBT Studies, that Tomboys book is up for an award, & I hope it wins. It is the book I am most looking forward to reading now that I’m not teaching an excessive amount.
Even cooler is to see Diane and Jake Anderson-Minshall’s joint effort Blind Curves in the Lesbian Mystery category, and good luck to them!
(But I still think they need way more categories for transgender – maybe trans studies & trans memoir/other non-fiction to start, for instance. Surely there’s enough out there these days, & for years when there isn’t, they can just ignore the category.)
The “John Money” episode of Law & Order: SVU is was on USA right now at 9PM EST tonight.
For your amusement, or edification, I’ve been putting together a list of terms & concepts students of my Intro to Gender Studies class are required to know – for exams & that sort of thing. I thought some of you might want to ‘check in’ to see how many you could define or explain (extra points if you can name the author/article we were teaching the concepts with!): More
Betty’s always joking about wanting a magical pony, but I don’t think she had this one in mind.
(thanks to Xtine).
A new survey has been created to achieve a more accurate picture of the state of the transgender American veteran population. Many of the issues facing transgender veterans are no different than those facing the rest of the transgender community. However negotiating healthcare thru the Veterans Administration and dealing with the Department of Defense poses its own unique set of challenges. This survey is also for those transgender people who are still serving in the military and those veterans who identify and are diagnosed as intersex.
* quote by Mara Keisling, when providing an alternative description of what Bailey’s book could be described as instead of as “science.”
This NPR show out of the Bay Area about the whole Bailey controversy is good listening. Joan Roughgarden (author of Evolution’s Rainbow), Mara Keisling (executive director of NCTE), Alice Dreger (author of Hermaphrodites & The Medical Invention of Sex) & Bailey himself.
& A challenging phone call from Ben Barres, who I love & who does not let Bailey not answer a direct question (with textual backup from Roughgarden), specifically, whether or not Bailey feels trans people are suited to prostitution.
The only thing that no-one said that someone should have said is that Bailey now has a history & a record of turning (at best) weak science into “controversy,” such as with the bisexuality studies that came out a couple of years ago.
I’m upset by the idea of how or if Dreger’s status as a woman – not just as an academic or intersex educator – is coming into play here. That is, is a man not sexist because a woman says he isn’t? (I don’t think so, but I think that’s coloring her defense of Bailey.)
Although Richard M. Juang is an otherwise studious English professor, I came to know him through my participation with the NCTE Board of Advisors, and increasingly found him to be gentle and smart as a whip. We got to sit down and talk recently at First Event, where he agreed to answer my Five Questions.
(1) Tell me about the impetus that lead to writing Transgender Rights. Why now? Why you, Paisley Currah, and Shannon Price Minter?
Transgender Rights helps create a discussion of the concrete issues faced by transgender people and communities. Our contributors have all written in an accessible way, while also respecting the need for complex in-depth thought, whether the topic is employment, family law, health care, poverty, or hate crimes. We also provide two important primary documents and commentaries on them: the International Bill of Gender Rights and an important decision from the Colombian Constitutional Court concerning an intersex child. Both have important implications for thinking about how one articulates the right of gender self-determination in law. We wanted to create a single volume that would let students, activists, attorneys, and policy-makers think about transgender civil rights issues, history, and political activism well beyond Transgender 101.
One of the things the book doesn’t do is get bogged down in a lot of debate about how to define “transgender” or about what transgender identity “means”; we wanted to break sharply away from that tendency in scholarly writing. Instead, we wanted to make available a well-informed overview about the legal and political reality that transgender people live in.
Oddly enough, Shannon, Paisley and I each did graduate work in a different field at Cornell University in Ithaca NY. (Apparently, a small town in upstate New York is a good place to create transgender activists!) The book represents a cross-disciplinary collaboration where, although we had common goals for the book, we also had different perspectives. The result was that, as editors, we were able to stay alert to the fact that the transgender movement is diverse and has many different priorities and types of activism.
We taped an episode of the Dr. Keith show last week, and I’ve been sorting out my thoughts since then. I found the experience exhausting. From all reports (Donna, my sister, another friend) we were good. But some days it’s hard to consider the toll that’s paid.
I’m not sure yet what that toll is exactly, but it feels something like a distilled version of all the other work we do for college audiences & at trans conferences except the audience is so different: at one point during the taping I looked at a woman in the audience whose jaw was literally hanging agape.
It doesn’t help that I’ve replayed it all a million times in my head, hoping I said things that make sense. Before that I worried for days beforehand about whether I could really get something across of what this life is like for both the partner and the trans person. It’d be nice to be able to shut off my brain, to stop wondering what the whole show will be like, since we weren’t on alone: we had the company of a trans man & his ex as well as an intersex person.
Overall, I liked Dr. Keith’s take: his general tone was one of “Wow, that’s one hell of a hand you’ve been dealt,” and although the show was a little too anatomically-focused for me, people DO want to know about body mods and I think it was handled about as well as it could have been. It couldn’t have been thorough – transition, transgender, and intersex are a lot to cover in an hour – but it wasn’t sensational.
So I can only wait to see what the rest of you think. It should air before mid-March, and of course I’ll post info about the airdate as soon as I get it.
Well, the news is out: I’m going to be the keynote speaker for TCNE’s First Event next year. The event will be from January 17th – 21st, and in addition to the keynote I will be doing a reading from the new book and (I think) doing a workshop for partners.
We have never otherwise been to First Event and are very much looking forward to it.
There’s a thread about this on our boards where you can check in with others who might be going, too – so do come!
Read the press release below the break.
Natalie posted a “quit bickering” type post in a recent thread full of hot debate, misreadings & misunderstandings (since closed) about mosaic intersexed conditions, and her list, although well-intentioned, immediately garnered objection from Andrea – and from us.
Betty and I have both long hated the phrase “gender gifted” to describe this insane state of affairs.
The first time I attended the Eureka En Femme Getaway, I conducted a Saturday afternoon workshop with Gina Lance where I said something along the lines of wanting a receipt for this fabulous “gender gift.” I think at the time I compared it to the pink slip Betty got two weeks before our wedding – which to this day takes all awards for worst gift ever. (Later, when Peggy Rudd gave the banquet speech, she used the term “gender gifted” positively, and two partners next to me elbowed each other and then me, trying not to laugh too hard outloud. It really was, in some ways, the summation of the difference between Peggy’s and my styles, notwithstanding our respect for each other.)
And while I understand the way people come to understand transness as a gift, I really can’t think of it that way myself. I also understand why people need to think of it as a gift, but I can’t go to the mat asking partners to accept it that way – I just can’t. I can barely get partners to accept it as the worst freaking thing that’s ever happened to them, so asking them to consider it a gift would more likely end up perverting the meaning of the word ‘gift’ than making them positive, forward-thinking, supportive types. (Most likely result would be that they’d tell me to go to hell.)
So, the gender gift: being misunderstood by friend, peers, and larger society. With transition this gender gift implies extraordinary expense, job loss, and often divorce; without it, a sense of uncertainty at the very least.
That’s not to say there aren’t positive things that can come out of transness for the transperson and the partner – of course there are. But positive things come out of negative things all the time, depending on the outlook of the people making their way through the adversity. It can make you a more thoughtful person, deeper, more accepting of diversity, maybe even downright philosophical – but that doesn’t mean it will. People learn tremendous, important things about themselves and the universe when they get cancer, too, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants it.
To me, a gift is something unequivocally good, something you wanted when you didn’t have it, or something someone gave you that makes you happier. In the second sense of the word, transness could be a gift the way a high IQ or good vision is a gift, and I suppose that’s the way people mean it. But even in that case, it’s a lot harder to have any benefit come of transness the way good vision or a high IQ might; you might not use the latter, but it doesn’t harm you to not use it, either – where transness, more often than not, is a kind of niggling annoyance (at least) when it’s ignored, or a major disruption, or, at worst, leads to straight-up tragedy.
When people tell me they would choose being trans, I think they mean they would choose the things they learned as a result of being trans, and that they appreciate the journey of self-discovery they had to go on because of transness. But mostly I think if people could gain those things without the frustration, ostracism, self-isolation, shame, and cost – they would.
I know: I’m just a regular bucket of cheer, but I talk to partners a lot.
In my own experience, transness is more like fire: naturally destructive, but powerful when it can be harnessed; it’s difficult to harness in the first place, and still, ultimately, always a little dangerous. But you know I used to take the A train at 2am, too.