I feel a particular tension on this day. It was actually on NCOD two years ago that I started telling people that I was gay. The only people who had known previously were those who knew about my entire situation, with liking girls as kind of an afterthought to everything else. As my facebook feed fills with various posts from my queer friends about the day - I am both tempted to post something of my own, and paralyzed with anxiety.
I honestly don’t care who knows that I date women, I actually wish everyone did (well perhaps everyone besides my Russian grandparents and the like). But the act of using a platform such as facebook to clarify that fact to the hundreds of people I’m ‘friends’ with who may not, is just a tad annoying.
And then, when it comes to Everything Else…well that’s where things get complicated. Because my identity is fucking complicated. Trying to explain that in a facebook post is not really something I wish to do.
I understand the value of coming out. It’s something that increases understanding and makes it okay for others to do the same. But at the same time, my identity is my own. The fact that straight/non-intersex people don’t have to come out is a privilege.
My life is my own, and I think keeping a part of that to myself is just fine.
Oh hayyy, that’s me :)
In November 2010, a friend of mine asked if I might be interested in getting involved with the development of a new project. It would be an online space designed specifically for young people with intersex conditions (DSD’s) to express themselves and…
I was born with what’s now called Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS). That means that I, like women with CAIS (Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), have XY chromosomes and was born with internal testes.
Unlike women with CAIS, however, people with PAIS are not generally born with genitals that look completely “female.” This is because the androgens (testosterone) that are produced in fetuses’ bodies, which do nothing in those with CAIS, do cause PAIS kids to virilize resulting in so-called “ambiguous” genitalia at birth.
When I was born, as it had been for several decades prior, the standard “treatment” for such cases was to operate, and “normalize” the genitalia’s appearance. Surgical techniques had certainly become more sophisticated as technologies improved, but the general idea was the same: This child’s body does not fit into the narrow classification boxes, this inescapable categorization that defines virtually everything about someone in our society. We must fix it …
So this is me (now you guys know my first name). Hope this isn’t too much of a downer…
Soooo, every one of these except one includes Intersex as an identity which fits under the Trans* umbrella.
This notion is problematic for a number of reasons, most notably because the majority of people born with intersex conditions do not identify as trans*, and are in fact perfectly content with the gender assigned to them at birth. A large proportion of these people actually identify as heterosexual, and may not necessarily identify with the Queer community or movement at all.
For a while, I wanted very much to be one of those people. I wanted to embody the heteronormative ideal of an AIS woman that I saw when I first attended an AIS conference, and that was ascribed to me when my parents first half-explained what was “wrong” with me (how I would be able to get married and adopt children with my husband and have a “normal” sex life - despite this unnamed problem that was just dropped on me like a bomb).
Of course, many Intersex folks do not fit this mold, in any number of ways. This includes those who are not satisfied with the gender to which they were assigned - either wholly or partially. However, the issues faced by such individuals are very different from those faced by your average trans man or woman. It also includes people like me, who don’t have an inherent problem with the gender to which they were assigned, but who identify as queer in some way.
Certainly, I think the heteronormative framework employed by some sects of the intersex movement, including the singular reliance on a medical model, has more than a tinge of transphobia to it. The transphobic panic I felt when I first found out the entire reality of what my condition actually was is something I cannot fully describe. However, thanks to the continued work of activists and a continuing conversation among people with intersex conditions, I believe that framework is beginning to change.
In terms of my own progression, I am no longer afraid or insulted at being included in such an umbrella. However, I know my lived experience is very different than that of most who fall under it, and so i respectfully don’t believe I should be included.
From the end of the queer movement, it seems that Intersex is often used as an example which serves to theoretically shatter the concept of the gender/sex binary, rather than a diverse set of lived experiences of real people who may simultaneously face any number of intersecting identities or struggles (including a trans identity). While I understand how this tendency is naturally tempting for those in the queer community or anyone thinking about gender as a social construct, in order to conceptualize intersex with respect to the presumed biological basis of the gender/sex binary, it is imperative that people get the full picture first.
No, this title does not refer to physical space between romantic partners.
Rather, I’d like to talk about the issues of my forays into intersex activism and the distance necessary between myself and what it is I reveal, as well as how I reveal it.
I started this blog as a way to voice my experience in a way that did not necessarily require my physical, socially present self to be involved. Speaking as part of the second annual Intersex Awareness Day at NYU was really the first time I engaged that socially present self amongst others who were not intersex.
And it was actually a very fulfilling experience. However, I know that it was made so much easier by the fact that those people were coming into a space in order to learn/hear/talk about intersex. In addition, I consciously chose to not include my name in the promotion of the event. It’s very different trying to envision myself being more active on a public scale - with people who know me independently finding out that I’m intersex. I still need that distance.
In addition, there is also the issue of the sort of conversations I am willing to have with anyone about my experience. It’s one thing to have a theoretical conversation about what it means to be intersex as well as the social and political implications of the movement (and simply have it understood that your perspective is as an intersex person), and it is quite another to reveal the most personal, vulnerable and, in many ways, tragic aspects of one’s experience to outsiders. I am much more comfortable with the former than the latter. Hence, another kind of distance.
I know that people need personal stories as a way to emotionally connect with others’ experiences on a level beyond simply reading or hearing about this phenomenon from a third-party source. But having the onus be on me to tell that story is something I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay with.
I am a very outgoing, laid-back person. With most of my interactions, I don’t take things too seriously. But it’s kind of impossible to do that with telling the most gritty details of my history.
I need the distance.
So I’m speaking this Friday and Saturday at two separate events for the second annual Intersex Awareness Day. Mo co-panelists will be the authors of Intersex Unicorn and Full Frontal Activism. I had been in contact with Claudia, the author of Full Frontal Activism, since finding her blog last fall (just after the first IAD happened) and when she asked me if I wanted to be a part of this year’s events, I jumped at the opportunity. However, I asked that I could remain anonymous by having my name not be used in the promotional materials for the events (posters, facebook, etc) - just because I’m not quite ready to be publicly “google-able” as intersex quite yet. In any case, if anyone’s interested in the events, here are the facebook links (and yes, I realize it is extremely last minute): NYU event, Bluestockings event.
This will be the first time that I will have ever spoken in public about being intersex. Needless to say, I’m all kinds of nervous, excited, anxious, etc. But I think it’ll be good. It’s a big step, for sure, but I think I’m ready for it.
Last week, I got coffee with Anne Tamar-Mattis, the director of Advocates for Informed Choice, a legal advocacy organization for children with intersex conditions. I actually met Anne briefly when I attended the one AIS Support Group conference I did in Chicago, back in 2008, but needless to say, a lot has changed for me since then. [I don’t believe that I’ve actually mentioned this on this blog, but I’ve been working with AIC, and several other young intersex activists, on a new platform for young people with intersex conditions to communicate with one another and hopefully the world - called Inter/Act. We just started a tumblr for the project, so please forgive the lack of content.]
One thing Anne and I discussed, which really hit home for me, was the extent of vulnerability that comes to play with intersex activism. Because as someone who does not have an intersex condition, Anne is more easily able to deal with doctors and legal organizations to discuss these uniquely sensitive issues - without it directly affecting her own sense of self. As she put it - it’s not her body, and it’s not her childhood that are at issue.
It seems that intersex activism puts its members in a uniquely disadvantaged position, in the sense that it not only hits home for them in a way that it does not for anyone else, but it hits home in the most vulnerable place imaginable. Discussing non-normative sex characteristics and, in particular, non-consensual genital surgery is not fun. It elicits, at worst, fetishized awe and perhaps even disgust and at best, unempathizable pity. By that, I mean that all most people can say in response to a story like mine is a genuine: “Wow, that sucks.”
Yep, it does suck. But despite everything, my life is not defined by it. As I’ve grown more and more comfortable in my “intersex skin,” I’ve realized that while non-intersex activists are extremely important to our movement, the voices of intersex people are vital. The responsibility I feel towards those who will come after me is something I cannot fully express. And if my speaking to the public can affect, in any way, the world that they will live in - then that’s all i can ask for.
It’s interesting to me that when I first came out as gay (coming up on the one year mark soon!), I didn’t think I wanted to be less girly. I was attracted to feminine clothing items, so I bought them, and I wore them. I certainly never liked overly frilly details, but for the most part, in the spectrum of femininity-masculinity in clothing, I was probably about average for all girls/women (and therefore on the more feminine end for queer girls/women). I was okay with this.
Then I started going out to queer parties in Brooklyn/NYC and making queer-lady friends. And I got a tumblr (lol).
The whole world of queer female fashion was new to me. I started off slow - wearing more plaid and hoodies. You know, the basics. I cut my hair a number of times, but I kept the front pieces on the side longer (mostly because of my self-consciousness about my large cheeks), so it still ended up looking kind of femme-y.
As I would go shopping from time to time, I found myself more and more drawn to the masculine end of the spectrum. Suddenly, I was trying on and buying more stuff from the men’s section than from the women’s section. But most of my clothes were still P.G. (pre-gay) and so it took a while to get enough pieces to wear all the time.
Summer came. I finally got rid of the hair covering my cheeks on the sides. I accrued an obscene number of “gay-boy tanks” (as I call them), which I wore with long cutoff shorts and moccasins or canvas sneakers.
I received positive attention about my new look. Mostly from other queer girls. But I liked it as well, and therefore became less self-conscious when talking about it to my non-queer-women friends. Instead, I got more and more uncomfortable with wearing feminine (P.G.) clothing. I stopped wearing skirts and dresses to work.
I grew to despise the male gaze. I mention in an earlier post how I still liked my feminine clothes, but began to feel uncomfortable wearing them in public (this was especially true in the heteronormative Disneyland that is Las Vegas). Instead, I began to really enjoy the feeling of being a girl with a feminine face/persona but wearing masculine clothing. It just fit.
When I had first started going out to queer parties, and thus started trying to figure out what kind of girls I was attracted to, I thought I liked cute girls on the sliiightly more masculine side of things. Not overly so, but I was drawn to the more masculine/dyke-y style.
As time went on, however, I realized that I actually liked that style for myself, and that I was, in fact, attracted to pretty girls with a more feminine style.
From my (albeit limited) interactions with dating queer women, I’ve found that not being sure whether you want to be someone or be with them is a common experience. In fact, I came to realize that much of the persona I had tried to put on for so much of my life was in a way what I was actually attracted to. In other words, I had been trying, aesthetically, to be who I’d actually like to be with.
For me, it took a while to accept that I liked more feminine girls - probably because I had parsed out my identity in such a theoretical way prior to actually dating anyone and was so disgusted with the male gaze and it’s effect on notions of female homosexuality.
In other words, I didn’t want to fit into the heterosexist ‘acceptable’ image of two feminine women together. I didn’t like the idea that I was into girls that straight men would also find attractive. I wanted to stand in solidarity with the queer, gender non-conforming community that I know is so much more oppressed than I am.
But you can’t help who/what you like.
I know that butch/gender non-conforming women (as well as trans* and gender non-conforming people in general) face more harassment than I ever will. On the other hand, having to deal with the heterosexist comments of approval from men when you’re with someone (“Oooh, that’s a beautiful thing,” “Can I join in?”, etc.) or still getting hit on when you’re not, even despite your clearly queer style (Seriously guys? Like, what do I have to do!?) is also not exactly fun.
In general, I think being a queer woman is about standing in solidarity in spirit. Knowing that the male gaze doesn’t define you, and asserting yourself confidently as such.
I’m here. I’m queer. Get used to it.
I’ve been relatively “femme” for most of my life.
I was never really considered a “tomboy,” nor did I really think of myself as one. When my closest family friend (she’s really more like a cousin) and I would play “house” when we were little, she was almost always the boy and I was almost always the girl.
Of course, I have always been a very loud and opinionated person (particularly when it comes to matters of fact where I know I’m right), and I would venture to say that this bordered on obnoxiousness in my middle school years. I suppose you could say this quality is not “feminine” by the standards of demureness ascribed to “proper” girls, but that’s about it. I wasn’t super into sports, and my best friends were always girls.
Probably the most tomboyish I got was around 5th-6th grade, when I would wear baggy pants (I guess they were popular around then?). Mostly I think any tomboyishness was more attributable to my laziness rather than an overt desire to be masculine in any way. This was right before I initially found out about my condition.
After I found out, my desire to “fit in” and be like all the other girls overwhelmed my private thoughts. Unfortunately for me, this also happened to be the time in my life when I was at my most awkward - big boned and chubby and completely undeveloped (those Premarin pills took a while to work their magic).
Once I entered high school, I began to “blossom” - I lost the baby weight, I got some boobs, I wore makeup, I had “cool” older friends.
But now, looking back, I realize that so much of it was pretend. I had this image in my head of what I wanted to be: a beautiful, popular, and accomplished [straight] girl.
The straight part was simply understood. I had known in the back of my mind that I was aroused by women since I was probably 9 or 10. After about age 13 though, I shut off those thoughts completely. I thought if I could make myself not have that reaction, it just wouldn’t exist. Because of the fact that my sex drive was never raging anyway, this was not difficult.
So I continued acting the part of the popular, cool [straight] girl. I had become so good at it.
The thing is, I always wanted the attention of boys, but once I got it, I didn’t want it. At the time, I attributed that to just wanting what I couldn’t have or something. But the reality was that I desperately wanted to be validated as being what I presented myself to be.
But it was never enough. I’ve been told many times how “pretty” I am. When I was younger, I didn’t like this, because I wanted to not just be pretty, but to be desired sexually - I wanted to be “hot.” However, after I found out about the full reality of my condition, I specifically withdrew away even more from any possible sexual encounters. However, I kept outwardly portraying the same thing - the pretty, outgoing, [presumably straight] girl.
As time went on, I became more and more disillusioned with my outward identity. Being told by anyone that I was so “pretty” made me feel almost outside of myself. I began to see that the identity I had imposed onto myself for so long - the outgoing, cool [presumably straight and cisgender], “pretty” girl - was not really me, but I had been entrenched in it for so long, I just couldn’t imagine comfortably changing it. Particularly with respect to all of my friends who knew me as such.
So I didn’t. The fact that I was just as (if not more) anxious having a sexual encounter with a girl as having one with a guy, certainly did not make it any easier.
I didn’t really come out as gay until last fall. Less than a year ago.
In that time, I’ve slowly changed my appearance and presentation to where I now have a sort-of Bieber cut and wear mostly gender-neutral or masculine-ish clothing. Even still, I certainly don’t come off as butch by any means, simply because I think I do exude a “femme”-ness (in my face, in how I carry myself), but I actually like it when it’s accompanied by a non-femme haircut and wardrobe.
I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin. I used to dread thinking that someone might think of me as gay, but now, I embrace it.
Of course, having someone to be gay with helps things ;)
For so long I dressed feminine because it was the persona I was trying to make fit. moreover, it was what was expected of me. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll ever want to go back to wearing dresses and skirts, but at least if I do, it’ll be a choice.
There is one thing about my family that is irritating beyond all belief. It rips at the very fabric of my soul and leaves me feeling shredded. It is a question which they always ask despite knowing the irritation it presents.
“When are you going to have kids?”
Obviously my intersex condition prevents me from having biological children of my own since I never developed a uterus despite having a vagina. But it never seems to sink in to my family that I will never have biological children of my own.
What’s harder is that when I bring up adoption (which we plan to do) everyone always seems so disappointed. Like somehow it’s just not good enough, despite the fact that my dad (stepfather) adopted me and is the only dad I’ve ever know and loved.
It’s even worse when I call our cat our daughter. Because animal children are not enough apparently.
It’s just frustrating.
And it’s a constant reminder that I will never be good enough as, or enough of, a woman because is seems that, at the core of society, people expect women at some point in their lives to be stuffed with fetus and then expel humans from their loins to prove their femininity.
And I just can’t do that…leaving me as basically half a woman…which may or may not be ironic.
What do you think about this? How do you deal with infertility? What do you think of the typical roles women are expected to fulfill in your society?
Yeah, my experience with this is certainly a bit different than yours, simply because of a. my age (I’m only 22) and b. the fact that I came out as gay/lesbian/queer (aka I date girls) relatively recently.
When my parents first told me the half-truth of my condition when I was 11, the infertility was definitely the main blow of what they told me. Certainly the idea of having to lie to my friends about having my period and of course take hormones for the rest of my life was something I knew would be hard and awkward to deal with, but knowing that I would never be able to have biological children was really hard for me for a really long time.
Up until that point, I had grown up imagining myself having the heteronormative dream: a husband, kids, not necessarily the white picket fence as I prided myself a city kid, but you catch my drift.
As I got older, and the questions surrounding my condition (and the physical ramifications of the surgeries performed on me at birth, my sexuality, etc.) encompassed my private thoughts, the fact that I wouldn’t have children was something I had become used to. Of course there would be occasional awkward comments by my family and family friends regarding the given fact of my having children, but just like those regarding the given fact of my wanting/eventually having a boyfriend, I was good at just playing along. Obviously, so were my parents.
Now of course, the situation has changed quite a bit. I’ve actually changed my appearance pretty dramatically in the past few months, and I’d be interested to see what, if any, reaction my extended family would have about it. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m from a culturally Russian family. My parents and most of their close friends immigrated from the former Soviet Union when they were about 20 years old, in 1980. Just about all of my small extended family is in the states, although most of them, as well as some of the other close family friends, came later than my parents - in the early ’90s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. I would definitely say that heteronormativity is much more uniformly entrenched in Russian culture than in American culture, and as such, even with my current appearance, I’m not sure what people would initially think.
I know my newly non-femme appearance may not seem to directly relate to the topic of having children, but I would say it does. Heteronormativity doesn’t only relate to norms of sexuality, but to all norms ascribed to the implicitly dyadic roles of male and female. As you so poignantly stated, giving birth is one of the most forceful of these norms for women. Of course, it has to be giving birth within the heteronormative framework of marriage (specifically to a man) or else it isn’t worth shit.
As you can probably tell, my opinion of “the typical roles women are expected to fulfill in our society” is that they are wholly unnecessary and ridiculous. This obviously doesn’t mean that anyone who chooses to fulfill any or all of them is ridiculous. Just that their enforcement is (and I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic) violent and oppressive to ALL of society.
In any case, the fact that I’m now outwardly living my life as a gay woman means that this lifestyle “choice” - yes, I do see it as a choice in a way (I’ll do a post on this later) - and its rejection of the heteronormative standard of “womanhood” most certainly trumps the eventual fact that I will not be having biological children.
I figured that I really don’t need to be 100% anonymous to the people who are likely to read/follow this blog, so I’ve decided to share it with y’all.
And, like, you can see what I look like ‘n stuff.