Tag Archives: ISNA

Caster Semenya

Introduction

Caster Semenya is an 18-year old runner from South Africa who was about to compete in a 4000 meter run after she had run a previous race and won the gold medal. There had been reports that she was suspected of not being a woman because of her musculature and her deep voice (and I highly suspect people were sort of jealous) . This speculation led her to get an examination by the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations). A doctor from Otago tested and examined her and found her to have an intersex condition, meaning that she possesses both female and male gonadal tissue (she did not have ovaries or a womb, but possessed inner testes).

There is a lot of controversy going around her right now because she may not be able to keep her medal due to the tests showing she had three times the amount of testosterone a normal female would have.

Since sports is so divided because of supposed biological advantages and body compositions of men and women, Semenya may be banned from participated anymore in the competition.

Since ideas of gender are so built into self-identity and also are very emotionally bound (for example if someone accused you of not being man enough or much of a woman, you would probably be taken a back or maybe offended), this is a very sensitive issue. Many people in forums, on blogs, and on the news are now not considering her a woman. She has been raised all her life as a woman and ran as a woman and probably identifies as a woman. Her family did not report knowing of her intersexuality, nor does it seem to matter much . Since this supposed “discovery” of who Semenya really is, apparently she is not a woman anymore.

In a wordpress article (http://identityrevealed.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/man-or-woman-revisited/) I found out that You magazine did a make-over of Caster. All I can say to that is, interesting.

Intersexuality

In this section I want to highlight some things I find highly problematic and troubling with some of the reports on Semenya.

First, In the news people are referring to Caster as a ‘hermaphrodite’. Hermaphrodite is a controversial term and considered offensive because of its connotations with the authoritative power medicine has had over the bodies of people who have been born with both female and male gonadal tissue (ovaries and testes). The correct term, that is still used in science, would be psuedohermaphrodite because she does not have ovaries.  Hermaphrodite is an old term and is used in old scientific journals. DSD (disorder of sexual development) has been determined by the ISNA (Intersex Society of North America) and Alice Dreger to be the term that is to be used in scientific texts from this point on. This term is also considered offensive by some because of the use of “disorder” and the term VSD is more commonly used or “Variation of Sexual Development”. This population has been too often referred to as freaks, monsters,  not human, not woman, not man, in between, etc. Refer to them as they prefer. If they have been raised a woman, call them a woman. If they have been raised a man, call them a man. Its about respect, call them what they wish to be called.

Two, do not make it about gender identity. Just because Semenya has been found to have typically male gonadal tissue does not make her less of a woman. Gender is complicated. It is not just about biology or raising a person or self-identity. It is about all of the above and more and it is a personal thing and should not be contested publicly.

Third, I think most of this is a Western thing to be concerned with, gender. We are all about categories and who fits where and how so that they can have a certain role. Races and sports are all about categories and natural selection at its own form of visible entertainment. Displaying physical agility and ability started out as a Grecian thing, a male thing. Sports usually have been a Western male white thing. Since Semenya performed so well especially at something that has been so predominantly and historically white and Western, she is bound to come under scrutiny and one of the first things to be on the list is that since she performed so well, she must be a man!

Finally, LANGUAGE. For the last time, language. It is not a shame, a horrible thing, or “at worst” that she may be intersex.

Conclusion

Caster Semenya’s controversy in sport may lead to categorization about what makes a man or a woman, which IS problematic. In the past there have been distinctions about how much of a hormone, how long your clitoris or how small your penis is, how long your labia is, or how deep your vagina is, either makes you or leaves you short of being a “man” or a “woman”. Categories in popular culture are oppressive to individuals. The Western world is obsessed with people fitting and being able to fit into designated categories and sports has made this issue clearer. Be aware of what these categories mean to the individual before making policy or law about it because that is dangerous.

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Being Intersexed: Resources

Introduction

Many people do not know what intersex means because it was commonly referred to in the past as being a hermaphrodite. Being intersexed is very in the closet because of the general belief in American society that gender fits into a binary. Being intersexed proves that gender is complicated, sex is complicated, and identity is complicated (as are many more things that influence being intersexed and anything in general).

I am not intersexed, I am not an expert, but I wish to distribute information. This is what I have found, encountered, believe, etc. I can not be expert advice, but I can be a start.

I highly recommend visited the ISNA website, whose acronym I explain below. It is an excellent resource and has been advocating for intersex rights ever since Cheryl Chase helped create it.

What is Intersex?

““Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.” (http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex)

To find out more about this, go to the ISNA’s website (which I will cover later in this post). They have a bunch of information, links, and recommendations.

What Intersex Condition do you have?

To find out what conditionmay fit to your genitalia, explore this website, but be sure to confirm with a clinician.

Intersex Conditions: http://www.isna.org/faq/conditions

How common is intersex?

“To answer this question in an uncontroversial way, you’d have to first get everyone to agree on what counts as intersex —and also to agree on what should count as strictly male or strictly female. That’s hard to do. How small does a penis have to be before it counts as intersex? Do you count “sex chromosome” anomalies as intersex if there’s no apparent external sexual ambiguity?1 (Alice Dreger explores this question in greater depth in her book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.)

Here’s what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.

Below we provide a summary of statistics drawn from an article by Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling.2 The basis for that article was an extensive review of the medical literature from 1955 to 1998 aimed at producing numeric estimates for the frequency of sex variations. Note that the frequency of some of these conditions, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, differs for different populations. These statistics are approximations.

Not XX and not XY one in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (XXY) one in 1,000 births
Androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia one in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasia one in 66 individuals
Vaginal agenesis one in 6,000 births
Ovotestes one in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause) one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother) no estimate
5 alpha reductase deficiency no estimate
Mixed gonadal dysgenesis no estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesis one in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft) one in 2,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis) one in 770 births
Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female one in 100 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance one or two in 1,000 births

1 Dreger, Alice Domurat. 1998. Ambiguous Sex—or Ambivalent Medicine? Ethical Issues in the Treatment of Intersexuality. Hastings Center Report, 28, 3: 24-35.

2 Blackless, Melanie, Anthony Charuvastra, Amanda Derryck, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Karl Lauzanne, and Ellen Lee. 2000. How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology 12:151-166.

We were recently asked to update these frequency figures, and a lively discussion arose between two staff members.” (http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency)

The ISNA: Intersex Society of North America

The ISNA, as found on their website (by their mission statement) stand for:

“systemic change to end shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for people born with an anatomy that someone decided is not standard for male or female.

We have learned from listening to individuals and families dealing with intersex that:

Click here to learn more about our agenda. With your help, we can make the world a safer place for families dealing with intersex conditions.” (http://www.isna.org/)

Doctors for the Intersexed

You can find this at this website: http://www.aissg.org/52_CLINICIANS.HTM

NOTE: This is only a start and from limited sources I found online and thus can be outdated. I would recommend getting in contact with someone from ISNA to talk about this or finding a support network in your area where you can feel safe in asking about a doctor who will provide you with safe service and make you feel comfortable.

What to do once you found out you are intersexed

Support groups:

http://www.isna.org/support

Find a doctor who can confirm hormonal/genetic difference: http://www.aissg.org/52_CLINICIANS.HTM

You may have a lot of questions, just discovered it yourself, and may feel overwhelmed. I do not recommend this website right away, but it is incredibly helpful and from what I have seen, considerate:

http://www.isna.org/faq

Excellent Resource: Sexing the Body by Anne-Fausto Sterling

Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. By Anne Fausto-Sterling. New York: Basic Books, 2000, 473 pages.

Spanish Translation: Cuerpos sexuados. Editorial Melusina: Barcelona, Spain, 2006.

“Professor Fausto-Sterling’s most recent work, entitled Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, was published by Basic Books in February 2000. It examines the social nature of biological knowledge about animal and human sexuality.

Sexing the Body received the Distinguished Publication Award in 2001 by the Association for Women in Psychology. In 2000 it was chosen as one of the Outstanding Academic Books of 2000 by CHOICE Magazine, Published by the American Library Association. It was also co-winner of the Robert K Merton Award of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge and Technology.

From the back cover:

“Why do some people prefer heterosexual love while others fancy the same sex? Do women and men have different brains? Is sexual identity biologically determined or a product of social convention? In this brilliant and provocative book, the acclaimed author of Myths of Gender argues that the answers to these thorny questions lie as much in the realm of politics as they do in the world of science. Without pandering to the press or politics, Fausto-Sterling builds an entirely new framework for sexing the body-one that focuses solely on the individual.” (http://bms.brown.edu/faculty/f/afs/afs_publications_books.htm)

More books:

http://www.isna.org/books

Conclusion

I do not know much about the experience of being intersexed because I am not. I wish to increase the visibility of intersex while keeping people who identify as intersex safe. I hope that the gender binary begins to blur or that everyone can accept others differences. I hope this is a valuable resource and if you wish to hear more about this particular subject, feel free to contact me.

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