Thursday, December 31, 2009

Who is Intersexed? new thoughts for the new year

Excerpt from article:
"Like all questions involving identity politics, you will get many different answers. I think the best answer is an intersexual is someone born with a condition that makes them not fit into societies catagories of male or female and who chose to take on the label of intersex as a part of their identity and want the community and support that goes with it."

To read the whole article: Click here

HIV experts call for declassification of transgenderism as mental illness

By Jessica Geen • December 29, 2009 - 14:41

An international meeting of experts on HIV has called for transgenderism to be reclassified as a medical condition, rather than a mental illness.

The second International Experts' Meeting on HIV Prevention for MSM, WSW [men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women] and Transgenders took place in Amsterdam in early November with 130 experts from around the world.

A report, called Moving from Intentions to Action, has now been published and calls for change in how trans people are treated.

It argues that trans people would then escape the stigma of mental illness that is frequently attached to them.

The report said: "Gender identity variance (transgenderism) should be reclassified from its current classification as a mental health disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the World Health Organisation’s International Classification Of Diseases (ICD).

"Instead it should be classified as a medical condition. This would provide a diagnostic category in the ICD that would accommodate the needs of those gender identity variant people who require medical care for their condition, but without the stigma attached to mental disorder."

Professor Stephen Whittle, of Manchester Metropolitan University and trans group Press For Change, welcomed the move.

He said: "This is another major contribution to the very important, and crucial debate on whether simply having a gender identity and the desire to express yourself through it can be a mental illness.

"We accept that many trans people need the support of mental health specialists – but not because of their gender identity, but because of the rejection of their gender not just on a personal transphobic level but also institutionally and at the wider structural levels.

"Every one of us has a gender identity and look at any group of people and one can see a vast number of ways ordinary people express their person gender place – how they want others to know them. At their core trans people want nothing more than to have the privilege to do the same."

Medical opinion once held that homosexuality was a mental illness. It was removed from the list of mental disorders by the World Health Organisation in 1990.


Sex and Uncertainty, remixed

Susannah Cornwall's first book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology (Equinox, 1st May 2010), is now available for pre-order on Amazon or direct from Equinox.

Megan Clay's cover piece is entitled Endless Possibilities. The author states that she loves the way the abstract shapes echo the vast spectrum of morphological and emotional ontology which the book attempts to explore.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rare gender identity defect hits Gaza families

By Ivan Watson, CNN
December 17, 2009 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)

Gaza City (CNN) -- Two Palestinian teenagers stroll amid the mounds of rubble left by last year's Israeli military offensive, listening to the tinny beat of a Turkish pop song playing on a cell phone.

Nadir Mohammed Saleh and Ahmed Fayiz Abed Rabo are cousins and next-door neighbors. With their gelled hair, buttoned-down shirts and jeans, they look much like any other 16-year-old Palestinian boy. But looks, Ahmed says, can be deceiving.

"Only my appearance, my haircut and clothing, makes me look like a boy," Ahmed says, gesturing with his hands across his face. "Inside, I am like a female. I am a girl."

Until last summer, both Nadir and Ahmed were -- for all intents and purposes -- girls. They wore female headscarves, attended girls' school and even answered to the female first names Navin and Ola.

Both Nadir and Ahmed were born with a rare birth defect called male pseudohermaphrodism.

Deficiency of the hormone 17-B-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17-B-HSD) during pregnancy left their male reproductive organs deformed and buried deep within their abdomens.

At birth, doctors identified Nadir and Ahmed as girls, because they appeared to have female genitalia.

As a result, they spent the first 16 years of their lives dressing and acting like girls. It was a role that grew increasingly difficult to play, as they hit puberty and their bodies began generating testosterone, resulting in facial hair and increasingly masculine features.

"They used to travel by car to girls' school and back," says Nadir's father Mohammed Sadih Ahmed Saleh.

"Because of their facial hair, it was difficult for them to go out into the street. Psychologically they were distressed."

Finally, on June 22, with the support of their families, both Nadir and Ahmed transformed themselves into boys.

"They transferred on the same day," Saleh says. "Clothing, they switched to the other [boys'] school on the same day. They cut their hair on the same day. Both of them helped each other get through this crisis."

There are an unusually high number of male pseudohermaphrodite births in the Gaza neighborhood of Jabalya, where Nadir and Ahmed live.

Dr. Jehad Abudaia, a Canadian-Palestinian pediatrician and urologist practicing in Gaza, says he has diagnosed nearly 80 cases like Nadir's and Ahmed's in the last seven years.

"It is astonishing that we have [so] many cases with this defect, which is very rare all over the world," Abudaia says. He attributes the high frequency of this birth defect to "consanguinity," or in-breeding.

"If you want to go to the root of the problem, this problem runs in families in the genes." Abudaia says. "They want to get married to cousins... they don't go to another family. This is a problem."

In Western, more developed countries, doctors typically identify and then operate to correct disorders of sex differentiation at birth. But in war-torn Gaza, which has a lower standard of medical care, the birth defect can go undetected for years.

"Some of them unfortunately will be discovered late, when they are more than 14 years [old]. When they have been living as a female and they don't have menstruation, then they will go to the gynecologist," Abudaia says.

Abudaia's first advice to patients with the disorder is to immediately adopt male clothing and hair cuts, and then to plan for a sex-change operation.

This unusual ritual has been performed several times in the extended family of Nadir and Ahmed, where sex differentiation is a recurring disorder.

Nadir's 21-year-old brother Midyam and his 32-year-old cousin Ameen Abd Hamed share the same condition of male pseudohermaphrodism. As adolescents, they too underwent the gender identity transformation process the family refers to as "the transfer."

The traumatizing experience is all the more difficult because Gaza is a socially-conservative society, where there is a fair amount of segregation between males and females.

"I sat down with Nadir and explained to him how to adapt to the street, how to sit with the guys and talk to them... because at the beginning his mental state was bad, just like what happened to me," Ameen says.

"We did not understand what to do," says Ahmed, one of the 16-year-olds. "It was a new life for us, as if we were born again."

Though Nadir and Ahmed clearly have the love and support of their family, they say that is not enough. They are appealing to the international community to help them get the expensive and complicated sex-change operations they say they need to live normal lives.

"It's the only obstacle and the source of all the problems," Nadir says.

Until the sex-change operation is completed, Palestinian officials won't change the gender on their identity cards to "male," thus restricting their access to higher education.

In addition, Nadir and Ahmed complain of health problems like kidney infections due to complications resulting from the disfigurement of their genitalia.

"This is 100 percent a humanitarian issue," says Nadir's father, Mohammed. "There are four conditions in the same [extended] family. If we propose conducting the same operation on all four of them, the cost would be $30,000. We don't have $30,000 and there is no advanced medicine in Gaza."

Until then, these troubled Palestinians say their genders and their identities will remain in conflict, much like the land around them.

Source: Click here

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CSI Miami Episode ‘Delko for the Defense’ Pathologizes Intersex

On the evening of Monday 14th December, CSI:Miami series 8, episode 11, Delko for the Defence, was broadcast and it characterized an intersex person as dangerous, evil and a threat to society. That is the very last thing that intersex people need right now.

To read the complete commentary by OII-Australia: Click here

Monday, December 14, 2009


By Sophia Siedlberg

How often have I said that genes in the autosomes have the final say when it comes to sex differentiation? Probably about 500 times on record and at least 20 in my writings.

Well, the publication Cell has some nice, hard laboratory evidence of precisely the mechanism I have been describing. My point is that autosomal regulation of sex differentiation was something I had myself understood quite well in terms of computer models. And while Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute of Medical Research in the UK would not have been aware of my computer models, it is certainly true that the good doctor has confirmed what I have known all along. The dogma XY for a boy and XX for a girl is an old idea that is toast.

Let me quote Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge:

“We take it for granted that we maintain the sex we are born with, including whether we have testes or ovaries. But this work shows that the activity of a single gene, FOXL2, is all that prevents adult ovary cells turning into cells found in testes,”

And the response from the Murdoch Press is:

“The research, published today in the journal Cell, challenges a common perception that gender is determined purely by the X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes. The gene that was switched off, known as FOXL2, lies on a non-sex chromosome that is shared by males and females.”

I am tempted to gloat given that in a previous article I said to a reporter from the Murdoch Press who asked whether I was genetically male or female that “I am genetically me”. But given that the Murdoch press were showing signs of being nice, I am not going to gloat. I am not in a position to because all the research has shown is that the sort of model I have been describing for years was true after all. But I am not the one who published it in a scientific publication (having been marginalized) and the research I did was purely theory. These people were not even testing my own theory. They just proved it correct as a consequence of their research.

However, I believe it was only a matter of time before some research in a lab proved this autosomal sex regulation model to be correct. The truth is when you look at the human genome up close and personal, that is spend the best part of five years gawking at nucleotide sequence data and constructing a polygenic model, you do end up predicting that the number of genes in the human genome is less that 40,000 before the Human Genome Project figured it out and you do know how sex is regulated by genes not in the 23rd pair of chromosomes.

What I am saying is, I am not some idiot (as the textbooks often claim about intersex people). I am saying I knew prior to both the discoveries I mentioned, and it is documented what those discoveries would be, and it was not down to some mystical power but hard work.

I am also not going to reap any benefits because I was not involved in the research on both occasions. But this is a question of personal integrity; you know the textbook description of intersex people being “mentally retarded”.

But the one thing I will benefit from is knowing that because of this latest discovery by Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge’s team I will be regarded as a human being instead of a monster, not because I was aware of the possibility that such research would incidentally prove me correct, but because the unholy dictatorship of “XX or XY” is over. I can call myself “genetically me”. And even that was in the Times a few weeks before Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge’s work was published, and reported on in the self same newspaper.

So I am going to ask just one thing. Can I be allowed to lead my life with some dignity, and not be dismissed as a mentally deficient monster or a pair of chromosomes that say nothing of who or what I am?

It seems the Murdoch press understand this is what intersex people are saying now. And to me this is perhaps far more important, because finally there is a degree of understanding that people who do not fit the classical biological definitions of what is male or female are not “dangerous” or “evil” or a “threat to society” they are just natural variations of the human genome. Genetically we are us.

Just like my namesake in religious mythology, she didn’t get listened to either but wisdom always gets proven right in the end. Let me just get on with my life is all I and those like me ask.

Source quoted: Click here

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ovaries under constant pressure to be male

Cosmos Online

SYDNEY: Female ovaries spend their entire existence suppressing an innate capacity to become male, according to a new study that overturns existing theories.

The study, published in the journal Cell, could have important implications for understanding sex disorders in humans.

It found that the ovaries of adult female mice could be ‘reprogrammed’ into non-sperm-producing male testes by silencing a single gene, called FOXL2.

Another gene, called SRY and found on the Y chromosome, is responsible for undeveloped foetal gonads becoming male testes, rather than female ovaries. SRY then activates a gene called SOX9, which takes over from there.

Complete article: Click here

IAAF offers to pay for Caster Semenya's gender surgery if she fails verification test

The International Association of Athletics Federations has offered to pay Caster Semenya's medical expenses should she require gender surgery or other treatment to continue competing as a woman.

By Simon Hart
Published: 10:05PM GMT 11 Dec 2009

The IAAF is still awaiting the final results of the gender verification test carried out on the South African teenager during the World Championships in Berlin in August, though leaked reports have indicated that she is a hermaphrodite with internal testes and has three times the normal level of testosterone for a female.

If that is confirmed by the panel of scientists studying her condition, then the issue for the IAAF will be whether her raised testosterone gives her an unfair advantage over her rivals – a situation that would require remedial treatment if she wishes to race again in women's competitions.

Complete article: Click here

Editorial comments from OII-Australia:

  1. There is no such thing as a human hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodism in humans – having one full set of female organs of reproduction and one full set of male organs of reproduction – is impossible. The application of the word "hermaphrodite" to human beings who are or may be intersex is an attempt to make us out to be fabulous monsters, creatures of ancient Greek myth and legend, deviant freaks and not real human beings. It is a weapon in the armoury of denial, of the refusal to recognize that variations in sex development exist and are so common as to have a prevalence of between 1:60 and 1:100 of the human population. By denying we exist, by pretending we are mythical inventions, the deniers can get away with doing whatever they like to us.
  2. Ms Semenya is not an hermaphrodite. See above.
  3. The word 'gender' means one's innate sense of being male or female, as a result of theorizing unsupported by actual evidence by John Money and second wave feminism since the 1950s. 'Gender' as we know it now is an invention of psychology and not a fact of biology. Sex is biological. Intersex is biological. 'Gender,' now being defined as psychological even though biological science continues to show that one's innate sense of what one's sex is as a function of one's brain sex, cannot be formed or reformed or assigned or reassigned by surgery, which is a manipulation of one's biology or more properly physiology. That is, 'gender surgery' is impossible. How can surgery on a someone's genitals somehow affect their innate sense of their sex? To believe it can is voodoo science at best. And voodoo is exactly what medicine has been practising upon the genitals of intersex newborns since the 1950's.
  4. If the IAAF is so desperately keen to know what Ms Semenya's gender is, why do they not simply ask her if she is a woman or a man?
  5. There is no actual evidence that having internal testes inevitably causes testicular cancer. It appears that, empirically, there may be a possibility of cancer later developing in 3% to 9% of people who have internal testes, although we have yet to find hard evidence for that assumption. By way of comparison, 10% to 12% of women contract breast cancer. Yet, surgeons do not remove all women's breasts as a matter of course. Surgeons in western countries do remove the testes from all AIS, CAIS and PAIS women as a matter of course. Why? It would appear that the authorities simply do not like the idea that some women may have testes.
  6. We find the idea that the IAAF may require Ms Semenya to undergo surgery to remove possible internal testes in order for her to continue competing quite disgusting and completely unjustifiable.

Scientists find single on-off gene that can change gender traits

Scientists have identified the gene that keeps females female. An international team found that the action of a single gene is all that stops females from developing male physical traits, including testes and facial hair.

When this gene was artificially “switched off” in adult female mice their ovaries began to turn into testes and they started to produce a level of testosterone found in healthy male mice.

The discovery could eventually revolutionise gender reassignment therapy and improve treatments for babies who are born with a mixed gender.

The research, published today in the journal Cell, challenges a common perception that gender is determined purely by the X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes. The gene that was switched off, known as FOXL2, lies on a non-sex chromosome that is shared by males and females.

Complete article: Click here

Monday, December 7, 2009

Plea for help from Uganda

Please read the following letter written by Gina Wilson from OII-Australia about intersex children in Uganda and the current homophobic laws and how they affect intersex people there.

Please consider donating to help the children.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Intersex Las Vegas resident Tia Owen makes her mark

by Zamna Avila
EDGE Contributor
Tuesday Nov 24, 2009

Ask if Tia Owen is gay and you are likely to get quip and simple answer.
"My answer is no, but I’m mildly elated," Owen, 61, said. "I don’t consider myself gay or lesbian. To be a lesbian you need to be a woman; to be gay you need to be a man. "
Owen isn’t just being facetious. Owen, who now is the chief operating officer for a publicly-owned nutritional company in Las Vegas, was born with both female and male reproductive organs.
"(If) somebody asked me what is it like to be female or somebody asked me how it’s like to be a male, I don’t think I could describe either," Owen said. "I live life out loud (and) upfront. If you see me outside, whether business or socially, I look like an industrial-sized Mrs. Doubtfire."
Although Owen hasn’t owned or worn male clothing for about 20 years, Owen embraces both male and female identities, and is not overly concerned with pronouns.
"Most people around me tend to use a female pronoun," Owen said. "Different circumstances have engendered different nomenclatures at different stages in my life," and that typically has concerned more people around me than it has concerned me."
Although Owen experienced extreme hormone fluctuations as teenager, undergoing both male and female puberty, and ailments through adult life, it wasn’t until Owen’s prostate cancer diagnoses at 29 that doctors realized the Vegas resident also had female reproductive organs.
"For a lot of my life, I considered that I had some kind of curse," Owen said. "I’ve come to realize that I am a walking miracle ... I was blessed with a great body and I and a great mind; I value both of them."
But being intersex also has been cause for pause with respect to morals and relationships. Owen was reared in a conservative Mormon community in Mesa, Ariz. Owen’s ancestry lineage can followed up to Schaderch Roundy, a body guard to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith.
"And yet, in today’s world the Mormons don’t necessarily have a place in the table for people like me," Owen said. "A lot of people have a difficult time relating to someone they don’t understand, and that’s the foundation for a lot of discrimination."
Owen compares living in the small Mormon community in the 60s to living in the suburbs in the 50s; growing up repressed, not having anyone to talk to and often questioning sexuality due to the dual body changes, even though Owen wasn’t inclined toward male sexual relationships.
In fact, while many intersex people also are sterile, Owen, who’s been married three times, has fathered five children and, at the same time, produced viable ova (or eggs.) Owen also helped rear two stepchildren and a couple of foster children.
But the concurrent functionality of the physiology adversely impacted Owen’s health, surviving cancer four times. In Owen’s 40s testicular cancer made it necessary to surgically remove most of the male reproductive organs. The lack of testosterone production gave way to breast development.
"I chose to go with it," Owen said. "I underwent a name change. I just went with the flow."
And, while reasoning about Owen’s condition is purely physiological and has nothing to do with sexual orientation, some church members suggested a mastectomy.
"There is a tendency to adjudicate against those who are not homogeneous to you," Owen said. "I’ve had people express to me that my circumstance is a choice and I should do whatever is required to become a male."
Owen eventually became the first intersex person to serve as executive director of Affirmation Gay and Lesbian Mormons.
"This discrimination thing, I’m sure I’ve experienced but I haven’t dwelled in it," Owen, who added people who discriminate have more to lose with their actions, said. "Regardless of what table I’m sitting at I have something to contribute and if I’m being a good person ... and can contribute something, what else is there?"
Notwithstanding, Owen recently was shocked to learn there hadn’t been an ex-communication from the church. About 20 years ago, Owen received a letter from the church’s high court to appear at a hearing Owen suspects may have had something to do with the nature of the Vegas’ residents lifestyle and as much to do with Owen’s theological perceptions, which placed Owen in a "loyal opposition" position. Owen’s only response was through a letter that stated: "I hope you don’t think I am interested in you meeting."
"Their opinions do not matter to me," Owen said. "The only opinions that matter are the opinions of people who I respect."
Owen added experiencing "Mormondom" has allowed for a different perspective. Although Owen doesn’t consider having an active role with the Mormon Church for several years, there still is a part of Owen that admires emphasis on family, self-sufficiency and other aspects of the religion.
For now, Owen opines there is a distinct difference between the word "acquiesce" and "support," which many news outlets have used to describe the church’s stance on a Utah bill prohibiting discrimination in housing for LGBT people.
Just as the Mormon church acquiesced in ending polygamy as a stipulation to allow Utah to become a state, and just the civil rights movement ended a long standing practice of not allowing the priesthood of black people, so is this concession a form acquiescence, not support?
"My hope for the coming years is that the Mormon Church also will acquiesce in the notion that families are consists of people who love each other, regardless of their gender," Owen said. "Will it happen in my lifetime? I don’t know but at the same time, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time spending the precious moments of my life being concerned with what they want to do or not do."
So why is there such opposition to same-sex marriage? Owen believes the answer is simple. It’s about the sheep being led by the herder, the president of the religious organization, who is viewed as a prophet, has the ultimate word.
"By and large, the member of the church will wait to be told what they think," Owen explained. "When the prophet speaks the thinking has been done ... from their perspective, even if they disagree with it, they feel a drive to be subservient."
And yet Owen suggests the best way to foster this change is not by carrying banners or protesting, but through one-on-one interaction with congregates. Several of Owen’s business associates are devout Mormons and Owen has been able engender mutual respect through conversation and humor.
"It’s easy to disarm a lot of things with humor," Owen said. "It’s a great diffuser. If nothing else, someone can walk away with a chuckle, instead of a grumble."
With all the challenges, health issues and changes, Owen has managed to live a full life, help build a company from scratch, create and build upon great relationships. And Owen remains optimistic about the future.
"Life is great if you view everyday as a new adventure," Owen concluded. "It’s all about opportunity of excellence... Everyday life is a choice, even when you’d like to portray that there is no choice... I wouldn’t want to diminish the richness of my life to become average."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NHS 'a world pioneer' in treating intersex babies

By Staff Writer, • November 19, 2009

British doctors are becoming "world pioneers" in treating children and adults who are born with ambiguous genitals, it has been reported.

According to The Times, the NHS is the first health service in the world to begin treating intersex babies on the assumption that they should not automatically be operated on.

For years, medical opinion has held that it is best to attempt to assign gender at birth where a child is born with an unclear sex. This often led to surgery and distressing results once the child reaches adulthood.

A recent Scottish study found that ambiguous genitals are far more common than previously thought – up to one in 4,000 babies is born with this condition.

Sarah Creighton, a gynaecologist at University College Hospital, produced the first study which compared children who had undergone surgery to "normalise" them and those who had not.

The study, published in the Lancet, found that those who did not have surgery were faring as well as or better than those who had.

Creighton spoke to The Times about how parents are treated: “We advise parents to say the baby’s poorly, they are awaiting tests. All children are then allocated boy or girl, but much more controversial is: do you proceed to surgery? That is hard to undo.

"We tend to think that surgery is all-powerful and by having surgery you have a cure. These aren’t conditions that you can cure.”

She added: “We are leaders in this field, worldwide, in terms of disclosure to the parents and child, and challenging surgery.”

To read the full article, click here

Can we all apologize to Semenya?

The International Association of Athletics Federations has agreed that South African runner Caster Semenya can keep her gold medal, the prize money, AND keep the results of her “gender tests” private.

“Whatever scientific tests were conducted legally within the IAAF regulations will be treated as a confidential matter between patient and doctor,” the sports ministry said. “As such there will be no public announcement of what the panel of scientists has found. We urge all South Africans and other people to respect this professional ethical and moral way of doing things.”

Since Semenya’s sex was publicly questioned a variety of media outlets have reported that she is a “hermaphrodite” (intersexed- with male and female reproductive organs). These reports seem to have been leaked from the IAAF itself.

The sports ministry said Thursday it had asked the IAAF to apologize for its role, and had received this response: “It is deeply regrettable that information of a confidential nature entered the public domain.”

The Associated Press: SAfrican ministry says Semenya to keep gold medal.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to apologize to Semenya who has said it’s difficult to be stared at all the time, even though she treats this entire controversy as a “joke.”

But it’s really not funny.

There’s nothing funny about the role of sports in insisting that all bodies- but especially female bodies- be of “certain” sex. Determining sex is messy business. Especially since some bodies are intersex. We’re not sure how many, but biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling has estimated that perhaps 3% of all babies are born without being fully male or female.

And there’s nothing funny about the role of media in making a spectacle of yet another African woman’s body as not “fully feminine.” Whether it’s the Venus sisters today or the Hottentot Venus (Saartje Baartman) 150 years ago, white claims to racial superiority often rest on the claim of more gender differentiation. White women are “feminine” (at least if they’re not poor and not lesbians), where as African and African-American women are “too muscular,” “too manly,” “hypersexual,” and more generally not “real” women.

It’s time for everyone to apologize to Semenya. She was born a woman; she was raised as a woman; she identifies as a woman. She should run as a woman.

Unless we want to consider whether we really need sports that insist on a coherent and stable gender? For instance, I just heard about a promising young female athlete who decided to start identifying as male. He was forced to quit his sport. Maybe he shouldn’t have been. Maybe sports could be about bodies of more or less similar size and strength competing against one another, regardless of gender.

And maybe we can all think about what we really want to get out of sports. A rigid and extreme insistence that the line between men and women is clear? Attacks on women who are “too good to be girls”? Or a space to push the human body, regardless of its gender, sexuality, race, chromosomal make up, or even attractiveness- to the limits of human flesh.