Saturday, March 27, 2010

Disordered terminology

By Quinn Albaugh and Quinn Albaugh
Published: 5:30 am

Over the past few years, the medical establishment has been moving away from the terms “intersex conditions” or “intersex people” toward “disorders of sex development” (DSD). The aim of this shift, according to the 2006 “consensus statement” in the journal Pediatrics, is to avoid using confusing or pejorative language to describe medical conditions. Another concern is that the term “intersex” might push an identity on people with different sex characteristics that they do not want.

Intersex advocacy organizations do not agree on how to respond to this change. The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) shut down in 2007 due in part to the development of DSD. In 2008, former associates of ISNA founded a new organization, the Accord Alliance, which now uses the term “disorders of sex development” instead of “intersex.” Other organizations, such as the Organisation Internationale des Intersexes (OII), which has chapters in several countries (including Canada) oppose this terminology.

Complete Article: Click here

Friday, March 26, 2010

Position Statement on Genital Cutting

Organisation Intersex International
Position Statement on Genital Cutting

Intersex refers to atypical internal and/or external anatomical sexual characteristics, where features usually regarded as male or female may be mixed to some degree. This is a naturally occurring variation in humans. From the late 1950's onwards, starting in the USA, intersex infants and children were increasingly subject to cosmetic surgeries intended to ensure that their genital appearance and internal gonads conformed to that usually expected for their assigned gender. This also tended to entail hormone treatments aimed at conforming them to those associated with being "male" or "female."

From the early 1990’s to the present day, hundreds of intersex adults have come forward to say that they regard these medical practices as being extremely harmful to them, both physically and psychologically. Despite this high level of dissatisfaction, there has been little follow-up of adults who were treated this way as children, so without any clear understanding of outcomes, there is no real evidence upon which to justify this approach. On the contrary, the little evidence there is suggests that physiologically, functional outcome is poor. A study conducted in England of intersex people who electively chose to undergo such surgery as adults revealed that the large majority were dissatisfied; treatments resulted in physical pain and diminished sexual response, and were not able to provide them with the sense of normalcy which they hoped for.

There is no evidence that intersex variations alone will negatively impact the quality of life of the individuals who have them, nor that "normalizing" medical treatments are a solution. What evidence there is suggests the opposite; intersex adults who have not received unnecessary medical intervention have said they feel lucky to have "escaped" such treatments. They lack the psychological trauma from treatments imposed on others, and report satisfaction with their sexual response and their unique physical attributes. Such treatment is often justified from the assumption that intersex children and/or adults will be subjected to discriminatory behaviour because of their bodily differences; however, this is not necessarily correct, because their differences are sometimes only evident when naked, or not evident visually at all. Where differences are visible, this is no different than the situation of people from other minority groups. The solution to such challenges is not to alter the characteristics themselves, but to combat the prejudicial attitudes that stigmatise.

Cosmetic surgery on intersex genitals appears to harm intersex infants, children, and even adults, yet it still persists. As with male circumcision, it is often driven by parental desire to provide their children with bodies that conform to certain beliefs about how genitals should be. Also, the presumption that atypical sex anatomy will result in atypical sexual orientation and/or gender identity, homophobia and a fear of atypical gender presentation are seen by some intersex people as the motivation driving these surgeries. In many societies today, gender expression and sexual orientation are seen as a human right, and this is recognised by the UN. Performing unnecessary surgeries on infants and children in order to influence adult sexual orientation and/or gender identity outcomes should be seen as a human rights abuse. There is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity are affected by genital surgery one way or the other.

We seek recognition that all humans have the right to autonomy over their own bodies, including their genitals etc. Because infants and children are too young to assert their autonomy, they should not be subjected to unnecessary surgeries which may irrevocably harm them, and which they may not have chosen as adults. We recognise that cases requiring medical treatment for the maintenance of health or preservation of life should be managed as with any other situation where a child needs treatment. Intersex infants and children should be raised without cosmetic surgery and/or steroidal hormones until they are old enough to decide for themselves whether they wish to undergo these procedures and treatments or not.

We recommend avoidance of genital cutting, where possible, until a child can fully participate in decision making. This would be worked towards through communication between parents of intersex children, the children themselves, intersex adults, support groups, and clinicians who are sensitive to the needs of the child. Counselling should be available for those affected by the situation, to ensure they are fully informed and equipped to make the best decisions. Wider education about intersex as a human variation is also necessary; the cultural anxiety and social pressure that encourage surgery, hormone therapy and physical conformity need to be addressed. Through a process that includes education, communication, and counselling, then public shame will decrease, along with a reduction of cultural anxiety and social pressure, ultimately allowing people the liberty to maintain autonomy over their own bodies.

Online: Click here

Saturday, March 20, 2010

‘Nobody’s Slave’, the Story of Elena de Cespedes, an Intersex Woman of the 16th Century, by Agustín Sánchez Vidal

Elena de Céspedes
translated by Curtis E. Hinkle

Original Spanish article: Click her


"Elena de Céspedes was a hermaphrodite, and mulatto slave, a character like this is only discovered once in a lifetime"

Agustín Sánchez Vidal came across the true story of a character that any novelist would be inspired by. Elena de Céspedes, who was a hermaphrodite who lived in the sixteenth century, a mulatto persecuted and accused of lesbianism in court

MARÍA R. ARANGUREN - Monday, 8 March 2010 - Updated at 07:34.


How did you come across this wonderful story you tell in "Nobody's Slave"?

It was just by chance. In 1998 I was preparing my first novel and I needed to find a trial of the Inquisition in Toledo that happened around 1580. I went to the National Historical Archive in Madrid and then I came across this case which I had not been looking for but which captured my attention. Under the Inquisition process itself, the defendant describes his/her life. When I read it, I thought that one day I would turn it into a novel.

It was just by chance?

Yes, and this is something that happens once in lifetime, because this is a character of such interest that the logical thing would have involved not only a novel but several, or even a movie. It is an even more striking case than the one that immediately comes to mind, the nun Erauso Catherine, who was also a female soldier. However, Elena de Céspedes, was not only a soldier, but also a surgeon and had sex with both men and women.

What else was particular about her life?

The fact that she was a hermaphrodite is a striking fact but there are some additions that make the character more interesting, more confrontational and dramatic. Conflict is the engine of any good story and this is a character who was born a slave. Interestingly, we associate slavery with the Americas, Uncle Tom's Cabin and perhaps even to our own colonies, but not to the Peninsula. Elena de Cespedes was a mulatto, the daughter of African slaves. Even her face was branded with an iron so no one would ever forget whom she belonged to. She also lived in Alhama de Granada, a strategic enclave because it was on the way from Granada to the capital Malaga, and Alhama was a haven where there was a permanent war in which the Moors had to always stay on the lookout. Besides looking Moorish and being a slave, when she gave birth to her first child, her body underwent some very profound changes. She said that when she gave birth to the child she also bore a penis, and it's true. After this event, she begins to have relationships with women.

This is about a woman who constantly fought for her freedom, was that common at the time?

It was not at all common. At that time women were very restricted in their activity. At the end of her life she was accused of lesbianism, and she tried to prove that she had masculine attributes. She did not have a definite identity. There is a part of the book entitled La Frontera (The Boundary or Border) because she lives in Jerez de la Frontera, Arcos de la Frontera, Moron de la Frontera, in cities that contained the name "Border" because they were the places where the borders between the Moors and Christians were stable. But that was not the only reason that I entitled part of the book "La Frontera". It was also because that was also a very important feature of her own identity. How could one determine the boundaries or borders of Elena herself? That seemed a lot harder.

What is documented in the archives exactly?

They are verbatim transcripts of two trials involving several clerks. They are very thorough interrogations that involve up to 200 people. The testimonies give you an incredible amount of detail, some very gory details. The sex of the woman is what will determine the judgment. In order to bring the charges, the sexual nature of them has to make sense and the charges of sodomy or lesbianism were punishable by death at the stake, so she was risking both her life and that of her wife.

How did you construct the style and tone?

For 20 years I was professor of literature and this forced me to read in a systematic way, something only professionals do. When you read systematically, you generally follow a chronological order, so you know what the language of the time is like, you know what the influences are, if they are coming in from Italy or if a strong current from France has taken over. The Protagonist was born in 1545, the year Lazarillo de Tormes was published, a cornerstone of narrative prose which was not just Castilian but also international. It's the kind of reading that people were doing at the time when she grew up. Also, I had the great advantage of verbatim transcripts so I could listen to the characters. My task has been to figure out to what degree the modern reader would have trouble with certain words or constructions. In any case, Lazarillo de Tormes does not need footnotes (for readers to understand the language). The language becomes more complicated later with Guzman and the Buscón de Quevedo.

Did you use other sources?

There is a moment when the protagonist has to move between pimps and whores in the underworld, and there is a great novel that helped me a lot. It is La lozana andaluza by Francisco Delicado. In this work you listen to a prostitute speak crudely about sex and other aspects. There are also three extraordinary authors who wrote about the war with the Moors. Ginés Pérez de Hita, who is said to be inventor of the historical novel, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Marcol Carvajal. All three offer very precise details.

Is this a novel about identity?

That's the key. It would have been a mistake to find a case like this and try to exaggerate it and accentuate the most flamboyant in the reader's mind because I would have lost sight of the fact that I was dealing with a person. If I had made that mistake, which I don't think I did, I would have turned Elena de Cespedes into a circus freak. She is a mulatto, lives in an environment of Moors, she is a hermaphrodite, and she likes women, but behind all these circumstances there is a human being who seeks what all people seek. Also, at that time humanism has not yet been extinguished. It is still felt that the fate of a person does not have to be in the hands of the gods, but in one's own hands.

Have you assumed responsibility in recreating this story?

I enjoyed it a lot. Finding something like this is like winning the lottery. What happens is that you can get lazy in having to come up with it all yourself. When you work with a real case, you are already given the whole story. You can become a bit lazy in wanting something like that to hold on to and that is just how it will have to be.

External Links:

OII’s Objections to the APA DSM-V Committee’s Proposals on Intersex

1.) We believe that the term 'disorder of sex development' (DSD) is not the best way to refer to intersex, intersex people or any medical issues they experience.
2.) When an intersex person rejects an assignment made on their behalf at or near birth, or puberty, we do not regard them as having any sort of identity disorder, or gender incongruence.
3.) When a person prefers to identify as intersex, and does not want to conform to any clear gender, we do not regard them as having any sort of identity disorder, or gender incongruence.
4.) In situations where an individual rejects an earlier assignment made without their consent, we regard this as being due to an erroneous earlier assignment, and thereby any problems arising from that as iatrogenic rather than as a psychological disorder or incongruence. When no consent was sought from an individual, when it becomes possible for that person to exercise their choice to reverse such an error, this cannot be considered a disorder or incongruence.
5.) We see no need to further medicalise and stigmatise intersex people by referring to them as necessarily disordered (DSD), and where mistakes in assignment have been made, we see no value in medicalising and stigmatising them further by applying another form of disorder called 'gender incongruence'.
6.) We ask that the same standards applied in the situation for homosexuality starting with the DSM-II revision be applied to intersex; we request that the DSM-V committee recognise that intersex and all intersex expressions of gender identity are part of normal human variation, and that treatment be confined to those genuine medical issues facing intersex people, and issues they themselves seek medical assistance with.
7.) In the case of children where there is some doubt as to which gender assignment will offer the best outcome, once a decision has been made on their behalf, they should be dealt with in a sensitive and flexible way that will allow them to express their own preferences as they get older, and that should be managed in a way that can most effectively accommodate their own choices and decisions. With an awareness of the potentially disastrous consequences of altering children's genitals surgically prior to an age when they can make informed consent, we call for the minimum of non-essential medical treatment and assignment relating to their gender role, presentation and sex characteristics, until they are in a position to decide upon an appropriate gender (or some other arrangement) for themselves.
8.) To summarise: If an intersex child is assigned a gender without their consent, when they come to exercise their own choice for assignment, this cannot be considered a psychological disorder, or gender incongruence.
Also available on OII's website: Click here

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Australia sets precedent by issuing a document stating "sex not specified"

A Sydney resident has reportedly achieved a world first by successfully petitioning NSW authorities to be officially recognised as a non-gender person.

Norrie May-Welby, 48, received a "Sex Not Specified" status the day before Sydney's Mardi Gras parade after a month-long battle with the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Sydney Star Observer reports.

Complete article: Click here

For more information, visit OII-Australia: here

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Australia’s peak body for intersex people has labelled revisions to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual as a backwards step in the fight for intersex rights.

In re-drafting the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is also used as a standard diagnostic tool in Australia, the APA has removed references to ‘gender identity disorders’, and ‘gender identity disorder not otherwise specified’, the term used to ‘diagnose’ intersex people who have rejected the sex they were assigned at birth.

Complete article: Click here

The IOC's unkind cuts

For all the enlightened, lofty aspirations of the Olympic Games themselves, the leadership of the International Olympic Committee continues to approach delicate gender issues with a sledge hammer and chisel.

After the New York Times reported in January its two-day panel of medical experts recommended that athletes with intersex attributes be allowed to compete only if they undergo medical "corrections" – procedures that intersex activists characterize as barbaric, invasive, and often unnecessary – Organisation Intersex International began an online petition calling on the IOC to, essentially, back off and get a clue.

Complete article: Click here

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Olympics Need to Play Fair With Intersex Athletes

By Cynthya BrianKate

One of my best friends is a butch genderqueer lesbian who competes locally in womens’ sports. Recently she told me “I think it’d be fascinating to find out if I’m at all intersex like you.” I said “not if you know what the Olympics are trying to do to intersex people.” The IOC (International Olympic Committee) isn’t playing fair with intersex athletes. They’re playing gender and appearance police on female athletes, and only female athletes, in a witch-hunt against butch and intersex women. The IOC is using hateful language against intersex women and demanding that female athletes found to be intersex submit to forced hormone treatments or forced surgery akin to female genital mutilation if they want to compete as the women they are. This violates womens’ rights, basic human rights and a 1990s international court ruling in favor of intersex women in sports.

Complete article: Click here