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More Evidence People Did Well without Surgery!

Classification: News

This comes from Christina Matta, author of a very interesting new article on the history of intersex: “Ambiguous Bodies and Deviant Sexualities: Hermaphrodites, Homosexuality, and Surgery in the United States, 1850-1904,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 48, no. 1, Winter 2005. We asked Ms. Matta to summarize for our visitors what she learned about whether people with intersex faired well or poorly in the era before pediatric “normalizing” surgeries became standard practice. Here is what she wrote:

To anyone who understands that intersex genitals are not a life-threatening condition, the predominance of childhood “normalizing” surgeries as a medical response to atypical anatomies is completely inexplicable. It is even more inexplicable given that historically, adults with intersex were, by default, completely in control of their anatomies. Even if they had reason to consult a doctor (and those who did almost always did so for reasons that had nothing to do with their genitals), very few individuals were interested in the “solutions” doctors spontaneously offered. In the first half of the nineteenth century, in fact, all doctors could do was tell patients that they were not the sex they thought, and to order them to stop wearing pants (or to start wearing pants!) or otherwise act according to more appropriate gender roles. (In Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, Alice Dreger tells the story of a Belgian doctor who, in 1886, exclaimed after examining his patient, “But my good woman, you are a man!”) But this was the extent of medical treatment for intersex, and there’s nothing to suggest that patients bothered to do as they were told.

Fat and Intersex?

When I came to work as the Director of Programming for ISNA, many of my friends and colleagues asked why someone with a background in the scholarship of fat politics would come to work in the intersex rights movement. As it turns out, the issues involved are strikingly similar, and I find more common ground each day. We’re doing so much good work here at ISNA that undoubtedly benefits people with intersex conditions and their families, but I also think our work benefits other people with stigmatized embodiments. By insisting that we understand both the social and medical issues involved (and which is which!), advocating for patient autonomy, and working to end the stigma and shame that often surrounds bodies that are different, ISNA helps set the stage for many groups of people to receive better medical care and social support. We hope you’ll support this important work. And I hope you’ll read on to find out more about what fat and intersex have to do with each other.

Program Educates Social Workers about Intersex Issues

Classification: News

Pam Farrell and Nina Williams, a member of ISNA’s Medical Advisory Board, are running a monthly reading group for social workers who want to learn more about intersex conditions and how to provide better psychotherapy for patients with intersex conditions. The group also seeks to educate other social workers and push for institutional change. This year, the group has focused on ISNA recommended readings and videos, heard Janet Green speak, and debated the issues raised by these materials. On October 22, 2005, group members will present a panel at the NASW-NJ annual LGBTI conference about how their education in DSDD has altered the way they think about gender and sexuality. When this group disbands in December, the plan is for current members to team up and lead groups of their own.

"Our Bodies, Ourselves" Includes Intersex

Classification: News

At the start of ISNA’s life, when Cheryl Chase wondered why the facts of intersex weren’t included in the women’s health bible, Our Bodies, Ourselves, some people told her intersex was a women’s health issue.

Kudos to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective for today realizing it is! We’re thrilled that the new edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves includes a section on intersex written by members of ISNA. It even includes a note about ISNA’s mission and how to find our website.

We’re especially impressed that the editors included an excerpt from the autobiography of our Board Chair, Angela Moreno Lippert as previously published in full in Intersex in the Age of Ethics. Angela’s story is shocking and moving, and will help reach out to those Our Bodies readers who have suffered similarly—and will reach out to those who are committed to helping us push for progressive care for people with intersex. And it will be quite a reach since Our Bodies has sold more than four million copies!

Intersex and Homeland Security

Classification: News

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Thanks to naive beliefs about sex and gender, the Department of Homeland Security finds itself arguing with the Board of Immigration Appeals about whether or not a person’s chromosomes determine her/his sex.

In its disagreement with Homeland Security, the Board of Immigration Appeals noted that the facts about intersex negate Homeland Security’s overly simplistic beliefs about sex and gender identity. In making its decision, the Board referred to legal scholar Julie Greenberg’s masterful Arizona Law review article called Defining Male and Female: Intersexuality and the Collision Between Law and Biology.

Real ID Act and Intersex Families

Classification: News

It’s not uncommon for the law to assume that everyone is born into two neat sex categories (male and female) and that everyone stays in the category in which s/he was first placed. Not so! It is inevitable that some people born intersex will tell us that the sex/gender category to which they were assigned was incorrect.

Unfortunately, it looks like U.S. legislatures are making it harder and harder for people with intersex to assume the legal sex/gender category that they personally identify with. For one example of legislation that can cause hardship to people with intersex, and to their families, read what our friend and ally Lisa Lees reports on “The Real ID Act of 2005”:

What's ISNA up to?

Classification: News

What’s ISNA up to at the moment?

  • Under the leadership and technical wizardry of our Executive Director Cheryl Chase, we are continuing to make our website ever more useful and accessible for the 60,000+ visitors we host each year. We know the massive quantities of material on our site can be challenging to wade through! Regular users will already have noticed our new and improved FAQ and search system. This work is generously funded by the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, Kicking Assets, the Small Change Foundation, and individuals like you. (Hint, hint!).
  • Our Director of Medical Education Alice Dreger is busy revising and sending out for review our clinical and parents handbooks, texts originally drafted for us for Medical Advisory Board member Sallie Foley and Chris Feick. After the handbooks are revised and polished, ISNA staff will be presenting them to major medical centers in California. This work is generously funded by The California Endowment and the Arcus Foundation.
  • ISNA’s Director of Community Relations Jane Goto continues masterfully to triage inquiries coming into our helpdesk from parents, adults with intersex conditions, clinicians, researchers, and reporters. Jane and other members of our Board of Directors and our Medical Advisory Board are also busy giving talks around the country at medical centers, medical schools, universities, religious institutions, and libraries. Many of these events include the screening of our film, The Child with an Intersex Condition: Total Patient Care. (Check out our events column at the right.)

Intersex Declared a Human Rights Issue

Classification: News

Today the San Francisco Human Rights Commission issued A Human Rights Investigation into the Medical ‘Normalization’ of Intersex People, declaring that the standard medical approach to intersex conditions leads pediatric specialists to violate their patients’ human rights.

“In issuing this report, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission has essentially declared me a human being,” said Cheryl Chase, Executive Director of ISNA. “They have agreed that I—and children born like me—deserve the same basic human rights as others.” Chase, who was born with mixed sex anatomy internally and externally, went on: “No longer should we be lied to, displayed, be injected with hormones for questionable purposes, and have our genitals cut to alleviate the anxieties of parents and doctors. Doctors’ good intentions are not enough. Practices must now change.”

Intersex Declared a Human Rights Issue

Classification: News

Today the San Francisco Human Rights Commission declared that the standard medical approach to intersex conditions leads pediatric specialists to violate their patients’ human rights.

“In issuing this report, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission has essentially declared me a human being,” said Cheryl Chase, Executive Director of ISNA. “They have agreed that I—and children born like me—deserve the same basic human rights as others.” Chase, who was born with mixed sex anatomy internally and externally, went on: “No longer should we be lied to, displayed, be injected with hormones for questionable purposes, and have our genitals cut to alleviate the anxieties of parents and doctors. Doctors’ good intentions are not enough. Practices must now change.”

Dr. Joyce Brothers Likes Our Work!

Classification: News

The well-known and well-regarded Dr. Joyce Brothers has just written about the intersex treatment controversy in a syndicated column appearing in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and elsewhere. Judging by her Q&A’s on intersex, Dr. Brothers has taken a close look at what what we have to say and agrees with the logic of our recommendations. Thanks, Dr. Brothers, for seeing the importance of public education about people with intersex! We would like to note, though, that intersex is not the same as “ambiguous genitalia,” as Dr.

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