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by Hida Viloria.
Intersexphobia, or “Interphobia” — as coined in a fantastic 2010 blog post by openly intersex and trans* Professor Cary Gabriel Costello, PhD — encompasses negative attitudes and feelings towards people who are born with, or develop in puberty, sex traits that are not typically male or female, known as Intersex Traits. Interphobia is evidenced in widespead violence and severe discrimination against intersex people, such the practice of Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM).
IGM is the medicalized effort to eradicate intersex people from society by “normalizing” intersex bodies into more typically male or female bodies in order to maintain sex and gender norms. As an excellent ” target=”_blank”>Harvard Law Review article examines, medical “treatment” of intersex people with IGM not only utilizes some of the same nonconsensual, medically unnecessary, cosmetic genital surgeries used in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), it is also, like FGM, a culturally driven practice which is performed in order to uphold cultural attitudes and beliefs about sex and gender, rather than for medical reasons. Simply out, all effort to “fix” intersex bodies to fit into male and female sex and gender “norms” are inherently interphobic and violently discriminatory.
I like “Interphobia” for two reasons:
1. It’s easier and more consistent, linguistically, than “Intersexphobia”, and;
2. “Intersex” refers specifically to biological sex traits, but Intersex People aren’t the only victims of prejudice towards non-binary bodies and/or people with gender expressions associated with them. as the setting of a 16 y.o. agender boy on fire as he slept on a bus, while waring a skirt, in liberal Berkeley, California demonstrates.
Simply being perceived as not being “a real man” or “real woman” — as Intersex People have long been and continue to be, if known to be Intersex — is enough to elicit interphobic responses such as negative attitudes and/or behavior, bullying, and even violence. This in turns limits all people in fully expressing their gender and/or gender identity.
Today, it is mainly people with non-binary gender identities and/or expression who are the common targets, along with Intersex People, of Interphobia. However, as historians, anthropologists, sociologists and others have documented, numerous 14th-16h century accounts from England, France, Spain and more reveal that people today known as gays and lesbians were once labelled with terms associated with intersex people, known then by our older label, “hermaphrodites”. Examples of these associations include the term “Tribade” (circa 1595, Greece), which referred to a woman believed to be capable of having penetrative sex with another woman, accusations of which made the accused subject to ridicule or punishment (Bonnie Zimmerman (2000). Lesbian histories and cultures: an encyclopedia (Volume 1).Taylor & Francis. pp. 776–777. ISBN 0-8153-1920-7. Retrieved February 29, 2012.). Today, “tribade” remains defined in the Oxford Dictionary as, “A lesbian, especially one who lies on top of her partner and simulates the movements of the male in heterosexual intercourse.” Also, from the 1850’s through the mid 20th century, members of what we would today call the early “gay men’s” civil rights movements in England and Germany commonly used the term “Third sex”, which has obvious hermaphrodite/intersex associations, to describe themselves ( Kennedy, Hubert (1981). “The “Third Sex” Theory of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs”. Journal of Homosexuality 6 (1–2): 103–111. doi:10.1300/J082v06n01_10. PMID 7042820. ^ Hirschfeld, Magnus, 1904. Berlins Drittes Geschlecht (“Berlin’s Third Sex”), ^ Ellis, Havelock and Symonds, J. A., 1897. Sexual Inversion. ^ Carpenter, Edward, 1908. The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women.) Interphobia has thus harmed/harms all members of the LGBTQIA community.
Interphobia also continues to advance discriminatory practices against intersex adults, as well as minors and youth, such as regulations against intersex female athletes in competitive sport which require them to undergo medically unnecessary, “feminizing” medical treatments, such as hormone therapy, in order to compete as women. The fact that these regulations persist — despite well publicized findings that even the sporting bodies’ own medical experts have been unable to find evidence that high levels of functioning testosterone give intersex women a competitive advantage — is based purely on interphobic attitudes which have historically deemed intersex people as “gender interlopers”, or, essentially, criminals, in need of punishment.
In order to end Interphobia and all its pursuant harms, we must confront any and all efforts to deem Intersex People, and those whose appearance is associated with being Intersex, as inferior. Such efforts are inherently Interphobic, as are attempts to promote the unsubstantiated claim that the majority of Intersex people identify as males or females, when there is in fact evidence to the contrary. Promoting gender normative stereotypes seeks to seeks to minimize stigma and discrimination against intersex people by obfuscating non-binary Intersex People’s existence, as if we are something to be ashamed of. While we all prefer to avoid prejudice as much as possible, when we do it on the backs of others, by placing them below us in the sociocultural pecking order, we are simply promoting the same prejudice by an another means. Thus we urge you to acknowledge and include all people, including those of us who have non-binary gender identities and/or bodies, in your conversations and discourse about sex and gender.:) Thank you!
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Essays on examining sports regulations for intersex women athletes are available for those inerested in learning more at the links below:
— http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22694024, http://philpapers.org/rec/VILRRO