Manufacturing Comfort

    Last week’s Associated Press story featuring intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and discussion of M.C. v. Medical University of South Carolina is a strong example of a disquieting trend of wishful thinking – or excessive optimism – in recent press coverage of intersex issues.   Journalists, being human, are vulnerable to – “report events more favorably because that is what they would like the outcome to be” or – optimism bias. Unfortunately, this “tendency toward the rosy” has a long history in intersex reportage beginning with that fateful day in 1973 when John Money chose to champion his hypothesis rather than confess his failure.   Articles like the one we saw last week typically begin with the soul-baring personal story of someone born with intersex traits. It moves on to casual conflation of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender,’ a dubious quote from a careful surgeon, and a selectively inaccurate representation of present-day intersex treatment protocols. This formula – paired with the inference that every intersex birth in the U.S. is met with a multidisciplinary team of fair-minded specialists – can lead a casual reader to believe children are no longer arbitrarily sterilized, mutilated, or deceived. … Continue reading

“I Really Have to Go”

“Hold on honey,” I imagine myself saying to one of my daughters as I veer from a stream of hurried travelers at the crowded Dallas airport and head toward a desperately needed women’s restroom after a long flight from Boston. “Stay here with daddy for a few minutes while mommy uses the restroom, be right back.”   Then I see an official looking sign posted outside the entrance of the bathroom, “This restroom is not open to individuals age 13 years or older unless their gender matches their gender established at their birth, or matches their chromosomes.  Illegal use of this facility is a Class A misdemeanor under Texas Law punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.”   Wow.   What should I do? I am intersex. I have XY chromosomes, female-typical genitals, and testes in my abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus. I look female and have always identified as female.  But this sign says I am not allowed to use a public restroom because my chromosomes don’t match my gender.   And clearly this sign says a transgender woman, someone who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and lives as a woman, … Continue reading

Mani’s Annual Birthday Post: Ashes to Ashes, A Call for a New Paradigm

For the last few years I have written a piece for AIC reflecting on my birthday and I want to do the same this year. It’s hard to know where to start. I come to this birthday with a heavy heart as my long-time colleague and fellow intersex activist Sally Gross will not join me this year. Sally and I shared the same birth year, and last year Sally died at home alone in South Africa. She had struggled for a number of years with serious physical health issues. I did not know, still do not, the details of Sally’s medical difficulties.  What I do know is she, like many of us, had trouble finding doctors who would look outside the binary paradigm and see her for who she uniquely was and who would seek to understand what  she needed to stay well. I don’t think Sally had to die so young. I don’t think she had to live the last few years of her life with as much worry, pain and struggle as she did. I hope Sally, your death was not in vain, and that the things you so bravely talked about and worked towards do come to … Continue reading

Confronting Goliath Without a Stone

  Last week, something revolutionary happened on television. AIC President, Sean Saifa Wall, confronted the surgeon who removed his internal testes when he was 13 — Dr. Terry Hensle–and it was all captured by ABC’s Nightline. Saifa reflected on his Facebook page the next morning:   “To my intersex friends and comrades, Despite the lack of empathy expressed by Dr. Terry Hensle, Wednesday night was a victory for both myself and our movement. The medical community needs to know and understand that these “corrective” measures against people born with atypical male and female anatomy are not only stigmatizing, but harmful. We must continue to hold the medical community accountable for the trauma they have visited upon this community, both historically and at present. Our bodies are not shameful! We deserve our dignity! No more genital mutilation of intersex children and adults! And I will continue to advocate and fight for these things until it’s done.” ~ Sean Saifa Wall   After much preparation for this long awaited Nightline segment I watched with nervous anticipation as it aired close to midnight in Chicago. Saifa, my colleague, friend and brother in this liberation struggle for intersex human rights, simply awed me as … Continue reading

Update on M.C.’s Case – The Road to Justice can be Long, but there is more than one path for M.C.

We received disappointing news Monday that the Fourth Circuit has overturned the district court’s ruling in the case of M.C. vs. Aaronson. This means they will not allow the federal case to go to trial. However, the ruling does not affect the companion case of M.C. vs. Medical University of South Carolina, which was brought in state court, and we will continue to push forward aggressively on those claims.   What the ruling means:   The Fourth Circuit concluded that the defendants in our federal case cannot be held liable under federal law because the law in that jurisdiction in 2006 did not give them sufficient notice that performing medically unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on a sixteen-month old child could violate the child’s constitutional rights. Because the law in 2006 was not clearly established in South Carolina, the court found defendants had “qualified immunity” from suit, even if they had violated M.C.’s constitutional rights. The court declined to rule on whether MC’s surgery was a violation of his constitutional rights.   What the ruling does not mean:   It does not mean that the state actors who performed this surgery on M.C. had a right to do so, or that future … Continue reading

Kenya Now a Leader in Protection of Intersex Rights

AIC is delighted to announce that on Dec. 5, 2014, thanks to the hard work of attorney John Chigiti and his team, Kenya took a significant step in recognizing intersex human rights. Colleague and Kenyan attorney, John Chigiti, won a case concerning the issuance of a birth certificate to an intersex born child, “Baby A.” Mr. Chigiti and AIC legal director, Anne Tamar-Mattis, have collaborated and supported one another in their similar work (taking place in two different continents) on legal cases involving the rights of intersex children. Kenya’s “law did not contemplate the existence of these category of people. The constitution nonetheless has come to the aid of such children. It is now possible for them to acquire the much needed statutory documents like birth certificates (Chigiti 2014).”   Case Highlights: Officials didn’t know how to accurately describe the sex of Baby A. when they were born. Baby A. was not given a sex marker on their identity documents. Chigiti represented Baby A. and their family in a Kenyan court case. The court declared that every Kenyan has a human right to have identity documents and gender markers on those documents. The court acknowledged that they weren’t able to mandate a new … Continue reading

AIC Guest Blog | Kitty Anderson, Intersex Iceland

Yesterday was Intersex Awareness Day. AIC teamed up with Kitty Anderson, Chair of Intersex Iceland, to create a post in which Kitty shares their story of how a small group of people can change the world!   Before Intersex Iceland, little else was known besides that one surgery a year was performed to determine an intersex child’s sex in Iceland. These issues were rarely, if ever, discussed from a human rights perspective. Icelandic doctors treated people’s fundamental rights to self-determination and choice as preposterous–even going so far as to claim that not performing these non-consensual surgeries was akin to dangerous experimentation with intersex children´s lives. Like elsewhere in the world, we heard the same excuses for these surgeries: to relieve familial distress, prevent stigmatization and ensure that the child would identify with the correct gender. We should always be extremely wary of any medical professional that uses this last reason, taken partly from Dr. John Money’s theory that one’s gender has zero to do with their nature, when making decisions for intersex children.   A small group of activists in Iceland decided to act and we organized to address these issues within our society. We were shocked that intersex issues … Continue reading

Turning the Lens Inward: Sean Saifa Wall

AIC’s Blog Series, “Turning the Lens Inward,” features interviews with some of the key leaders and supporters who have helped make AIC the strong organization we are today! The third installment comes from AIC’s Board President, Sean Saifa Wall, and gives readers a glimpse of what Saifa believes are some of the intersex communities biggest challenges and what he views have been some of its biggest successes.   As one of many people living with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), I was assigned female at birth. For most of my life, I lived as a masculine of center woman until I decided to transition to male at the age of 24 when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I had not met another guy with AIS until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where I met Jim Ambrose. Prior to meeting Jim, the transition from female to male was a lonely one. I had no one to talk to about testosterone therapy and dosing except for Tony Briffa, another intersex activist living in Australia, who was undergoing a different form of testosterone replacement therapy. We connected instantly.   Through shifting life circumstance, Jimmy and I lost touch … Continue reading

M.C. Case Update – 4th Circuit Hearing

AIC’s Legal Director Anne Tamar-Mattis headed into the courtroom in the 4th Circuit last Wednesday for a hearing in the MC case, along with co-counsel Kristi Graunke from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Raisa Michalek and John Lovi from Steptoe & Johnson. A ruling is expected in the coming months.   Looking for more info on this important case? Go here!  

AIC plays a role this season in MTV’s new hit show, Faking it!

  About a year ago I was contacted about a new show set to premiere that was invested  in writing an intersex plot line about one of it’s main characters. I was skeptical, to say the least, that this was just another sensationalist trivialization of intersex people’s experiences. Feeling a large responsibility to represent and defend my intersex community, I cautiously agreed. Soon after, I found myself on the phone with the show’s Executive Producer, Carter Covington, and about a half dozen writers for MTV’s then brand new show Faking It. It became readily apparent that Covington was the real deal.  He spoke about the premise for the show and his commitment to conveying positive messages for LGBT youth. He and his writers wanted to make one of Faking It’s main high school characters come out as intersex in season two. They aimed to portray her experience accurately and respectfully with hopes of making a difference for some young MTV viewers born intersex who may be feeling isolated. I knew this was a perfect project for Inter/Act, AIC’s intersex youth advocacy program. In fact, one of our members just described in a blog post their own experience about coming out … Continue reading