Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old from South Africa,
after the women’s 800 meters at the world track and field championships in Berlin.
[photo is from here]Caster Semenya was over-exposed in the media last year due to having her gender and sex interrogated in invasive ways. It was a despicable example of how dehumanising the media can be. Not that there's any shortage of stories of that proclivity in media!
Before going on with this post, I want to point out this website which is an education and support site for intersex people and people who have been labeled intersex. And it is where I found the image above.
What is so refreshing to me about this website is that it is multi-racial and multi-ethnic. I've just spent an hour pouring over all-white videos, to find some to post here. I found three that I think might be helpful. But they're all white and Western. So here's the website for all of humanity to learn about being intersexed. (I also link to it from my blog, on the right side.)
One child in every 2000 is born, naturally, with a sex that isn't male or female. Why, then, do we pretend there are only two sexes and two genders (and that one set--males, boys, and men--are superior to and naturally dominant over the other set--females, girls, and women)?
I offer here three videos, each one quite different in style and subject matter. All have to do with what is termed being "intersex". These are the best I could find on YouTube, which I guess has just turned five years old. So Happy Birthday to YouTube. And while I'm offering up my critiques before each one, I find enough in each one to value and appreciate them. I mean, So You Think You Can Dance is Outrageously heterosexist, profoundly oppressively anti-gay and anti-lesbian in this regard, but, well, I LOVE that show. Such is life: finding what's special amidst all the oppressive CRAP. So I'll go into some critiques sort of to get them out of the way. I can't show stuff on this blog that, to me, is racist, for example, without mentioning how I find it to be so. Bear with me, please. I'm just not a "single-issue" kind of guy.
Each of the following videos centralise whiteness and Western white cultures, all normalise and naturalise heterosexuality, and none of them deal with race, sexual orientation, the politics of gender, or class. I didn't expect anything else, to be honest. But I wished for more.
This first video is one of the only ones that takes a positive view of being neither male or female. It does, however, assume everyone is white and in case they haven't noticed, people of every color and most ethnicities live in North America, the UK and Northern and Western Europe, when combined.
In the West, all the medical and most of the societally "unusual" stories are going to assume that whiteness is normal, and that telling the stories of white people with whatever conditions of birth or culture, is sufficient. I strongly disagree, and wish any story about white people described how their being white impacts their lives, how white supremacy and white privileges effect how they understand themselves and their particular form of humanity. How does institutional power shape the ways they view the world and the choices they make? How are white children and adults treated differently by the dominant Western medical establishment in the white het male supremacist West than children and adults of color? WHM-owned and controlled media, including television isn't likely to give us that answer.
This video is typically oblivious of its whiteness, of class, of sexual orientation, and this video is troubling to me on a lot of levels. For one, the medical intervention described is cruel, unconscionable, and done with no consent from the parents. This video is graphic about what this one intersex child physically looked like as an infant. I'm troubled by that too. I remember kids growing up and watching their parents show pictures to the grown child's friends, including the "nudie" tub pics or "naked baby on the rug" shots. No one I know welcomed this to happen. So how is a child to feel knowing their bodies were invaded not only surgically, but also photographically, and that this was posted on the Internet?
The other thing that most troubles me about this video is the way there seems to be a valuing of "boyhood" over girlhood", and the insistence by parents that, due to gender stereotyping--a child's interests and activities--they must be "a boy". There are plenty of people who were not boys who were more athletic and more active than Patrick. Girls and "non-boys" are not as socially valued and respected or statused and privileged as boys and men are. This, to me, plays out in what you are about to see. The video narrator ominously tells us that this child will have to take testosterone through injection all his life. Why? Why does he need more intervention? Why can't this child grow up without taking testosterone? There is an assumption that "playing like my son and not like my daughter means my child is a boy", and "because my child is a boy my child must be injected with testosterone for the rest of his life, due to a medical nightmare". I'm glad they are suing the doctor--who is just a butchering criminal who should have his license taken away, but I'm not happy that this child is not allowed to be a unique child (as every child is), but instead is being shaped into being a certain kind of child, with regard to gender.
The ways I was gendered were brutal at times, but far less traumatic than for some boys. I have written some about this, and you can read that *here*, in an essay called "The Trauma of the Gendered Child". I oppose the system of gendering that is fused to male supremacy and to a gender binary of male over and against female. I support the radical transformation of all institutions and systems in society to eliminate all manifestations of male supremacy, and just "trying to make more genders within a male supremacist society" is not workable, in my view, or liberating for women and girls, or for anyone else who is deemed to be not boyish enough if a male-designated child, and not manlike enough if male-designated, boy-raised adult.
Having said all that, what I most respect about this white seemingly working to middle class heterosexual mother, is her insistence that her child should NOT have to be surgically altered.
I find these stories, narrated by Juju Chang, compelling and honest. In the case of the younger person especially, we are introduced to a very positive role model for how to value being "different". (I love the self-loving spirit of that child!!) This film goes way too far in offering up views of the flesh of one of the people profiled. And the gender stereotyping is heterosexistly oppressive, to me, in some parts. It promotes the "thin, Western European female human form", which dominant media never seems to tire of reproducing. This whole "No, really, she's a WOMAN! Here, I'll kind of show you her breasts!" to me is typically, unnecessarily sexist exploitation. But I find both Eden and Kylie in this video, from a U.S. ABC-TV program, wonderful people.
So what do you think folks? Is this helpful to you? Does it anger you or upset you? Does it affirm you?