I recently came across this article about intersexuality by Erin McKelle from Everyday Feminism and it got me thinking.
Here is a link to the article,**originally published on Everyday Feminism and re-published here with their permission**
I realized when I read this piece that I’ve known about intersexuality for a long time. I even wrote about intersexuality as an example of deconstructing the gender binary in my introduction to literary theory class a couple years ago. However, I didn’t know the name for it.
A long-standing belief is that sex is a person’s biological makeup, while gender is how they express and or identify themselves. Another long-standing belief is that there are only two sexes: male and female. Intersexuality challenges this belief.
Typically (and I use this term loosely because I don’t know how typical it is), males have one X and one Y chromosome, and women have two X chromosomes. However, there are chromosome combinations besides these two. For example, a person can have three X chromosomes (triple-x syndrome), only one X chromosome (Turner syndrome), two X chromosomes and a Y (Klinefelter syndrome), or one X chromosome and two Ys (XYY syndrome).
Intersexual people are generally forced to choose a side, and perform as either male or female. But if biology doesn’t even honor the gender binary, why are so many people trying so hard to do so? My short answer is because we’ve been taught for so long that there is a binary, and people tend to get freaked out when what they’ve been taught their whole lives is challenged. Erin McKelle, the author of the piece above, talks about how many people don’t know what intersexuality is and how intersexual people are marginalized, even within the LGTBQIA community. It’s at least semi-understandable that people are unaware of intersexuality because, like I said, we generally like to pretend that binaries actually exist.
There is a lot to be aware of as we work to break down the gender binary and give those who may not fit comfortably into one of the two available boxes (female or male) the opportunity for self-expression and self-determination. Like I said, I didn’t know what intersexuality was. I don’t think this lack of knowledge makes me a horrible person, nor does it make the many other people who don’t know what it is horrible people. It’s not necessarily bad to not be aware of all the different ways in which people identify themselves or to not fully understand them. BUT, ignorance does not give you an free pass to be an asshole.
I kind of get the initial inclination to complain about the number of things of which we have to be aware. However, I think being able to complain about the number of categories is a sign of privilege.
A couple of weeks ago I was on the train and I overheard two men’s conversation. They were coming home from work and were talking about someone making some kind of racist joke towards a Korean co-worker. They then went on to complain about workplace sensitivity training, how sensitive you have to be now, and how you can’t say anything anymore (I’m sure a bogus free speech discussion could have followed). I think these two white men hold positions of privilege because whiteness has always been met with sensitivity. There has never been a time when people have color have systematically mocked and belittled white people. The same thing goes for being straight. We’ve never had to have a straight sensitivity training meeting because being straight and cis-gendered is considered the norm.p>
I don’t think that it is too much of a burden to be a respectful human being. While I think there can be problems with the ways in which sensitivity training is taught, the end goal is to get people to be respectful human beings. (I actually think the end goal is to avoid lawsuits and, therefore, save moeny, but I won’t complain about that here). You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to know everything. If this is your first introduction to intersexuality, that’s fine. Welcome. But, like I said earlier, ignorance does not give you permission to be an asshole. You don’t get to make as many sexist or racist jokes in the office anymore? Forgive me if I don’t cry too many tears for you. There really is no place for any kind of phobia or ism anywhere, even (or especially) in joke form. Being expected to learn about and be sensitive to others who are different from you should not be considered a great challenge, and, for the record, it DEFINITELY is not censorship.
Also, check out the author of “Intersex 101: Respecting Variations in Biological Sex” Erin McKelle:
Erin McKelle is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s an e-activist, video blogger, student, and non-profit advocate who has launched several projects, including Fearless Feminism and Consent is Sexy. In her spare time, Erin enjoys reading, writing bad poetry, drawing, politics and reality TV. You can visit her site here find her blogging at Fearless Feminism, Facts About Feminism, and Period Positive. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMckelle and read her articles here.