Is it time to consider that trans is a form of intersex?
There are 2 options […] that trans people lose bodily autonomy, or that intersex people gain bodily autonomy. The latter is the one we should insist on of course, but science is science – I don’t think it would be good science to pretend that trans isn’t intersex if it is.
Essentially, intersex consists of a range of conditions. The list varies a little according to who is making it but take the Wikipedia article as a broad overview and that gives 13 conditions which all have their different challenges. If trans is intersex, then it just extends the list to 14 conditions with different challenges. intersex and intersex are not the same. Lets say there are 13 intersex conditions. They are all different, with different sets of challenges. If trans is intersex, then you have a list of 14 intersex conditions with different sets of challenges.
It wouldn’t be appropriation if trans is intersex, so first one must establish whether or not it is. If trans is intersex, then it’s also my experience. First one must establish whether it is or not.
In practice “trans” and “intersex” describe distinct social experiences at this moment in history. Intersex and trans people can face quite different challenges and forms of oppression with regards to coming out, interactions with medical professionals, and physical needs.
Many endosex trans people appropriate intersex narratives in order to promote trans rights, while failing to actively support intersex rights struggles and in many cases effectively erasing intersex experiences through centring trans people in talking about intersex. There are points of similarities with the respective struggles, but there are also important differences that should not be further erased. This misappropriation make it harder for people who are intersex and trans to discuss about different parts of their experiences, as well as how they inform each other.
[Picture of a purple fist against a yellow background.]
Personally, I find more drawbacks than gains in ever establishing whether trans is nature and/or nurture. Where there’s an establish cause, there’s effort to “cure.” Queerphobes who believe sexual orientation and gender are the result of nurture advocate for “reparative therapy” (should be called gaslighting IMO.) Queerphobes who believe sexual orientation and gender are nature advocate for finding ways to screen in utero, other forms of eugenics, and/or in my case, because I have a sex variation, forcing me onto hormone therapy that they hoped would make me “straight” (on the basis of denying I could be anything but a girl.).
In fact, my refusal to give consent to treatment at an age that where I lived, I was of legal age to provide/withhold informed consent, was deemed proof by my “treating” physician that I could not be permitted bodily autonomy. Recently, in the same geopolitical space (British Columbia) an endo trans kid the same age as I was has given informed consent for his hormone therapy, and went through the courts because the hospital defends his right to start the treatment he wants. [For the linkphobic, it’s his dad who argued otherwise.]
This re-opened an old wound for me. The same scenario: of a teen the same age, for the same treatment, and because he’s endo trans, the hospital goes above and beyond to defend his capacity to dictate his bodily autonomy and course of treatment. But because I’m intersex, that very same thing: capacity for consent, was denied as relevant, and my bodily autonomy was violated by the medical professional who overruled me. If trans is ever deemed a sex variation, you can expect parallel treatment as IGM and other devastating interventions on endo trans youths. In several jurisdictions access to care for endo trans people is better than it is for intersex people. Consider that only one country in the whole world has outlawed infant genital mutilation: Malta.
[Picture by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash. Description: trans flag held by a child going by a rainbow.]
IMO trans and intersex people (meaning endo trans, intersex, and those of us who are intersex and trans) need less pathology framing our access to care. Our advocacy should focus on bodily autonomy, social models of care (that absolutely include medical treatment for those for whom that makes sense), for our right to choose what we do with our bodies to centre on informed consent, and patient led treatment.
I’m not arguing that trans people not presently considered intersex aren’t intersex. My point is that finding out definitively will not bring on gains for those trans people, if anything it will result in worse treatment. Scientific facts don’t ensure human rights, or better medical treatment; one need only look at the ongoing history of eugenics. The sexual variations presently recognised by medicine are typically addressed in dehumanising ways.
Pregnancy used to be so pathologised that in some parts of the world midwifery was rendered illegal and everyone had to get care from gynecologists. This had devastating consequences on indigenous populations that were prevented from delivering according to their depathologised traditions. Pregnancy has since become far less pathologised, and everyone benefits from it, even those who get medical assistance to become pregnant, through out pregnancy and give birth via a C section.
Wanting to locate trans people not presently considered intersex within intersex variations is wanting to further pathologise trans people’s lives. That goes against the history of trans advocacy. We have been fighting for more accessible standards of trans care, fewer interventions by specialists, to get more of the care we choose to be done in publicly funded primary care. If trans is eventually considered an intersex variation, it runs a very real risk to undo all of these gains.
The desire to locate trans as an intersex condition seems to stem from the belief that then trans would be better accepted and indisputable. The history of those already considered intersex is endless proof that this is very much not the case. I want intersex people less pathologised, I wish intersex care was catching up to trans care. History tells us that we lose bodily autonomy the more we are pathologised. This has been true for cis women (e.g. hysteria and pregnancies as diagnosis), intersex and trans people. Whether trans people not currently considered intersex are or are not intersex misses the point of how dangerous it will be if this is proven, and how it runs counter to our goals of greater bodily autonomy and less pathology.
[Picture by Brannon Naito on Unsplash. Description: aerial view of a spiral staircase.]
A real life story:
I had a body part removed without my knowledge, never mind giving me a chance to give consent in my twenties. This was done by a doctor who had already twice been disciplined for mutilating intersex people. I didn’t know her history because after the second time, she relocated and began to treat endo trans people. My endo trans friends recommended her for a surgery I needed, so I went with her. Only I woke up to an extra incision, and operative and post-operative reports that denied said incision. It took another surgery to find out what she’d done to me. To this day, she continues to be awesome to endo trans people. Literally the same doctors will continue to mutilate intersex people while treating endo trans people with compassion.
It’s common for intersex people like myself, who are also trans, to run away from the clinics where we were traumatised as infant and/or teens, and omit our sex variation to gender identity clinics to get care because that’s better than returning to the intersex services that traumatised us because of our sex variation.
I’ve experienced both, and I do not want trans care to become like intersex care.
Intersex people advocate to not have medical interventions forced upon them. These interventions are forced upon them because their physiology are pathologised. Trans people advocate to have medical interventions they desire. These interventions are denied because they are told their bodies don’t have pathologies, their minds do, therefore, there’s no need for the physiological interventions rather psychological ones.
Trans people wanting to be considered intersex are risking having medical interventions they don’t desire forced upon their bodies because they will be further pathologised then they already are. Intersex people are wanting to be less pathologised so there’s no justification for forcing physiological interventions on them.
Whether you are intersex or not misses the point. It is buying into a pathologising of our lives. I don’t want either of us to be pathologised.