Sunday, November 06, 2011

Citizen of Kingdom of the Wicked

I recently read Kingdom of the Wicked, from what is listed as ‘The Premier children’s author of the 21st century’. It is a story of fantasy and imagination, mixed with realism of medical conditions of the writer of the work. The writer is the creator of worlds of imagination, beloved around the world, who had a world of vivid imagination from his youth. But this world has been invaded by an 'Other’, who looks like him but is not, and who loves doing evil, glass in food, needles in baby food, then comes the torturing of animals and humans. Is this about the balance of the author between the good and evil within? No, but about the balance between the good person and the literal monster co-existing within: remnants of a mosaic twin.

It is always personally challenging to read that you, the actual person reading is the personification of all evil, wickedness and the most horrific medical experiments, not because of what you have chosen, but simply because of who you are. In WWII, the analogy was that the Jews were rats, literally destroying the country and all places they lived, because they lived, and thus the killing of them was only justified.

In this book, Kingdom of the Wicked, the reader is urged, like the narrator, to seek out the intersex nature of the self, because it is evil, a monster whether woken or not, which is best off dead. And if that can be done metaphorically good, but if you can do it physically, even better.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, as intersex characters are universally either hated, need to be destroyed or are simply monsters. Hanna, in the named movie, is a recent example, in her abnormalities, as Discover Magazine calls her the transhuman tragedy, bred genetically evil. But I was surprised in the book at how openly the mosiac parts of the author are blamed for ill health, that they are malevolent; a innate drive to kill, maim and hurt.

The two books with ‘hermaphrodites’ as both authors openly admit that they did no medical research or even basic reading of what intersex means, are Annabel and Middlesex. I have already reviewed Middlesex, by an author which was protested by the ISNA (Intersex Society of North America) to try and get the author to stop calling children ‘hermaphrodites’, because this is the 21st century, not the 19th. Annabel, moved into great literary acclaim in Canada before it was even published. Written by Kathleen Winter, who in an interview explained how she researched the sausages of Labrador (the remote Canadian localized setting) more than she did about hermaphrodites/intersex. This is because in Canada, having a very local and CANADIAN setting is far more important than for example, doing the equivalent of using ‘faggot’ instead of gay, and having newspaper titles like, “Author writes novel of a faggot growing up in Labrador’ And it helps ignorance like the blog, 'Hermaphrodites in Hollywood' which reviewed the books positive and states in the title statement of the blog: "Hermaphroditism is a sex development disorder in which a person birthed through an incestuous relationship is cursed with both male and female gene tails. They are often called Intersex" With a big banner: Say NO to INCEST.

Errr....fact check much?

So why then is the BBC doing the same bad science, bad assumption? When BBC4 did the radio program: Annabel - HERMAPHRODITE, or the independant ran the story: "Annabel - story of a hermaphrodite raised in labrador"?

As the author said in a interview a few months ago: "Annabel, started with one word: hermaphrodite.

“Someone told me about an intersex child, and she called the child ‘hermaphrodite’ and that’s a term from mythology,” relates Winter over the phone from her Montreal home.

“I had always thought that was a mythological idea, I didn’t know that there were children born intersex (the proper term).

Winter chose not to research the character but let the situation determine the internal and external feelings of Wayne. Essentially, in love with a mythological idea, and that of gender and society, she decided not to do the basic fact checking and let her own bias and ignorance guide her. She reported being astonished that gay, trans and intersex individuals were a large audience which read her book.

Let's compare. How then would another LGBTQI book go? There would be a straight guy and he would start his novel, "Dyke." and says that he didn't talk with any lesbians (nor did Winter talk to ANY intersex individuals, or the Intersex society) but let his ideas of the 'myth' of lesbians and character lead him. "I knew that lesbians are serial killers and ugly, so that is where I started, and then went on to the raping of young girls" Plus Lesbians cut of breasts. Would Lambda support a book like that? Would it be shortlisted for the best books written?

Would a book where lesbians are serial killers by nature get nominated for every major Canadian Award and the Orange Prize int he UK? I simply wish Winter had been honest, as she sets the book in a single out back cabin in one of the most remote areas of Canada. So the book is not so much society and gender but a father who wants a son. And that story has been done well, like Ian Banks' The Wasp Factory. Do the honest story, not a 'myth' of a whole section of society.

Annabel is BAD. But because people don't know about those who are intersex or what intersex means they take bad plots, offensive parts of the book as 'standard' (Intersex a condition which has to do with reproduction or the genetalia, instead of say, a cleft pallete, or dyslexia, or lactose intolerance) So, when 'Wayne' with both genetalia, ends up having a medical crisis because Wayne is due to explode from backed up menstrual blood. Yes, like in Willy Wonka, the character is bloated and red, about to explode like a bad comedy, splattering everyone with blood. And we accept that, when we would not accept that if in the story a girl was 14 and hadn't had a period yet, or had PCOS (a very common condition where periods are often years apart, and may start in the 20's, and is NOT an intersex condition). But we accept it, because we are told that Wayne is an 'other', an 'intersex'. We are told over and over that mild interests in things that belong to the 'women's world' are the sign of Wayne's duality. And we applaud this, a book which informs us that a boy can't be interested in knitting, or anything his mother is interested in UNLESS he is a genetic freak. A main character which barely ‘passes’ as human in a single cabin in the woods. But, we are ever reminded they are NOT human, not like us.

Why? Because Wayne literally FUCKS HIMSELF INTO HERSELF getting pregnant.

Yes, a book, not in a 1950's pulp of fetish mag, where the main character gets themselves PREGNANT. Yup, penis into vagina and woohoo, we have the first self replicating human. It is foreign, it is something that must be destroyed, this baby of Wayne's freakish construct. And so the family rushes to the hospital to abort a baby from someone impregnating themselves. And instead of people going, "Okay, how much drugs did this author do?" Or "You know the term, 'Go fuck yourself' isn't supposed to be a literary award winner." But we accept it, judges accept it, judges who have gone to first rate universities, and written books ALSO don't bother to do the most basic of research and go, 'Oh dear, how must this be resolved?"

And we and gay organizations endorse it, and why not, it was an 'accidental’ impregnation of her/himself. WE believe it because that idea is a urban myth from the time of Peyps and the 17th/18th idea of TERROR, and Horror. These are not people, they are monstrosities, kept in the wild, brutalized to act as a male until their inherently failure at being human exposes them as the sideshow freak they are (ironically, in the other award winning book Middlesex, the author has the character leave the boyfriend and family just after seeing that they are a 'hermaphrodite' on a doctor's note, and thus run off to the sideshow in order to be ‘home’). Those are the homes WE, as a society think they should be, not the home next door, which as intersex conditions are 1 in 1,500, means they are in your class, your school, are next door, not in a carnival somewhere.

What is worse, is Lambda gives this a positive review. I am not sure if they would appreciate a novelist winning awards with a book showing the worst of all stereotypes from two centuries ago about gays and lesbians, but then, when have LGBTQI groups ever REALLY cared to educate themselves on the I?

The authors told 350,000 individuals in North America who are intersex that ‘hey, this is you, you genetic and sub-human freak, and one day, when you end up impregnating yourself, we’ll know who you are.” And the other 300 million were told, Intersex people are freaky, are scary, are best when they know they are different and repress themselves WAY OUT in the snow and wild. And Lambda applauded.

Why do I hate this book so much. Because even now, in a recent interview Winter twittered on about how people can use it to understand the universal 'other' within themselves. To her it remains a myth. She states that even to the end of writing the book, 'Wayne' her 'hermaphrodite' (after a year, she finally started calling Wayne intersex) character was the only one who wasn't 'real' to her.

And that is why I hate the book. Because we are real. And what occurs is real. And having doctors deciding what you are going to do, reporting back on how much sex you had, getting fingered just because a doctor is 'curious' is real. I don't want a guy who thinks women are 'mythological' to write about women. And when you are dealing with a minority which has been historically and continiously exploited and abused, the writer should take EXTRA precaution, because getting it right matters. This woman stood up as a voice for them because she found hermaphrodites like unicorns and didn't think it mattered what she wrote about them. So the facts didn't matter, just her view of gender constructs. Except someone about to be kicked by 10 boys, or 10 girls in a locker room can't say, "I am mythological' Getting expelled from an all girls school for being intersex, you can't go, "I accept my other."

Intersex individuals are abused, coded, sterotyped, and exploited as infants. Often the first memories they have is the pain and emotional trauma of medical and social conformity crushing them down. The one feeling that is so common in intersex children is SHAME. They are the one which did something to make mommy and daddy unhappy, THEY are the ones who must hide, always hide, THEY are the ones who make mommy cry. I remember one case where an 'assigned' boy (where a child is assigned a gender) was to be 'trained' but having anything feminine taken away, and if they persisted in feminine behavoir they would have toys taken away. After a couple months, the room of this six year old had only a bed and a chair, because of 'infractions' and walking past a girls birthday party, they curled up in a ball crying hysterically because it was Pink, and the pink attracted and if the 'assigned boy' reacted or went over, they would be physically punished. And whether he couldn't disappoint his mother and father anymore and couldn't take being hurt anymore, he had a nervous breakdown begging for the pink to be taken away because they wanted it so bad.

Which is why the intersex society says, asks, pleads and begs doctors to wait to assign gender in cases like that. But, there is no theory, or abstract words when a six year old lives in a room devoid of color, a room empty of object because there is no further way to punish them, and they would rather die, than be 'bad' because they like the colour pink.

And that is why I asked the 'genetic' doctor on Vancouver Island what he does. This man who has NO training as a geneticist but a peds doctor with 'an interest', who gets to determine the gender of all intersex babies on the island. I asked if he followed ISNA and international protocols and he said no, he labels gender at birth because that is what he has done for the last 40 years.

Will change ONLY come when those in power in hospitals, and now we see, in literary prize circles, DIE OFF?

Robertson Davies, in his book, fifth business, did a better job, using Jungian archtypes of the male, the female, the angel and the beast in all of us, in talking about the need to accept the intersexual, than any book I have read since.

I wish I could do a three week blog, where each day I explained a different type of intersex condition, but I can’t – because I am in pain that simply never ends, and only grows, and I am dying.

There is no reason for me not to assume that you, the reader of this post, are not intersex. And there is no reason that should bother you. Let’s say you have problems getting pregnant, or infrequent periods, or facial hair, or if male, you have not produced a child yet, or have one leg longer than the other, or came into puberty early, or came into puberty late, or if female, are tall with small breasts, or came into puberty around 15, or are short while your family is not – all signs of intersex. Which means what again? It simply means that you will have a harder time conceiving a child. Or you could have had a smaller penis, or a larger clit when born, and now you don’t. But to doctors, who have pressure from your mother, and the hospital to give you a gender, it is……ambigious. These days, they can do all sorts of MRI’s and such but when most of us were born it was the old ‘Stare at the groin and give it a guess’, and some of those guesses were wrong. Ta-da. So you know what that means? It means you will one day impregnate yourself, maybe while sleeping, the outcome of a nice erotic dream (try to explain the genetics of that child to me), see, isn’t that annoying and offensive?

In case you aren’t up on genetics, I have a lot of what is known as ‘junk’ in my chromosomes. Junk is where there is garbage coding or destroyed coding where there should be good coding. The fact that I am dying of a disease in my genes which can’t be cured is a good indication. As well as the fact that I had two other genetic conditions, one which affected my bones, another my heart and my muscles. Also, I am missing a vertebrae in my back. That’s right, the nerve column of my spine is ‘exposed’ because there is only muscle and not bone around it. And then there is my dead twin, and how one of my arms and perhaps a leg belongs to him.

That’s what happens, there are sometimes two eggs, and instead of one egg splitting and making twins, or two eggs making twins, the two eggs, each hit with a sperm or perhaps with only one fertilized egg join together. And this leaves little markers all over the body. And if the sperm which hit one egg was a Y and the other was an X, the dominant egg determines gender. Except that some of the parts might have XY chromosomes. Does this make people like that a ‘freak’, or a ‘mutation’ – no more or less than the thousands of variations we have in people. I once asked in a large lunch room what people had that was different, and in turned out not one but two people in the lunch room had webbed toes, there was a third nipple, double jointed and all sorts of wonderful variation. This is what it means to be human; that variation.

Does it give me strength to imagine a twin with me, a brother in my arm, who will pull me along a pull bar when I am too weak and need to sleep? A little. If I had gone on living, intersex wouldn't be in my face so much. But when I am monthly prodded and examined, when there is a notation in bold on my file in the Emergency Room, even though it has no significance in comparison to having AV nodes in both heart chambers, or more important, that 65 degrees is room temp for me and at 72 degree I overheat and fall over, red in the face and body. But because it is shoved in front of me, that different is bad, that genetically I am evil, or belong in a circus sideshow. I do as much as you do. If I broke anyone down to the genetic level, I am sure we all have our oddities. I like to think that is the glory of being individual, not what makes us evil, or abnormal, or from the Kingdom of the Wicked.

I have, for the last year or more wanted to write a book of an intersex heroine because everyone takes the IDEA and plays with it, talks about ‘hermaphrodites’ like it isn’t a word which hurts. It is like ‘R’ word or the ‘N’ word but since no one tells you as a child or adult, ‘That isn’t something you say about another person, so shut up, and remember that!’ – because no one speaks, everyone keeps doing it. And in books and in movies the way intersex or hermaphrodites is seen is: if a plot twist is needed, lets drag out the ‘abnormal’ – there is no difference between Frankenstiens’ monster and the modern view of intersex. Noticing that being different scares other people doesn't make you a great writer, it makes you a person who is lucky enough to not have that burnt into you from the scars you have. Or that it hurts those who are marked as different. What would be truly enlightened is to learn the story of the people you know,to learn how this difference affected them.

It is trendy now for some trans individuals to talk about how they wish they were intersex, or how they wish (insert some bizzare idea of what intersex is like). Well, if you really want it, there is plastic surgery and you can get it. Or that intersex ‘proves’ that gender is what you want it to be because ‘there are these guys, like who are girls, or raised as girls but are XY and so that proves…..blah, blah’ Be trans, be the gender you are, because there is no shame in it. But if you are going to talk about others, know that there are plenty of XY females, there are XO females (only 1 chromosome set), there are XXXY females, there are XXYY males, there are XX males, so what? What most intersex women want is to get pregnant, and what many infertile women find out is that they are intersex, but they still want to get pregnant. Maybe an intersex guy wants to have lived a life where he didn’t develop breasts, but then so do the guys with a different medical condition which produce breasts early on. There is a whole fetish around this, ‘chicks with dicks’, which takes intersex, plastic surgery and photoshopping and puts it all in a blender to end up with a fetish. A fetish for something that doesn’t exist in the way it is fetishized.

I remember going with my father when the cult we belonged to had to ‘deal’ with a 14 year old boy who had developed breasts. And what did all these wise MEN decide? That the boy had eaten too much chicken, and he should bind his breast and be repentant. Eating chicken, seriously. What was this guy supposed to do every day in the locker room of P.E.? What was he supposed to do on wedding night? “Honey, I ate too much chicken when I was age 10 or 11” Or would he even be allowed to stay with the ‘faithful’ or be kicked out, if he didn’t kill himself by 18, because his existence was too confusing to those who make sermons.

My reaction? I started eating chicken.

Hey, if it could work for a boy, it could increase mine, right? (I was young, insecure and too trusting) And so ignorance breeds ignorance, and me eating chicken for the next 10 years. That boy wasn’t the ‘Third Sex’, and my arm isn’t the ‘Third Sex’ and all those individuals who put a thesis and a publication ahead of hundreds of thousands of individuals and their experiences are not just bad academics, bad researchers, bad theorists, but insensitive and callous human beings. They are the kind I hope will challenge themselves to be more than there are now.

If I was going to say anything to teens who were struggling with being intersex I would say: ‘Write me, because saying ‘It gets better doesn’t get you through feeling all alone.’ Write me, and then you won’t be alone anymore. Oh, and no, you can't get yourself pregnant.’


Neil said...

Thanks for enduring those books, Beth, and reporting about them; now I'll know to avoid them if/when I run across them in the library.

I'm certain the trans people aren't the only ones who would like to be differently equipped. There's probably a lot of wishing and curiosity in both (all?) sexes about gender; maybe the grass really is greener in the other washroom.

Love and zen hugs,

GirlWithTheCane said...

Yes, Beth...thank you writing about this subject that so few understand, and that gets treated with so much fear and ignorance.

I wish that we could celebrate people for who they are - not "tolerate" (like in the language of these "tolerance" or "acceptance" movements") but truly celebrate...and create a create a society where people celebrate themselves, still seems very far away most of the time. :(

- Sarah

Baba Yaga said...

Yea. Um. Golly.

I got sidetracked early on trying to work out how there could be specifically mosaic 'parts' of a person, rather than a mosaic person... That sort of sums up my reaction to most of this stuff. I just don't see how, "Hey, we're all glorious genetic mishmashes, some of us unusually so, and it's quite likely most of us have some genetic/ phenotypic characteristics of both sexes" is *more* bizarre than "if two eggs combine into one, one of them must have been a repository of evil, or wrongness". Or is it, "The unnatural result" - yea, right - "must be a repository of evil"? Either way, it's pretty excruciating.

I suppose that if you don't grasp that there are real intersexed people living real lives, it makes a good fictional device; but it's a *boring* fictional device, relative to reality. Why would an author waste a scenario imbued with all the complexity of what it is to be human, of what it is to be of one sex/gender or another or neither/both, or to possess characteristics of both in a dichotomous world, by turning into a conventional 'evil twin' scenario?

It's revealing and multiply troubling that "'Wayne' her 'hermaphrodite' ... character was the only one who wasn't 'real' to her" - and that the author herself thought that o.k. How can a book possibly stand up, if the central character/force in that book isn't real even to the author? I cried buckets over Frankenstein, because the poor bloody monster was real to Shelley, and real to me, and real to what I knew. (You could argue that Frankenstein himself was less real than the monster, and that his role was quite as central to what Shelley was trying to do.)

I'm answering you as though this was just a matter of literary merit, rather than political implication and just plain decency. I suppose that's because those are all intertwined. Literature and truth are so connected: you can use almost any device to tell, or find, truth, if you really engage with it honestly. Research helps, but heart and curiosity have to be what impel it.

(I must re-read Fifth Business in the light of this post. Robertson Davies at least understands that people are people.)

I can just about understand how parents with assigned-gender children might try to force the issue, not merely cruelly or out of a desire for a child who meets their expectations, but even thinking it 'for the child's sake': it's entirely reasonable to fear that an intersexed child might not 'pass' well enough in the world to escape the world's cruelty. If the child in question has had surgery as part of the process, there must be a great desire to see the child learn to be comfortable in the role s/he's been given; possibly even at the price of making the other, possibly truer role intolerable.

A world where in-between was safe would be a very different place...

I'm not sure that's much of a response! Thanks for the reviews, though: it saves me reading painful nonsense. 8-|

Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

When I read posts like this, I'm left thinking "how in the hell can I disseminate this more widely?" This is such important writing, Beth, and I'll do my best to make sure as many people I know read it as possible.

Hugs and hopes,

Lorna, Bob and Liam

Linda McClung said...

Thanks for the reviews Beth. Ignorance seems to breed ignorance doesn't it, especially in entertainment. Do a little research, people!

Chicken? Geez, the cult sure had some crazy ideas. Sorry the chicken didn't work out so well for you!

cheryl g said...

Thank you for doing a review on these titles so I can avoid them. I am disgusted at portrayals that use intersex conditions to define the monster. Writing books that will further intolerance, fear and hatred of the other is wrong. To further revel in the fact that you did no research and justify the bad science because the character is “mythological” is truly bad writing. To reward that writing with literary prizes is also ridiculous. For Lambda to praise the book is truly nauseating.
Oh, you got beat up/raped/shot… it’s OK you’re mythological.
I think science also does a disservice because it often labels intersex as a genetic disorder. Intersex and many other genetic differences aren’t really disorders. They are more accurately genetic variations that may create a higher likelihood of developing genetic disorders but they aren’t the disorder.

Tina Russell said...

Yeah, it’s really awful when people take vague, bizarre stereotypes of intersex people as established fact, or treat intersex people as public curiosities rather than as actual people. It’s actually happened twice at the nude beach (in one summer!) that someone has seen me in-the-all, seen my female figure, breasts, and fully functioning girlcock, and asked, “do, you have both types of genitals, then?” I have to explain that (1) I’m transsexual, not intersex, (2) intersex doesn’t really work that way, that’s only in porn movies. Rrrgh.

Elizabeth McClung said...

It bothered me that a book which if had the same level of ignorance regarding race, would be banned, instead gets awards....because we don't know better. So I wanted to make sure that every one knows.

But seriously, what kind of author admits they did no research and is shortlisted for the Booker and the Governor General's award while still using the 'wrong term'. Would someone who wrote about 'Paki's' or 'Abo's' and did no research end up with an interview on the BBC, which also uses the same incorrect language?

What happened to the basic standards of news and reporting at least.

Neil: I agree that the grass always seems greener, and I guess people think that there is this group they know nothing about which somehow has all their fantasies collected, called intersex. I have tried to explain to people in real life about what is called 'true hermaphrodites' which are listed at 1 per 1.2 billion - NOT in Labrador, and NOT done by a midwife, and NOT impregnating themselves.

GirlWithCane: Sorry if I went on a bit, but the whole, 'oh dear, I have a baby now because I had a wet dream' followed by everyone immediately agreeing, "KILL IT! KILL THE MONSTER!" made it such a black and white horror film from the 1930's with a low budget, and a script that Ed Wood turned down.

Baba Yaga: Frankenstein's monster is something I can relate to. A person is mosiac but also parts, like test part of a liver and it is one DNA, test it elsewhere and it is another DNA, so it is mosiac. But it doesn't really matter if a person is not threatened by the diversity that exists in humanity.

You may remember a decade ago, there was genetic testing which found I think 2 or maybe 3 serial killers who had XYYY, or XXXY and then it was 'intersex are genetically serial killers' and there was talk of genetic testing to 'find' these serial killers. Ignorance allows bad science and hysteria to run amok. It must have seemed to people, almost as bad as a black male whistling at a white woman (I do not say that to minimize the over 2,000 lynchings in the South, but to show how quickly and horribly fear and ignorance join together negatively).

For me, when the character falls in love with an intersexed female and confronts the fear inside, and thus rids it, they are able to break a cycle, and mature from a youth into a man, becuase they understand and do not fear their own limits, desires - in ridding the fear and hatred of self they are free from the fear of the woman they love, however masculine she may be.

For intersex children, much like when parents find out children are autistic or something similar, the way the child MUST become is about the need for their OWN dreams for the child to be fulfilled. They will literally torture the child, because it will stop them from having to accept the world from the child's point of view. This I have seen in every single case of difference in my extended family. It makes me physically ill. And the excuse that it is 'for the benefit of the child' allow them to go to excess, even abuse. Then there are the social workers who step in and take over because they think the child should be a different gender, and force that issue. Suicide and homless teens amoung those who get this type of 'intervention' is high.

I can only think of Reimer, who was treated this way, and even 15 years AFTER correcting the gender, the memories of the abuse, the treatment in daily life, reminding always lead him to suicide. He was to be the 'perfect example of gender from nurture over nature' - only those who try to do this seem to do very little NURTURING at all.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Lorna: Thank you, I would appreciate that. A lot.

Linda: well you love chicken and it seemed to work for you. I just think of that poor boy and how he probably ran away at 16, after the cult blamed him for simply having a medical condition instead of treating it.

It is why intersex individuals are 1 in 1,500 and no one knows them, while trans are 1 in 50,000 and yet the whole world knows them. If Oprah and the rest did some research, understanding and accepting diversity would help the entire LGBTQI spectrum. But people really seem to resist diversity - I know a lot of churches have the 'one man, one woman' issue - and currently in some states, like President Bush, they tried to stop intersex individuals from marrying ANYONE if they were found. Another reason to hide it.

Cheryl: Yes, if you take the 'swan' rape, then I guess preying after young girls from married men (like the God Zeus), raping is 'mythological' - so lets give a book about that awards too (I speak with strong sarcasm and extreme distain).

I had hoped that after middlesex, the next book would have research and if not that, would be openly mocked for not doing any. I put too much faith in those who publish, write in papers, work for the BBC, and the award agencies.

I supposed I hate it more because Zed used to be 'mythological' and it is all still there embedded, but I realized that doing just that, make it a really bad story, because it wasn't about PEOPLE. And I wanted a story someone could read and not need to understand anything mythological at all, I wanted it to be something either from their own experience, or something they create, by their experiences (places like the tower don't exist in every city simply because it is random, it is because we choose it to be so).

Tina: while I don't have the same relish you do for that form of nudity (I perfer the basic functional nudity), I am glad and thankful you are educating, but sad that you must endure the ignorance bourne out of odd fetish mags and I'm not sure where people get the ideas they do.

Raccoon said...

Okay… I'm not getting this.

Why is the term "hermaphrodite" bad?

I mean, I understand "intersex" covers a range, a little like "autism" covers a range. And the way that I understood it, "hermaphrodite" was a specific genetic difference within the "intersex" range.

No, I'm not trying to be a smartass here. I'm just not understanding it.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Raccoon: It is an honest question, and I will try to explain.

The language original used for labelling many things changes. For example, men who like men are called Sodomites 400 to 200 years ago, the same way 200 years ago to 80 years ago black americans were called the 'N' word. People with impairments were called everything from cripples to invalids. Those with learning disabilities were called 'idiots' then the 'R' word. The 'R' word is a term that doctors used 30 years ago, depending where you lived, or even more recent, much like 'hysterical (insert condition here' to list females, but that was again 20+ years ago and for the last generation, we don't refer to people as having 'hysterical dropsy' for seizure disorders, or 'the idiots and the weak amoung us' as those who are to be pitied and taken under care.

The term Hermaphrodite is a greek term from 3,000 years ago and has never been used in the last 100 years as a specific medical term, or social term. The main reason it is offensive is that there simply aren't 'hermaphrodites' though in the US there are 300,000 to a half million individuals with intersex and ambigious genetialia. It used to be labelled a 'disorder' and some want to relabel it as a 'disorder' so people can stop using the term 'hermaphrodite'. Of the 20+ different conditions, there was one or two which used to be called 'true hermaphrodism' but then medically changed to things like 'testicular feminization' but that was also dropped and used in only very clinical situations about 50+ years ago.

So you could say, if you knew what the person had that they are an individual with XXYY or XXY, or XXXXY or Turner's, or the other specific syndrome. However, it is like referring to you by your condition or the SCI point of break. Or starting a book about a person who has a spinal cord injury with the term 'Humpback' or 'Cripple' - it means nothing except the negative connotations. Yes, the law used to refer to Sodomites, but writing a book starting with that term or using it, or defending the use of it (as some groups do) only is to hold on to something the people involved openly acknowledge as being a painful, offensive term.

People have intersex conditions, or can be born with intersex conditions, or can identify as intersex. But socially, using 'hermaphrodite' is like refering to transitioned females as 'chicks with dicks' or 'shemale'. It is not socially or medically appropriate. And therefor has no use. It is completely possible to have people who go on about the 'damn N-', and have lots of them, and people know who they are referring to, but that still doesn't make it not offensive.

Hermaphrodite is a term which refers to someone who has fully functioning organs, in greek literature, as based on the god turning a man into a woman and then back into a man. Unless you meet someone who has been the subject of an arguement between two gods regarding the nature of sex and gender, then this can't be appropriate. Unless you are a doctor from 40 years ago, even using 'true hermaphrodite' as a term is inappropriate. Legal cases use 'intersex condition', as is used socially. The term hermaphrodite is linked with being a freak, a term used by sideshows in the US and elsewhere to advertise the freakish nature, the 'medical mistake' (much as that term has been used to refer to many with disabilities), and also is heavily linked to fetish and fantasy erotic literature and play, which does not represent in any way the 300,000 individuals, any more than 'diaper play' or other types of 'helpless' fantasy represent those with SCI's.

Elizabeth McClung said...

And the term Hermaphrodite is oft used the way the 'R' word was and is used to cover a spectrum of intellectual or other disabilities, and so books and movies have the 'Special R-' who is made fun of or caring but either way, objectified as that instead of as a person, or even a person with say, Williams syndrome, or more commonly, someone with head trauma (This is what movies and books do, because they don't do basic research so it is easier to have the special or 'Retard' than to bother to do research. To have an entire book which starts with that word then goes on to sort of discribe someone with Downs Syndrome but without a single fact, using only beliefs from the last century or so which are not basic in fact, is offensive to parents and family and individuals who have a specific condition.

That's why the term hermaphrodite, or even the reference to it, like when in the film Hanna, the woman hiring the sociopath, who decends to the lowest type of fetish club with 'drawfes and hermaphrodites' and he mentions that, between negotiating torture and killing. Again, about as fun as when later int he film they show the guy in the wheelchair who is filthy and crooning to himself, hinting at a mental problem (a common belief or stereotype that those in wheelchairs full time are touched in the head).

I hope that made things clearer. Sodomites and Hermaphrodites, part of the past usuage that we have moved beyond, like refering to fiction as 'suitable only for women and men of weak will and moral fiber' or the 1950's statement that Science Fiction (by the head of literature at Cambridge in his book on the role of fiction) was only for 'bachalors, perverts and deviants'. All are terms or views which may exist linquistically part of history, but not good company.

Neil said...

My Beloved tells me that there's a novel by Kathy Reichs that involves a mostly decomposed male body; the investigator has trouble finding where the body came from, and eventually links the deceased to a missing female agent from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms department. Turns out the boy left home at 16 after being called "soft" by his father for having female attributes. And when he left home he made a successful live as a female.

I haven't read the book, but Kathy Reichs's reputation leads me to believe that she wouldn't get trashy with the character.

And Reichs DOES do her research; besides being a crime writer, she's a forensic anthropologist and a professor of anthropology.

Just thought you'd like to know, Beth.

Love and zen hugs,

Anonymous said...

"But socially, using 'hermaphrodite' is like refering to transitioned females"

They are not females. You are talking about how the term hermaphrodite isn't right because hermaphrodites don't exist and yet you call mtfs female??? Too bad I really liked your post but this sentence makes it look like you are also ignorant and uneducated.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Anon: the OII which is the internation intersex association as well as Canada, the US, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, even IRAN says that transitioned females are females (Iran goes so far as to say they always have been and are so to Allah). I am sorry that where you live is not as forward thinking as Iran, or the entire western world. If you could give me a country, I would love to educate myself (even China, for the last decade says, yes, female). If you are in love with a woman, one of the many diverse women in this world, like a transitioned one, that's great and called 'heterosexuality'. If you are not, that's okay too, you may be what is called asexual. Perhaps a visit to a gender therapist can assist you on this point.