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.’