Monday, August 11, 2008

Male, Female, Other (Please Specify)

Over the weekend, a friend of ours stayed over and at one point started talking about women who are biologically men. He kept calling them men, and I kept correcting him and saying "you need to call them intersexed, you can't assign their gender for them." While I understood what he meant- that they have male chromosomes rather than female chromosomes- it annoyed me that he kept referring to them as men.

Lo and behold, ABC News must've heard our discussion because they have a story up about a woman, Eden Atwood, with male DNA.

Last week I was impressed with their coverage of the men wearing skirts story, and this story is also very good. Of course, I cringed when I saw them plugging the Medical Mysteries show right next to the video clip of Atwood, but I'll give them a pass for that one since they just want people to watch their show.

The article does a good job of explaining Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) and presenting this woman AS A WOMAN. Her parents brought her up without telling her of her condition, and the doctors straight up lied to her:
"It turns out the doctors had lied to Atwood about having twisted ovaries. She really had internal testicles."

Go check out the piece, but also think for a minute about my gripe at the beginning of this post. People are very quick to fit others into boxes. Either somebody is a female or a male. Anything else means they're a freak. Even if we accept somebody as "biologically male, BUT..." it's often still about what label makes us feel comfortable rather than what makes them feel comfortable.

I understand the need to do that. Cognitively, our brain needs to make things as simple as possible. We want to quickly look at a person and sum up as much about them as we can without digging too deeply. There isn't anything fundamentally wrong with that. But we have to train ourselves to be smarter than our own cognition. We need to understand the different dynamics of every situation. We have to push ourselves to take people out of the boxes we try to put them in. So start unwrapping those bows and letting everyone out.

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge.)


FeministGal said...

Great post, i absolutely agree. I corrected many people time and time again during that month the world was obsessed with Thomas Beatie... They kept calling him a woman because there is no f-ing way he can be a man and be pregnant... As soon as they'd hear he was transgender they'd disregard his story and say, "Oh, no big deal it's just a woman who wants to be a man who is having a baby." But there is so so much more to it than that because No, he isn't "just a woman who wants to be a man" he is a MAN who identifies as male and thus we should call him male. It is so difficult to some people, however, to see sex/gender in this way and instead they view it as a binary no matter what the circumstances. It always outraged me because, honestly, who are WE to deny people whatever sex/gender they identify with.

DJ Dual Core said...

"So start unwrapping those bows and letting everyone out."

Nicely put.

In Sandra Bem's book "The Lenses Of Gender" she uses intersexuality to point out what is wrong with all gender stereotyping.

frau sally benz said...

feministgal, I had the same struggle with trying to have people say he was not just a woman who wants to be a man. As with many things, it's not that simple. For people to oversimplify things like this becomes frustrating, for me at least, because I feel like they are not being sensible.