Throughout our reading of Alice Dreger and our various discussions in class I found myself fascinated by the story of Abel/Alexina Barbin.  As we watched the puppet reenactment of her story in class I began to understand the difficulties all intersex individuals must face, especially in the nineteenth century as Barbin did.  As I read Barbin’s story I began to understand that Abel/Alexina was seen as little more than a fascinating piece of scientific information that needed to be studied, even after her body was found dead.

As I read this I found myself being appalled and saddened that after Barbin’s suicide, scientists were eager to study the body for its oddities.  At first I considered these actions of as something that would only happen in the nineteenth century and concluded that modern society is more sympathetic and understanding to those intersex individuals.  As I thought of this though, I began to relate this story to Caster Semenya’s story and began to realize just how little our society has changed in its treatment of intersex individuals.

As in the nineteenth century, our society demands that each person must be either man or woman, with no gray area.  At birth and till her twenties Alexina identified as a women and fit comfortably into society as such, not until doctors discovered her ambiguous genitalia was she made to identify as a man.  Caster Semenya just as Alexina identified and lived her entire life as a woman, and her gender was brought into to question only because she was succeeding so much in her sport.

Gender is such a fundamental part of our society that we feel we have the right to demand proof of someone’s sex even if it involves invasive testing like in the case of Caster Semenya.  Throughout the readings and the stories of these to women, I can only keep going back to what I have learned in gender studies, that gender is not a simple binary that can easily be defined by genitals.  As a society we should strive to not repeat history and be understanding to those intersex individuals, as insensitivity is shown to destroy lives.  Dreger quotes in her book from the diaries of Abel/Alexina Barbin “Reality is crushing me, is pursuing me,” I feel we must take note of these struggles and work to create a reality that is not oppressive to intersex individuals.

-Claire Amick

 

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