In her article “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others,” Donna Haraway briefly addresses the Human Genome Project.  Haraway argues that while the HGP claims its aim is to gain an absolute understanding of natural processes in the human body, it is in effect obtaining the means to also modify and/or control these processes, possibly for eugenics purposes.  This gain in knowledge on how certain biological and natural processes operate, has in fact, historically led to oppression and control over reproductive capacities for specific disadvantaged populations, namely African American women.  When it was first discovered and produced, birth control pills were not initially a solution to hindering some yesteryear version of “16 and Pregnant.”  On the contrary, birth control was used as a solution to keep black women from having too many children.  It was thought, by white, privileged society, that those damn black folks were having too many kids ::sarcasm::.  But they really did think that.  Damn it, they even convinced some black people it was a good idea.  They were poor after all.  Why should poor people have more babies?  They shouldn’t have any say over their own bodies because they chose to be poor!  Right?  Right?  Wrong.  Didn’t anyone stop to think that a history of extreme racism and sexism had an enormous impact on the disadvantageous financial outcomes for black women?  And that societal moves to control natural processes in black women’s bodies was  necessarily a way to ensure white power and a black minority?  I guess some people probably did.  But it was just really disappointing for me to learn about the racist and sexist history of birth control pills.  I’ve been on them for 5 years and I swear they saved my life.  My period used to leave my incapacitated for several days out of the month, but my pill changed that.  It also somehow managed to remove a plum-sized cyst from my right ovary.  I love the pill.  But I hate its history.

-Stephanie Halsted

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Throughout history, the existence of intersex individuals has puzzled scientists, medical doctors, geneticist, gender theorists, psychiatrists, etc. Perhaps this topic captures so much attention, whether positive or negative, because it conflicts, at its very core, with the permeating and ever-present model of sexual dimorphism in heteronormative western cultures. These androgynous individuals shatter the belief that there is something huge and impervious separating male and female bodies. To compensate for the instability brought on by this group, medical doctors began the search for the ultimate determinate and cause of sex. When the genitalia and anatomy of these ambiguous bodies failed, doctors were forced to base their claims on sex in such minuscule evidence as gonadal tissue. This allowed scientist to name and assign a true sex based on one’s molecular make up. Fortunately for scientists, these results allowed for 90% of all ambiguous bodies to be stamped with a sex and a gender and eliminated their confusion around sex. Unfortunately, however, this view of sex and categorizing the body only furthered the impression of sexual dimorphism as an ultimate reality and fortified the wall dividing male and female bodies. Later on, when scientists began examining chromosomes, they once again thought they had discovered a sure, clear-cut way of determining the sex of any individual in what they deemed, “sex chromosomes”.
Viewing the diversity of sex and chromosomal make up of intersex individuals through this one gene on trait model, however, was problematic. Women, like Helen discussed in Rosario’s essay titled “Quantum Sex: Intersex and the Molecular Deconstruction of Sex”, for example, have two X chromosomes, deeming them female, but they are born with some aspects of male anatomy, including testis. Based on work done with mostly intersex individuals, several genes on different autosomes (chromosomes that are not the two “sex chromosomes”) have been linked to production of sex and control of sex determination. These and other results have led scientists to view sex and all other genetic traits as complex and multifaceted results brought about by the interactions of several genes in conjunction with the environment and socialization.
Through these new scientific advancements and discoveries, social scientists like Rosario hope that the differences between female, male, and intersex individuals can be blurred and viewed in terms of a bimodal rather than dimorphic model.
Furthermore, examining the history of science as it deals with sex, demonstrates some of the major shortcomings of science as a production of knowledge. As theory after theory about sex have been developed and then disproven, it is important that we consider our own limitation of understanding. Certainly the one gene one trait theory of gene expression was not the pinnacle of genetic science, and our current understanding is certainly not complete. Knowing this, we must continuously and actively challenge our current understanding and open them to criticism across discourses. If this peer review across discourses was properly employed, I believe it could act as a system of checks and balances, identifying subjective reasoning, results, and research agenda, and helping scientists make more informed decisions.

Jennifer L. Peper

In the section “The Age of Gonads” in Alice Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, the author discusses the period of time in which the concept of sexual dimorphism grew prevalent in scientific, medical, and even popular thought about sexuality. During this period of time, for example, it became very difficult to be labelled a “true hermaphrodite,” one with a near-perfect balance of male and female characteristics. Instead, intersex people were labelled pseudohermaphrodites–or male pseudohermaphrodites and female pseudohermaphrodites.

It is obviously really problematic and hurtful when a whole system of belief deems a person or type of person abnormal. However, this injustice is further complicated when such a system then attempts to take away a “hermaphodite’s” identity category in such a way that reifies sexual dimorphism. As we’ve discussed in class, this is only one of many ways binary thinking about sexual bodies can harm actual individuals.

Over the break, I watched this 1960 movie called The Leech Woman. Here’s the IMDB summary: “An endocrinologist in a dysfunctional marriage with an aging, alcoholic wife journeys to Africa seeking a drug that will restore youth.” The associations that the film makes between femaleness, race, and degeneracy is so over-the-top, it’s hilarious. The stock footage of African people chanting and running around with spears was a sort of funny but grotesque example of how people hold each other up to reductionist, binarized constructions of race, sex, sexuality, class, gender–the list can go on and on as usual.

It also made me think about how people can become so indoctrinated with binarized beliefs about each other that movies like The Leech Woman can be made in earnest. How is it that people become so afraid of the unknown under such systems of belief? How can binarized, oversimplified thinking about others leech our understanding of each other as human beings and allow us to see each other as grotesque caricatures who are not worthy of being understood as fellow humans?

We have all questioned binaries. Many of us are gender majors, and it’s our bread and butter. And, I think that we can all agree that usually binaries suck–like leeches! (Ha.) Anyway, I guess that, for me, this film was just a mirror that reflected how sheerly ridiculous male/female, feminine/masculine, good/bad, etcetera binaries can be. And, sure, we can laugh at this stuff, and it’s a step in the right direction. But, how do we go about dismantling harmful systems of belief–or at least fixing the damages they inflict?

Thanks for letting me ramble… Y’all should really check out this movie, it’s pretty great.

Lynn


Being a student at a Indiana University in Bloomington and a gender studies major at that I feel am I a little spoiled with the LGBTI friendly environment around me. Spending time in my small hometown in northern Indiana over break showed me just how different communities can feel towards GLBTI issues. As I was searching the internet tonight trying to decide what I wanted to blog about, I came across many news articles that highlighted the struggles that exist with the rights of the LGBTI community all over the world.
In my Gender 215 class this term we watched a movie entitled, Missionaries of Hate that documented the recent anti gay bills that have been in the works in Nigeria. As described in an article as draconian the bill will call for harsh punishments such a prison time for simply identifying as homosexual. The article and film both explained that many Africans feel that homosexuality is a product of Western Influence. This claimed is protested in the film, but I began to wonder if instead of homosexuality, homophobia was brought over by Americans. Missionaries of Hate explained how many American evangelicals have traveled to Africa and shared false information about gay people to the local Nigerians, fostering homophobia out of fear.
As I looked through articles online I found that homophobia in American stems from many people not just evangelicals as I read of the high numbers of youth committing suicide as a result of gender/sex discrimination. Though the number of tormented GLBTI youth is alarming it was reassuring to see that seven specialty GLBTI suicide prevention groups were founded this week, to further these strategies.
Throughout my research this week I gladly noted that treatment and understanding of GLBTI issues are growing and is not just reduced to the very accepting community I am surrounded by. Though this news is comforting I realized I must not overlook the many other issues such as anti gay bills, and ever present discrimination, because even though GLBTI acceptance may be on the rise there is still much hate and discrimination that must be stopped.

-Claire Amick

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy the other day with a few friends and the above commercial came on. Immediately everyone started talking about it. Some people thought it was too much. I do not see how it is too much. If anything having commercials for KY should be the problem not that there are two people of the same-sex in it. A couple other friends of mine thought it was a big step for society that there was a commercial showing that couples can be of the same-sex. I also agree I realize that doing a commercial does not make everything okay for couples who are of the same-sex but it does give them a chance to show everyone that they do exist and it is not a bad thing. I think it is ridiculous that something so small as a commercial is a big step for same-sex couples. They should be allowed to live like any other sort of couple whether they are black, white, same-sex, different sexes, whatever.

Jessica Plunkitt

 Today at my weekly family soccer I was talking with my baby cousin, Lily. She was showing me her little mermaid lip shimmer and said, “I can wear this because I’m a girl. I wear makeup. My daddy’s a boy and my mommy’s a girl”. I didn’t used to think about how children were so influenced at such a young age, but today I witnessed it first hand in my three year old cousin. But who says men can’t wear makeup and women have to?  Its social rules like this have been broken in the fashion industry in the more recent years and the androgynous model has become a facet in global ad campaigns.

Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier have had multiple campaigns staring models that breach gender lines. Part of the appeal of these models is that people tend to be mesmerized by them. They take a second, and even third look to try and determine certain model’s sexes. Models like Andrej Pejic have gained their fame from their androgyny and have intrigued hundreds of prominent designers. Pejic was recently named “Mr. Unisex” for his gender-bending photographs, and at age 19 is making strides for eliminating serious gender roles in a community that typically is seen as gender segregated, targeting a specific audience. Pejic has been booked for men’s clothing as well as women’s clothing campaigns because his look is so appealing to a feminine and masculine audience.

“His success in the industry not only defies convention, but redefines the commonly held perceptions about gender roles and sex, that are gradually changing, but still a work in progress.” – Corinne Guirgis

-parisa mansoori

In class, we spoke about the Age of Gonads, followed by intersex and determining the sex of intersex children. This lead our discussion to the topic of the Intersex Society of North America. This site highlights intersex issues, and actions families may take to directly deal with their situation at hand.

After briefly talking about this site in class, I decided to follow-up this discussion by analyzing the site in order to answer questions of curiosity that occurred to me during our discussion. I found this site to be nothing but helpful, educating, and more than anything calming to those that may be dealing with an intersex situation. I found that all questions that I had about intersex were on the site with helpful solutions. A few specific questions I thought of are: What is intersex? How common is intersex? What do doctors do now when they encounter a child with intersex?

I clicked on all of these links on the side and after reading all the pages, I felt fully educated on the subject. For example, when explaining what intersex is, it gave the definition of intersex which is: “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” It then continued to give an example of what this may mean stating that a person may look female on the exterior, but really internally they have male-typical anatomy. It also continued to explain that intersex is an inborn condition but is not always visible at birth.  I found this tab the most educating as it was the one that explained intersex and broke it down so that anybody could interpret it. It was also soothing for the INSA to state that they are open and caring and are trying to create a world free of shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries.

Next how common is intersex? The site began to breakdown the different types of intersex births followed by the probability that one would be intersex. For example, For Not xx and Not XY it said one in 1,666 births. This among many other variations is what this page consisted of.  It was based off of statics from Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling. In my eyes this page was important to include because it shows research and evidence of the rarity of the case, yet the possibility t at it can happen and if it does, it is okay.

Lastly, What do doctors do now when they encounter a patient with intersex? It states that doctors are willing to “cut now and worry about the quality of life later.” This is important, because the whole purpose of this site is to not just go ahead and do that. There is not much information or writing on this page as they state their concern and drive to implement their patient-centered model of care through visits to medical centers. Hopefully, this makes a difference for intersex people as it should be their decision.

This site fights for freedom of the intersex patients and is nothing but education and supportive to those that have this diagnosis. It gives these people hope and knowledge when dealing with their situation so they are able to make the best decision in what they want to do regarding their sex. This site is helpful, and whoever started it is a very smart person, as they have helped many people.

-C. Praljak

As I was signing up for my classes this fall, I was excited to learn that finally I could take IU’s Human Sexuality class. I heard many good things about the class and I figured that it would coincide quite well with my Gender Studies’ major. I walked in the first day, sat down, and eagerly awaited the traditional “first day spiel”. The speech I heard was what I had expected: forms for parental consent, talk of watching porn, and an overview of the syllabus. However, as the semester went on, I became very confused; this class started to sound like something I was critiquing in my Gender Studies classes. The information given to the class was what I would call “a good effort” to inform, but for the most part many of the students and even the teacher a time seemed to be ignorant of Queer issues. I was baffled and found myself wanting to correct the information that she was giving the students. I could not believe that this type of knowledge still existed. Why did this woman come before a class of college kids and not know the difference between a transsexual and a transgendered person? Better yet, if she didn’t know the difference or didn’t seek to explain it to the class, why did she include this in her power point presentation? It was a rude awakening. I felt at that moment like the world would never catch up, would never understand the queer world, and that the “average Joe” would never understand me; I felt as if I had entered a time machine which was set to the beginning of my college career, before my Gender Studies awakening. But then I thought, who is “right” here and does Gender Studies even matter if this is the mainstream interpretation of sexuality? It made me wonder how I could spread the Gender Studies word? Oh, but how frustrating it was that these people did not know or understand queer issues, was it even worth getting my panties in a twist attempting to explain anything to them? Well, I decided to see how the rest of the semester developed and vowed to say something when I could. But then a very good day came, a day which was devoted entirely to transgendered issues. Although it did not contain an analysis of these issues, it at least recognized and sought to inform the class about this category of people. It was actually a very beautiful moment because for once the heterosexual and birth control was left behind and a full two hours was for trans; in a mainstream, essentially, a health sexuality class!!! I had to commend my professor at that moment.

A "real world" reality?

I ask myself even now, will there ever be a true space for Gender Studies in health classes? Or will Gender Studies classes be the health classes of the future with a focus on having a queer conscious tone? I can only hope. We are nowhere near close, but I think it is a possibility. I guess that my purpose for writing about this for my last blog is to revisit the “old world” and my “old self”. I definitely would not like to stay there, but it is a good inclination for me, as I am about to graduate and hopefully go to law school, the work that needs to be done and the level of understanding I must have in order to relate to the world. Let’s just hope that the “real world” is ready to change!

-Katie Schaffer

My grandfather use to tell me not to judge people and that you should always put yourself in their shoes and walk around in them for a while and maybe you would understand where they are coming from. This statement that he made to me kept playing in my head as I read Alice Dreger’s book Hermaphrodites and the medical invention of sex. After reading the story she told about Barbin I decided to put myself in her shoes. How would I feel to look different than all the other females around me and to love someone who society says it to be unfit. I thought about the day she went to the doctor and was poked and prodded by a “man of science.” Being unsure of what he was discovering and feeling so violated only to find at the end that I was not a women but a man. To be torn from the life I knew and place in a world so strange to me, away from the women that I was in love with. To feel so alone, no one to talk to, no one to understand me, alone in a world that I didn’t belong. I too would have wanted to end my life like she did. These thought made me realize how lonely and confusing a Hermaphrodites life must be. Worse is begin made a certain sex that you don’t feel you are. I thought about what I would do if I myself had an intersex baby. Would I like so many choose the sex for my baby before they even had a chance to decide? Would I want to be the one to cause such pain and mental torcher to my baby or would I tell the doctors to let my baby be and let them decide down the road what they wanted to do with their own body? If I chose to let them decide for themselves how would I present my baby to society how, would I dress them? After thinking about this for many hours I decided that I would most certainly let them decide for themselves and I would present my child to society as my perfect child the one meant for me. I would dress my child in gender natural clothing until they decided what they wanted to be and when they were ready to go to school I would let them choose what they felt was the right sex at that time and if down the road they changed their mind I would be there with them on their journey never judging. I know that even though I thought about all this that it wouldn’t all end up pretty and happy there would be people that would judge my child down the road and they would be face with a lot of hard ships. That no matter what path you take an intersex person has a lot to deal with. All this makes me sick to think how society is so set on picking a gender and how we are wrapped up in gender that people who can not help how they were born are stuck in this web where they can not win. Where they can not be left alone in the world to be who they are without being looked at as some freak that will be tagged with a label as” it” or some scientific name and placed in science magazines.

~Kielly Perkins~

One would expect that hermaphrodism during the time period in which Dreger writes would cause major societal rifts and would be even more controversial than it is now. However, if the subject is thought about clearly for any amount of time, it would seem as if society has made no substantial progress in the acceptance of this anomaly. Of course, we have made many technological and biological advancements that help people better understand how and why this condition can occur, but it is still very much a taboo subject. Today, it is my understanding that most children born with both sets of genitalia almost always undergo corrective surgery if it is financially and physically possible, but why? It is because contemporary society has yet to accept this specific bodily phenomena as it has others. This is most likely due to the extreme emphasis we put on issues of sex and gender. Sexual topics, such as gay marriage and gay rights, are huge points of political controversy because they challenge the deeply ingrained heterosexual norm. Therefore, an instance in which an individual physically displays characteristics of both sexes is in direct opposition to every existing perception of what we consider a man and a woman.

It is true that stories of hermaphodism or pseudo-hermaphrodism are rarely talked about in the news or other media outlets. The few cases that I have learned about have been in my medical sciences and biology classes and have involved individuals in far-off countries. Surely there have been more cases of hermaphrodism than those I have learned about, so why hasn’t anyone ever heard of them? Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling estimated that the total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance was 1 in every 1,000 births (http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency). This estimation is probably considerably higher than what most of us estimated, and it is doubtful that there is a precise number because of the frequency of unreported cases. However, if we take that number as being true, genital variation and hermaphrodism is way more common than society lets on. Therefore, we must ask ourselves the question as to why this is still such a controversial subject in our society, even after all of the progress we have made regarding other topics of sex and gender.

-Meredith Light