Friday, June 11, 2010

Medical Controversy: Shouldn't Gender be Simple?

I'm not one to wax nostalgic about how things were simpler long ago. I don't yearn for a simpler time when men were real men and women were real women. Most of the time the mythical golden age wasn't as nice and quaint as a backward glance would leave you to believe.

Things were never that simple when it comes to men and women. It turns out that in some cases gender itself isn't simple. Science helps us understand why things are so complicated.

You may remember that last summer a South African, Caster Semenya, ended up in the middle of a controversy over gender in sports. So far no results from the testing have been released and the matter is still up in the air. One reason may be that in some cases gender isn't simple.

The Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group (AISSG) put online Maria's Story. The story of Maria Patino is another case in which gender is in question. There's even a term for the various congenital conditions that cause atypical genders - Intersex. Biology is more complicated then we're taught in grade school. Turns out all sorts of conditions may occur. Some of the complexities when in comes to testing in sport are shown in Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Gender Testing of Female Athletes. Click along and see if you come to the same conclusion the medical tests do.

The term Intersex replaced the term hermaphrodite. Over time the term Intersex is being steadily replaced with DSD (disorders of sex development). Resources such as the Accord Alliance have lots of information on DSD. Changing a name can be good, bad, or both. In this case the change from Intersex to DSD may be a change for the better even though the new term has the word 'disorder' in it. Whether it is an improvement depends on who you ask. Emi Koyama's 2006 keynote from the Translating Identity conference makes for interesting reading. However I can't comment on her views on what constitutes a disability and extending that definition towards the Intersex community. I'll leave that to others who are more versed in the field. Emi's website has a lot more of her views on all sorts of topics. How often does one come across someone who identifies themselves as:
Emi Koyama is a multi-issue social justice slut synthesizing feminist, Asian, survivor, dyke, queer, sex worker, intersex, genderqueer, and crip politics, as these factors, while not a complete descriptor of who she is, all impacted her life. Emi is currently the director of Intersex Initiative. Emi lives in Portland, Oregon and is putting the emi back in feminism since 1975. 

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