Friday, October 3, 2014

The Intersex Q&A Breakdown: The Questions That Are Annoying and/or NOT Okay

Nowadays, I'm pretty open and honest (in person and online) about letting it be known that I'm intersex when/if the topic comes up. Most people are still generally unsure or have no clue what intersex is, and have more than likely never met an intersex person before, which is why they're curious and have many questions to ask. While I'm okay with people asking questions as long as they're broached in a respectful and intelligent manner, there are some that are NOT appropriate.

Here are the top questions I get asked almost immediately when I say that I'm intersex:

1. "So, you are a hermaphrodite?" OR "Is that the same as hermaphrodite?"

While I cringe every time somebody asks me this, I DO understand why. "Intersex" is still a fairly baby term to describe people who have a body that isn't typically male, or typically female, externally, internally, and/or genetically. This could mean a male who has ovaries, a penis that looks more like a clitoris, or who has an extra X-chromosome, or a female who has a clitoris that looks more like a penis, no vaginal opening, and so on. There are many types of intersex conditions, each that have their own characteristics, shortcomings, pros, and cons. The word "hermaphrodite" embodies the fantasy, not the reality, of real people and of what being intersex entails. It's stigmatizing and objectifying, about the equivalent of calling trans* women "she-males". The word immediately takes away the humanity of a person, and only highlights the fetish. Not cool. It's alright to ask somebody what intersex is, but please, do NOT immediately call someone a hermaphrodite.

2. "Can you get pregnant?" 

While it is possible for intersex people to get pregnant, frankly, I find this question very odd. Does one ask this question normally to anyone? Unless you're talking about your significant other, I highly doubt it. Whether or not I can reproduce is really nobody's business but mine, and/or my partner.

3.  "So, how does your body work?"

I won't get into graphic detail about this, but the general curiosity is in relation to how my body "works" in the bedroom and how I urinate. The intersex condition that I have is a very external one, and my body is different. Some may call it gender ambiguous, or "confusing." It may turn some people on, it may turn some people off. Either way, I love my body, and I'm comfortable in it, but what I'm not comfortable is being asked this. There's really no nice way to ask this. So don't ask it.

4. "If I go down on you, does that make me gay?"

I also make it clear that though I've been raised female, and may look outwardly female at first glance, my gender identity is NOT female. I'm male-centered, but I'm non-binary/gender neutral. Even if I was trans-male, I'd still be non-binary/gender neutral, because that's how I feel at heart. Does this make dating complicated? It can. Not everyone is open minded to me, and that's okay. There are plenty of people who are. I can understand the questioning of sexual orientation when one is involved with a trans and/or intersex person, but...the simple answer to THIS question is..."No."

5. "Can I see what it looks like?"

The "it" being what I have between my legs. Answer always Again, curiosity is human nature, but this question is another objectifying one. Not to mention, it really isn't that sexy, honestly. Just because I'm intersex doesn't mean that I'll just flash my body at anyone, and it's also not an excuse or make it OKAY to ask this question. It's NOT okay.

6. "Are you going to get surgery?" OR "Are you thinking of surgery?" OR "When's the surgery?"

Why make this assumption? While some trans and/or intersex people want and need surgery, it's not always the path that people want to go to feel more comfortable in themselves and their bodies. A lot of cases, it's a luxury, and not affordable to everyone. I've been asked this question since I was a kid, and...never wanted surgery, still don't want it, and I'm tired of people assuming I want it, need it, and have thought about it. The preoccupation with the physical is what I and most trans people really are tired of people focusing on so much when we are open and honest about being who we are. There's more to the trans and/or intersex experience than the physical.

7. "What happened?" OR "How did you get this way?"

This question is deep, but I really don't have the answer to this. I am who I am. I was born the way I am. I know WHY I have the intersex body I have based on the condition I have, but WHY it exists is something I'll never know. This question isn't the worst thing to be asked, but it's usually asked in a tone that makes me feel like there's something wrong with me, or that I have problems, or that I'm some enigma that a person wants to investigate on. It always comes out awkwardly and sounds funky. I'm fine with educating people on CAH (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia). How I got it, I don't know. Some things in life just are what they are.

8. "Wow. You're like otherworldly. Are you like an extraterrestrial?"  

Yes, I've been asked this, still do, and yes, it's hard to keep a straight face. I know that many cultures  see intersex people as otherworldly, and that some gods/goddesses in those cultures are male and female, outside of that, don't forget, folks...we are PEOPLE, not aliens.

9.  "How does your family feel about you?" 

While this question is not necessarily bad, and I understand what is meant, I think a question like this is something better asked if you really know the person very well. Asking a complete stranger this is a little too personal. But to put a tiny spotlight on this topic, I'll say this. Families raising intersex children are unique too. During the puberty stage is where it's not only the most challenging for the intersex child, but also for the families too, since puberty for an intersex child is usually very different/unique from that of non-intersex children. To answer this, though, mine had their ups and downs about it, but they didn't treat me any differently or feel any different way because of it. Just confused, but just as accepting about me as I was at the time. Some intersex people maybe had a better and more positive childhood; mine had its dark moments. In a nutshell, we aren't all the same. 

10. "So if you have male and female parts, does that mean you know everything about gender?"

I wouldn't even wish this. There's more to gender than clothing, genitals, surgery, and all that stuff that is all about the physical and nothing about the emotional and spiritual. Only YOU can define your gender. None of this can. There are many labels these days that we can use to better understand and for others to better understand ourselves, but at the end of the day, no label, term, or stereotype should justify who we are. And the only validation should really just come from you, not others.

I'm only one intersex person. I can't speak for anyone. No trans and/or intersex person can. We're all unique and different with very vast experiences to tell. I believe that the reason why these questions are very annoying and driving us batty some days is that people take way too many liberties with them. They're asked far too often, and my biggest gripe is that these questions are more focused on our bodies than on who we are as people. People aren't this preoccupied with cis-bodies. Why is it okay to be so concerned about a trans-person's or intersex person's body just because they're intersex or trans? Wouldn't it be more interesting to know about the actual journey/experience of being intersex and/or trans outside of the physical? It doesn't need to require really deep thought to do this. Just get to know a person. Treat them like a normal person. I'm not saying that people can't ask questions, but don't make assumptions, and don't disrespect or objectify the person in the process. Someone being trans or intersex doesn't make it free game to do this. If you're curious and want to ask questions that may be a bit too personal or nosey, just think about it for a minute, and this something that I'd ask to a cis-person? If the answer is no, don't ask, unless the trans or intersex person starts the discussion first. Just putting all this out there, and throwing in my two cents on the matter. 



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