No Shades of Grey, Please!

Back in August, a new dangly bit of information about Lady Gaga was revealed to the world.  While performing at the Glastonbury festival in England, what looked very much like a penis, peeked out from under her very short, tight mini-skirt. Later, according to some sources, she revealed that she is a shehe; an intersex human; a hermaphrodite.

“Its not something that I’m ashamed of, just isn’t something that I go around telling everyone. Yes. I have both male and female genitalia, but I consider myself a female. Its just a little bit of a penis and really doesn’t interfere much with my life. The reason I haven’t talked about it is that its not a big deal to me. Like come on, its not like we all go around talking about our vags. I think this is a great opportunity to make other multiple gendered people feel more comfortable with their bodies. I’m sexy, I’m hot. I have both a poon and a peener. Big f*cking deal”.

It’s hard to know whether or not the quote above, which circulated wildly around the internet’s gossip hubs, was truly from the singer.  It’s also interesting to find that some people think that she actually cooked up a large prank. Whatever the truth or her intentions, she introduced to a wide audience the existence of intersexual human beings.

Almost legendary in nature, hermaphrodites are actually more common than our conservative society would like to think.  I remember reading in my high school psychology textbook that doctors, when faced with a newborn hermaphroditic infant, would decide whatever sex the infant came closest to, and perform whatever operation necessary to turn the child into that sex, often without consulting the parents.  Whether or not my memory holds true, Wikipedia’s article on Inter-sexuality has enough information to help it out.  Here’s the first paragraph from the linked Wikipedia article:

Intersexuality in humans refers to intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish male from female. This is usually understood to be congenital, involving chromosomal, morphologic, genital and/or gonadal anomalies, such as diversion from typical XX-female or XY-male presentations, e.g., sex reversal (XY-female, XX-male), genital ambiguity, sex developmental differences. An intersexed individual may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes.[1] Intersexuality is the term adopted by medicine during the 20th century, applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as either male or female.[2][3][4] Intersex is the word adopted by intersex activists who criticize traditional medical approaches to sex assignment and seek to be heard in the construction of new approaches.

Caitlin Petrakis Childs, an intersex advocate, has a very informative blog that backs up my memory even better, in addition to covering the subject more thoroughly and respectfully than the Curio Society ever could.  (I may change my mission statement after this post…this and many subjects I cover here make a carnivale of real people with real problems.)

Many intersexual people do not get surgery performed, and live their lives in the condition in which they were born.  Whatever their reasons are for this, by their very existence they challenge society’s definition of sex and sexuality because it is their very physical nature that makes them neither completely male nor female.  Conservative society’s accusation and misunderstanding that all gay men and women choose their orientation does not hold for intersexuals.  Further, the  existence of intersexuals helps back up any argument against such claims.

This post was inspired by BoingBoing‘s repeating posts on one such person whose life has been adversely affected by her unpigeonholeable sexuality:  The plight of Caster Semenya.  While I obviously won’t hesitate to be facetious about Lady Gaga’s questionable sexuality, Caster’s situation is much more dire and brings to light the importance of doing away with our typical gender roles.  Caster, who is most likely intersexual, did not choose to look the way she does.  Her masculinity is intimidating, and raised many eyebrows when she won a women’s 800 meters race in 2009.

Caster hit the news, coincidentally around the time that Lady Gaga revealed her package, at the World Track and Field Championships.  A newcomer, she surprised everyone by winning the race by a very wide margin.  She, and her masculine qualities (apparently more pronounced than her also very masculine competitors), caught the attention and the scrutiny of the International Association of Athletics Federations who withheld her award pending “sex-determination testing to confirm her eligibility to race as a woman.”  Fortunately, the decision was subsequently made to award her the gold medal.  This would indicate that her tests resulted in the determination that she is, in fact, female.  On the negative side, the results of the investigation are being held private, and there is, apparently, still a question as to whether or not she will be able to compete against women in future competitions.  This seems to indicate (as the articles linked below seem to hint) that she is likely intersexual.

From the NY Times online:

“It turns out genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,” Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn’t care. Biology does not fit neatly into simple categories, so they do these tests. And part of the reason I’ve criticized the tests is that a lot of times, the officials don’t say specifically how they’re testing and why they’re using that test. It should be subject to scientific review.”

But will “scientific review” solve anything here?  This is more of a social issue about biological anomalies that needs to be confronted, and it’s not something that’s going to be figured out in merely a few years.  Caster’s right to compete at all is at stake (do you think she’ll be allowed to compete against and amongst men?), as are the rights of many others whose intersexuality causes confusion in our society. While a performer such as Lady Gaga can play around with such a condition, she can do so without much risk to her career. Caster has much more at stake within a much more conservative environment ruled by strict codes.  She is not the only person in the world with this condition and, if we want to benefit from the talents of such people in sports, entertainment and the like, we must adjust our levels of acceptance and understanding.  The condition of Intersexuality exists and should be accepted as normal.

For further reading:
New York Times, August, 2009
New York Times, November, 2009
Los Angeles Times, January, 2010
BoingBoing, January, 2010


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