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social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Intersexuality  

Intersexuality is a congenital anomaly of sexual differentiation. It is usually related to atypical sex chromosome combinations or fetal hormone levels, and may result in external genitalia or internal reproductive systems that fall outside the norms for either male or female bodies. Specialists estimate that in 1 or 2 births per 1000 the appearance of the genitals is ambiguous enough to raise questions about the individual's anatomical sex.

Because modern Western European culture treats the anatomical sex of the body at birth as the basis for assigning social gender (boy or girl), intersex conditions represent a crisis for contemporary notions of sex, gender, and identity.

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Since the mid-twentieth century, most intersex individuals with significantly ambiguous genitalia who are born in industrialized countries have been subjected to neonatal surgeries designed to make their genitals approximate cultural norms of either male or female embodiment. By the late twentieth century, however, some adult intersex people who received these surgeries as children began to organize politically to end the practice. They claimed that the nonconsensual surgeries did more harm than good, and were intended to calm the anxieties of parents and doctors rather than improve the health and well being of intersex individuals.

The political intersex movement has always had close ties to activism. The pioneering Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), the first intersex advocacy group to link intersex issues to feminist and queer critiques of biomedical science and gender ideology, was founded in 1993 in San Francisco by Cheryl Chase.

Chase worked closely with activists in particular to articulate a framework within which intersexuals could acknowledge their sense of violation, claim their own moral agency, resist medical colonization, seek appropriate healthcare, work to educate the public, change harmful practices, and celebrate rather than hide their differences from most other people.

ISNA champions a radical new treatment protocol for intersexuality. It advocates assigning intersex infants as either boys or girls, depending on which gender would most likely be least problematic for each particular individual, without performing irreversible surgery.

They advocate that parents and children alike receive counseling and peer support to help with any emotional difficulties arising from stigma associated with the perception of intersexuality. If the intersex child later desires to change social genders, or seeks surgical intervention, that desire should be supported. The central concern is to preserve the widest range of options for the intersex person to exercise consent over what happens to his or her body.

In response to ISNA's activism, a new body of intersex scholarship began to emerge in the 1990s. Historian Alice Dreger, psychologist Suzanne Kessler, and biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling have all written important works that support ISNA's positions. This intellectual foundation, coupled with the activism of intersex people and their allies, has already resulted in significant changes in the medical management of intersex conditions.

Susan Stryker

     

    
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social sciences >> Overview:  Androgyny

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A cultural crossroads between Asia and Europe, Russia has a long, rich, and often violent heritage of varied influences and stark confrontations in regard to its patterns of same-sex love.

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The concept of sexual citizenship draws attention to the political aspects of erotics and the sexual component of politics.

arts >> Overview:  Sports: Transgender Issues

Fears and misconceptions about transgendered and intersexed athletes abound.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Androgyny

A figure of uncertain gender in whom identifying sexual characteristics are stylized or combined, the androgyne is a significant and recurrent subject in art, one that has often held special significance for glbtq people.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Hermaphrodites

Hermaphrodites are a common subject in ancient art, but disappear from art history until the Renaissance, when they are most often employed as non-erotic symbols of the union of opposites.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Females

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social sciences >> Overview:  Third Sex

The relative popularity of the term "third sex" to refer to homosexuals is closely connected to its use by some of the most prominent representatives of the early homosexual rights movement in Germany.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender

"Transgender" has become an umbrella term representing a political alliance between all gender variant people who do not conform to social norms for typical men and women and who suffer political oppression as a result.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Activism

Since the late nineteenth century, transgendered people have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they suffer.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Issues in the Law

Despite some recent progress, people who do not conform to society's gender norms continue to experience discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, marriage and family litigation, medical care, prisons, schools, and hate crimes protection.

arts >> Ashley, April

Outed as a transsexual in 1961, the indomitable April Ashley rose from poverty to become a glamorous entertainer and top model who married into the British aristocracy and later became a transgender activist.

social sciences >> Chase, Cheryl

Activist Cheryl Chase has led efforts to educate both medical professionals and parents of intersexed children so that unnecessary surgeries may be avoided and intersexed people may have happier and healthier lives.

social sciences >> Erickson, Reed

An early female-to-male transsexual, Reed Erickson is best known for his philanthropy, which greatly benefited glbtq causes in the 1960s and 1970s.

social sciences >> Genderqueer

Genderqueer is a term for people who feel that their gender identities or gender expression do not correspond to the gender assigned to them at birth, but who do not want to transition to the "opposite" gender.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

social sciences >> Transsexuals of Brazil

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    Bibliography
   

Chase, Cheryl. "Hermaphrodites With Attitude: Mapping the Emergence of Intersex Political Activism." GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 4:2 (1998): 189-212.

Dreger, Alice. Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Intersex Society of North America. www.isna.org

Kessler, Suzanne. Lessons from the Intersexed. New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Stryker, Susan  
    Entry Title: Intersexuality  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated June 24, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/intersexuality.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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