Monday, October 18, 2010

Quiety Disrupting the Equilbrium

On Sally Gross: an intersexed woman who I had the pleasure of hearing speak at the "LGBTI: Who are 'We'" Panel Discussion for UCT's HUMA two-week long series of talks and discussions around various topics addressing society, politics, philosophy, medicine and science. Her words were wise and she spoke of the importance of embracing gender diversity. One or two others also raised the point that disdain for the LGBTI community is linked to patriarchal and heteronormative ideas that sustain the myth that a gender binary must exist in order to maintain structure and avert a kind of confusion or restructuring of the status quo that may be required upon acknowledgement of a multiple gendered people.

Citing the American scholar Susan Kessler, Gross observes that such interventionist surgery at birth is carried out not because the failure of the body to conform "is threatening to the infant's life but because it is threatening to the infant's culture".

From a biophysical standpoint, its plain to see how easily the gender binary breaks down yet society continues to fervently push forth the concept of male and female and no other.

Gross points out that the way biological sex develops is complex, and cannot always be regimented into a straightforward classification of a person as either male or female. At least five variables come into play: external genitals, chromosomal patterns, dominant sex-hormones, the nature of the person's sex-glands and the internal structures of reproduction - these jointly result in the person's physical sexual type. "But none of these are absolutes," says Gross. "You get in-betweens, even within the single variables. All sorts of permutations occur. What's needed to yield unambiguous male or female is for all five of these variables to be completely congruent with one another and unambiguous in themselves. Nature and the mathematics of it all ensure that many other types of outcomes are in fact possible."

Reading her story and bearing in mind women like Caster Semenya has allowed me to dispel my own mistaken beliefs on gender and its identification. I hope that the same can be said for others who have become aware of the prevalence of intersexed peoples in South Africa and throughout the world.

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