Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gender silliness and the intersexed—UPDATED

Over on Mercator.net, Babette Francis has a lightly ironic piece on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s discussion paper, “Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity”. At the same time, Simcha Fisher has a rumination on boys and girls who, in this day and age of stereotype-free living, still insist on behaving like boys and girls.

The AHRC’s paper, which bemoans the poor discriminated-against transgendered and thus has plenty of recommendations for Aus to adopt, includes this definition of “gender”:

The phrase sex and/or gender identity is used in this paper as a broad term to refer to diverse sex and/or gender identities and expressions. It includes being transgender, trans, transsexual and intersex. It also includes being androgynous, agender, a cross dresser, a drag king, a drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois, pansexual, pan-gendered, a third gender, and a third sex. It also includes culturally specific terms, such as sistergirl and brotherboy, which are used by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Francis quipped, “Being Indian by birth and having married an Australian of Anglo-Celtic origin, I am all for diversity, but I am not going to commit to ‘neutrois’ until someone tells me what it means.” But as a respondent, Zoe, informed us , “neutrois” is a word used to describe some who because of certain genetic conditions doesn’t completely fit into either male or female categories.

This is where the social “progressive” idea of assigning new gender categories for every possible sexual-identity neurosis stops and where a real problem begins.

The term really needing definition is “intersex”, which is not a polite substitute for “queer” or “transsexual”. The term used to be hermaphrodite, although it’s now recognized that the literal meaning for most intersex disorders is too misleading. Sometimes the external sexual characteristics are ambiguous; sometimes there’s a big disjunction between the external sexual appearance (phenotype) and the chromosomal indicators (genotype).

For instance, a deficiency of 21-hydroxylase prior to birth can result in an XX child who, to all appearances, is a boy; however, the pelvic organs will include ovaries and a uterus which connects to the urethra of the penis. Something similar can happen if an XY child doesn’t produce enough Müllerian-inhibiting factor during the sexual development phase; he will be a boy in appearance and genetics, but will have a uterus and fallopian tubes.

One intersex person explained about Natalie, who was born with Swyer syndrome: “She’s been brought up as female, looks mostly female ... but doesn’t ‘get’ being female any more than a 6 yr old girl ‘gets’ what she will feel like at age 16. She’s not male though, she doesn’t ‘get’ that either.”

However, Natalie’s genotype is XY; her testes (that’s so weird to say) never developed, which meant that the process that would ordinarily have turned the Müllerian ducts into a penis and vasa deferenses instead developed into a vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes. Also because of the undeveloped testes (“streak gonads”), she “physically is a pre-pubescent girl who grew to adult size but didn’t go through puberty”. Like many intersex people, Natalie’s condition means she will never bear/beget children.

Zoe, who explained all this, concludes, “There’s more of us than you think, and we get ridiculous legal problems because of the binary model enshrined in law. This rather clumsy first attempt by the AHRC is aimed to get some justice for us.” And for Zoe, and Natalie, and every intersex person who struggles through life because of a genetic dysfunction, I can see a recognition of “intersex” as a legitimate, legally protected sexual identity.

But if that’s the case, then why not “drag king” or “genderfluid”? Because you can’t have it both ways. Either sexual categories don’t matter, in which case gender differentiation shouldn’t matter either, or they do matter. But if they do matter, it’s because these categories are tied to human reproduction, not to “what makes me feel good about myself”.

And this is where the “messy reality” becomes really painful. The so-called “binary model” exists because humans don’t reproduce any other way; if it weren’t for the fact of reproduction, it’s doubtful we would be capable of sex in any meaningful sense. Or, as Robin Williams put it, “If you were an amoeba, you’d split in two and say, ‘Was it good for me?’”

That’s why “kinks” like same-sex attraction, pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia (not making any moral equivalences here) are sexual dysfunctions—they frustrate the procreative drive by channeling it into a reproductively closed path. That’s why so-called “gender reassignment” operations aren’t true sex changes—a man can take on the appearance and the hormonal balance of a woman, but not the core reason for a woman’s sexual difference, and vice versa.

The difference between the intersex person and the transgender/transvestite is the difference between someone who has a legitimate genetic disorder and someone who has a psychological disorder that, for reasons of political correctness, we must pretend isn’t a problem. An intersex person can truly be “a woman trapped in a man’s body”; the man who wants to be “reassigned” as a female is a man trapped inside a pathological hatred of his own sexuality and his perception of how men and women “ought” to feel.

The point is not that the transgendered aren’t deserving of compassion. Rather, the point is that compassion is no legitimate reason for instituting a silly policy of denying biological realities by creating a laundry list of twenty-three “genders”.

Intersex persons, on the other hand, are truly trapped in that biological reality. I’m not convinced, however, that justice is gained for them by creating a new gender label, let alone three or four. I’m simply not convinced that people gain dignity when we’re forbidden to recognize dysfunctions and disorders for what they are.

I am convinced that, no matter how silly we get about gender, boys will continue to be boys and girls will continue to be girls. Even when they don’t want to.

Update: April 11, 2011
The silliness gains further international credence: According to LifeSiteNews.com, the European Council is close to finalizing a convention on violence against women that defines "gender" as "the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”  

As Samantha Singson reports, "This new 'social construct' definition is at odds with the definition in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court—which this new convention cites.  The Rome Statute states that: 'For the purposes of this Statute, it is understood that the term "gender" refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term "gender" does not indicate any meaning different from the above.'"

Luca Volontè, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, says that “The ideological thrust of many movements and lobbies linked to the ideology of ‘gender’ has ruined the text of a convention that could be very important. Defending women and combating discrimination is a necessity, but this text makes the situation worse and creates new barriers and discriminations.”  And Patrick Fagan, a family scholar at the US-based Family Research Council, charges that the "social construct" definition is “evidence of thought so divorced from reality as to be a form of mental illness, possible only to those who have spent years being miseducated in the upper levels of the modern university.”

The respectful and charitable treatment of people doesn't require a definition of "gender" that separates sex from biology and creates a couple dozen ad-hoc categories based on kinks and self-hatred. The only possible purpose is to legislate "queer theory" and make it grounds for government action against anyone who dares contradict it.

Wherever he's spending his afterlife, I'm sure Karl Marx is smiling.