See you at Creating Change in Atlanta!

January 3, 2013

I am excited to be presenting at the 2013 Creating Change Conference in Atlanta January 23-27. I will be presenting in two sessions at the conference:

Intersex: An Introductory Workshop

Friday, January 25, 2013 from 3:00-4:30pm

An estimated 1 in 2,000 children are born with genitals, chromosomes and/or reproductive organs that obviously fall outside of the (narrow) medical definition of male or female. Unfortunately children born with intersex conditions are often surgically mutilated at birth. Even when children are able to escape surgery, it is difficult to escape the stigma, shame and secrecy that come along with a body that doctors and society tell you is “different.” This workshop will include a basic introduction to intersex issues and activism, including Caitlin’s personal story and a screening of a short documentary on the topic.

Exploring Disability’s Intersectional Space in LGBTI Rights

Saturday, January 26, 2013 from 9:00-10:30am

Outreach, organizing, and advocacy efforts to secure rights for LGBTI people are often made at the expense of people with disabilities, either by ignoring them or perpetuating ableism. Not only does this impact the struggle of the disability-rights movement, but also obscures ripe possibilities for intersectional and collaborative efforts. This session seeks to deconstruct ableism in the LGBTI-rights movement and explore the commonalities between the two movements in hopes of starting a cross-movement dialogue.

For more information, registration and the complete schedule, please visit http://www.creatingchange.org/


Five College Intersex Symposium

September 6, 2012

I am thrilled to be presenting at the Five College Intersex Symposium, Friday October 5, 2012 from 10:00am-4:45pm at Mount Holyoke College, Chapin Auditorium. I will be debuting a brand new talk on the intersections of disability and intersex. Please spread the word and visit Intersex Symposium on Facebook for more information.

Schedule:
10-10:30am Welcome (Coffee / Tea)
10:30-11:30am Speaker 1: Lynnell Stephani Long
Intersex 201: Alliance with your LGBT organization on or off campus
11:45am-12:45pm Speaker 2: Caitlin Childs
Intersections: How disability can inform intersex in the classroom and beyond1-1:45pm Lunch
2-3pm Speaker 3: David Rubin
“An Unnamed Blank that Craved a Name”: A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender
3:15-4:45pmTeaching Intersex Panel

Abstracts:
Speaker 1, Lynnell Stephani Long (Intersex Activist & Educator)
Intersex 201 – Alliance with your LGBT organization on or off campus

Through alliances with existing organizations, the Intersex community can better leverage limited resources to make information and peer support available in all communities. LGBT organizations are the most resourceful organizations with which the Intersex community can develop such relationships. Through the relationships that we develop, we can enhance both the work of the Intersex community and that of LGBT organizations working at the national and local level. Organizations and their members can also help by talking to their friends and family members about the Intersex movement. The idea is that the more people are aware of Intersex the less likely they will be to accept surgery as the only option when they or someone they know have an Intersex baby.

Speaker 2, Caitlin Childs (Activist & Advocate)
Intersections: How disability can inform intersex in the classroom and beyond

When the Intersex Society of North America was founded in 1993, it incorporated the prior work of disability rights activists and disability studies scholars. Building on that history, this presentation will approach intersex by exploring its intersections and collisions with disability. Weaving my experiences as an intersex person and activist together with reflections on my organizing work in development disabilities and social justice, I will consider how ideas from disability studies and disability justice activism can continue to inform intersex discourse. Intersex and disability provide useful contexts for one another because of their many commonalities. Like disability, intersex is a large umbrella term under which many medical diagnoses fall. People with disabilities and people who are intersex live in bodies that are generally deemed undesirable and in need of correction and/or erasure through related processes of social and medical normalization. Issues of voice and agency compound the impact of this normalization. Medical experts and parents assume decision-making authority for both groups, imposing choices on their behalf and in their alleged “best interests” that deny them the right to fully informed consent and bodily integrity. Academic and professional experts who are not personally impacted routinely determine outcomes in policy, academic discourse, medicine, and general terminology without including intersex and disabled people or acknowledging the vital importance of their personal expertise and experience. This presentation will offer both practical and theoretical ways of addressing intersex in research, pedagogy, and organizing work that draw from and build upon disability studies.

Speaker 3, David A. Rubin (Senior Lecturer of Women’s and Gender Studies at Vanderbilt University)
“An Unnamed Blank that Craved a Name”: A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender

This lecture traces a genealogy of intersexuality’s underrecognized but historically pivotal role in the development of gender as a concept in twentieth-century American biomedicine, feminism, and their globalizing circuits. Using a queer feminist science studies approach, I argue that intersex has been and remains central to the history of gender as a classificatory schema, object of knowledge, technology of subject formation, and paradigm of sociality in late modernity. This genealogy pushes beyond current scholarship on intersexuality to suggest that, while dominant understandings of sex and gender have overdetermined the meaning of intersex, historically speaking, the concept of intersex paradoxically preceded and inaugurated what we would today call the sex/gender distinction. Through a close reading of psychoendocrinologist John Money’s biomedical research, I show that intersex was integral to the historical emergence of the category gender as distinct from sex in the mid-twentieth-century English-speaking world. I argue that Money used the concept of gender to cover over and displace the biological instability of the body he discovered through his research on intersex, and that Money’s conception of gender produced new technologies of psychosomatic normalization. Situating Money’s work within the history of feminist theorizing about sex and gender, I conclude by reflecting on what the intertwined histories of intersex, biomedicine, and feminism might mean for the field of women’s and gender studies.

Five College Intersex Symposium Sponsored By:
Five College Feminist Science and Technology Studies Initiative
Five College Women’s Studies Research Center
Five Colleges, Inc.
University of Massachusetts WGSS
Mt Holyoke Gender Studies
Hampshire Feminist Studies
Smith SWAG
Stonewall Center

More information available on Facebook

Intersex 101 at Georgia State University

March 20, 2012

I will be doing an Intersex 101 at Georgia State University April 5th, 2012 from 3-4:30pm. See flyer below for more information:

 


For Caster Semenya, With Love

September 19, 2009

By: Moya Bailey, Caitlin Childs, and Mia Mingus

This is an outpouring of love for Caster Semenya. Wrong is not her name. What is wrong is the way she has been treated in global media. As three queer women, we have struggled with our own relationship to the feminine as it has been constructed in mainstream society. As a black woman set adrift in a sea of whiteness, it was hard to see myself as beautiful. My curves and skin color made me unattractive in my world. As a white, feminine woman who is also intersex, I have struggled hard to come to peace with my body. Doctors and the world around me have told me I am defective or have denied my existence entirely. As a disabled Korean adoptee, I grew up as an outsider, rarely seeing people who moved like me or reflected me in my community or in the media. I was constantly told that my body was something that needed to be “fixed;” that it was “wrong;” and that it, that I, was “undesirable.” We engage with each other as comrades, three queer women uniquely shaped by our lived identities and experiences. We were the odd ones out, queered by our bodies, but later we claimed our queerness with fierce intention and pride. Now we choose our difference, embrace what sets us a part from a constrictive mainstream. It is for these reasons that we feel a deep kinship with Caster Semneya. Her story unfolded internationally without her consent and knowledge. We write to right wrongs done to someone whose only crime was daring to be all that she is.

Read the rest here


Intersex and Trans Demands (Circa 2004)

May 4, 2009

This certainly is a blast from the past! I found this list online today when I was searching around for intersex websites. I periodically do this since new sites pop up all the time and I like to keep track of what is happening in the online intersex world.

I helped write this list, along with some trans community members, back in 2004. I was part of a group of young, white, anti-authoritarian, community organizers in Atlanta who decided that rather than continue to organize in ways that were potentially problematic, we should take the time to caucus around race, look back critically on past organizing, and think about ways that white organizers can work with communities of color in ways that are actually useful to communities of color. We eventually did some interesting community organizing projects that were very intentional in regards to building relationships, taking leadership from communities of color, and sustainability. These caucuses were far from problem free and eventually did dissolve. However, I learned a lot from my involvement and that work has definitely informed my activism since.

This list of demands came out of some of that work. It was initially written just for the folks involved in the caucusing. Most of us involved in the caucusing decided to attend the SEANET (South East Anarchist Network) Conference in the Spring of 2004. Upon finding out that the conference organizers had decided to use a gender caucus format for the bulk of the conference, we sent this list to the organizers and to be distributed at the conference. Apparently it made it’s way around the internet world. I think it is a useful starting point. There are probably things I would change and add to it now, but I think it is definitely worth sharing. Let me know your thoughts too!

Also, I am working on a blog on the differences and commonalities between intersex and transgender. I think that intersex and  trans folks are natural allies in many ways and I have some thoughts on the ways we can work together and support each other’s activism and struggles. We intentionally separated out the trans and intersex demands on this list, even if some do overlap, because we acknowledge big differences do exist and think it takes away from both trans and intersex folks’ unique experiences to lump everything together.

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April, 2004

Here are two separate lists that a few of us developed in Atlanta. We initially wrote the list because we had found other lists in regards to sexism to be good, but incomplete and lacking in our own experiences.

The trans demands are lacking in MtF voices. This list comes out of our community. The list is far from complete, but is good to start discussions around these issues. We wanted to make sure we sent them out before the SEAnet (South Eastern Anarchist network) Gathering in April [2004]. We encourage everyone (particularly SEAnet organizers) to take the time to read them.

INTERSEX LIST OF DEMANDS

  • Don’t assume you know someone’s sex based on how you perceive them or their gender.
  • Don’t assume all women have a vagina, uterus, etc.
  • Don’t assume all men have a penis, testes, etc.
  • Don’t fetishize our bodies.
  • Don’t use the word hermaphrodite to describe us unless we identify that way and give permission.
  • Don’t feel sorry for us.
  • Respect our sex identification.
  • Don’t exploit our existence to discredit biological determinism or other academic ideologies.
  • Know the difference between sex and gender.
  • Know the difference between intersexed and transgendered.
  • Don’t ask us or try to picture what our genitals look like.
  • Don’t ask us if we have sexual sensations.
  • Don’t assume you have the right to know intimate details of our bodies. We have the right to privacy and safety like all other people.
  • Realize we have historically been mutilated, fetishized, and made into freak shows. Understand how this affects us and our safety.
  • Don’t say “cool” or “weird” or treat us differently when we tell you we are intersexed.
  • Educate yourself!!! Read books on intersex.
  • Girl, woman, female; boy, man, male are not always interchangeable.
  • Don’t assume all intersex people are queer.
  • Realize that not all people with intersex condition are out.
  • Realize that not all people with intersex conditions even know that they are intersexed.
  • Remember that we are 1 in 100, and that is not rare at all!!!
  • Don’t call our conditions “disorders,” “retardations,” “abnormalities,” etc.
  • Realize that bodies come in all different shapes, sizes and with different parts.
  • Realize how fucking strong we are to speak up about the medical abuse and victimization we have been through and that we deserve mad props.
  • Don’t write us off as rare and unimportant. Don’t put off educating yourself for other “more important” issues.
  • In situations such as gender caucuses, keep in mind that not all the people who identify as women have similar genitalia, etc. Understand that we have been taught that our bodies are “wrong” and “ugly” and that it reinforces this when people say they love being women because of their vagina, uterus, etc., this reinforces those feelings. Woman does not necessarily = female. Man does not necessarily = male.

TRANS/GENDER LIST OF DEMANDS

  • Don’t assume someone’s gender identity.
  • Don’t constantly reference someone’s gender identity in an attempt to seem OK with it. Likewise, don’t think we care if you’re OK with us or not. No one asked for your approval.
  • Don’t trip up on pronouns- if you fuck up, simply correct yourself and go on.
  • Don’t glamorize someone’s gender identity or think it’s “cool” or say that you’re “into it.”
  • Read trans/gender theory. Know the difference between: transgender, transsexual, gender fucking, gender blending/bending, gender vs. sex, binary gender, passing, transitioning, binding, tucking, packing/stuffing, third genders, drag queens/kings, androgyny, butch, femme, crossdressing, boi, MtF, FtM, tranny boys, tranny dykes, boydykes, transfags, etc., etc., etc.!!!
  • Know the difference between intersex and transgender.
  • Think about how you would really feel if someone you loved transitioned. Think about your fears and why you have them.
  • Recognize your own transphobia.
  • Know about transitioning and surgery and hormones.
  • Don’t just name yourself a “trans ally” one day.
  • Realize that some of us have struggled with our gender identity for a long time. Don’t think that we just woke up one day and decided that we would identify as transgendered. So when we finally find a space that we’re comfortable in (even if temporarily), don’t co-opt that space or try to make it yours too.
  • Even if you think fucking with gender is hot, don’t talk about it in an objectifying way.
  • Realize that it can be hard existing in in-between spaces and really know that trans oppression and transphobia exist. Know the fear of not being able to determine when you pass, the fear of being arrested/strip searched/thrown in the wrong holding cell, the threat of violence, the annoyance of having to “come out” about your gender identity constantly, etc.
  • Understand the privilege of feeling at home in your body, using a public bathroom, knowing which M/F box to check, having people assume your gender identity and them being right, etc.
  • Realize that there is a gender community and that the validation we receive from that community can be incomparable to what you could ever offer us and let us seek refuge there.
  • Recognize how class and race fit into these equations.
  • Recognize and respect someone’s gender identity regardless of whether or not they choose to have surgery or take hormones. Similarly, don’t judge someone for transitioning or not wanting to identify as “transgendered.”
  • Don’t think of a transgender identity as “political.”
  • Don’t partner with us out of some weird transitioning or coming out process for you. Don’t ask us how we fuck.
  • Question your own gender! (But don’t then tell me, “You know, I’ve never felt like a ‘real man’/’real woman’ either.” -What this means is don’t assume our experiences are the same.
  • Don’t ask questions about someone trying to determine their “real gender.”
  • Don’t think that FtM are dealing with some kind of internalized sexism.
  • Don’t assume our gender identity, render it invisible, or think it doesn’t matter because of who we choose to partner with.
  • Don’t label our gender or sexual identity for us. Recognize the difference between the two!
  • Don’t think of our experiences and identities as monolithic.
  • Don’t think we are a “recent emergence” that somehow came out of gender/queer theory and academia.
  • Realize that there are a variety of trans/gender expressions. Don’t assume that people should express their gender similarly just because they both identify as transgendered. Likewise, don’t judge someone because you think that their trans identity and gender expression conflict.
  • Think about the language you use to differentiate between trans and non-trans people and if it’s even necessary to differentiate.
  • Don’t assume trans people have a “shared experience” with people assigned the same gender.
  • Don’t assume FtMs are “better” than other men, or MtFs are not “as good” as other women (especially in terms of sexism).
  • When doing introductions at a meeting, say the pronoun you prefer for that space along with your name, etc. (Facilitators should make sure this is done.)
  • Be sensitive to pronouns you use for someone when dealing with authority, police. Keep in mind that people’s pronouns/gender identity may not always match up with their I.D.
  • Don’t include us in your process of learning about intersex or trans issues unless we ask you about it.

To all people searching for pics of intersex genitals

April 30, 2009

I want to start by saying, I am glad you are here. I am glad you stumbled upon a page of an actual intersex person. I hope that you take advantage of this opportunity to educate yourself.

Intersex people are not something you can can gawk at to fill your curiosity, get a good laugh or get your rocks off. We are real people with feelings, lives, friends, families, jobs and hobbies just like you. Our bodies have been marginalized, mutilated, photographed without our consent, poked and prodded by multiple doctors, nurses and medical students. We have been labeled disordered, freaks, accidents, mutations, defective. We have been told our bodies are wrong, that no one could ever love a body like ours and that it needs to be “fixed.”

These days it seems that many of the hits I am getting on google are coming from folks searching for things like (these are a few actual search terms bringing folks to this page):

pictures of an intersex person
picter of intersex people
intersex conditions and pictures
hermaphrodite genital pictures
intersexed genetil pictures

I understand that people are curious and after doing this work for years, have received multiple requests on anonymous feedback forms post-presentation saying they would like to see pics of mine or other intersex folks genitals. That is particularly frustrating feedback to get after I’ve spent 1-2 hours explaining the medical exploitation of intersex people and the trauma many of us go through with public displays of our genitals, but that is another blog post.

All that said, it is none of your business what my genitals look like or what any other intersex person’s genitals look like unless we want or choose to show you or tell you. I would never walk up to a person I didn’t know and ask to see pictures of their genitals. The fact that people think they have a right to access the bodies of intersex people is part of many years of historic exploitation and medical abuse of intersex people and our bodies.

And the pictures you can find online and in medical text books of intersex people’s genitals are exploitive. Babies can not consent to having their photograph taken and published. Even older kids and adults are forced to pose for those awful pictures with blacked out eyes. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have your picture taken and your identity slightly masked so that you can appear in medical texts around the world as an example of a “wrong” and “defective” body??

If you want to learn about intersex people, click on this link and you can read basic information on intersex, as well as access a resource list with tons of web links and books. Learn about the surgeries performed on infants without consent. Learn about the lives of adult intersex people haunted by a lifetime of unnecessary surgeries that robbed them of their sexual sensations and pleasure. Learn about intersex people with severe post traumatic stress from multiple surgeries, genital exams, and public genital displays. Learn about the deep pain and shame associated with being told something is freakishly wrong with your body.  Do the work to educate yourself and stop perpetuating the exploitation and harm of intersex people.


Femmethology Spotlight on Yours Truly!

April 29, 2009

Every week Homofactus Press features a interview with a contributor from Visible: A Femmethology. Below is a excerpt from my interview. Click the link at the bottom for the whole thing and check out the archives for past interviews. I am honored to be published alongside so many smart and thoughtful queers!

How do you define your femme identity?
I am a queer intersex woman who purposefully and thoughtfully creates and plays with a feminine gender that was consciously created by and for me. My femme gender is smart, sassy, tough, glamorous and fun. My shoe collection consists of tons of heels (4″+ please!), skate shoes and lots and lots of boots. My style varies between classic pin-up burlesque bombshell, punk rock riot grrrl and the always trusty jeans and t-shirts. My armpits are always hairy but I shave my legs most of the time. Bikini Kill’s self-titled EP changed my life, yet Britney Spears is one of my favorites. When I grow up I want to be a combination of Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls and Ruth from Fried Green Tomatoes. My femme identity did not come easily or quickly, and I had to work through a lot of my own internalized femme phobia and misogyny to get here. My identity as a femme changes and gets deeper and more complicated daily. I love contradictions. I love the surprises people hold and the way that opposites can co-exist in one person.

How do other identities you have not only intersect with femme but also contradict it?
As an intersex person, I have often felt different from other femmes. So much about femme identity and femininity is linked to being penetrated vaginally (I was born without a vagina) and often to having children (I was born without a uterus too.) Being a femme woman in a body that was initially assigned female but finding out when I was a teenager that my body didn’t quite fit that narrow category definitely informed my views on my own gender identity. Many assumptions are made about me and my body because of how I present my gender, because of my time as a sex worker, etc.

Read the whole thing on the Homofactus Press website by clicking here


Upcoming Events

March 31, 2009

I know I haven’t posted anything in a while. My life has been extra special chaotic and writing has gotten temporarily moved to the back burner.

I do have a couple of upcoming events that I wanted to share with folks:

Tuesday April 7th 7:00pm I will be doing a Intersex 101 at Agnes Scott College in the Teasley Auditorium which is located in the Science Building off of W. Dougherty St. This presentation will include basic intersex definitions, some or all of the film ‘One in 2000′ by Ajae Clearway, my personal story, plus time for q&a and discussion. This is a really good way to get the basics of what intersex is, learn about intersex activism, and how you can be an ally.

Thursday May 14th from 7:30-9:00pm I will be taking part in the official Atlanta Visible: A Femmethology launch party at Charis Books and More. This event is presented by Charis Circle and sponsored by the Atlanta Femme Mafia. It will feature readings from the Atlanta contributors featured in the two books including myself, Brook Bolen, Asha Leong, Margaret Price, and JD Dykes. It will be an evening full of fabulous writing on femme identity, thought provoking conversation, snacks, and fabulous fashion (I know I have been picking my outfit out in my head for months.)

There will also be another reading at Aphrodite’s Toybox sometime in the near future. Details TBA.

Please feel free to spread the word about these events and bring your friends, family, co-workers, next door neighbor, etc!


One in 2000 intro speech

January 11, 2009

About 6 years ago, filmmaker Ajae Clearway came to Atlanta to interview me for a intersex documentary that evolved into One in 2000. Ajae and I were first introduced at the annual Our True Colors LGBT youth conference in Connecticut that my ex and I were sent to by Bodies Like Ours to present workshops for intersex youth and their partners, a workshop for teachers on supporting and working with intersex youth and a workshop for those in the mental health field about ways they can support intersex clients.

Finally in 2007, after years of Ajae interviewing intersex individuals (and funding the film out of her own pocket,) One in 2000 was finally released. In April 2008, Ajae came to Atlanta and we did 4 screenings of the film in 3 days (At Emory, Charis, Spelman and Agnes Scott.) We estimate that between 300 and 400 people saw the film over that 3 day period, which is pretty damn exciting.

If you missed the film and live in Atlanta, you will probably have another opportunity to see it screened with little ol’ me, as I am likely to do a few more screenings locally in the future. If you work for an institution or are in school and want to have your library order it, it can be purchased here at institutional rates. And be sure to check out Ajae’s production company, Polyvinyl Pictures here and support independent, queer, feminist, filmmakers! Also, I have heard that they have been showing the film on Logo these days, so if you have  the fancy cable be sure to check it out.

Below is the speech I read as an introduction to the film for your reading pleasure.

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I am glad to be here today with Ajae Clearway and am proud of my involvement in ‘One in 2000′. It is extremely important to listen to the voices of those of us who are intersex. Most of the information about intersex people comes from medical professionals and academics who are NOT personally affected. It is important to remember that the true experts on intersex lives are intersex people ourselves. I appreciate that ‘One in 2000′ focuses on the voices and experiences of these true experts.

I am an intersex person who was diagnosed as a teenager. The intersex condition I have, Mayer Rokitansy Kuster Hauser Syndrome (MRKH), is rarely diagnosed until we are teenagers, because it is rarely evident until puberty occurs and menstruation does not begin. I was, like many people with MRKH, initially misdiagnosed as having an imperforate hymen, which is when the hymen is thicker than is typically found. This can have medical complications, because it can prevent menstrual blood from exiting the body. My MRKH was discovered after an attempt was made to cut my non-existent hymen and they discovered that I was in fact born without a vagina, cervix and uterus (or my uterus is smaller than common). The trauma of going through multiple genital exams, followed by an unnecessary surgery, followed by even more genital exams and discussions of how to create a vagina was quite difficult for me, especially at the always awkward age of 15. Doctors were much more concerned with my lack of a vagina and creating one, than they were with my emotional well being after receiving an intersex diagnosis. I was not informed of the potentially health threatening symptoms associated with MRKH and only learned of them through of my own research. Additionally, as all of my “options” for dealing with my MRKH were discussed, the option of continuing my life without a vagina, was never offered to me.

Fully informed consent is something that is absolutely necessary before any surgeries are performed. I feel that no non-essential medical interventions should occur until the intersex individual is old enough to make a fully informed decision. In order to make a fully informed decision, all options need to be presented, along with the pros and cons. This list absolutely must include the option to have no surgery. Doctors should stress that choosing not to have surgery is as much of an option as undergoing surgical procedures.

Additionally, I have great concerns about the current push for the identification of intersex conditions in utero, and the treatment of these conditions. Eugenics has a very real and dangerous history in this country and is still a very real threat, especially to people with disabilities and people with intersex conditions. I fear that as the causes of more and more intersex conditions are discovered, researchers will start to look for “cures”. I am concerned that this could result in preventing the birth of intersex individuals altogether. Surgery also plays a similar role (as addressed in the film). Intersex people represent one of the many variations in human bodies and surgery is being used to essentially wipe out an entire group of humans and force us to assimilate. In my case, doctors and researchers do not yet know the “cause” of MRKH. I have serious concerns about what will happen once a “cause” is discovered.

Educating the public is a large issue for intersex activists. Most people are not aware that intersex people exist, although I am sure we can all agree that 1 in 2000 births is not very rare at all. It is estimated that 5 children a day have unnecessary cosmetic surgery performed on their genitals due to a intersex condition. The medicalization of intersex bodies is a huge problem. These surgeries are seldom medically necessary and are strongly influenced by our deeply embedded ideas about gender, sex, sexuality and the idea of “right” and “wrong” bodies. It is time to put a stop to these unnecessary, traumatic and often complication-ridden surgeries without fully informed consent. It is time to start listening to the voices of intersex people and letting us make these decisions based on facts and not on the fears of a society that is terrified of difference.

I am one of the lucky ones. Because of my late diagnosis and my inability to emotionally handle this diagnosis, I did not go through with any cosmetic surgeries to create a vagina. Instead, from age 15-18, I hid this dark secret. I was ashamed and felt like a freak. I thought that no one would want to be sexually involved with me if they knew my secret. For much of those years, even when sexually involved with someone, I did not tell them that I was born without a vagina. This made sex stressful and unenjoyable most of the time. I spent all of my early sexual experiences trying to avoid penetrative sex, without revealing that I had MRKH. When I was 18, I stumbled upon a workshop at a queer conference in San Francisco, which featured 3 intersex people sharing their stories. I did not know the word intersex, nor did I have any idea that this word applied to me. Although none of the people who spoke had MRKH, the similarities of their experiences to mine was uncanny. When I returned home, I starting researching intersex and learned about the intersex activist movement. When I learned that a whole movement existed to end the shame, secrecy and non-consensual surgeries on intersex people, I finally felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. I learned that there is nothing wrong or shameful about my body, what is truly wrong and shameful is the way I and other intersex people are typically treated. I came out to the world as intersex. I finally felt empowered to be angry at the way I was treated and about the assumptions people make about my body based on my gender presentation. Having been involved in social justice movements for several years at the time, becoming a vocal intersex activist seemed like the logical next step. I only wish that one of the many doctors I saw as a teenager had told me the word ‘intersex’ and shared information with me about groups like the Intersex Society of North America years earlier.

Today, nearly 10 years after my diagnosis, I am living my life as an out and proud intersex person. I have elected to not have a vagina created and to instead keep my body as I was born. I have learned to love and be proud of my body, something I did not ever think was possible as a teenager. I have had wonderful, supportive partners, who love me and my body and wouldn’t change me for the world. I have given dozens of intersex presentations at colleges, universities, conferences and to community organizations both in Atlanta and around the United States. I have served on the board of directors of Bodies Like Ours, an intersex peer support and advocacy group and have pushed to get other social justice groups to include intersex issues in their work. The intersex movement has made much progress during it’s short existence. I look forward to the day when no intersex person ever feels ashamed of who they are and or the body they were born with. I look forward to the day when intersex bodies are no longer medicalized and there are no more stories to tell about painful, unwanted and unnecessary genital surgeries. I hope that ‘One in 2000,’ can play a role in making that a reality.


Feminist Critiques of V-Day Panel Speech

January 8, 2009

In February 2007, I was able to participate as a panel member for ‘Whose Vagina Monologues? Feminist Critiques of V-Day’ at Emory University. The description of the event read:

V-Day campaigns have become a powerful force, bringing visibility to various feminist and “women’s” issues on college campuses all over the U.S.  While widely celebrated as a local and global achievement for feminism, V-Day‘s “movement to end violence against women” raises red flags for many feminists.  The reclamation of the “vagina” as a site of female sexuality has been critiqued by feminists concerned with V-Day‘s heteronormativity.  The use of vagina as that which defines and unites “women” has been broadly critiqued by feminists concerned with both intersex and trans politics.  Post-colonial and anti-racist feminist critiques have also been concerned with the deployment of “vagina” as a concept with shared meaning and significance for women globally.  Bringing together panelists with a wide range of concerns about and investments in V-Day and The Vagina Monologues, this event will provide a forum for debate about the pros and cons of the V-Day movement and the nature of our engagement with it.

The following is what I read when it was my turn to speak. I chose to focus on my critiques as an intersex person and a woman without a vagina. I certainly have major issues with V-Day and their views on sex work, but felt I didn’t have enough time to be in depth about sex work and intersex unfortunately.

Feminist Critiques of V-Day Panel Speech by Caitlin Childs:

I was 17 when I first heard about the ‘Vagina Monologues’. I was a young and idealistic feminist and was excited to hear about the commotion this play was causing around the United States. When I heard that the play would be performed at the Roxy in Atlanta, a group of friends and I went to see it.

I loved the first-hand experiences of women relayed through the monologues. I was excited by the possibilities of combining social justice activism with performance, two long-time interests of mine.

At one point in the play, a “Vagina Fairytale” was told. I would like to read you an excerpt from that piece: (Pages 99-100 of ‘The Vagina Monologues, V-Day Edition)

“Or the story of the stunning young woman in Oklahoma, who approached me after the show with her stepmother to tell me how she had been born without a vagina, and only realized it when she was fourteen. She was playing with her girlfriend. They compared their genitals and she realized hers were different, something was wrong. She went to the gynecologist with her father, the parent she was close to, and the doctor discovered that in fact she did not have a vagina or uterus. Her father was heartbroken, trying to repress his tears and sadness so his daughter would not feel bad. On the way home from the doctor, in a noble attempt to comfort her, he said, “Don’t worry darlin’. This is gonna be just fine. As a matter of fact, it’s gonna be great. We’re gonna get you the best homemade pussy in America. And when you meet your husband, he’s gonna know we had it made specially for him.” And they did get her a new pussy, and she was relaxed and happy and when she brought her father back two night later, the love between them melted me.”

That piece resonated with me in a way I couldn’t fully articulate at the time. I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. You see, when I was 15, I was diagnosed with what I now know is an intersex condition, when it was discovered that I was born without a uterus and vagina. Upon diagnosis, I went through multiple genital exams by multiple physicians, was initially misdiagnosed and given a painful and unnecessary surgery and was informed that I would need to have a vagina created via surgical or non-surgical methods at some point in my life. This experience was extremely traumatic and difficult for me. This was NOT due to being born with a body that doesn’t fit what is deemed “normal” for a girl or a woman, but was a result of being told that my body was “wrong” and needed to be fixed. It was due to doctors medicalizing this variance in my body and treating it as if it were a true medical emergency.

Because of all of the shame and trauma surrounding my diagnosis, at 17 when I first saw the Vagina Monologues, the friends who were with me were not aware of my intersex condition. Hearing this monologue and knowing that there was something seriously wrong with the way the play portrayed this young women and her experiences was not something I could articulate due to my own shame, silence and disempowerment.

About a year later, when attending a conference, I stumbled upon an intersex workshop and realized that this “condition” I had been diagnosed with at 15 was under the umbrella term of intersex. I learned that there was an entire movement of people organizing to stop the pain and trauma that people like myself go through as a result of being born into bodies that vary from what is supposedly normal. With this knowledge, I was finally able to deal with the trauma I had gone through years earlier and finally felt entitled to be angry. I found my voice and started to get more and more critical about our cultures narrow ideas around gender, sex, sexuality and bodies.

I finally realized why I had felt something so deeply in my stomach when I heard the “Vagina Fairytale”. I became critical of the sentiment behind this piece that implied that being a woman without a vagina was unacceptable and must be “fixed”. It implies that when vaginas do exist, they exist for husbands. It makes huge assumptions about this young girls heterosexuality. When doctor’s discovered I was born without a vagina, many of these same ideas and assumptions were made. No one ever asked me if I was interested in penetrative vaginal sex, let alone if I was heterosexual. It was clear to me that the doctor’s treating me felt that I needed to have cosmetic surgery on my genitals in order to be a real woman and though it wasn’t, they implied this would be medically necessary. I was never told that it would be equally acceptable for me to continue my life as a woman without a vagina.

In 2002, intersex activists wrote to Eve Ensler to point out the harm being done by the “Vagina Fairytale”. When Eve did not respond, activists contacted V-Day organizers to educate them about intersex genital mutilation and the intersex activist movement. Intersex activists asked V-Day to remove the “Fairytale” and to encourage V-Day to live up to it’s mission of ending violence against women and putting a stop to genital mutilation by including intersex people. Eventually, due to the pressure from intersex activists, V-day issued a joint press release with the Intersex Society of North America clarifying their position on intersex genital mutilation and urging local V-Day organizers to donate money to ISNA’s work.

In 2003, the “Vagina Fairytale” was removed from the V-Day script. However, a monologue from an intersex person’s perspective did not replace it. That year, V-Day organizers were told by the national office that they could plug additional monologues into their local productions of the play. Some producers chose to include monologues written by intersex individuals, but most did not. Later, V-Day reversed this and as it stands, local organizers cannot add any additional monologues to the script.

The more I thought about this and the Vagina Monologues as a whole, the more critical I became. The idea that having a vagina is the one thing that unites all women, just doesn’t work. Women exist with many different types of bodies, some with vaginas and some without. Vaginas do not make women, women.

The more I examined the Vagina Monologues, the more problems I saw. Why is it that the ritualistic cutting of women’s genitals in Africa is portrayed as serious and tragic, yet the “Vagina Fairytale” is written in a fun and lighthearted monologue? Why is it that genital cutting in other countries is portrayed as barbaric, yet there is no mention of the 5 intersex children per day who are given cosmetic surgeries on their genitals without their consent? Why is the word “mutilation” used to talk about genital cutting in Africa, but in the United States, it is a “fairytale”? Why is it that the monologues are all written from the first-person perspective of women, with the exception of the only monologue about an intersex person? V-Day’s mission states “Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery must end now.” In excluding intersex genital mutilation from their work, V-Day fails in its mission to end genital mutilation. By choosing to highlight genital mutilation in African countries, while ignoring genital mutilation happening daily in hospitals across the United States, V-Day perpetuates racist and imperialistic ideas that are dangerous to women and men, both intersex and not, around the world.

As feminists, it is important for us to be critical of art, culture, theory and activism done in our name. When a group touts itself as “The global movement to end violence against women’, we must challenge that group to examine what that really means and question whether that is truly accurate.

Due to the ignorance surrounding intersex, it is not surprising to me that Eve Ensler and V-Day have not been more proactive in their response to intersex activists. Education is one of the top priorities for those of us active in the intersex movement. How wonderful would it be for intersex people if Eve had used her platform to help stop the very real violence occurring multiple times per day to intersex people in the United States and beyond?

It is time to hold V-Day and Eve Ensler accountable for the harm and damage they are doing. It is time to challenge them to live up to their mission. It is time to end the secrecy, shame, non-consensual and damaging genital mutilations happening to intersex people daily.


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