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

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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


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


Why are queers shopping at Amazon.com anyway?

April 15, 2009

My butch dearest and I just returned from a relaxing (and much needed) weekend away in the North Georgia Mountains. Upon checking my email, I was bombarded with multiple messages about Amazon.com removing LGBT books from being ranked on their website.

Now, I get the general reasons people are upset: labeling anything with queer content as “adult” while letting hetero books that clearly contain “adult” content stay is not cute. I was lucky to come from a book worshiping home where I was allowed to read anything and everything I could get my hands on. As a high school drop out with little formal education, I credit this access to books and information with giving me a great, although non-traditional, education. Queer folks (especially youth) need these books – a way to figure out the answers to the questions we sometimes can’t say out loud. To find out what the options are. To know we aren’t alone. Many isolated folks are not aware of alternative sources for books and information and Amazon.com is a likely a place someone struggling with or figuring out their queerness would go.

I also understand that it conjures up all kinds of images of crazed PTAs storming the school library and confiscating copies of Judy Blume books.

All that said, I’m still a little baffled by all the hoopla.

I am fortunate to live in one of the cities that is home to an independent, queer owned and run, feminist bookstore, Charis Books and More.

Charis opened in 1974 and has managed to survive in spite of Borders and Barnes Noble/Amazon.com. As of today there are only 10 feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada (compared to 120 in 1994.) I first found Charis as a kid when my mom would take me to its original storefront location on Moreland Ave. in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. When I was 15, a hot angsty mess, and starting to figure out my queer identity, I rediscovered Charis, on my own this time. They had moved to a house caddy-corner to their original location. Inside I found hundreds of books to help me sort my shit out, as well as a community. I began volunteering at the bookstore and continued to do so off and on. I learned about Charis Circle, the non profit sister organization to the bookstore which puts on free author readings, books groups, writing groups, and social justice programming in the store. When I was 20 I volunteered as a mentor in the fabulous but now defunct ‘Sistergirls’ program and a year or so later joined the board of directors and served for 2 years. I also completed a 7 month fellowship with the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities by spending 20 hours a week as part of the Charis Circle staff organizing disability specific programming and outreach via Charis Circle. This fellowship allowed me to create an ongoing disability series at Charis, which continues today, more than a year after my fellowship came to an end.

Charis (both the Circle and Store) have changed my life multiple times in the 10 years I’ve been going sans mom. They have offered me a never ending world of books, the opportunity to meet my favorite authors and even share a meal with one of them (Michelle Tea!!), a space to further my social justice and community organizing work, and above all else, a community. I’ve grown up at Charis. Gone from an awkward and angry punk rock baby dyke to a confident (and still angry) femme 20-something.

My question to folks outraged by Amazon’s shennanigans: Why aren’t we buying our books from the Charis or any of the feminist bookstores or LGBT bookstores (do a google search if you want to see if there is one in your area) or even your local indie bookstore which you can find listed here? Why is anyone surprised that a mega corporation, who is currently controlling the books that most people in the U.S. buy and have access to, is censoring queer, feminist and sex positive voices? Why are we allowing Amazon.com to be our source for progressive and radical information in the first place?

Bookstores like Charis exist to support OUR voices, to fight damage done to our communities by corporations like Amazon.com and Co. Even if you are somewhere with no indie bookstore, you can order online from most indies these days and most are more than happy to special order any book your heart can dream of (or recommend a damn good one if you don’t know what you’re looking for.)

Charis offers 10% off all online orders, so what are you waiting for? Click here and start shopping today! Let’s stop trying to force corporations to accommodate our community’s needs or think that buying corporate support will liberate us. Let’s instead support those who truly support us, in part because they are part of our community. Borders and Barnes and Noble/Amazon.com may be on every corner and always offer free shipping, but they can’t come remotely close to provide the never ending list of things a good independent bookstore does. If these aren’t enough reasons to shop independent, here are some more from the Indie Bound website:

Why shop Indie?

When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

  • Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.

The Environment

  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community

  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

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:

VDay 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, VDay‘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 VDay‘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 VDay and The Vagina Monologues, this event will provide a forum for debate about the pros and cons of the VDay 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.