Australia

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Intersex steps forward and backwards, and the LGTBI debate

Published June 25, 2013 by Katy J Went
Four subsequently discovered to be XY developing nation athletes but raised and appeared to be women from birth, had their internal ‘male’ testes removed and cosmetic surgery to conform to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requirements after the London 2012 Olympics because they had shown abnormally high levels of testosterone.
 
Although the exact intersex condition has not been revealed 1-in-4500 or more may be affected by this occurrence. As many as 1-in-100 may have some kind of medical intersex condition. Alternative allosome combinations can be XYY, XXY, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX or XXYY, among other possibilities. I know people who discovered they were XXY in their 30s only when seeking IVF after unaided fertility was not possible. I’ve similar friends and contacts with variants such as XXXXY. Human diversity is endless so why are we stuck with a legal pseudobiological binary? Perhaps athletes should have golfer’s handicaps based on height and hormone/muscle levels and all genders could then compete together. Boxing already divides based upon weight and horseracing equalises rider mass with weights.
 

Professor Charles Sultan, head of hormonology at Montpelier University Hospital said: “These women are born with female genital organs… but they assume male characteristics at puberty with considerable muscular development, a man‘s frame and a testosterone level similar to that of a man. They have the chromosome Y synonymous with masculinity. They can have 25% more muscular mass than their competitors.” (www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/482141/20130623/transgender-castrated-gender-reassignment-olympic-athletes.htm)

 
Professor Sultan’s statement is respectful on gender, still regarding these women as women but with some male/masculine/’similar to … a man’ characteristics, not even accepting the XY chromosome as detracting from their inherent female identity and nurture.
 
Meanwhile, some good news, intersex has for the first time been used in an international agreement in EU foreign policy:
 

“The acronym LGBTI describes a diverse group of persons who do not conform to conventional or traditional notions of male and female gender roles. LGBTI people are also sometimes referred to as ‘sexual, gender and bodily minorities’.”
“…The term intersex covers bodily variations in regard to culturally established standards of maleness and femaleness, including variations at the level of chromosomes, gonads and genitals.” (www.ilga-europe.org/home/news/for_media/media_releases/protection_of_lgbti_human_rights_officially_part_of_eu_foreign_policy)

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union adopted the Guidelines To Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons, a legally binding document instructing EU institutions and Member States how to progress LGBTI  human rights when dealing with third countries and at international levels. Actions combating discriminatory laws and policies, LGBTI-phobic violence, and the promotion of equality and non-discrimination, are prioritised.
 
I have been active in getting the ‘I’ added to all LGBT groups I work with, the reluctance has not been from any public bodies, but rather the LGB elements, not wanting to “dilute” or “confuse” others! This is the same old argument that raged when Gay rights added first Lesbian, then Bisexual and most recently and reluctantly Trans rights. Gay politics has often been reticent to be seen to add the “weird” (and wonderful, IMHO) to their respectable middle class conformism after the early years of more outlandish and outrageous and generally just “out” activism. One group didn’t see the need to add the ‘I’ to any documents suggesting that those in the know knew LGBT included it, and those that didn’t need only be told it once and that the core acronym should remain unchanged, as if it had never changed before! 

I’ve written elsewhere about various groups suggesting a move towards MSGI (Minority Sexual & Gender Identities) or GSD (Gender & Sexual Diversity)/SGD (Sex and/or Gender Diverse) acronyms. LGBT could indeed be seen to be “diluted” by further additions to the alphabet soup of LGGGBTTTIQQQ2SSCHHHHAAAAFOOPPPPNUU (by my last enumeration) letters, but no minority wants to be the bottom of the pile, the mere asterisk in LGBT*. I don’t have a perfect solution but I resent the resistance to the very debate. Personally, I often use LGB/TIQ to indicate the split between sexuality and gender diversity, for the two groups are not always in agreement. Here I use Queer in the modern alternative sense of non-conformist, Queergender which could be seen to embrace genderfluidity, as well as Androgyne, Neutrois and Ungendered identities and expressions.

Australia seems to be the nation to watch on intersex rights. For a decade or more it has had sex/gender non-specific birth certificates and passports. Now it is passing an intersex-inclusive Sex Discrimination Amendment bill. Some half-dozen nations support M/F/X passports including Australia and New Zealand. 

Twilight, Fifty Shades, Male and Female in Bible, Law, Science and Society

Published May 29, 2013 by Katy J Went
The happiest place to be, Australia, has declared “23 genders” deserving of recognition and protection. Yet the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court continue to assert just 2 “traditional” genders and reject the Yogyakarta Principles.

“Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities shall enjoy legal capacity in all aspects of life. Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom. No one shall be forced to undergo medical procedures, including sex reassignment surgery, sterilisation or hormonal therapy, as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity. No status, such as marriage or parenthood, may be invoked as such to prevent the legal recognition of a person’s gender identity. No one shall be subjected to pressure to conceal, suppress or deny their sexual orientation or gender identity.” (Principle 3, Yogyakarta Principles) 

Numerous groups and individuals have defended the gender binary on the alleged absolute grounds of biology, tradition or religion (e.g. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property – an organisation of lay Catholic Americans). On gender and sexuality, at least, Catholics, charismatics, evangelicals and biblical fundamentalists, not to mention Muslims, as strange bedfellows are ironically united. But are these grounds so easily or well defined? Biology offers plenty of scope for multiple and hermaphroditic genders; Native American tradition and other cultures allowed for 3-6 genders or more, such as: male, female, feminine man, masculine woman, gender-fluid and two-spirited.

As for religion, well God in Isaiah 56:4-5 affirms third gender folk as a distinct group apart yet especially loved and named from sons and daughters (male and female).

“For thus saith the Lord to the eunuchs/circumcised, Those who keep my Sabbaths, and decide for that in which I take pleasure, and take fast hold of my covenant; I give to them in my house and within my walls a memorial (yadh) and a name (shem) good/better than sons and daughters: I give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”

Nice wordplay on eunuchs/cut off! The eunuchs cannot parent children and thus prolong their name nor are they regarded as sons or daughters, being inbetween, but instead of healing, as God offers to the blind, deaf, lame, lepers God gives them a name, nature and status, as shem can mean, as “good” as that of sons or daughters, creating a third category on an equal footing, called “better” to make the point. They are also given a “hand”, not a helping one, perhaps, but yadh can euphemistically mean phallus power or strength, portion or perhaps inheritance. After all, the bad verse division hides verse 3’s ending “Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.'”, a phrase indicative of barrenness.

Similarly, Jesus when referring to eunuchs cites three possible origins including “born this way”, “made” or “lifestyle choice” (Matt 19:12). Contemporary first century Jewish rabbis recognised at least 4 genders in the time of Jesus accepting hermaphrodite tumtums and infertile intersex and/or barren women. The Jewish Midrash Rabbah Genesis 8.1 speaks of Adam being created androgyne, bi-gendered, hermaphrodite and then being “cut in two” much like Plato in his Symposion (190 B) when he speaks of three generations: the masculine, the feminine, and the androgynous, and of the latter being split at Creation.

The Bible in Genesis 1 does not say that we are created “male *or* female” but “male *and* female”, “in the image of God”. This makes God male and female, but s/he/they are one entity – in three “persons” if you are Christian rather than Jewish or Muslim. Although “persons” is a problematic later Greek development than earlier Christian thought of God in three modes or manifestations: Father, Son and Spirit. Whilst the Spirit-Creator is mostly seen as female and the Father-Creator as male, nonetheless they are described metaphorically as a mother with nursing breasts as well as other female analogies (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14, 49:15, 66:13; Hosea 11:3-4; Psalm 123:2-3, 131:2; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34, 15:8-10), leaving only Jesus as the XY male – but can we be sure of even that? If Jesus was the incarnation of God, then he too could be male and female, a fully intersexed Messiah), so that Jesus can truly stand for everyman, as in every man and woman, fully human.

The Hebrew word for “and” has a wide range of meaning, it also has the word “either/or” but does not use that here. The same word “and” is used of the animals to be taken aboard the Ark, “male and female” separate breeding pairs. Yet some animals can breed without being in a pair, some can have up to 7 gender variations within a species. Are these animals making a “deviant lifestyle” choice or were they not only born that way, but created that way and part of the “male and female” God envisaged?

It is not about distinction, separation and categorisation but creative variety. Day and night, light and dark are not polarised binaries, but a fifty shades of greyscale, with dawn, daybreak, diluculum, sunrise, morning, coffeetime, midday, teatime, dusk, crepuscule, evening, twilight and everything in between. Gender is similar.

Nobody seriously disputes anymore the ethics of slavery, the Christian equality mantra of Galatians 3:28 stating that “there is neither slave nor free…”, but it continues “…neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. So why are we debating gay, trans, women bishops etc still? Just as God is male and female and yet still one, so are we both individually and as humanity. We are male and female and every shade in between, however gender is counted: 2 genders, 3 genders, 23 genders and none.

Simplistic literalist black and white, male and female theology creates summary judgements of human conditions outside of the binary, neat Sunday school scenarios. Real life is complex, beautiful and individual, and Jesus’ radical solution: Love transcends all these complexities.

The Australian HR Commission report suggested that “people are protected from discrimination without reference to:

  • a binary construct of gender which only protects individuals who identify and present consistently as either male or female
  • a binary construct of sex characteristics which fails to protect intersex individuals
Away with binary and biblical constructs, I say, let gender and Genesis be organic!

On being an Aussie male…and how to report on Trans in the News

Published October 7, 2011 by Katy J Went

The Canberra High Court in Australia has ruled that characteristics that identify a person as male or female are “confined to external physical characteristics that are socially recognizable.” This recognition does not require knowledge of a person’s sexual organs, the court said. This was after the Australian Gender Reassignment Board 3 years ago had refused to recognise the transmen’s gender without complete surgical reassignment, arguing that “having a female reproductive system is inconsistent with being male”. They had undergone mastectomies and had each been on testosterone for more than 5 years rendering them infertile (although possibly reversible if the hormones were stopped).

Surgical prerequisites for legally changing gender have already been relaxed in South Africa, Britain and some other European countries.

Australia has also passed legislation this year that allows Male, Female or Indeterminate gender options on its passports, a move that Britain announced last month it was also considering. “There have been very many cases of people being detained at airports by immigration in foreign countries simply because their passports don’t reflect what they look like, it’s very distressing, highly inconvenient and frankly sometimes dangerous.”, said Senator Louise Pratt, Australia’s first MP with a trans (FTM) partner,  in an interview with ABC Radio.

News stories such as these must be a nightmare for journalists wanting to write it up with respect and yet still grab the reader’s attention through headlines and human interest. Headlines and grab quotes proliferated, such as “Court passes ruling on what it takes to be a man in Australia” (DT), “Men in Australia no longer need a penis to be legally considered a male” – this one is rather stupid in reverse, since if one loses one’s penis due to cancer, accident (remember that in the Hebrew Bible crushed testicles de-manned one and excluded one from entry to the Temple), or deliberate choice, one doesn’t lose one’s status as a man unless one is explicitly transitioning.

Whilst the Daily Telegraph used “female-to-male transsexuals”, the Guardian and Independent called them “transgender people” but went on to refer to them as not having had full “sex change surgeries”, a phrase deprecated by trans communities in favour of variations on gender confirmation/recognition surgeries. The Telegraph used “gender realignment surgery”. Other terms abound: gender reassignment surgery, sex/genital reconstruction surgery, sex affirmation surgery, sex realignment surgery.

Australia had refused to grant the men “gender reassessment certificates”, a proof of gender certificate which within the UK is called “gender recognition”. Not to be confused with Sexual Attitude Reassessment/Restructuring – an often explicit image and group-work based seminar for increasing sexual health professionals’ comfort and knowledge of different attitudes to sex and sexuality.

A sad, strange, and sick story back in 2010 was headlined “Transvestite had sex with a dog at English Heritage Castle” in the Daily TelegraphWhat sickened the DT most was probably that it was at an English Heritage Castle, anywhere else would perhaps have been okay. They seemed relieved that after calling EH for comment their spokesperson said “This was a very rare incident”! Phew, well that’s alright then! Other papers, if one can call some of them that, ran with “Transvestite rapes dog – A cross dressing pervert…deviant…” (Morning Star). The dilemma is the dog incident and press language describing sexual perversion, whilst broadly appropriate there, is also used for mainstream transgender stories.

The label ‘transsexual’ conjures up in the minds of some journalists the idea of a sexual deviant rather than someone likely to be struggling with gender identity or exhibiting legitimate gender variance. Admittedly transsexual, to me, is an illogical term anyway, first used by D. O. Cauldwell in 1949 (originally with one ‘s’) but which would be better used for someone attracted to trans people, along the lines of homosexual, heterosexual, pansexual etc. This is why transgender or transperson is a much better suited term.

It it difficult to expect the media to stick to one term when the trans community itself can’t agree. We do, however, agree on disparaging the use of “sex change”, “sex swap” and incorrect gender pronouns in articles and undue attention to the birth gender background of the subjects.