Intersex: A Perilous Difference

Intersex: A Perilous Difference

Intersex: A Perilous Difference

Intersex: A Perilous Difference

Synopsis

As threatening evidence that sex is not the natural basis upon which oppositional gender roles are built, the intersexed are made to disappear into normative categories, thus aligning once again the rightful place of male and female as opposites.

Excerpt

It is trouble for the families of children so DIAGNOSED; it is trouble for the medical specialists who make careers out of neutralizing “abnormality”; it is trouble to a system of sex/gender that insists that bodies are oppositional in/by “nature” limited by an absolute dimorphism. Most of all, however, intersex is trouble for those whose bodies are so labeled, but not because of any inherent ‘difficulty’ in the biological and/or anatomical manifestation(s) of intersexuality. the trouble with intersex for all these groups is—as Suzanne Kessler (1990) argues—decidedly social, but the burden of cost for the trouble to the social system is borne primarily by intersexed infants and children. Like the figures in Modigliani’s 1911 sketch Hermaphrodite Caryatid, intersexuality is trouble because it is overburdened with signification, and because, unlike Modigliani’s caryatid, contemporary intersexuals have little hope that the medical establishment that labels us will see our bodies as graceful expressions of difference. Instead, contemporary intersexed persons are first rendered as freakish crises, as medical emergencies, and as the unraveling of meaning—all only to be repackaged in surgically corrected form as a testament to the wonders of medicine, the propriety of sexual dimorphism, and the correctness of what Judith Butler calls “the heterosexual matrix” (1990, 1993). the expression of cultural anxiety about bodies that do not fit the dimorphic scheme and responses to that expression launched by the relatively recent mobilization of intersexed persons are the subject of this book.

Taking stock of approximately fifteen years of academic work and activism, this work seeks to join cultural analysis with implications for clinical settings, for a politics of intersex, and for an intellectual praxis.

One of the most fundamental assumptions that must be corrected right at the outset of this work is the common casting of intersexed bodies and persons as especially troubled, rather than troubling. As recently as 2003, Sharon Preves has reiterated that intersexed persons are faced with an especially “uneasy choice” regarding sex assignment, embodiment, and the need to “do gender” (Preves 2003; 2). Here Pre-

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