When I ran across Jessica Mahmoud's blog Color it Queer, I fell in love. I promptly asked her if she would be interested in writing about a subject that interested her and she replied with an enthusiastic "YES" and "What about Intersexuality?" To which I said: We definitely need to talk about that in 101 terms! And here we are! Thanks Jessica!
While many identities and problems are discussed within the body positivity movement, one identity that is silenced are those who are intersex. Intersex is the term used for a variety of medical conditions in which a person is born with chromosomes, genitalia, and/or secondary sexual characteristics that are inconsistent with the typical definition of a male or female body.
Today, in our heteronormative society, being intersex is looked at as a problem that needs to be "fixed." Many doctors feel there is a need to match one's gender assignment with their genitals and will perform surgery in order to do so. While I sit with my thin privilege worrying about the three donuts I ate last night, intersex individuals are questioning their own genitalia. This community not only needs more awareness as an actual identity, but also visibility in the struggle they face with their own bodies.
These surgeries for this “problem” may or may not take a toll on someone’s self image. In the book Looking Queer: Body Image and Identity in the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Communities, intersex activist Cheryl Chase talks about her own body image, and how even though she presents as female, she has a hard time finding clothes that fit her. While this is her size, her size is coming from her intersexuality, which one may consider their gender. This is the tough realization that intersexuals may face a mixture of male and female features, in addition to a unique body size like everyone else. This makes the minority of an intersexual a prominent part of their life, even though it is often silenced.
Chase also talks about her body parts: “What do I see when I look in the mirror? I see a female body, though scarred and missing some important genital parts” (214). I think it is interesting to make the connection that an intersexuals body image struggles may not come from the common big stomach or thighs, but from their genitalia. This inbetween genders can leave them feeling negative thoughts towards themselves and/or their bodies. As stated within Bradley University’s The Body Project, intersexuals may face these feelings regarding body image:
- Self-consciousness, self-hatred and resentment toward their bodies (Preves, 2002).
- Feelings of shame, inadequacy, and anger that affect the way they see themselves and interact with others (Preves, 2002).
- Self-consciousness in sexual experiences, avoidance of sexual contact, and difficulty forming healthy relationships (Chase, 1998).
- And contemplated, attempted, and sometimes successful suicide (Diamond, 1997).
Luckily, there are also intersex individuals that do not have a problem with their genitalia. According to doctors at John Hopkins Hospital, where intersex surgeries were primarily developed, ambiguous genitalia themselves do not present any pain or harm to one's health. Intersex Cartoon Network animator Emily Quinn was interviewed on Vice News and said, “I’m in a place where I’m very comfortable with my body…” (Vice).
This body positivity of intersexuals can also be seen in activist Arisleyda Dilone. Thinking she was going in regarding a tumor, she she was traumatized after having realizing she was really having a full hysterectomy. She is currently an activist making a film to tell her story. These surgeries to one’s genitalia can be very confusing and they may find it hard to find the answers about their body. Arisleyda Dilone was able to find these answers and now lives as an intersex women.
As you can see, body image deals with all of one’s body, including what is not always seen, like genitalia. Intersex identities are not talked about a lot, but fortunately there are more people speaking out and bringing awareness to the struggles of this community. As this Bustle article mentions, it is important to realize that someone’s genitalia is really none of your business. While they deal with their own body image struggles, I think this part of the movement is silenced because it is so personal and private, and maybe it should be kept within that community.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!