Misc Manners: How do I avoid appropriating intersexed identity when I transitioned to be a ‘hermaphrodite’?
With my ‘Misc Manners’ non-binary etiquette hat on, I answer a question from the comments at PracticalAndrogyny.com…
The point about not appropriating intersexed identity is not a new one for me, but it’s one I always struggle with because I only “appropriate” it to the same extent that any postoperative transsexual “appropriated” the gender they have to (at least say they) “live as” to get the surgery. I do make the sex/gender definition, and I would always use terms like “ambiguous” or “hermaphrodite” to describe myself because it’s the obvious physical description of my current state. Which is largely due to how I had myself surgically remodelled, which was largely due to my gender identity. I suppose I could use trans-hermaphrodite or something like that, but like many transsexuals I get pissed off with being judged to be “really” the gender they labelled me at birth and so I don’t necessarily want out myself as not-born-this-way to everyone when I make reference to my sex.
What sort of language would you suggest as being more respectful to people born intersexed while avoiding having my gender/sex dismissed as not “real” but “just” a binary-sexed person who goes in for body modification? I’m not trying to be argumentative here, by the way, I’m interested in what you have to say. I bet if anyone has a useful and well thought out response to this question it will be you!
Misc Manners replies:
Hi Ash, I think you might find this Privilege Denying Non-Binary Person macro relevant to why dyadic by birth people should not use intersex terms. It illustrates the point of privilege that non-binary people who consensually transition in adulthood have over intersex people who are subjected to non-consensual surgeries and “treatment” throughout their childhood and adolescence.
The majority of people of intersex experience consider themselves to be binary gendered in adulthood, and consider their intersexual bodies or histories a physical or medical issue rather than a matter of identity. Most intersex people would consider the term ‘hermaphrodite’ to be a slur. Those intersex people who hold non-binary gender identities tend to consider themselves intersex and transgender (or genderqueer) rather than simply intersex. At least in the past, the intersex community used the term ‘intergender’ to talk about the experience of feeling one’s identity to be between the binary options, as they recognised that the majority of intersex people do not have that experience.
With the intersex appropriation issue aside, I also would be very nervous about an identity defined and policed on the basis of whether a person was able to obtain surgery. I consider it harmful and problematic to conflate identities and ‘transition goals’ in that way. Non-binary people have our gender identities (or lack of gender identities) regardless of whether we feel the need to ‘transition’ in any part. I find it most helpful to take every aspect of ‘transition’ as a separate decision and not assume that our identities come as a ‘package deal’. I recommend the same of binary identified trans people as well.
I think that for most transsexual people the configuration of their genitals is something private and not directly connected to the identities they present to the world. The majority of trans men do not undergo genital reconstructive surgery but still consider themselves to be men (and are likely to consider their genitals to be male regardless of how society defines them) and an increasingly large proportion of trans women are also opting to be ‘non-operative’ without feeling that they are any less female.
So to conclude, I would recommend referring to yourself as being ‘physically androgynous’, or if you wish to be more specific, ‘genitally androgynous’. You may also find it appropriate to talk about your identity as ‘intergender’ or describe yourself as an ‘androgyne’, which in its earliest recorded usage in the 1500s was used as a synonym for hermaphrodite but which has no intersexual slur word connotations.
If you have any questions of non-binary or genderqueer etiquette for our resident agony parental sibling please feel free to drop them in an Ask :)
You can also send your questions to the excellent Ask A Non-Binary tumblr, where a panel of non-binary people will give their considered answers.