This letter was written by the members of Inter/Act, a group of young intersex writers and advocates whose blog at inter-actyouth.tumblr.com chronicles our experiences and the challenges they face. Their pamphlet entitled ‘What We Wish Our Doctors Knew’ can be downloaded here. The following is also posted on Inter'Act's tumlbr.
On February 13, Facebook announced that users would have the ability to choose from a wider variety of gender and pronoun options, including the term "intersex." "Intersex" and dozens of other gender-identifying options are now available to users. Just one day after the social networking site announced the change, which allows users more flexibility in describing their gender, co-hosts of Fox & Friends Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Clayton Morris, and Tucker Carlson expressed incredulity in their on-air banter. Hasselbeck introduced the segment, saying Facebook had added "over 50 additional gender options, including 'transgender,' 'intersex,' and 'neither.' Heading over to 'the male,' Clayton," she joked as she transitioned to Morris for his opinion. Morris responded sarcastically, "No, I changed mine to 'intersex.'"Later, Carlson denigrated at the term "intersex" by adding, "whatever that is," and mocked the idea that some people might select the "neither" option."
It’s clear that these individuals on the show had no prior knowledge of what intersex conditions are. To be fair, they’re not the only ones--many people have never heard the term before. People with a complete, nuanced understanding of intersex conditions are rare. However, just because misunderstanding is common does not mean that ignorance should be proudly aired on national television. We were initially disappointed with Fox News’s reaction to the update of Facebook’s gender options. It is only natural for a social media outlet to broaden their gender identity options; every individual should have the right to accurately (and comfortably) represent themselves as they see fit on a social media platform.
Rather than mocking something unfamiliar, Fox could have consulted Wikipedia, ISNA.org, OIIinternational.com,or intersexinitiative.org to gain at least a basic understanding of intersex conditions like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) and Swyers Syndrome, to name a few. Ideally, your producers would have done this research before you mocked 1% to 2% (Preves 2003) of the population--including the young people writing this letter.
Seeing this as a teachable moment, we’d like to begin by defining what intersex is. ‘Intersex’ describes a range of conditions which cause a person to have a biological sex other than male or female; intersex conditions are commonly referred to as disorders (or differences) of sex development by doctors and individuals affected. Examples of people with intersex conditions/DSD are: women born with naturally occurring XY chromosomes and female typical genitals, men with naturally occurring XX chromosomes and genitals, and other individuals born with genitals that are atypical. Many times, these conditions make it difficult or even impossible for us to have biological children.
What your anchors discussed on air actually highlights an important point. Not all people with intersex conditions identify as being “between” or “other than” male or female: many people consider themselves as men or women with DSD or intersex medical conditions. Many times, people misconceive what “intersex” or DSD means and--like your anchors--feel uncomfortable discussing it. This is similar to how skin color, race, ethnicity, and other topics can be misunderstood and stigmatized. Throughout history, people have feared physiological differences like intersex conditions/DSD. While school and media emphasize male and female as black and white (e.g. men are from Mars and women from Venus) biology says otherwise: biological sex is a spectrum. Instead of ignoring it or mocking it, we feel the need to share this reality with you. Intersex is a reality of how our bodies were formed and a reality we live every day.
The young people writing this response come from all walks of life: we could be your friends, your family. Who knows? Some of your staff members may have children born with an intersex condition/DSD; odds are that you have people working for you that have these conditions.
When viewing the on screen reaction, we felt disregarded as a butt of a joke. We felt when watching the clip that not only did your team not know what intersex was, but they also didn’t find it worth while to learn more. People with intersex conditions face challenges everyday. These challenges could happen when required to choose between “Sex-- male or female” on a form. It could happen when sharing our intersex condition with a friend and being met with a blank stare. It happens every time intersex conditions are misunderstood and fetishized, in print and on television. These problems can only be solved in a permanent way when we increase awareness of intersex conditions and the issues we face as young people with these conditions and bodies.
We encourage you to visit the Inter/Act web site next time you find yourself wondering “whatever ‘intersex’ is.” We would love to share more.
The youth of Inter/Act