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Intersex and Michigan Womyn's Music Festival

intersex is not a blame-free category

Below is taken from the dialogue about the anti-transsexual policy at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

Date: 08/12/2002

<< As you said, the fest, people with their subjective opinions as to what is gender. But, do they do a chromosome check at the door or is it all about self-presentation? >>

No. Why should they? Their definition of WBW is that one was born and raised as a girl and still is a woman, which is pretty clear. Checking someone's chromosomes won't tell you anything about whether or not they were treated as female all of their lives.

<< My girl is involved in counselling queer people - trans, intersexed, gay and others. It really opened my mind and my eyes as to how limited our knowledge is when it comes to gender and its variants. >>

That's wonderful. Just please leave intersex out of it. Intersex people can be queer, trans, or gender-varient, but not all intersex people are.

<< If we see m2fs or f2ms as partially intersexed people >>

ISNA (Intersex Society of North America) doesn't, and neither do most intersex activists.

<< (I think it's already medically proven that their brain develops as opposite to their physical bods) >>

That has nothing to do with whether or not transsexuality is an intersex condition. Not until they discover a way to diagnose it at birth and to surgically eliminate it.

<< then where does that leave the T-folks? >>

I'm a trans ally and I do more than my share of advocating for the rights of trans people (see my Bitch debate) but I resent the exploitative use of intersex people as a prop to advance trans people's rights, because it diminishes struggles faced by intersex people. Besides, trans people deserve respect and dignity like everyone else, regardless of whether their transsexuality is biologically rooted or not.


Date: 08/13/2002

<< Intersexed peops are not used as props, only as an example. >>

Example for what? The exploitation of intersex existence to advance trans people's rights is very common and is extremely offensive to intersex people; in fact, it's probably the number one reason that so many intersex people stopped talking to trans people at all - it's too painful to be treated this way repeatedly.

Often, trans activists and allies perceive intersex as a blame-free category (because it's biological!) and think that virtually everyone, including radical-feminists who are ideologically opposed to transsexualism, would accept intersex women as women regardless of having XY chromosomes or other physical anomalies. Then, they stipulate either that transsexuality is part of intersex or at least something similar to it, citing preliminary researches on the "brain sex" theory, and argue that, if intersex women are accepted, trans women must be accepted also.

The flaw of this logic is that intersex is *not* a blame-free category as they assume, but one that is ridden with lifelong struggles with guilt, shame, secrecy, and isolation, as well as repeated childhood sexual trauma. When we talk about intersex, we are *not* talking about this genital or that chromosome, but we are talking about marriages broken, children ending up in child welfare system, and youth committing suicide. When trans activists and allies present intersex as if being intersex is already treated as a perfectly acceptable and legitimate trait, it denies the entire experiences of intersex people. Worse, by focusing on genitals, chromosomes, and other physical characteristics of intersex people, but not on emotional experiences of growing up as an intersex child, these trans activists and allies engage in the re-enactment of the medical gaze that reduced intersex people to their body parts in the first place.

This is why I am asking you (and others) to stop using intersex existence in order to advocate for trans inclusion.

<< But just like intersexualism, transsexualism is a medical condition, not a social one >>

Intersexuality is not a medical condition, but a social one.

<< You're a trans ally too so you should understand. >>

For me, being a trans ally means that I don't need to resort to the "brain sex" theory in order to justify that trans women are women. Everyone's gender identity should be respected whether or not it has a biological root.

<< That's what I don't understand, how do they decide who is WBW and who isn't. How is it clear how I was raised? By the way I look at them or the way I dress? What if I kicked asses in primary school, decapitated the Barbies I got and in general I was a royal bitchy tomboy? Is there a questionnaire about one's past? Who is considered to be "raised as a female"? >>

They don't. Their official policy is clear in that they do not allow anyone who disclose themselves to be non-WBW to enter, but they do not make anyone prove their WBW status. In short, "don't ask, don't tell" is the official policy. It does not mean that transsexual people are allowed to enter as long as they don't self-disclose; they are still not welcome, but the festival wisely decided that it was impossible to enforce the rule, lest they would end up harassing bunch of butch-looking WBWs.

If you are a trans ally, please do some homework and actually read what the policy says - it's a public document - because an uninformed "ally" who needs to be constantly educated about the issue will only burden trans people further. If you want to read the policy or other important documents related to the WBW policy, go to my Michigan archive at


Date: 08/13/2002

<< I completely understand the trauma that comes with being different, being that intersexed, trans or queer. >>

But whenever trans activists and allies use intersex as a prop to advance trans rights without directly addressing issues intersex people face, they are erasing the specificity of intersex people's experiences. Saying "I understand that people are traumatized for being different" does not make it any more okay to silence intersex people's experiences. This pattern is so prevalent that many intersex people simply don't want to speak with any trans people. Now that makes my job as an intersex activist and a trans ally difficult, because my association with trans friends (and my partner who is transsexual) is seen as a betrayal by some other intersex people.

<< And I never thought that anyone tried to invalidate the feelings of IS people. >>

They don't need to "try"; people are perfectly capable of silencing and erasing a whole group of people without intending any harm - in fact, that is exactly what the problem is with they way intersex people are treated.

<< And then you said that while IS people are allowed in, TS people are still not allowed in >>

That is not what I said. The policy in effect says "no transsexuals," which means transsexual people are not allowed in; whether one is intersex or not is irrelevant. As I said, intersex people can be women, men, or others; among those intersex people who are women, only those intersex women who are WBW are allowed in, while others, such as intersex women who are transsexual are not. I say this one more time: please leave intersex out of this, because, as you see, intersex status has nothing to do with the MWMF debate.

<< And just how do you figure it out who is a butch or who is a TS? And more importantly why does it matter so much? >>

Let me repeat myself: they simply don't. The festival has a policy against challenging anyone's status as WBW as long as they don't claim to be otherwise. Some people transsexual women (and others perceived to be such) have been able to enter the festival even if they don't quite pass as non-trans, because as long as they don't declare themselves to be transsexual, the festival will not ask her to prove their WBW status. Festival says that these trans women are "disrespecting" the festival policy, but decided not to take any actions because if they did, they would end up harassing bunch of buch-looking WBWs.

<< Oh, and that "TSs have female brains" thing is not preliminary whatsoever. Only problem is that they can do the necessary tests only on dead people so they can't use the diagnostic method on living ones and also (luckily) there is not enough dead TS to render statistically viable info (for some only statistics matter). >>

Okay, so what if they found the technology to scan people's brains when they are still alive? Would you say that if some transwomen did not "pass" this test, they shouldn't be accepted as women? That any women who flunk this test would not be allowed to enter the land? Fuck that, cuz that's transphobia. "Brain sex" is an interesting area of scientific endeavor, but it is completely irrelevant to how trans people should be treated in this society; trans people deserve respect live everyone else without having to prove what their brain structure looks like.

<< how can someone call herself trans "ally" when she is denying the very basic right trans people are fighting for - to be seen as ordinary women or men? >>

I am fighting for trans people's right to be seen as ordinary women or men, and their right to not have their brain structure scrutinized for it.