Intersexuality – XXY

// 16 December 2008

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Mia Nikasimo writes weekly on transgender issues. Using the Argentinian film XXY as a point of reference she begins a discussion on intersex.

In XXY, a film from Argentina, Alex, the film’s protagonist, is a 14 year old intersex child who comes face to face with society’s prejudice.1 The close knit community of this small fishing village is populated by people this child would have viewed as neighbours. However because of the child’s intersexuality which in this case shows a female bodied child gradually turning male which is suggested abundantly throughout the film. The child’s secret is leaked somehow by an acquaintance and everyone is either curious, offended or out rightly oppressive towards Alex. Fearing their society’s reaction towards their child, the Alex’s parents invite a surgeon to see if the tide could be stopped. Under pressure even Alex seemed willing to give in but as long as the outcome is male rather than female gender identity, an already suggested gay sexuality in the mix (i.e. not lesbian as some might assume.) Although to my mind the film reflects society’s gender paranoia, I think it best that you judge it yourselves… How can a human child of fourteen be treated in the way depicted in the film does simply because of the child’s intersexed status? Continue reading Intersexuality – XXY

Comments From You

polly styrene // Posted 16 December 2008 at 12:44 pm

The condition being described here is, I assume, Klinefelter’s syndrome – most people with this condition are actually identified as male from birth, and continue with this assignment. They may requite testosterone replacement therapy as adults to prevent osteporosis.

The huge majority of ‘intersex’ people are actually given a male or female sex at birth which they are happy to continue with. Most “intersex” conditions are in fact chromosomal variations, such as Turners syndrome or Androgen Insensitivity syndrome, and people with them will appear externally to be either male or female.

It can actually be quite distressing to a number of people with intersex conditions such as AIS to have their conditions linked/confused with gender identity issues, as the two are usually separate. For instance the Androgen Insenstitivy Syndrome Support Group say:

“Intersex is not the same as a transsexual (gender dysphoria) or as a transgender state. Neither term is one that we recognise as belonging in any general discussion of intersex. We are not happy with the recent tendency of some trans groups/people to promote transgender as an umbrella term to encompass, for example, transsexuality, transvestitism and intersex. We object to other organisations/individuals putting us in categories without consulting us, especially categories that imply that interexed people, of necessity, have gender identity issues.

The problems this causes…

We are constantly trying to get away from the idea that intersex is necessarily to do with gender identity, a notion that others (including the press/media) like to impose on us. Moreover, the prefix trans- infers a “moving across” and although a few people with intersex conditions may choose to change their gender role, the vast majority never “go” anywhere in terms of their sex or their gender, but are happy to stay in the status in which they grew up”

It probably isn’t helpful to the majority of people who are ‘intersex’ to have this confusion promoted, which it constantly is in many discussions of this type.

Soirore // Posted 16 December 2008 at 1:34 pm

The character in the film is not typical of intersex people because she* wasn’t given a gender at birth although brought up as a girl she retains both male and female genitalia. The film is at the point where Alex is choosing whether to define herself* as male or female or refuse medical/surgical intervention altogether and remain undefined (in want of a better word).

In this way a trans analysis of the film is perfectly valid as the realities of intersex science are not dealt with but the choice of/affiliation with a gendered identity is. If anything it is a fault of the film not of the post about it.

*I use feminine pronouns as Alex is identified as a girl in the film

Nicky // Posted 16 December 2008 at 6:49 pm

The problem here is that trans people will see the movie in their eyes and in the context of their world view. I think that they don’t understand that we are not like them and were not the same as them.

Anon // Posted 19 December 2008 at 5:02 pm

I agree with polly and Nicky.

Intersex is NOT the same as transgender. This confusion is not helpful to people with either condition.

There is a distinction between *gender* and *sex*. It’s possible to not be traditionally masculine or feminine, as these are social constructs, without having a problem with one’s sex; equally, transgender people aren’t necessarily traditionally macho or girlie. They are simply born the wrong *sex*.

Thus intersex people *may* be ‘confused’ but it’s probably because people are trying to force them into a box, not because there is anything inherently wrong with them or their identity. Good info here:

Gender is far too central to our understanding of people; it’s just one aspect of a person, after all. It also isn’t a binary, male or female, like black or white; there are shades of grey.

I speak as a woman with Turner’s syndrome.

In fact, I believe this is not actually an ‘intersex’ condition (as Polly explains, that term is problematic anyway). There is no gender ambiguity; women with Turner’s syndrome are XO i.e. have one X chromosome. As such most women with Turner’s are infertile and there can be other health problems; I am relatively fortunate. However, a Y chromosome is required for the development of male characteristics.

Anne Onne // Posted 20 December 2008 at 12:37 pm

I recognise that the two are different. Transgender people are born physically one sex, which is to say that they develop the healthy biological functions of one sex, fertility and all, but they mentally feel that they are the other gender, and many wish to physically convert to the other sex, to feel that they are being who they want to be. Whether the reason for their gender alignment, whether someone feels they ‘fit’ with the sex of their body or not, is the product of brain chemistry/anatomy or something more complex, it is not physical: their sex is unequivocally

Intersex people on the other hand, are, as a result of chromosomes, or endocrine problems, born with (or develop) physical manifestations of sex that don’t neatly fit the ‘male’ or ‘female’ categories. Often, this is found early, and the children are raised as whichever sex and gender they ‘are’ more, biologically speaking.

Many, it has been pointed out, are happy with the choice made for them, and this raises the important point that even physiological differences that complicate one’s sex don’t suddenly make someone feel ‘male’ rather than ‘female’, which I think is part of what you were suggesting. That being intersex, or having been intersex, and having now been given a gender and treatment, many feel strongly associated with the gender given, and that gender identity issues are not a given when the physical system is altered somewhat. I understand that.

However, just as a non-intersex person can be transgender, can’t an intersex person be transgender, too? I raise this not to imply that the groups are the same, or even similar (transgender, transvestite and intersex people are clearly very different) but that there can be an overlap, just as one can be a person of colour and a lesbian, and transgender.

For some people who are born intersex, they may not identify with the sex and gender chosen at birth, and the experiences intersex people go through may well lead some to question their gender. Not because gender identity and sex are linked, so that having one atypical means that the other must be different, but because going through a process that challenges gender norms and what society expects may lead to a lot of thinking. I

feel that only those who follow norms (gender, sex, sexuality etc) without thinking never stop to pause and think where they fall in the spectrum. I know that thinking about these issues has made me consider where I really fall amongst it all.

I’m sure lots of people can explain it more eloquently, but I always find that disambiguation is useful. I feel that as the media lumps people who are ‘other’ into a group, we sometimes end up mirroring this because there are some things common between them: in this case directly challenging the gender binary with the presentation of non- traditional physical sex or gender identity that does not match the physical sex. It’s a complex issue, and it’s really interesting to see input from transgender and intersex people, because so often it feels like so many voices are missing from this kind of discussion.

Jane // Posted 20 December 2008 at 2:31 pm

Anne wrote:

“However, just as a non-intersex person can be transgender, can’t an intersex person be transgender, too? I raise this not to imply that the groups are the same, or even similar (transgender, transvestite and intersex people are clearly very different) but that there can be an overlap, just as one can be a person of colour and a lesbian, and transgender.”

Yes they can, I have two friends that have intersex conditions (there’s more than 30 known variations), but their intersex has also created issues relating to their sex/gender, and are going through gender reassignment.

Steph // Posted 20 December 2008 at 7:47 pm

This is an excellent video of an intersex individual whom is also trans:

Nick Chaleunphone // Posted 21 December 2008 at 3:23 am

Anne Onne,

The problem here is that intersex is not the same as transgender. Intersex needs go way beyond the needs of the trans community. Intersex is more chromosomal, genetic and biological.Whereas trans is more the mind and the brain issue.

As with the movie XXY, i think it’s very good and the only problems i can see is that the transpeople will try to claim that the movie speaks for them, when in reality, it doesn’t and the movie only speaks about the intersex people only and not to the transpeople.

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