Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Rhetorical castration of the Intersex community

An analysis of Alice Dreger’s Rhetoric of Power as applied to the DSD controversy

by Curtis E. Hinkle

First of all, it is very hurtful and in fact traumatizing to many of us in the intersex community to have an intersex activist who is not intersexed to tell us repeatedly that we are powerless. This is what Alice Dreger has now been telling us for several days. For many of us, this is part of the very damaging and stigmatizing messages we have received since early childhood. Our only hope for any sense of control over who we were and what was to be done with our bodies and our very sense of self was to retreat, to withdraw, hoping that by becoming invisible we could avoid further harm. Our families helped us in most cases by actually reinforcing the conspiracy of lies about who we were and only made the shame and powerlessness we felt as children seem justified. What we were was so shameful that we could not speak about it. We could not dare say what we were. We were just beginning to move beyond this paralyzing shame.

Once again, we are in a similar situation. We are being told that intersex is NOT something that any child should have as a label and those in power, those that Dreger convinced by her own articles and activism to stop calling us intersex, are going to deny us this one small crumb of human decency – a name that we were beginning to feel proud of as we slowly worked through our shame and trauma. And it has been very alarming and chilling to witness the open castration of the intersex community in Dreger’s rhetoric of power in which she reminds us of our proper place – powerless victims of those who know how to speak about us, who know how to manage us and who will once again “assist” us as we go back into our shells, brutally scarred once again from the current struggle to have some place in society and some voice, and hide, hoping we can heal from this last major attempt to castrate all remnants of intersex voices.

This is not acceptable. Alice Dreger’s rhetoric is NOT empowering. I suggest that it is meant to make us feel powerless, to convince us that we are. This is not acceptable. It is in fact cruel to treat a marginalized and very damaged group of people in this way when she knows we are bleeding from this last operation performed by her and ISNA that stabbed into the very heart of our slowly emerging identity and sense of being a small part of humanity. It is as if we have once again been excised from public view, that our very fragile sense of community was crushed into total submission – the eternal eunuchs.

Another technique used by Dreger is to repeat and define the categories of people who do have power in the debate and by doing so, we are excluded from the debate about OUR lives, our identites, our BODIES. We have been told over and over that those with real power are:


She has made it clear that she is a mother many times. She knows that many of us can never have children. We do not begrudge her the happiness that she has in being a parent but in addressing us and telling us that we need to speak to those in power which she defines as doctors and parents, it is very cruel to remind us that she is a mother, something that many of us would have so much wanted to be. It is a dual edged-sword this parental power rhetoric. It disempowers us by placing us in a category that most of us could never be in and then she reminds us that she is in that category.

Reminding us that doctors have power and most of us know that her husband is a doctor is also a two-edged sword. Equating power with doctors is something that is traumatically painful to many of us who remember the power they did exert over us and the very pain this abuse of power inflicted on our bodies and our souls.

We have been castrated publicly. This is cruel. We should reclaim our power and take the scalpels of privilege and stand proud and say NO.

We do have power and we will speak openly and proudly.

Quotes from recent messages from Alice Dreger to the Intersex Community:

"As a historian, I have to wonder whether a lot of the intense discussions among intersex adults is happening because it is something they can do. ... When you’re sitting on a closed-loop listserv, arguing with insiders who have not so much power, think about whether your time is better spent engaging those with power. Think about writing to doctors and telling them what happened to you and what you wish had happened to you. Think about providing positive, constructive support and education through the diagnosis-specific groups and through your community’s religious institutions, schools, and other non-profit organizations."

Talking about What Matters - Alice Dreger

"As I talked about in my recent blog on the terminology ..., I would really like to see people try to direct their writing, speaking, and thinking energies towards engagement with those with real power. That is not Curtis Hinkle, or for that matter most other intersex activists, including me. That is the doctors and the parents who need our help understanding how to make things better and better. That's why I spend the vast majority of my energy doing that kind of engagement and I encourage you to do the same, even as people whack at you (or your friends and allies) and try to distract you from your real work that I know you do so incredibly well--peer-support work, human rights work, educational work, medical reform work.:

E-mail sent to some intersex activists by Alice Dreger, October 1, 2006

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