Tag Archives: sexuality

Book Review: Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis

20 Jul

book review

The question of intersex is one that challenges not only the medical community, but our entire society, encouraging us to see gender and sex (and even sexuality) as more complicated and nuanced than we might regularly imagine. The very existence of intersex bodies demands a decoupling of gender from bodies, and a dismantling of essentialist, binary views. Georgiann Davis’s new book, Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis (2015, NYU Press), explores the role of language, medicine, and gender structures in shaping the experiences of intersex people (alternatively, people diagnosed with disorders—or differences—of sex development, DSD).

In particular, she studies the linguistic shift from ‘intersex’ (or hermaphrodite, and variations of these terms) to the new diagnosis common within medical circles, ‘DSD.’ Her key argument, amply demonstrated by interviews with members of the intersex community, doctors, activists, scholars, and parents, is that the language used to describe intersex bodies has important ramifications for the lived experiences of intersex people.

There are several important findings to support this argument. She shows historically that the medical community was primed to accept this terminological shift, at least in part to reassert their power over intersex bodies. John Money, a doctor famous for his claims that ‘nurture’ would always win over ‘nature’ in gender identity, sullied the medical community’s relationship to ‘intersex.’ Money lost credibility after encouraging parents of a male child to raise him as a girl after a botched circumcision left him mutilated. “She” eventually committed suicide, and the suicide was taken as evidence that his innate male gender could not be replaced by feminine gender socialization. This seemingly mismanaged case of sex-gender identity, along with increasing pressure on the medical community by feminist and intersex activists, meant that doctors’ authority over the diagnosis was publicly questioned. When the new diagnostic term ‘DSD’ was proposed, doctors jumped at the chance for a fresh start.

Allowing the medical community to determine the public understanding of ‘intersex’ or ‘DSD’ has important ramifications. For example, the medical community perpetuates biologized understandings of sex, gender, and the body. These understandings are used to justify medically unnecessary surgeries to “normalize” the genitalia (often at the expense of sexual sensation, and almost always at the expense of the patient’s sense of autonomy and self-determination). When coaching parents on how to raise their intersex child, doctors often encourage enforcing gendered expectations—discouraging girls from tomboy behaviors, and encouraging boys into more vigorous activities. In particularly upsetting passages, Davis exposes doctors’ sexual expectations of intersex women in particular, surgically shaping women’s bodies for penile-vaginal penetration.

Davis also documents that the language shapes intersex individuals’ experiences, beyond surgical intervention. Based on her interviews with intersex people, she finds that those who embrace the ‘DSD’ terminology have a more positive relationship with their doctors and parents—in Davis’s terms, they have better access to biological citizenship than those who use the more politicized term, ‘intersex’—but have a more troubled sense of self. She explains that this is likely due, at least in part, to the stigmatizing effect of seeing oneself as ‘disordered.’ In contrast, those who utilized ‘intersex’ had a more positive sense of self and a better relationship to their gender identity and sexuality, but often found themselves at odds with doctors. The terminology is a source of trouble within the intersex community as well, leading some activists to be at odds with one other over wording, something that concerns Davis because in-fighting may take away from more important battles.

Ultimately, this book is an important read for gender and sexuality scholars, as well as medical sociologists. Davis deftly challenges binary categories and the power of medical diagnoses. Her writing is engaging and, at times, personal—she shares her own experience as an intersex person, describing intimate conversations with her parents, problematic medical episodes, and her activist-academic desires. The book would also work well in advanced undergraduate classes or graduate seminars on gender, sexuality, and bodies, but I would highly recommend implementing it in classes aimed at non-sociology majors. For example, I’d love to see this on syllabi for medical sociology classes, which are frequented by pre-med students, who are an important but likely overlooked audience for this book. As teachers, we can also be activists, shaping the minds of our students who, in this case, will be the next generation of doctors encountering intersex bodies.

 

 

Amanda Kennedy is a contributor and founding editor of Masculinities 101.

Relational masculinities: The fragility of modern gender categories

29 Jun

Relational MasculinitiesWhat does it mean to be a man? Is masculinity purely biological or is it shaped by social and relational factors? Can a man’s relationship with a romantic partner have the power to legitimize or conceivably challenge his gender identity?
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Reflections

17 Jun

by Kyle Ashby

With multiple sources reporting that Omar Mateen frequented Pulse nightclub and suffered from mental illness and internalized homophobia leading up to the shooting, I feel obligated to write a concise history of my queer life so you can understand two things: why I didn’t become Omar and why this shooting has affected me so greatly. Keep in mind so many circumstances and events contributed to me being alive and grieving today as an out queer man that the following can only be presented as a glimpse of the truth, a myopic description of self-determination. I present a monochromatic thread so that you can follow the unraveling edge to its black terminus: today, my third night of almost no sleep and emotional unease. I lay awake knowing that I hate Omar Mateen for the choices he made, for the pain he caused, for the lives he ruined, but learning that he may be part of my queer family means that compassion is redirecting my hate to the conglomerate of American culture that made both of our lives so different.
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Dilemma of a Spartan Survivor: War, Disability and Masculinity

13 Jun

As in ancient Sparta, modern American military training emphasizes physical fitness. Pictured here, two Marines wrestle to demonstrate strength (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As in ancient Sparta, modern American military training emphasizes physical fitness. Pictured here, two Marines wrestle to demonstrate strength (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


The widespread purge of modern artistic expression that occurred upon Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 was motivated by fear. The Nazi regime was determined to use culture to control the people and they chose to promote a conservative, unadulterated classical Greek and Roman aesthetic within the Reich. Avant garde artistic movements such as impressionism, surrealism and cubism were rejected, and art inspired by these movements was deemed degenerate and was to be purged by the Reich Culture Chamber. For example, Otto Dix was labeled a degenerate artist and had his position at the Kunstakademie in Dresden terminated because of his anti-war advocacy. Perhaps his most famous painting, War Cripples, depicting German World War One veteran amputees, was displayed by the regime at the Degenerate Art Museum in Dresden and was later destroyed by the Nazis. The irony is that Dix actually volunteered for and fought for Germany in the war, and was himself almost fatally wounded in combat. Dix drew deep inspiration from war and the trauma inflicted by war on men’s bodies and minds.
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“No one else has porn on the phone. It’s pretty sick”: Stigmatizing porn, shaming and silencing boys?

24 Nov

Adapted from Afra, A. & Quigley, J. (2013). ‘Children’s constructions of ‘porn’ in an Irish primary school: Implications for boys. In M. Leane & E. Kiely (eds.). Sexualities and Irish Society. A Reader. Dublin: Orpen, 321-346.

Today I’d like to get started with presenting some of the findings relating to the porn aspect of ‘porn and hookup culture in an Irish primary school’. Beforehand though I will introduce the participants and then set the context in which ‘porn’ emerged.

Participants

There were twenty-four participants in total, eleven boys and thirteen girls, aged eleven and twelve and all forming one group of sixth class. Two of the boys identified as British and the rest as settled Irish. All eleven boys were white. Of the thirteen girls one was South-East- Asian-Irish, a second was white continental-European-Irish and a third girl was black African-Irish. The remaining ten girls were white and settled Irish. All participants were physically and intellectually normatively abled. The large primary school where fieldwork took place was located in a high-economic-status suburb of Dublin and was under the patronage of the Catholic Church. All names used throughout the presentation of findings are pseudonyms.

Contextualization of Findings

“Porn” had been discovered by school staff as a result of a violent fight between two boys (David and Anthony) that involved an escalation of one boy taunting the other with “gay porn” (Anthony’s words) from a mobile phone to imply that he was “gay” (participants’ word).

It was hoped that raising the topic of an anti-bullying programme during focus group discussions would encourage the children to talk about porn. The decision not to confront participants more directly about the topic was based on previous discussions during the year about kissing (called “meeting”) and the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum that had led some children to feel “awkward”. This short extract exemplifies the necessity to have allowed individual children to take control over whether to talk about porn or not:

AA             What was the talk about?

Ava            About the word in, I don’t like saying it. The word in em

Lily             [laughs]

Ava            [laughs] It’s a bit weird.

Lily             [laughs]

AA             What was the word? ‘Sex’?

Lily            Yeah

Lily            Remember, we’re twelve.

Evidently, sex-related topics could be terribly difficult to discuss for some. Below, I move on to some of the ways that those children who did dare to transgress the norm of ‘childhood innocence’ constructed ‘porn’ with their talk.

Porn as something that shouldn’t be spoken about:

Discussing the recently delivered anti-bullying programme during interviews had prompted some children to talk about the ‘porn fight’ thus leading to an extended discussion of porn. However, one of the ways to construct ‘porn’ was as ‘unspeakable’:

AA            What was the fight about? … Or how did it get started?

Mikey       David just kept on like- like it wasn’t the first time David had ever

Mikey       like annoyed Anthony.

Graham    He just [kept on doing it

Mikey                      [annoying him and annoying him [and annoying him

Graham                                                                                 [and then Anthony just

Graham      acted out. He acted and then just…

Alison        And what exactly was David doing to annoy Anthony do you know? …

Mikey        Calling him names and just … just calling him gay and like all that

Mikey        I think he was texting him stuff, was he?

Graham     Yeah I don’t know

The specific details about how David was “annoying” Anthony, i.e. by watching porn in the classroom and by taunting him with “gay porn”, were omitted from Graham and Mikey’s accounts. When probed, Mikey diverted attention away from porn by emphasising the purpose to which David had been using it as a means, namely to ridicule Anthony as “gay”. The “just” of “just calling him gay” functioned to reassure the researcher, an adult woman, that there was nothing more to know about. Shortly after, Mikey conspires to share the ‘secret’ of porn, “I think he was texting him stuff, was he?” but Graham refuses to take the discussion in this direction by explicitly though ambivalently claiming ignorance, “Yeah I don’t know.”

Five boys in total spoke about porn and even then two out of the five subsequently withdrew the relevant sections from their transcripts. Evidently, it was extremely challenging to try to co-produce verbal data with the boys about it. The extracts below shed some light on the stigma preventing frank discussion.

Porn as “sick” and “sort of perverted”

Alison       Ok. So how do kids your age manage to get pornography?

Brian         Emmm…

Rory         That’s David

Brian        That’s David

Anthony     It’s called-

Brian         No one else has porn on the phone

Alison       Ok

Anthony     It’s pretty sick like literally this is all you have to do [takes his

Anthony     phone out of his pocket]

Alison        Don’t get it now

Rory         [laughs]

Anthony   I’m not. Oh yeah like I’d do that.

Above we witness the marginalization of David as strange at best and “sick” at worst for being the sort of boy who would be in possession of porn on his cell phone. The stigmatization and pathologization of porn continues below:

Anthony:

I remember em one of my friends he was looking it up. And I was like ‘aw stop that’s sort of perverted’ and like he said ‘aw it’s grand’ and I took his phone and … somehow or other I went in. I took the phone for the whole night like off him and I went in to settings and I eh deleted his eh browser so he couldn’t look it up coz I said ‘eventually one day your mam and your dad are going to take your phone  and look at the addresses.’ Like you’re able to enter addresses. Then all of a sudden they’re going to see like porn horn and all this crazy cack so …

The seeming ease with which porn can be accessed along with any desire to do so is obstructed by more than merely getting caught. Anthony has pathologized the downloading of  it on to a phone as “sort of perverted”, as well as describing the actual contents as, “crazy cack”. Through his construction of it as being only “sort of perverted” and not absolutely so, while his friend defines it as not at all perverted , “aw it’s grand”, we are witness to the pushes and pulls of ‘porn’ as produced by overlapping and competing discourses. This is a point of similarity with the existing literature in that it is normative to admit to familiarity with mobile-phone porn whilst simultaneously denying possession of it on one’s own phone (Bond, 2010).

In next month’s post I will present further the discourses that guided the aforementioned constructions of porn in the way that they did. Meanwhile, the main thing to note is that the boys were not free to discuss porn with the researcher because of a stigma attached to it making it shameful and pathological. I recommend that we stop to wonder how discourses on the ‘premature sexualization of childhood’ that are linked to the ‘sexualization of culture’  inadvertently exacerbate the stigma through the panic they stir and anxiety they rouse thus endangering the very children they aim to protect.

Until then,  have a great month!

Irish boys slut-shamed by parents, victimized by sex-starved girls

14 Oct

Hello and welcome back to ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School’ – Part 3. Today I’d like to highlight that the fuss over the ‘sexualization of culture’ and the way it purportedly prematurely sexualizes children is often a fuss that emphasizes the interests and concerns of the more privileged of social groups among us.

At the time of doing the research, for example, media coverage of sexualization in Ireland lamented the loss of childhood innocence but only for children who were cisgendered and showed promise to mature into heterosexual adults. That is, at no point did any journalists object to the systematic exclusion of LGBTQ youth from mainstream visual culture. In other words, commentators did not stop to wonder what it must be like to repeatedly find oneself left out of media representations since they were so embroiled in the question of how the media impacts a very narrowly defined social category of children and young people (CYP). The misguided presumption that everyone is heterosexual and that everyone is content with doing gender according to the conventions of heterosexuality is one meaning sociologists give to the term heteronormative.

Interestingly, the very phrase ‘premature sexualization of children’ obscures how it is really girls over whom we are getting our knickers in a twist. Outrage over the marketing of padded bras to seven-year-olds is arguably outrage over the commercialization of sex for girls. Notwithstanding what might actually be objectionable about the commodification of sexuality, why not just call a spade a spade? Why make it seem like we are equally concerned for girls and boys when there is barely a thought spared for boys beyond how they are encouraged to objectify girls? What is invested in the notions that sexual expression by girls ought to be curtailed and that apart from being sexual predators, boys have otherwise got sexuality all sussed? Aren’t these the very factors – slut-shaming and machismo – that eventually lead to danger and unhappiness in interpersonal sex?

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Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School

13 Apr

Welcome to the first post in a series of monthly posts on masculinities in an Irish primary school. Over the coming months I will be sharing research findings on boys’ experiences of porn and hookup culture. There has been growing concern in recent years over the ‘premature sexualization of childhood’ that is claimed to be caused by the ‘sexualization of culture’. So before actually detailing the aforementioned findings, some of the initial posts will lay out the socio-cultural context in which they were produced.

As mentioned, the research in question took place in Ireland. The data were co-produced with eleven- and twelve-year-old girls and boys during their final year of primary school. I spent the academic year of 2009/2010 hanging out with the children a couple of days a week and interviewing them in pairs and groups about my observations. Furthermore, interviewees were invited to introduce topics of their own choice for discussion.

Overall, the themes that emerged ranged from academic performance to religion, from sports, dance and athletics to friendships and family relationships. Clearly, then, the more overtly sexualized themes chosen for analysis were not necessarily central to the children’s lives. Rather I played an active role in determining what to focus on. Nevertheless, porn and hookup culture did emerge and as such warranted exploration.

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Boys in Chairs – Navigating our Sex, Sexuality and Sex Appeal in Attendant Care Programs

17 Dec

The other day I had a friend over for dinner.  Seeing as my 30th birthday is fast approaching (5 more days, what debauchery can I do while still under the guise of my 20s?) he brought over a cheeky birthday card (quite literally, a guy with nice bum cheeks on the front).  It’s awesome that all my friends are so accepting of my delicious dirtiness – I am honoured to be THAT friend…HAHAHAHAHAHA!   After we had laughed at it, he asked me where he should put it.  He wanted to leave it out, but didn’t want me to ‘get in trouble’ with my attendants.  We both reasoned that I am an adult, and should be able to do what I want.  While this is true, I couldn’t help feeling awkward about it when it came to my attendants.

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Black, Queer and in Vogue

22 Oct

Colorlines’ ongoing series Life Cycles of Inequity explores facets of the Black male experience in the US. This article and photo series by Kai Wright and Gerard Gaskin (first published in September 2014 on colorlines.com) take us inside the culture of house balls, underground events where gay and transgender men and women, mostly African American and Latino, come together to see and be seen. The images come from Gaskin’s 2013 book ‘Legendary. Inside the House Ballroom Scene’.

Gerard Gaskin: “Legendary. Inside the House Ballroom Scene”.

Hip-hop is not the only place where young black artists deeply influence mainstream culture and entertainment—and do so without recognition or pay. Pop artists have for decades appropriated the style, dance and sound generated inside the black and Latino LGBTQ community’s house ballroom scene. From Madonna’s 1990 “Vogue” to the Scissor Sisters’ 2012 “Let’s Have a Kiki,” the creative teams of Top 40 performers have consistently mined the scene for inspiration.

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Finding the ‘Dude’ in My Disability: How being both Queer and Crippled has Re-constructed my Maleness and Masculinity

20 Oct

Everybody thinks they know what it means to be a man.   We all think we know that being a man means being strong, powerful and having an unforgiving sensuality that just won’t quit.   We all know that being a man means you are the provider, the breadwinner, and you are self-reliant and sufficient, right?   (I mean, c’mon, hasn’t every action/romantic comedy male lead been written this way for the past 50 years?   Also, if I were to see a man like that in real-life, I would automatically fall to my knees. Do with that image what you like.)   Imagine that, try as hard as you might, you were unable to meet the male milestones? How then would this shape who you are, and who everyone else thinks you should be?

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