Response to Emi Koyama’s class visit

I think the main thing I’d really like to comment on regarding Emi’s class talk was her adamant declaration that there is a difference between saying “I am intersex” and “I have intersex.” It really reminded me that one of the main issues we have in American culture is identifying people by their distinctive characteristics, preferences, or “eccentricities.” Emi mentioned that a lot of people born with ambiguous genitalia do, in fact, strongly identify with one gender or the other — they are not confused about who they are. They just happen to have body parts that are slightly different than other people’s. By classifying those people as having a gender disorder, it’s like we are trying to tell them they have a problem…even though they may feel perfectly happy and defined the way they are. It’s like we are trying to impose a disability on them and force them to become the epitome of the disabled person (i.e. disabled people may think and plan around their disability). Why should someone who feels completely normal, despite a physical difference, be taught to act like there is something (mentally or socially) wrong with them?

I wholeheartedly agree with Emi that we really need to consider separating people from their conditions: They are not their “disability.”

I wrote on our class discussion board about this topic earlier. However, it might be helpful to have a little bit of my train-of-thought, so here’s a bit of my earlier post:

Koyama goes on to classify disabilities in a way I’d never heard before, either. A physical problem or shortcoming itself is not a disability – it’s the lack of proper social response that prevents a person from functioning normally in society that is the disability. In this way, gender “disorders” can definitely be classified as disabilities, as society is often cruel and unaccepting of people who are not “normal.” However, labeling a person with a gender identity disorder or ambiguous genitalia as disabled might simply be an insult to that person. Maybe they don’t feel disabled or held back – if they are proactive and vocal, they might actually feel empowered to help other people like themselves. Similarly, children who are labeled as disabled take on the role of a disabled person. In other words, once they are told something is wrong with them, they begin to play the part. I think this is actually the disability: If children, regardless of their condition (at least in terms of sex/gender) were treated normally, then parents and peers would not be handicapping them so much. Children who are told there is something wrong with them are being disabled by those who dictate their conditions to them.”

I feel like my response in this earlier post was more eloquent…

In closing, Emi was very respectful and clear that intersex is a very delicate issue, and I appreciate her insight on the future of intersex. I look forward to following news on her website.

– Jorie

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