integrating the differentiation

Emi’s second talk here entitled “Intersex at the Intersection of Queer theory and Disability theory” introduced me to a number of new ideas, as I previously was pretty unaware of much about queer theory, disability theory or intersex. One of the things that really surprised me was her talk of the different biases that the medical profession has in treating certain “abnormalities”–to the point of arbitrarily setting down rules to perpetuate other arbitrary societal norms.

For instance, that if you had a boy and a girl who were the same short height, the boy could qualify to get human growth hormone, while the girl might not. This would not only perpetuate a certain height normality, but also the fact that girls “should” be shorter than boys. In addition to this, Emi mentioned that for a female with an “abnormally” long clitoris, which was determined by two standard deviations from the “average” size (or something like this), would have to have it shortened. Why was this the criterion? These standards are only some examples which reveal a medical bias.

Emi also talked about the change of terminology from “intersex” to DSD (disorder of sex differentiation), mentioning that the change to an “acronym condition” would enable people to look at the treatment of it in a more rational way, as it’s a “disorder” which can be handled medically, as opposed to some kind of name that implies that your child is between the sexes (which is often not the case, I learned, as people with DSD usually identify with one or the other. And of course, in some cases, the only thing that might identify you as having DSD might be an “abnormally” long clitoris…). However, labeling this a “disorder” is questionable. What I found really interesting was the idea of this paradoxical power of medical categories: while isolating people with disorders as “disabled” in some way, they also make it more socially acceptable to admit it, which leads to the development of medicine etc.

Another thing I wasn’t really consciously aware of is the hierarchy of disability that exists, where “it’s better to be physically disabled than mentally disabled.” The talk revealed to me a number of unquestioned norms and practices, and will really change the the way I think about disability in particular. Oh what a bubble I’ve lived in…


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