Transgender and Intersex under Biopolitics1
Over the years, more people identify themselves as nonbinary or trans*. A study at Williams Institute at UCLA discovered that the percentage of trans* adults increased from 0.3 to 0.6 percent (Davis, 2018). The internet and social movements for the trans* community help more people learn and accept trans*gender and/or queer, as getting information and support are crucial aspects of coming out. However, bio-citizenship is an ongoing struggle for marginalized groups, especially for the queer community.
The intersex community struggles to gain bio-citizenship since pre-birth. In Contesting Intersex (2015), sociologist Georgiann Davis expounds on her study on the medicalization of the Intersex community and the issues against the community. The book provides enriching information about social issues relating to people with intersex traits, including (1) conducting surgeries on infants, (2) the term Disorder of Sex Development versus Intersex, (3) heteronormativity along with cisnormativity, and (4) enforcing simplification onto gender and sex. Gender Structure Theory2 applies to the intersex community by setting stratification and internalizing dualistic traditional gender identities, such as personality traits and practices (Davis, 2015; 8). The classification of disorder onto intersex, just like for the trans*gender, creates a false sense of social reality. The misrepresentation of social reality is getting people to accept a false idea, a lie, preventing them from consenting. An example includes medical experts claiming surgical removals on intersex traits minimize cancer risks without critically explaining why so (91-92). Just like for trans* individuals, the false reality for the intersex community is that they have a disorder without consenting to what is a disorder. When we think of disorder, we think of an undesirable object, like pain. The terminology relates to our cultural acceptance, such as why intersex over Disorder of Sex Development helps people accept how sex is as subjective and complex as gender itself. People who reject the medicalization of intersex embrace another aspect that rejects gender as binary, such as being part of the queer community, as terms like “opposite sex” appeal more to people identifying as DSD (104-105). The meaning of intersex creates acceptance for the community and other communities like trans*gender by understanding the complexity of people’s narratives. A person’s life is a multiplex world, as each person is intersectional by what aspects of our lives are connected, like how gender connects to ethnicity. An example is an acceptance of two spirits in North American Indigenous culture3. Before colonization, American Indians embrace gender nonbinary without setting people into dualistic roles. Another example is how gender was nonexistent for the Yorùbá culture before Western colonization4. Understanding a person’s complex narrative is part of expressing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Understanding a person’s narrative is part of subjugated knowledge, to uncover buried knowledge that was covered by ruling forms of knowledge5. The goal of knowledge is to find out more information about our social reality and to improve elements of our lives, ranging from making sense of our identities in a philosophical stance to advocating for laws to protect marginalized groups. The irony is that infants cannot consent to optional surgeries that permanently affect their lives, emotionally and physically. At the same time, trans*gender adults financially and emotionally struggle to gain communal, medical, and legal acceptance for their gender.
Trans* people struggle as they must prove their gender identity by subjective notions, like what Christine Jorgensen had said, the “first” American transsexual woman who follow a transnormativity by following the cisgender reality, that it was a biological “failure” (Stryker, 2008; 5). Although Jorgensen helped to spread more awareness for the trans* community through her media appearances, transnormativity leads some people to encourage transmedicalism, that an individual must be transgender by experiencing dysphoria and undergoing medical treatments. Transmedicalism’s limitation includes examples of how some people are unable to transition due to financial issues. Social movements that challenge that kind of narrative, like how activist Lou Sullivan, a gay transman, challenges conditional acceptance and cis-normalcy by advocating that gender identity does not depend on your romantic/sexual attraction, and vice versa (115-120). The medicalization and history of terminology relating to gender, sex, and sexuality, like the term homosexual, and how people like endocrinologist Harry Benjamin set cissexist values for transgender people to follow to prove their gender is valid and a “disorder”6. People who are trans*gender struggle for acceptance, internally and outwardly, as an outsider-within (Sumerau & Mathers, 2019; 67). It is by a conditional acceptance that people are accepted by hierarchical social values that leads to homonormativity, the gay and lesbian people that seek civil rights by appealing to the mainstream social norms that include whiteness, upper-middle classes, Christianity, domestication and reproductivity, endosex, patriotic, able-bodied, monosexuality and cisgenderism (54, 64). The aforementioned is a mouthful, but worth noting how the connection is explicit by historical oppressions that lead us to where we are now in Westernized countries like the United States, a society that allows traditions to strive without further questions. The critical element of traditions is to socialize people into accepting them through ignorance and emotionality, which is why disgust can impact people’s reactions towards the out-group, including trans*gender and intersex people7.
Overall, from medical to legal experts, those in power influence the public by setting a narrative that heterosexuality and cisgender are universal, non-deviant while silencing the queer community by casting them into opposite roles as abnormal or deviant through biopower8. The simplification of gender and attractions leads to a misconstruction of gender and relationships, thus further social inequality. People must consider several actions for liberatory transformation, including working with doctors or experts on intersex and trans* community, educating the public, embracing oneself, especially with feminist ideas, social support, recognizing social constructions, and listening to marginalized groups (Davis, 2015; 157-167).
- How does capitalism relate to the trans* and intersex community?
- I think about how capitalism affects the trans*community by setting consumerist notions of genders, through gendered practices, or assimilation to cissexist values, such as beauty standards. I also think about companies that pink-wash or queer-bait their products.
- How does whiteness, like Eurocentric values or imperialism, relate to the readings?
- Scholar C. Riley Snorton’s Black in Both Sides (2018) relates to the readings by the intersection between Blackness and transness.
- What practices force upon children parallel with trans*gender and intersex children?
- I ask this question because I think about how social pressure is for children to assimilate. An example includes mental health. Some individuals tend to pressure themselves and their relationships into toxic positivity, to prohibit negative emotions like anger or sadness. Toxic positivity is a form of psychological abuse since it is to deny reality, to deny what they truly feel, that is pain. Many children endure toxic positivity at home, socializing them to believe that they must not express or acknowledge their negative emotions.
- What are other examples of objects or people classified as a “disorder”?
- I think about introverts; I am known for being quiet and reserved, but several people associate introversion with a personality disorder or other mental health issues, as the American culture values extrovert traits.
- How do other countries with firmer laws protecting trans*gender and intersex differ from countries like the United States? Examples include countries that legally and culturally recognize trans*gender and intersex before the United States.
- What are other examples of exclusion in spaces, within-outsider, that enforce conformity, like “doing cisgender” (Sumerau & Mathers, 2019;136)?
- I think about how common for trans*exclusive radical feminists to endorse racism through exclusive practices. Scholar Emi Koyama’s Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of The Trans Inclusion Debate (2020) discusses how the universal concept of womanhood in TERFs spaces is inherently racist and classist by appealing to white middle-class women, ignoring BIPOC and lower classes.
- Biopolitics, coined by philosopher Michel Foucault. See Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Vol. 1).
- Risman, Barbara J. “Gender As a Social Structure.” Gender & Society 18, no. 4 (2004): 429–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243204265349.
- Estrada, Gabriel. 2016. Two Spirits, Nádleeh, and LGBTQ2 Navajo Gaze. American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 35 (4): 167–190. doi:10.17953/aicr.35.4.x500172017344j30,
- Oyewum, Oyeronk. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
- Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2002.
- Benjamin, Harry. 1966. The Transsexual Phenomenon. The Julian Press, ISBN 9780446824262
- Vartanian, Lenny, McCutcheon, Tayla., Rubenstein, Sarah. “Disgust, Prejudice, and Stigma.” In: Powell, P.A., Consedine, N.S. (eds) The Handbook of Disgust Research. Springer, Cham. (2021): 173-190. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-84486-8_10
- Biopower, is another term coined by philosopher Michel Foucault. See Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Vol. 1).
Davis, Georgiann. 2018. “Sex and Gender Diversity is Growing Across the US.” The
Davis, Georgiann. 2015. Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis. New York: NYU Press.
Stryker, Susan. 2017. 2nd Edition. Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution. Seal
Sumerau, J.E. and Lain A.B. Mathers. 2019. America through Transgender Eyes. Rowman &