Saturday, September 30, 2006

DSD Consortium: Homophobia and transphobia exposed

by Curtis E. Hinkle

Very oddly, the DSD Consortium handbook website lists no DSD Consortium address, contact information or member information, but simply posts links to the brochures published by ISNA, as you'll see at the following links:

In particular, the Consortium website does not mention the actual "research" group behind this front, namely the "The Network on Psychosexual Differentiation", funded by the NICHD and based at Penn State and Northwestern University:

Nor does it mention the pathologizing language in the "mission statement" of that group:

The DSD Consortium website also fails to mention that the principle author/editor of consortium information is Ms. Alice Dreger, a failed academic who recently resigned her position from Michigan State University under a cloud of acrimony (she has since written highly negative things about academic life). Dreger has recently been hired by Northwestern University into an administrative position as a spokesperson for NU's sex research, with the title of "Project Coordinator for publications of the Consortium on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development".

Among other things, Dreger is a defender of the notorious J. Michael Bailey, a disgraced faculty member who is a member of NU's sex research group. Mr. Bailey is well-known for advocating homosexual eugenics, and was a key participant in the early meetings that established the pathologizing terminology and mission of the DSD consortium, as you'll see in the attendee lists:

Mr. Bailey's work has become notorious in the GBLT community for his defamations of GLBT people, and he has been denounced by almost all key advocacy groups, as in these examples:

Furthermore, gay media have recently refused to take ads for research subjects from projects that involve Bailey in their work:

"Since we cannot in good conscience steer our readers to a study that Bailey is part of, we’re canceling the ad. And in the future, before accepting any ads for research studies, our ad staff will ask who is involved. If Bailey is, we won’t accept the ads." - Editors of the Chicago Free Press

Could it be that Ms. Dreger wishes to minimize the exposure of the DSD Consortium's close ties with the pathologizing thinking of such infamous Northwestern University sex researchers?
UPDATE Sept. 24, 2006: Ms. Dreger is planning to resign from the DSD Consortium. She has apparently cracked under the pressure of the exposure of the "DSD pathologizations" that she and Cheryl Chase and the NICHD crowd recently launched against intersex people. She now appears to be going into denial that she had anything to do with this mess, even though she was one of the principle authors of it all!
Chicago Free Press
August 9, 2006
Editorial: Bad Science
Recently, CFP ran an ad for a research study seeking gay men with gay brothers. The study is based at Northwestern University and other institutions.

A few CFP readers looked into the study and found that one of the principal researchers is Northwestern psychology professor J. Michael Bailey.

Bailey is a controversial figure, to say the least. His 2003 book, “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” has been heavily criticized by transgender activists, who say it falsely characterizes transgenders as “especially motivated” to shoplift and asserts that “the single most common occupation” of transgenders is prostitution. The book was not footnoted, as serious research commonly is, and some Chicago transgenders said Bailey befriended them in bars and never told them he was using them as subjects for his book, which is clearly wrong.

Northwestern officials investigated the complaints, and while they would not comment on their findings, Bailey subsequently resigned as chairman of the school’s psychology department, although he remains on staff there. Bailey never responded to CFP questions about his book or his research. He has since created a “Book Controversy Question & Answer” section on his website, but it doesn’t address any of the allegations listed above.

The book is not the only controversial aspect to Bailey’s research. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation blasted Bailey and an article about his research in the New York Times in 2005. The subject of that article, a research paper co-written by Bailey and a graduate student, asserted, “It remains to be shown that male bisexuality exists.” Bailey based that claim on experiments involving a widely discredited scientific instrument developed in Stalinist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s to measure soldiers’ responses to sexual stimuli.
Media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting said in a statement about the Times article, “In suggesting that men who claim a bisexual sexual orientation are liars, the Times relies heavily on a single study whose senior researcher has a career marked by ethics controversies and eugenics proposals.”

Bailey has also generalized that gay men tend to be feminine boys, and part of his current study is aimed at pursuing that theory. He has generalized that most gay men are ashamed of being perceived as feminine, an assertion that demonstrates how Bailey lets his own feelings and assumptions about what’s masculine or feminine, even gay or straight, guide his findings.

The current study is also aimed at finding a genetic basis for homosexuality. If that were discovered, and parents were consequently able to ensure that their offspring were not gay (something that many scientists believe isn’t possible), Bailey has said that such a choice “would be morally unproblematic.”

“It is quite hard to see how being heterosexual causes any harm to the child,” Bailey said at a 2004 forum at Northwestern.

Thanks to the heads-up from our readers, we looked into Bailey’s involvement in this study and found it to be substantial. Since we cannot in good conscience steer our readers to a study that Bailey is part of, we’re canceling the ad. And in the future, before accepting any ads for research studies, our ad staff will ask who is involved. If Bailey is, we won’t accept the ads.

There are other researchers involved in this study. They may have good motives, but we question their association with Bailey. We appreciate good science. We don’t appreciate being used to further the dubious agenda of someone who believes he should not be held accountable to our community.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pathological (hetero)sexism and the medicalisation of sex in children

Intersex – The sex that dare not speak its name
by Curtis E. Hinkle

It is hardly a newsflash that we live in a sexist society. However, just when we think we might be making progress in our struggle for equality and dignity, we are sometimes surprised at the backlash and the political power behind it. We have seen evidence of this powerful (hetero)sexist machinery in the United States just recently with the announcement by ISNA, the Intersex Society of North American, concerning its embrace of the term “disorder of sex development”. This term is supposedly better for children than the term “intersex”, according to this US group.

I read an article just the other day by Vincent Guillot, an intersex activist in Europe, entitled “C’est à nous de sortir du discours medical” (“It is up to us to distance ourselves from medical discourse”). I agree. It is also up to those of us who are intersex adults to speak out against pathological (hetero)sexism and its devastating effects on intersex children. We were once children. The doctors and experts who speak for us often do not have our best interest at heart. They are part of the sexist machinery which has so damaged many of us as children, who have not listened to us and who continue to control our lives.

The fact that many intersex adults may in fact feel that they suffer from a medical condition in no way should silence those of us who disagree with this view of our sex. The term intersex was quite capable of being used as both a medical term referring to a condition of atypical sex differentiation and those wishing medical help were able to get help with all the current pathological diagnoses which are associated with those of us who have bodies which are not standard male or female. No one was dictating to the intersex adults who viewed their bodies from a pathological perspective about how to seek help, nor was anyone saying they did not have a right to view their intersex condition as a pathology. The situation has changed drastically however with the term DSD or “disorder of sex development”. This disenfranchises a large segment of the intersex community because it is purely pathological, sexist and humiliating to many of us. We also have a right to protect children from such damaging, sexist, pathological politics which are entrenched in our medical, legal and social institutions.

Let’s look closely at this term. It may help us understand the mentality of those who would choose to use this in speaking about a defenceless child. First of all, they are saying the child is disordered. Merck is the publisher of one of the most popular medical reference books in the United States. This is the definition of “disorder” from their website: “a derangement or abnormality of function; a morbid physical or mental state.” (1) From the day of birth and often even before birth, the intersexed child is now going to be labelled as deranged or abnormal because there is a perceived malfunction or morbid physical state. This deranged or abnormal malfunction is based on centuries of defining people by sexual reporductive function. To define a child based on their future sexual and reproductive function is clearly sexist and something most children would not understand since most have no concept what it means to be sexually functioning adults. It sexualizes infants and sends the message that their real purpose in life is to have biological parts which would work heterosexually for reproductive purposes even if no treatment devised will probably permit many of them to reproduce. The proposed treatments often simply allow the intersexed infant to simulate heterosexual activity later in life, something the child may have no interest in as they mature and come to terms with their sexuality or lack of sexual interest. It is incorrect to assume that all children will want to simulate heterosexual copulation as adults. This often makes them even more ashamed because they are being treated for a deranged state (that of not being born with what is deemed proper for future reproductive, and therefore heterosexual, functioning). Their body becomes a destabilizing element to such sexist, political institutions and the young child is propelled into an array of sexist discourse about who they are and what their body should look like in order to have any hope of fitting into the system. But what I would like to ask is this: Is this really helping the child? Is the child really deranged or abnormal? Does this really require medical intervention? What is really sick about the body of the intersexed child? Why does the child need to be ordered? I think that the answer to everyone of these questions is based on profoundly sexist and heterosexist political discourse which controls our societies and has little to do with the interest of the child. It is all about the health of the heterosexist political institutions in our societies. The disorder or derangement is not in the body of the child in my opinion; it is in the society which the child is going to have to live in which is going to use a whole panoply of biomedical technology to enforce an unnatural order which has been accepted as self-evident and therefore requiring all possible measures to impose this unnatural order on all bodies which do not conform to the sexist division of all people into female and male. To blur the arbitrary division between these two categories of people is threatening to (hetero)sexist dictatorships which thrive on male/female dichotomies and the resulting power they receive within the system. The inequality of power among members within this system is not viewed as the real threat. No, it is the body of a defenceless child which is the battleground and s/he will pay a big price for having a body which questions the arbitrary, sexist categories required to make the heterosexist system work.

Sex is the next word in the new term “DSD” used to replace intersex, the sex that dare not speak its name. The following is a rather good definition of what most people are talking about when they use this word:\

"A biological construct premised upon biological characteristics enabling sexual reproduction" (from Krieger N. A Glossary for Social Epidemiology, J Epidemiol Community Health 2001; 55:693-700.)

We see the inherent heterosexism in this definition. From a biological perspective, sex in humans is basically dimorphic. But even from a biological perspective, sex cannot be defined as dimorphic. However, biology is just one area of science dealing with the human body and sex. From a genetic perspective, sex in humans becomes much more complex and less dimorphic. Genetic variations within individuals which would make them not standard male or female are numerous, with very few people being totally male or totally female. Even using the terms “male” and “female” when referring to genetic markers poses serious problems because what one is calling a “male” marker does not inevitably lead to “maleness”, etc. The sexism of the arbitrary, binary construct becomes even more obvious when trying to talk about genetic components of sex.

The message that many intersexed children will hear is that their sex itself is a disorder, a disability and a deranged physical state. This does nothing to relieve the shame and stigma associated with being intersex. I feel it only increases the shame and stigma because we are once again making intersex the sex that dare not speak its name. Just as being a hermaphrodite was so humiliating, the more accurate term “intersex” now is deemed too “political” to use when speaking about an infant. (See article by ISNA about why they feel intersex is too political.) (2) What is really wrong with not being clearly male or female? Can we not love a child that does not meet these unnatural norms? Red hair is not typical but it is natural for infants to be born with red hair and it is just as natural for children to be born intersex and it usually requires no more medical treatment than being born with red hair. Both children, the one with red hair and the intersexed child need love and acceptance from parents. Denying who you are and pretending you are not intersexed is not a loving, nurturing act in my opinion. It further damages the child.

We have two officially legal sexes. This legal system is necessary for a heterosexist patriarchy. However, it is not natural. It is politically and socially imposed and the intersexed child risks paying an extremely high price for revealing the obvious – there are not just two sexes. The child was unfortunate enough to be born of a sex that dare not speak its name – intersex.

Next, we have the word “development” as part of the new medical diagnosis for the young child. I have personally felt that the word "differentiation" is more accurate because what the medical experts are viewing as disordered is that the foetus did not differentiate “properly” into a male or a female. The word “differentiate” seems more accurate because we are actually talking about maintaining strict “differences” between male and female. Choosing the word “development” appears obfuscating to me – as if the DSD activists are trying to say that the problem is just that certain reproductive parts did not develop properly when the problem really is that the child is defying the strict and very arbitrary divisions between what we classify as male or female. This is clear if we were to consider how a child born with a big penis is treated. Most likely the child would not be viewed as having a disorder of sex development, even though the genitalia would be “overdeveloped” in relation to most other infants born. No, having a big penis would not blur the sexist legal categories of male and female. There would be no treatments for this child most likely. The problem is not clearly being differentiated as male or female and has nothing to do with development, underdevelopment or overdevelopment.

I read an interesting commentary by a very articulate intersex activist who mentioned the connotations of the word “development” and his reasoning made a lot of sense to me. By using this term, the child is being told they might be undeveloped. This is certainly not a very enabling way of talking about children.
What it seems to boil down to in my opinion is that those of us who did not develop into the full malehood are now simply underdeveloped people and children. This keeps the category “male” even safer and harder to attain, even though many of us identify as male or live as male.

I think that those of us in the intersex community who disagree with this sexist politicization of intersex infants and their bodies have a right to speak out. Others have the right to speak for children also, not just a select few.
In my opinion, being deranged, deformed, of the wrong sex, and undeveloped does not help infants and children. Dare to speak up for them. Dare to speak the sex that dare not speak its name – INTERSEX.

(1) Mercks definition of disorder is found at
(2) "Parents and doctors are not going to want to give a child a label with a politicized meaning." From ISNA's article on why they are using the term DSD (Disorder of Sex Developtment) found at

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Handbook for Parents is transphobic and homophobic

by Curtis E. Hinkle

The Consortium for the Management of Disorders of Sex Development in Children has published a handbook specifically for parents of children born intersexed or as the Consortium prefers to call them – disordered in their sex development. It is very revealing that the consortium has published handbooks for doctors and for parents but nothing for the actual child. There is a reason for this. The Consortium serves the interests of the two groups just mentioned at the expense of the child being managed.

This Handbook for Parents is very misleading and gives parents a lot of misinformation about intersexed children. It minimizes the suffering and trauma that many have reported over the years about being assigned the wrong gender and also being persecuted for being lesbian or gay. The propaganda in this handbook repeatedly brushes aside the serious issues of transphobia and homophobia which many of intersexed people have experienced from their earliest years and throughout life. The handbook is not about making intersexed children actually feel secure and comfortable with themselves but more about assuring the parents that their intersexed children will most likely NOT be transsexual or homosexual.

The Consortium has heralded these publications as advances in the healthcare of intersex children and not about "gender". However, if one takes the time to read the Handbook for Parents, that is all it is about – gender. And how could it be about much of anything else? The whole reason for combining a lot of different conditions which have nothing in common medically under the umbrella term “disorder of sex development” is not to treat real health conditions of intersexed children but to relieve the sufferings and anxieties that gender "ambiguity" provokes within society.

The introduction of the Handbook for Parents makes this very clear:
‘’This handbook does not include a large amount of medical information about your child’s specific condition. That is because there are many conditions that count as disorders of sex development (DSDs), so it would be impossible for us to cover them all. Instead, this book is meant to give you some basic information about sex and gender development.’’

The actual research on intersexed children is not truthfully dealt with in this handbook and one needs to ask why. The actual experiences of thousands of intersexed adults are not dealt with either. Many intersexed adults have denounced not only the early, barbaric treatments but also the very reason for the treatments – to assign a gender without consent or input from the child. Many have also denounced the homophobia that they were subjected to in childhood and later in life. Their narratives and personal experiences are almost invisible and actually trivialized in this handbook so as to give comfort to parents who most likely do not want homosexual or transsexual children.

Parents should be told truthfully that their intersex child is more likely to reject the imposed sex assignment and they should be prepared for just how difficult it will be in most states to do this, if not outright impossible. They should be prepared to cope with the intense trauma and psychological damage that adults have reported who are transsexual or intersexed and assigned the wrong sex. They should be prepared to deal with the very large number of intersexed people who have felt very damaged by the gender they were assigned and there are many of them and more and more are coming forward each day.

We also know that intersexed adults are much more likely to be lesbian or gay and this should not be trivialized or brushed off as it is in this manual. The mistreatment that young children are subjected to who are homosexual is not dealt with adequately and since the parents are usually heterosexual, they are probably not able to understand the long-term damage that many lesbians and gays have reported from such abusive treatment and prejudice they experienced growing up.

One of the most glaring contradictions between the handbook for parents and the handbook for doctors of intersexed infants is rooted in the very transphobia which permeates these documents. The Handbook for Parents repeatedly states that we do not know what determines a child’s gender identity. The Handbook for Doctors repeatedly assures other doctors who are assigning the gender of intersex infants that they can do this quite easily by simply following the guidelines based on the intersex condition of the infant. How could we have no clue what determines gender identity on the one hand and on the other be so sure that doctors can determine the gender arbitrarily by following the guidelines of the DSD experts? Well, it is quite simple. It is always the child who is disordered in these handbooks. If the intersex child rejects the arbitrary sex assignment, they have another disorder. What started out as a disorder of the child’s sex has become a disorder of the child’s gender and the doctors are still totally correct at all points of the treatment protocols and the child is always wrong and suffering from a disorder.

Another interesting transphobic detail, other than constantly asserting that intersex children almost never reject their sex assignment, is expressed when we read that in very rare cases the child may grow up and seek a sex change along with surgical and hormone treatments. Nowhere does this expert mention the most likely fact that the adult had already been altered in childhood without consent. An interesting omission because these earlier procedures can have severe consequences later in life by totally altering the genitalia and sensitive tissue and/or hormonal balance making adult reassignment much more difficult.

This document does not prepare parents for the problems that normalization often causes such as post traumatic stress and other psychological damage to the child. What is so tragic is that in this handbook for parents the disorder is always in the child and the parents are given the false impression that all will be well, i.e., that most likely their child will not be gay or trans. Many intersexed adults feel that the parents would be better served by learning to deal with their own prejudices if they have any and embracing the richness of identities within the intersex community. Those identities are conspicuously absent in this handbook because the subtext of homophobia and transphobia make it almost impossible to not think that part of the normalization process is to prevent other “disorders” also.