Friday, May 9, 2008

A letter to America: A Response

From Peter Trinkl, Board President, Bodies Like Ours
(In response to: A letter to America)

You say that you are writing a letter to an entire nation. An issue that you raise is that American men and women traveling abroad are often “disliked, distrusted, or on some occasions even hated”. I have never traveled to Europe, so I can only take your word for it. I suspect that American travelers are pretty much like travelers everywhere, often resented for having the time and money to travel. When some Americans travel the world, I suspect that there is often distrust based upon a past history of slavery and colonialism. In the near future, the majority of Americans will not come from Europe. Progress is being made towards America becoming a modern multi-cultural and diverse society.

You speak of the harmful effects of the relationship between the medical profession in the United States and the medical profession in the United Kingdom. I assume that you are referring to the cultural dominance of medical treatment protocols for intersex children put forward by advocates for the new DSD nomenclature (Disorders of Sex Development). It is most unfortunate that the treatment guidelines now being put forward are making their way into the United Kingdom. That is terrible news. I know that one document, a Chicago Consensus Statement, that still recommends involuntary infant genital surgery in cases of highly virilized CAH children.

I believe that we are in a time of change, where intersex people are speaking out about our own experiences, connecting with other intersex people, and demanding recognition as human beings. You say that “All I really want is just to lead my life as best I can and that is that”. I know that intersex children should not be made to feel guilty. But unfortunately, I think that the trauma is very deep. From what I know, I don't think that my parents were as abusive as your parents. However, I think that my parents were never able to really bond with me, which led to a lifelong estrangement. Being born intersex is an accident of birth, but it is an accident that lasts for a lifetime.

You say “However, the medical professionals who operate from the Clarke-Northwestern school of medical opinion over the USA have decided that I had no right being born. They don't say it outright and it is not aimed at me personally, but they basically assert that there is only ‘pure’ male and ‘pure’ female.” I agree with you on this one. From J. Michael Bailey saying that he has no objections to the possibility of parents aborting gay fetuses to the recent attack on the transsexual community under the guise of an academic discussion of the Female Essence Narrative, it is clear that some people are, at the minimum, not very good listeners, and at worst, well..... worse. I think that it is very damning, that time and time again, the subjects of Bailey's research disagree with his interpretations of their interviews. And now Alice Dreger has a Guggenheim. I think that it is great that Alice got a Guggenheim, but I am disturbed that she will use the funds to continue the flimsy arguments first advanced in her article in defense of Bailey. She can do better than that. Nearly every day, the thought crosses my mind: “Why doesn't Alice pick on someone her own size?” I hope that I don't offend intersex and transsexual people with these thoughts, because I am sure that there are many strong voices out there. But I believe that she should stick closer to personal experiences, such as deconstructing the Female Essence Narrative among so-called bio-females.

I agree that much of the work of the Clarke Northwestern group is closely related to past eugenics movements in the United States, even if it might not be explicitly stated and they only continue the work in spirit. Normalization is still the watchword in the treatment of intersex children. If it is not surgical or hormonal normalization, it is psychiatric normalization. I see the genetic identification of intersex conditions and genetic counseling towards promoting so-called healthy and well adjusted children as a growth industry. The search for a so-called gay gene continues.

Human Rights should not be confined by national boundaries. I am appalled that the United States included an exemption for its own practices of infant genital surgery on intersex children from international agreements condemning female genital mutilation. I am appalled that in the United States, normalizing infant genital surgeries are still performed on an involuntary basis on intersex children roughly five times a day. I am appalled that not a single state in the United States has banned involuntary infant genital surgeries performed before a child has a chance to grow up and make their own choices about their body.

But there is some progress in the United States. I am typing this using OpenOffice Writer rather than Microsoft Word.

This response from Peter Trinkl is also available on OII's website at:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A letter to America

Hello America! How are you today? You are probably wondering what someone in the UK is doing writing a letter in effect to an entire nation. Well, it goes like this, have you, the average American man or woman, ever wondered why when you travel abroad you are disliked, distrusted or on some occasions even hated? I am not talking about some Islamic countries either, but often in countries that are supposed to be your closest allies, such as here in the UK.

Well, here is the explanation that may help because I can assure you I am not writing out of hostility. I admit there was a time a few years ago when I followed the crowd and said “Americans are dumb. They just got Bush as their president”. But then I thought that instead of simply saying that, why not explain why such a sentiment came about? Today, living in the UK which is a country that has stood by you very often in recent years, has committed troops to fight your wars and even faced bombs, essentially for you, the concept of “Anglo American” relations seems, at best, to feel a little one way. I will give you a personal example. In the US there is a clique of medical professionals whom I have written about very often, that have not only decided what clinical guidelines and treatment protocols should apply in every state in the US but also here, in the UK, and those policies are detrimental to the health care I receive and ultimately to my health.

I will not hide what my health issues are. I was born “intersexed”, that is “of no clear anatomical sex by the currently defined medical standards”. There is nothing politically correct about me, and I am not really a member of the LBGT lobby. I am just an individual with a medical condition that is a bit unusual; I have no “Gender identity issues”. All I really want is just to lead my life as best I can and that is that. It was an accident of birth and nothing I should be made to feel guilty about.

However, the medical professionals who operate from the “Clarke-Northwestern” school of medical opinion over in the USA have decided that I had no right being born. They don’t say it outright and it is not aimed at me personally, but they basically assert that there is only “pure” male and “pure” female. I am angry about this because I am not an American citizen, and yet it would seem that people who would be born with health issues like mine would probably not be born or if we are, we would be subjected to surgical intervention, secrecy and shame, all because of American sensitivities? And American morality?

Look at yourselves. At the time I write this, there is an African American and a middle class White Woman doing battle to become a presidential candidate. And listen to what is being said, from the outside, from “Not in America”. Do you know what journalists outside the US are saying? “The Americans are having a bit of a problem at the moment with the race issue and the gender issue”. America looks like a country of bigots presenting token candidates for the Democratic Party. I mean look at how quickly the issue of the Republican candidate was settled. No controversy or wringing of hands there.
In some countries, like the Islamic countries, you are compared to Nazis. I think that is unfair but from where I am sitting, in all honesty there is little smoke without fire. Take the issue of Homosexuality and Abortion. These are hot button topics Americans are stereotyped over. Now is it not interesting that some Americans, usually of the “Religious right”, would gladly kill a medical professional who carries out abortions, unless of course there is some test that can determine whether or not the unborn child may grow up to be gay. As it happens that is a bit of a joke outside the US, like the aborting of children with many other “Defects” (including those like mine, intersex conditions) is “fine”, and now I hear some (The Clarke Northwestern) talking of eradicating gay fetuses as well.

Any sort of non conformity to some physical or social ideal is met with abortion, with the intent to eradicate and the American Right wing and neo-conservative movements are funding this because they have been lied to. They are also paying doctors to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries. Is it any wonder an American Accent usually gets met with such derision and hatred, even in countries where people have laid their lives on the line defending American interests.

I am not saying the Clarke Nothwestern are solely responsible for the hatred (sometimes visceral hatred) felt towards America, but they are one example of what the problem really is. Let me illustrate the point with how the average American tourist looks through the eyes of your typical Brit. “Overweight, Oversexed and Over here” would be one commonly used phrase. “Bloated, superficial bully who wants to rule the world with an iron fist and Mc Donald’s” is another. I have no doubt you see the British as prudish, anally retentive and all talking like Dick Van Dyke in the Mary Poppins Movie. There is a difference; on the one side there is a sense that “Those over there” are quaint and probably a bit dim. On the other side there is a sense of real anger, at having our hospitality abused and at having your values imposed on us, of sensing that whatever happens, the Americans will always regard the rest of the world (and in this case the UK) as mere second rate of this planet.

And I am talking about people who traditionally are your allies, not your sworn enemies.
Perhaps you need to take a close collective look at yourselves. I am not saying look at the fat bully stereotype. I am saying stop and think. Stop taking other nations for granted. Stop imposing your rules on their day to day lives, and yes stop having the likes of the Clarke Northwestern (Among others) represent you on the international stage, making you look like a bunch of warmongering, genocidal, dictatorial maniacs. I am not anti American, as it happens the organization I am speaking to you from is an international organization (Which qualifies me to say what I am saying) which has a very large American contingent. In a way OII is a microcosm of the international problem you Americans have to be dealing with. OII represents international opinion, unlike say ISNA which represents American opinion. In OII there is a common and consistent thread, even among the American membership that America-centric organizations like ISNA and the Clarke Northwestern are a symbol of American arrogance on the international stage. In a way similar to some large companies like Microsoft or Coca Cola or McDonalds.

Now, you are not unwelcome. In the UK I can buy a copy of Microsoft Windows, buy a big Mac and swig it down with a can of Coke. But when I see these things as a product of a nation that would see people like me killed before they are born, along with the disabled and LGBT folks. I see symbols of an invader, not a friend. That is your problem America. Before you alienate yourselves from the rest of the planet, sit back and think what is it you are doing wrong. Take it as advice from an honest friend and remember I am still typing this on Microsoft Word, for now.