About this Event
In this conversation, we will be focusing on not just histories and futures of intersex activism, but the important role culture and the arts have to play in allowing us to witness histories and create new futures with more potential for intersex joy. We are so excited to be joined by an incredible line up of individuals from across the world who have worked in intersex activism, art and academia. DIVA columnist and intersex equality rights campaigner, Valentino Vecchietti will lead the panel, hosting the conversation and speaking as a panellist, centring intersex voices in a friendly and far-reaching conversation about culture and the role it plays in witnessing histories, telling stories, doing activism and furthering human rights. Valentino works with many institutions including universities on projects related to human rights, culture and activism. It is a pleasure to welcome Valentino back to FUTURESEX after their role in a previous event; see details and their bio here. Full panelist details:
Georgiann Davis, associate professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, former board president of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth (2017-2020) and a past-president of the AIS-DSD Support Group (2014-2015)
Miriam van der Have, co-founder and co-chair of OII Europe e.V in 2015, co-founder and managing director of NNID Foundation in the Netherlands and member of the ILGA board
Sean Saifa Wall, Intersex activist, collage artist and public health researcher
Ronika Ronie Zuze, Intersex Community of Zimbabwe (ICoZ)
Valentino Vecchietti (She/Her & They/Them) is the Intersex Columnist at DIVA magazine. They work in intersex culture, academia, and intersex equality rights. In 2020, their work as an intersex community campaigner was recognised on the Lesbian 100 List. They are on the Pride Power List 2020 for their intersex focussed work in journalism, media and culture.Blurb for the event
This was a wheels cha-cha event of epic proportions, with the discussion really going nowhere. It was organised by the University of Surrey as part of their ‘FutureSex’ series, supported by two BSL sign language interpreters and subtitled by a real human being. The Wellcome Foundation, I understand, had given its support in some way.
This is now my fourth time in the presence of Valentino Vecchietti (She/Her & They/Them) who is an ‘intersex activist’ who has not yet disclosed which of the myriad of Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD) she is affected by. Of course, people with DSDs should not have to disclose to the world and its wife what their medical history is, however, if you’re making a career out of it, why would you not want to discuss your specific circumstance, especially when it would be educational for us to know?
The panel of activists, as with other panels that Vecchietti has chaired that I have attended, also did not talk about their personal medical histories, or the impact on their health, and I do find that confounding and, I have to say, a little suspicious.
Vecchietti has recently set up Intersex Equality Rights UK with the help of funding from LGBT Consortium, a registered charity which helps LGBT groups. As with other times I have seen her speak, she told us that the population of intersex people in the UK was 1.1 million, that they weren’t protected under the Equality Act 2010 and that the campaign was focussed on ending genital surgeries on intersex infants.
It is very difficult to estimate how many babies are born every year with ambiguous genitalia but one estimate, by intersex advocate Claire Graham (the interview with Graham is well worth a read), is that it is only 0.001% of all births per year. It is also not NHS policy currently to perform genital surgeries on infants for cosmetic reasons, although this was something that was done in the past, making Vecchietti’s main aim utterly redundant. Furthermore, as Graham points out, ambiguous genitalia may indicate a serious underlying health problem and therefore is always a flag for immediate further investigation (in the same way you would expect a child born with missing limbs to be similarly regarded).
Human bodies can only develop towards one reproductive system or the other, to either produce sperm or eggs, and no one can produce both (even if rudimentary opposite sex organs develop too). ‘Even when the genes are mixed around onto different chromosomes, duplicated, or inactivated, the end result is still a male or female’ (copied from Zach Elliott’s tweet below). The overwhelming majority of men and women have normal sex chromosome configurations.
Intersex activism discussion
Georgiann Davis claimed that she had a genital surgery as a baby and described herself as a ‘scholar activist’. She gave no information on how the surgery had affected her day to day life functionally or which type of DSD she has. Over the last few years ‘intersex activism’ has grown exponentially and Davis described this as an ‘urgency’. Davis also coined the term ‘intersexy fat’ – which is apparently a thing in the ‘community’. Davis wanted to go after the people with ‘letters behind their names’ (I think she meant ‘after’ – bless), i.e. the big bad doctors who are performing these evil surgeries (gender identity ideology has a lot in common with Scientology).
Because Davis had thrown a shade at Vecchietti on a point of intersectionality, Vecchietti told us she was in fact mixed race (she’s white) as her father was a dark skinned Italian and Italy is near Africa, okay?
Miriam (she/her) said that that there were currently about 1,500 activists across 150 countries and that this had only been possible because of the funding stream that LGBT groups had provided. Miriam’s insight into intersex history was that it started at the same time as the ‘LGBT’ 75 years ago (i.e. after the Second World War). Nope, I have no idea what she was referencing either.
The organisation she co-founded in 2015, Organisation Intersex International (OII), has had great success with the United Nations and now there were intersex movements in Asia, Africa and South America. OII was also founded with the help of ILGA, an international LGBT organisation that Miriam has been active with and was apparently a previous board member. Miriam noted that lots of money was being ploughed into LGBT groups which was not accessible to intersex activism.
Sean Saifa Wall has a video on Twitter in which she explains that she had ‘undescended testes’ which were ‘castrated’. Again, I do not know what condition this was caused by, but I do know that females born with internal testes carry a high risk for cancer and the testes are removed for clinical reasons (it certainly couldn’t be for cosmetic purposes). Wall says in her video that she supports ‘gender affirming surgeries’. Wall now identifies as transgender and has he/him pronouns. Wall founded the research company, Rooted in Research which has consulted with the Scottish government on ‘intersex rights’, according to her website.
I found a video about Wall to try and find out more and the story is all over the place. It reports that Wall had undescended testes removed aged 13, when presumably she was old enough to consent and understand the procedure. A surgery at birth is alluded to but not clarified. The surgeon who apparently carried out the latter procedure asks not to be edited to make it look like he is saying something he isn’t and then we see edits which suggest the team did exactly that. It’s a big confusion.
In the webinar Wall claimed that doctors were trying to reduce the numbers of people who could be considered ‘intersex’ but provided no information to back this up.
Ronie is from Zimbabwe and according to her Twitter profile has CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia) but did not mention this on the webinar. Like the others, she shed no light on what it was like to live with her DSD (CAH affects cortisol levels and blood pressure) but did say that it was difficult to carry out activism with little funding and poor internet connections and that intersex activism was looked over in favour of LGBT funding.
Ronie spoke about the stigma attached to being intersex in her culture, some intersex people live in very remote areas, and I have read that in the southern African region there is a higher number than average people affected by DSDs, so I believe this is probably accurate.
Miriam talked about the limits of language (she is Dutch and speaks pretty good English) and that her latest submission to the UN had been turned down because ‘the language was not structured enough’. The word intersex was different in every language and it was difficult to translate it from one to another.
Vecchietti agreed and said that her Italian father didn’t speak English and that she was working class (a bit of a stretch given her plummy tones). She also said her father didn’t understand that she had to go to school or the school system here. I know the south of Italy has been considered backward but unless her father is over a hundred years old school he must have heard of schools before.
Intersex joy discussion
Wall wanted to talk about cultivating ‘intersex joy’ but in the next breath wanted us to know that the US doesn’t recognise human right or intersex people. She said that money was behind the drive for intersex surgeries. Wall claimed that the medical establishment was trying to say that Turner syndrome should no longer be considered ‘intersex’.
Davis said that you needed to start with joy and embrace how being intersex had improved our lives and celebrate that. Davis said there was too much gatekeeping of who could be considered intersex. She also said that she was part of the problem too, for example when she accepted a speaking gig she was stopping someone from doing it. (Sadly for us she hadn’t practiced what she preached.)
Vecchietti asked how intersex politics could have greater inclusion into LGBTQ+ politics.
Miriam saw this as a huge problem for intersex activism, as LGBT groups had started to speak for intersex people but were not really working on intersex rights. She felt that this would probably result in intersex people moving away from LGBT groups and starting their own organisations.
In direct contradiction, Miriam then said that she thought it wasn’t wise for intersex people to step away from LGBT groups because the various letters had so much in common with each other. Wall pulled a face and almost laughed. Given Miriam’s long time at ILGA and success at accessing LGBT funding it’s clear she knows what side the bread is buttered. ‘We can learn from the history of gay men and from the history of trans people,’ Miriam said.
Vecchietti responded that working with LGBT groups had been very fruitful for her because they allowed access to funded pathways and knowledge pathways. Another one with her head screwed on.
Ronie said she and her fellow activists could not protest outside hospitals (to stop the surgeries presumably) because it might not be tolerated well. She said that they were trying to educate instead and meeting with government officials.
Walls said that fascism and right wing politics was rife at the moment and that she had no time for ‘terfs or swerfs’ and could not understand how anyone who was intersex could be a terf.
Vecchietti said that UK Twitter was a very toxic place for equal rights campaigners currently.
Now that we had done ‘intersex joy’, we swiftly moved onto ‘intersex futures’. Which was all about the joy again.
Intersex future (AKA joy) discussion
Intersex people are just considered as bodies and what would liberation look like, was the general question posed. Wall said liberation would be self-realisation which could only happen well away from the medical establishment. She also felt that the doctors who continued to do the surgeries dehumanised themselves.
Davis asked what it meant to centre joy. Vecchietti told her it had been a remarkable moment when she had used the term ‘intersexy fat’. A young intersex activist Izzy, with the help of a lovely trans lady who also runs a trans strip club, now runs a nightclub for intersex people called ‘Intersexy’. Progress at last!
Vecchietti then wanted to know who their intersex role models were?
Miriam didn’t want to mention names but she was most grateful to those people who popped up for a year or so and then disappeared altogether. (Kids, if you want to turn up to cos play having a health condition for a year or two, you’ll be Miriam’s hero.)
Davis generally eschewed the idea that anyone should be put a pedestal which begs why she bothered accepting the gig.
Wall was grateful to some activists who were translating news stories about intersex activism into Spanish (finally a thing).
Question and Answer session
Several intersex activists known to Vecchietti were on the call and only their questions were put forward to the panel.
The first was from Mitchell Travis who asked about the ‘problem’ of people on Twitter asserting that there are only two sexes. Vecchietti said it was a toxic atmosphere. Miriam said she doesn’t read the comments.
A man who described himself as a Klinefelters syndrome activist asked how could control be taken back from the doctors. (Klinefelters generally results in infertility and is sometimes only diagnosed after an investigation for the same.) Wall said there was too much gatekeeping of who could be intersex and inferred that women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) could be included (one fifth of UK women have PCOS and its major driver is obesity). Wall said the movement was growing and ‘our time was coming’.
Anick Soni, another intersex activist, also wanted to know how to deal with the medical profession. Miriam said she had no time for doctors who supported intersex surgeries. Vecchietti said it was difficult and complicated.
Back to intersex joy again
Vecchietti then asked people to share their moments of intersex joy.
After the tumbleweed had blown past, Wall said that activism was exhausting and that more people on the front line were needed. She had been contacted by a mother who had an intersex child. It had been a hard birth and whilst the mother was holding her baby in her arms in the moments following labour, the doctors literally wanted to take the baby away to do the surgery. This happened in 2020. The mother educated herself on intersex conditions and decided against putting her child through the surgery. This made Wall realise why the work was so important.
Vecchietti’s own moment of joy was being included in London Pride in 2018 and it was a moment of being acknowledged. It was also nice to have your own flag.
Davis said it was meeting everyone else on the panel.
Miriam said there was a documentary about intersex girl which was joyful.
The meeting concluded with Vecchietti sharing out intersex love and joy to everyone.
The numbers attending the meeting were not displayed but it is really bad form to only allow other activists to ask questions at what should have been an educational event for undergraduates, but I suppose it stopped interrogative questions about the science being asked.
As per usual, the one common factor that most people with DSDs share – infertility – was not mentioned once.
What was most notable about the panel was their total acceptance of gender identity ideology and despite their disgust at ‘intersex surgeries’, they were silent on the detrimental nature of puberty blockers and cosmetic genital surgeries. It means the disgust at ‘intersex surgeries’ and the ‘shady’ medical profession is really fake. It also explains the lack of interest about infertility as a health and a psychological issue.
I am also adding the video below. Pidgeon Pagonis is one of Wall’s main colleagues in the intersex activist movement in the US. It is worth watching for a laugh in exchange for losing a few brain cells.
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