1. What does it mean to be intersex? I like the definition given by The Intersex Society of North America: “Intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation.”
In Double Exposure, Alyx was born with a visible biological variation some doctors call ambiguous genitalia, but intersex conditions are not always immediately identifiable.
For example, a child may “present” externally as either female or male at birth, but only later in life discover they are lacking internal parts such a uterus, or they have an extra X or Y chromosome. There are a variety of conditions that in the past have been called “abnormalities” or “hermaphroditism,” or “disorders” however the preferred term for this condition is fast becoming DSD-Differences in Sexual Development or “gender fluidity.”
2. Why does it happen? No one knows for sure what causes of “gender fluidity.” Many believe that it is just the normal diversity of nature that’s been de-normalized by strict cultural or societal gender expectations. Yet almost everyone agrees gender fluid people have been around a long time.
In Double Exposure, Dr. Royce a pediatric endocrinologist exams Alyx and calls her a “double-winner” to which Alyx takes offense. This is because Alyx does not feel like any kind of winner, she feels like a freak.
Dr. Royce tries to help Alyx understand that she is not as much of freak as she thinks, that in fact, in many different cultures and times, individuals born with intersex conditions were considered a gift and often called “Two-Spirited.” These children were often highly revered and trained as shaman because it was believed that they could “walk in two-worlds.”
3. How many people have intersex conditions? It’s estimated that 2% of the population is intersex.
In Double Exposure, Alyx is angry with her parents for “not making her into a girl” in the first place. While this used to be the acceptable medical practice in the past, today hospitals often send in gender teams to help new parents understand non-surgical gender options.
Educational and advocacy groups have formed such as “Advocates for Informed Choice” so that intersex individuals themselves can play a role in their own sexual health and gender identity.
The (Intersex Society of North America) ISNA attempts to simplify the complex issues surrounding questions around children born with atypical anatomy: “We work to build a world free of shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for anyone born with what someone believes to be non-standard sexual anatomy.”
4. What new TV show has an intersex character? Faking it.
If Double Exposure is a game-changing young adult novel with an intersex character, than Faking It, is TV’s game-chaning equivilent. This show which originally aired on Channel 4 stars Bailey Buntain as Lauren, a teen trying to navigate a land mine of teenage insecurities and secrets, while coming to terms with her own sexuality.
5. Are most intersex people happy with their assigned gender at birth? Yes, statistically about 80%.
In Double Exposure, Alyx is not comfortable with her assigned gender at birth. She feels like a girl inside and she tells Dr. Royce she has always felt this way.
6. Why is an intersex condition a potential problem for athletes? Because when we add competition to the equation, it becomes even more difficult to define the exact difference between what makes a person male or female. There is no “easy test.” Even in the Olympics where complex medical tests can be performed, medical professionals have discovered that there is a great deal of gender variance among the athletes. Some say up to 1 in every 7 olympic athlete displays some form of gender variation.
Moreover, most of us have heard about the scrutiny that some athletes have been put through, such as Caster Semenya who had her silver medal stripped and later reinstated. Recently, Dutee Chand an Olympic sprinter has challenged a ban requiring her to reduce her testosterone level to compete with the women athletes. Dutee was born with a intersex condition known as hyperandrogenism, which means her body naturally produces a high testosterone level. If you look at Dutee, she looks like a beautiful strong woman and her argument is: I was born this way: this is who I am.
In Double Exposure, Alyx must prove that she is a girl, which is a huge problem. The truth is that Alyx can’t prove either way. Alex was born with a body that is gender variant.
7. Does intersex mean the same thing as transgender? Nope.
In Double Exposure, Alyx is an intersex person who is not comfortable with her gender assignment at birth. Because of this she makes a decision to transition from the male identity to the female identity. But Alyx does share some of the same experiences as a transgender person. See #8 below.
8. Then what makes someone transgender? Someone who is transgender often experiences a condition called gender dysphasia, a feeling like they do not fit in the body they were born in. Some people take hormones or explore surgical options changing their body surgically so that it matches more closely what they feel inside.
A FTM means a female to male. A MTF means a male to female.
In Double Exposure, Alyx hopes after living in her new gender identity as a girl for two years that she will have a surgery to make her body more closely present as female. Because Alyx does indeed have one ovary and a uterus, she could conceivable have children of her own some day.
9. Are intersex people gay or bi-sexual? Just like people born without an intersex condition, they identify across the sexual identity spectrum.
Alyx in Double Exposure, thinks of herself as a gender queer, but she is definitely attracted to boys, at least to Peter Pitmani, who himself may be fluid in his sexual identity. Because Alyx is still figuring out who she is in the world, and just learning to break free from the shame and secrecy surrounding her condition her own sexual identity, like Lauren on Faking It, may be in the process of evolution.
10. Resources (More to come soon!)
A youth group for young people with intersex conditions or DSD, sharing their stories with the world.