Radicalising feminism, radicalising pride: The revolution as trans-intersex

(Photograph by Joel-Peter Wilkin)

Many questions were troubling the explorer, but at the sight of the prisoner he asked only: “Does he know his sentence?” “No,” said the officer, eager to go on with his exposition, but the explorer interrupted him: “He doesn’t know the sentence that has been passed on him?” “No,” said the officer again, pausing a moment as if to let the explorer elaborate his question, and then said: “There would be no point in telling him. He’ll learn it on his body.”

Franz Kafka, In the Penal Colony


An apology for the queering of the sex-gender binary; for the trans-intersex transgression and overthrow of patriarchal-heterosexual normativity, foundations of capitalist social-reproduction …

The price of your sexual normality is our “intersexicide”

Paul B. Preciado, Liberation (02/06/2017)

Penetrating penis, penetrated vagina: one must put an end to the norm imposed in the 1950s by medical authority and its share of genital mutilations.  Other sexual aesthetics are possible, but not without a transfeminist revolution.

The legal battle carried out by Gaëtan Schmitt (Libération 5th of May) demanding that he be recognised as of a “neutral sex”, as well as the transmission of the documentary Ni fille ni garçon, that follows the story of Vincent Guillot  (Libération 29 of May) along with other activists, has made appear in France the claims of the intersex movements.  If one can conceive of the 1960s as the moment of emergence of the feminist and homosexual movements, then the new millennium can be characterised by the growing visibility of trans and intersex struggles.  The possibility thus looms of configuring a second transfeminist sexual revolution, that does not take the form of a politics of identity, but that constructs itself through alliances established between multiple political minorities against the norm.

Our sexual history is as incredible as a science-fiction narrative.  After the second world war, western medicine, endowed with new technologies that allowed it to accede to forms of life until then invisible (morphological, hormonal or chromosomal differences), is confronted with an uncomfortable reality: at birth, there are bodies that cannot be simply characterised as feminine or masculine – small penis, non-formed testicles, absence of a uterus, chromosomal variations exceeding XX/XY.  So many babies that put into question the binary logic.  The result is that, in the language of Thomas Kuhn, we could speak of a crisis of the epistemological paradigm of sexual difference.  It would have been possible to modify the cognitive frame of sexual attribution, to open the category of the human to all forms of genital existence.  It is exactly the opposite however that occurred.  The genitally different body was declared “monstrous”, ” not viable”, “handicapped”,  it was submitted to an ensemble of hormonal and surgical operations searching to reproduce the dominant masculine or feminine genital morphology.

The macabre protagonists of this story (John Money, Andrea Prader, among others) are neither nuclear physicists nor military authorities.  They are pediatricians.  From the 1950s onward, the use of the “Prader scale” (a visual method allowing for the measurement of what he calls “the abnormal virility of the genital parts” in babies) and the “Money protocol” (that indicates the stages to follow to guide the body of an intersex baby towards one of the binary poles, masculine or feminine) are generalised.  The genital mutilation of babies considered intersex becomes then hospital routine.  If diverse religions practice rituals of marking or of genital mutilation (cliterectomy, circumcision, etc.) which the so-called civilised West considers as barbaric, its own rational discourses accept as necessary the practice of violent scientific rituals of genital mutilation.  This porno-gore science fiction of the 1950s is today our common anatomical archaeology.

The masculine-feminine genital difference is in reality an arbitrary and historically overvalued aesthetic (an ensemble of forms judged in accordance with a scale of values) according to which the human has only two possibilities: penetrating penis, penetrated vagina.  We are subject to a porno-scientific kitsch, that is, to the standardisation of the form of the human body according to heterocentric genital aesthetic criteria.

The sex-gender binary regime is to the body what the map is to the territory: a political frame that defines organs, functions and uses.  A cognitive frame that establishes the frontiers separating the normal from the pathological.  In the same way that African countries were invented by the colonial accords passed by the empires of the 19th century, the form and function of our so-called sexual organs are the result of accords passed by the scientific community of North America at the time of the Cold War, a community desirous of maintaining the privileges of patriarchy and the social organisation of heterosexual reproduction.

The contemporary intersex movement denounces the way Prader confounds, for example, less than common genital forms (uncommon, really? a baby in every 2000 according to Prader, one in every 800 according to the most recent studies) with pathological forms, imposing by force a surgical and hormonal process of normalisation.  Genital mutilation must be considered a crime, regardless of whether the discourse that legitimates and authorises it is religious or scientific.  A body endowed with a macroclitoris and a uterus has the right to be recognised as a viable human body, without its reconstruction being necessary, until it is made to coincide with the binary genital aesthetic.  A body without a penis and with a non-penetrable orifice can have a genital and sexual existence outside of the imposition of normative heterosexuality.  Other sexual aesthetics are possible and merit being politically viable – moreover, some trans intentionally choose an intersex aesthetic (men without penises, women with penises, etc.).

It is rather the sex-gender binary regime that is sick, not the bodies called intersex.  The price of your sexual normality is our “intersexacide”.  The only cure that we need is a change of paradigm.  As history has taught us, the difference of sex and gender is the guarantee of the maintenance of the ensemble of patriarchal and heterosexual privileges.  This change then will not be possible without a political revolution.  Transfeminism could define itself as a revolutionary, though peaceful, movement, that flows from the alliance of the historical anti-patriarchical struggles of feminism, the recent struggles to de-medicalise and de-pathologise the trans, intersex movements, along with struggles for morphological and neurological diversity (handi-queer).  It implies the abolition of the sex-gender binary system, its institutional and administrative inscriptions (from the assignment of a sex in utero or at the moment of birth).  It thus promises a profound political transformation that will lead to the recognition of the irreducible multiplicity of the living and to respect for its physical integrity.

The documentary, Naître ni fille ni garçon by Pierre Combroux (in french):

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