Intersex

Category Archives: Intersex

Intersex and Differences (“Disorders”) of Sexual Development

Intersex

IDAHOBIT Day needs further evolution to combat Non-Binary enbyphobia

IDAHO has become IDAHOBIT Day

Happy IDAHO – IDAHOT – IDAHOBIT Day, perhaps now IDAHOBNoBIT Day! For the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, needs further evolution to embrace the increasingly prevalent eNByphobia (Non-Binary).

In the last few months, I both started a non-binary meetup and discussion group and also witnessed increased enbyphobia – mainly online. That it is coming from people whom you would otherwise expect to be intersectional and LGBT+ allies is worrying.

It has come from the same feminists and others who oppose transgender women (mainly) but also trans men (erasing butch lesbians, apparently), as well as from some 50-something gay men and women, and even trans women in the public eye such as India Willoughby.

Piers Morgan

Good Morning Britain‘s Piers Morgan seems to be the go-to bigot/Kelvin Mackenzie on all things offensive these days, despite saying he accepts trans people and their rights – so long as they’re not non-binary. Last week, he mocked Emma Watson after she accepted MTV’s first ‘gender neutral’ acting Award. This week it’s non-binary trans persons Fox Fisher and Owl Stefania who he argued were just talking gobbledygook and he could just declare himself a black woman or an elephant and demand elephant rights to be given a room at the zoo.

Piers took to mockery, yesterday, too:

“It’s an all girls’ school in this country and in one year, there are now eight non-binary students who do not identify as girl,” he said. “I think that’s dangerous. It’s creeping and it’s creeping fast. I don’t think that’s right.” – Piers Morgan, describing his friend’s daughter’s school

Non-Binary “not a thing”

The irony that some feminists who oppose gender roles and see it as a social construct would turn round and say that non-binary doesn’t exist, “it’s not a thing”, there are only two sexes and gender is social, seems somewhat biologically essentialist and reductive. Not to mention, only true to a limited extent. Yes, most babies take 2 differently sexed parents to be conceived, although 3-parent babies are now possible. 

Some people can also be intersexed, as many as 1.75% of people. These can include dozens of chromosome and endocrine variations producing differences in primary and secondary characteristics. Genetic sex chromosomes are far from limited to X and Y, since around 20 viable combinations from XO to XXXXY and XYYYY can occur.  Perhaps, the ‘I’ in IDAHOBiT should be for Interphobia and not Biphobia?

I’ve done a lecture at SOAS and UEA universities titled “Around the World in 80 Genders” looking at non-Western interpretations of “third gender” identities. Afterwards, I often get asked, “just how many genders are there?” My usual reply is, “around 7 billion”. Gender, and even sex, is more dissimilar than it is stereotypically binary. 

Non-binary people don’t know their sexuality

Just this week, I’ve been told that as I’m non-binary or even wrongly misunderstood to be genderfluid, there’s a small chance that I may be heterosexual, either all the time or some of the time. As a result, I should not be invited to speak at LGBT events. The same surely applies to trans people – who can be non-binary too. 

Surely, our issue is a common oppression, not an identical gender or sexuality identity? We are intersectionally united by not being a part of cis heteronormativity and the freedoms and rights that brings but which those who are different may not enjoy to the same extent.

When it comes from binary LGBT folk it is especially galling that our brothers and sisters are engaging in intra-community division and discrimination.

International Day Against Homophobia

The annual, since 2005, IDAHO Day celebrates the 1990 removal of homosexuality from the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That it took 17 years from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) initial tentative removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) demonstrates how long change in these areas can take. Aspects of gender dysphoria including autogynephilia (sexual arousal by thoughts, images of self as a female), autoandrophilia, and transvestic disorder, “unwanted” same-sex attraction, and even asexuality remain in the DSM and ICD.

May 17 was first known as the “International Day against Homophobia” and mainstreamed through its acronym “I.DA.HO”.

In 2009, Transphobia was added explicitly in the title of the name, in the recognition of the very different issues at stake between sexual orientation and gender expression. “IDAHOT” became another popular acronym used alongside the initial one.

Since 2015, biphobia is added to the title, to acknowledge the specific issues faced by bisexual people. A new acronym, IDAHOBIT, has started to be used by groups in Australia and the UK mostly. To acknowledge this diversity, we use increasingly all three acronyms in our communications.

Wherever we can only use one acronym, we favor the acronym IDAHOT, as being the one most in use at global level*

To ensure even more inclusion and reflect the diversity of sexual and gender minorities, we have created at global level the baseline “A global celebration of sexual and gender diversities”. This is probably the only “solution” to the issue of inclusion and reflection of other diversities, such as Queer, Asexual, Pansexual and regional identities such as Hijras, Weres, Two-Spirit, etc. – IDAHO

Read more about IDAHO day: 2015 | 2014

Intersex

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day, not Trans, not Intersex, and not Men

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day

On this day, each year, I usually write about current social issues worldwide that affect women disproportionately. I often quote my sheroes – Audre Lorde, Simone de Beauvoir, Malala Yousafzai, Muzoon Almellehan, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and so many more. Alternatively, I’d be railing against Islamic State (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, extreme sharia or tribal law sex-based violence used to oppress. Instead, it’s the voice of BBC Woman’s Hour, Dame Jenni Murray that is still ringing in my ears. 

Jenni Murray defining Women

On Sunday, Murray decided to wade into the “are trans women real women debate?” She prefaced her article in The Sunday Times with “I’m not a transphobe but…” along with “I’m not a radical feminist” either. 

“I am not transphobic or anti-trans. Not a Terf in other words. That’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to use one of the often-confusing expressions that have entered the language in this age of gender revolution. I’ll admit to feminist, but radical or separatist? No…” – Jenni Murray

The article was doomed from then, as that is how so many of the “I’m not a racist but…”, or “I’m not anti-gay but…” arguments begin. I bit my lip and pressed on, trying to remain open to rational argument. On the one hand, I actually agree with her – trans women do not experience life the same as “women born women” – or rather raised as girls and sometimes, as feminism argues, oppressed as women by the so-called patriarchy – some MRAs have challenged me to look at that term again, in the 21st century West, anyway. Perhaps it is now better seen as a kyriarchy, in the UK at least with its several queens and two female prime ministers.

On the other hand, neither do any two women have the same experiences. Birth, school, puberty, bullying, sexuality are near-universal human experiences and we all experience them differently.

“if womanhood is defined as the sum of everything that has ever happened to a woman because of her gender, then logically nobody born with male organs can ever quite attain it. It’s tantamount to saying that you can only be a woman if you’ve always been treated as one.” – Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian

Not all women experience oppression equally – wealth, class, and education, come into play as much as gender. To define ‘real’ women as only those who have experienced sexism or assault is ludicrous.

“Although a person’s sex as male or female stands as a biological fact that is identical in any culture, what that specific sex means in reference to a person’s gender role as a woman or a man in society varies cross culturally according to what things are considered to be masculine or feminine.” – Wikipedia definition

It is not automatic that a trans woman experiences life with “male privilege” before feeling gender dysphoria, bullying, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and internalised oppression – that, to date, psychological therapies have failed to cure, to the point where most psych associations now regard any attempt to as unethical.

If anything, it is the language of the article that is the problem. As soon as one starts defining a “real” woman, one has to question what characteristics make up that definition?

“Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” – WHO definition

Clearly, the answer is not someone resembling the impossibly proportioned Barbie or Sindy, but I’m not going to get into thin-waist, hourglass figure shaming – a shame cisgender girls and transfeminine teens alike will find nigh on impossible to emulate.

The debate about “real” women runs dangerously close to policing sex/gender and a form of CisAryanism as Jane Fae notes:

Not “am I a real woman?”, but “am I a pure one?” – Jane Fae

Sex and gender spectra -whether biological or psychological (still part of the body-mind/neurology entity, I’m not a Cartesian dualist) defy the possibility of a single archetype of default woman, and as soon as one does it creates the possibility of discrimination and judgement upon anyone not conforming, passing, meriting, having perfect reproductive systems, or preferring same-sex or childless relationships.

Indeed, as Jane Fae draws attention to, Jenni Murray seems to define herself as a non-TERF by pointing out her marriage to a man and raising of “two fine sons” as if that explains her moderate feminism and typical womanhood. On the other hand, Julie Bindel said in response to what does being a woman mean:

“I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t do gender. It is harmful and a total social construct that serves to reinforce patriarchy and women’s subordination to men. I wish to eradicate gender – that is the feminist goal…” – Julie Bindel, New Statesman

Simone de Beauvoir

“trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.” Helen Boyd, author My Husband Betty

Some have argued that Murray would have been better writing about “natal” or “natural” women. On the former, I might quote, out of context but not without relevance, Simone de Beauvoir, from The Second Sex, introduction (1949):

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” 

Or so many more of de Beauvoir’s thoughts:

One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…”

“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?”

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” 

“She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”

Othering Trans Women

The irony that the argument of feminism and women’s liberation that women should not be defined as ‘other’ in relation to men, but should be equal in their own right, seems lost.

Now, however, trans women are defined as “other”, as the “third sex”, as women and LGB people were before them. Then there are those whose bodies are ‘other’ yet forcibly conformed to binary male or female. Dividing the human race into very strict boxes of men and women and who can be in them is erasing of intersex people, third gender folk from dozens of cultures and traditions around the world. 

Denying trans women membership of the cisterhood, only perpetuates what had previously been done to women by men in power of old – or not so long ago. 

Intersectional Feminism

I’ve no personal problem with being othered, or with not belonging, I’ve accepted that in life, but I shouldn’t need to and will fight my feminist sisters for their inclusion and my trans sisters to show some respect and learn some history. Both groups have very different forms of privilege, since much privilege is relative, and we need to look inside ourselves and our experiences to recognise that.

“Trans women are men”

Writing to the Daily Telegraph Letters page, Una-Jane Winfield writes that a proposed change to recognise gender identity and not just gender transition would have:

“extremely damaging consequences, especially for women at work and in public spaces, forcing them to accept non‑native women in their midst.

Dame Jenni Murray is right to draw attention to the privileged claim of ‘trans women’, who are socialised lifelong men, not women.

The change is not wanted by the 50 per cent of the human race called women, and it is an ‘equalities law”’ too far.”

To me, Winfield and Murray’s arguments are summed up in their attempting to speak for all women, without a referendum!

Biological Essentialism & Determinism

Furthermore, they define women just as men used to do, by the presence of a womb, ovaries, ability to conceive, or by the experience of puberty, menstruation, menopause – the very biological essentialism and reproductive value that women’s liberation and feminism sought to overcome. Now, some feminists are resorting to those self-same arguments to define themselves in opposition to trans women (men in their eyes).

“woman means something. It means sexual biological woman.”- Comment on Independent article

I’ll reiterate Simone de Beauvoir here because I think Winfield and Murray need to read it again themselves:

“every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries?”

They speak unelected for all women, and stereotype all trans women as men in frocks, persisting in male criminality, wanting to forcibly invade women’s spaces etc. In their over-egged gender essentialist simplicity they ignore non-binary, assigned female at birth (AFAB) trans men, intersex people and folk like me who don’t give a fuck about labels and access to women’s spaces, unless I’m invited.

To paraphrase de Beauvoir,

“not every male human being is necessarily a man.”

I’m with Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, who upon transitioning declared she was “no longer a man, but not entirely female.” Like her, I identify as non-binary, recognise my male past (despite a brief designation of female at birth and an endocrine puberty disorder), but don’t wholly identify with being a woman, but many trans women do.

What Is this, the 1950s?

Their binary defensiveness is a going backwards, when we should be going forwards together as so many younger inclusive feminists are. That said, some trans women need a Feminism 101 history lesson to avoid their gender presentation and attitudes being interpreted as wanting to be subjugated women in twin sets and pearls, tied to the kitchen sink, actually enjoying ironing.

“presenting womanhood as being about little more than cute outfits and chasing boys” – Meghan Murphy, Feminist Current

Young trans people are now diversifying the range of trans and non-binary gender presentations, so that old accusations of female parody and imitation are no longer true.

Some of the comments on news articles about this feel like Daily Mail readers are now reading all the other papers too. In the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and we are back to determining which LGBTIQA+ people have rights, and it is some of the older Lesbians and Gays, as well as straight traditionalists who are opposing rights for trans and genderqueer people.

“Trans are not women. LBGT thing is a nonsense.” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

“Gender appropriation in action.” – Comment on Independent article

“the Trojan horse of transvestite men’s “rights” to steal biological women’s rights” – Comment on Independent article

In addition, I’ve had “gay eugenics” thrown up this week, the idea that trans people are erasing gays and lesbians, the erroneous idea that easily obtainable without medical ethics puberty blockers and hormones are forced upon teenagers to prevent them discovering their sexuality! Somewhat similar to the “butch erasure” touted by some lesbian feminists such as Sheila Jeffries, Julie Bindel et al, not respecting the feminist rights of their “assigned sisters at birth” who want to express their gender identity as male psyche and body now. Some have even created the term ftMysognist to describe those leaving the lesbian fold because of transition.

No Two Women…are the same

It’s not that trans women are the same as natal women, it’s that no two women are the same either. Then there are intersex variations, for example, from 1-in-1000 to as many as 1-in-100 births can be gender indeterminate at first sight during birth, many are then conformed by non-consensual (on the part of the child) surgery to a pseudo-sex binary. There are natal ‘girls’ raised as female who turn out to have XY chromosomes as part of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) or 5α-Reductase deficiency (5-ARD) and whose sex and gender identity is more often identified as young adults. See Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body or Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World for more on intersex prevalence and sex diversity.

“Man A: I have an XXY chromosome set with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, so that’s two elements of intersex in one body. I have one ovary, a uterus, and a vagina (via vaginaplasty and labiaplasty) behind my scrotum, but I also have a functional penis and one testicle. I have no body hair, female skeleton, and I menstruate. In the old days, they used to call people like me a “true hermaphrodite,” but that is not the modern term. So I play the role of male, knowing that I am biologically neither male nor female.” – Cosmopolitan

This person would confuse Jenni Murray’s simple categories of man, trans woman and real woman.

Natal, natural, nature, whatever you want to call it all create ‘real’ variations in human bodies and brains, in-utero and post-utero. Just read Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People by evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden.

“To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Trans are a small minority, why bother?

The number of comments on Jenni Murray’s and response articles suggesting that trans are a minority and therefore should not be accommodated reeks of “the tyranny of the majority”.

“Trying to fully accommodate and integrate the relatively very few transgender people into a society constructed around 2 distinct sexes is I think, almost impossible.” – Comment on The Times article

“why so much hot air is being expended on such a small part of the population” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

Actually, the number of trans, non-binary, and/or intersex people (these categories can overlap) exceeds the number of wheelchair users, yet we rightly make adjustments for them. Indeed, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in equality law, whatever anyone’s personal beliefs and reasonable adjustment, gender recognition, and the avoidance of discrimination are legal requirements. Are we not stronger together, even if we are different?

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde

Debate speech not hate speech

If you want to follow some of the discussion there’s debate, and not a little hate, on facebook here and here, as well as in the comments sections of some of the articles cited above in The Times, (and this one), Telegraph, GuardianIndependent, Feminist Current and Pink News.

Again, I actually have no problem with Jenni Murray having the discussion, although many do, I’m into respectful, fair and free speech, and debate not no-platforming (unless inciting hate and violence). As a result, I will challenge her argument (essentially that ovaries and oppression make a woman) and not attack her person as some have done, deplorably. This debate about who is a woman still raises heckles on all sides, that it does, shows we are not there yet. Roll back 50 or 150 years and people were questioning race, colour and sexuality, as not equal to white western heterosexual man. Let’s thrash this out but without attacking individuals. Science and society have moved on from these out of date views but airing them still shows how retrograde they are.

 
Intersex

Intersex Awareness Day vitally needed to counter Forced Sex Binaryism

Intersex Awareness Day, 26 October

Intersex Awareness Day is a vitally needed awareness that every day, not just 26 October, babies are born different, not disordered, and they have the human right not to be operated on against their will. The first Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) came about when the American Intersex group Hermaphrodites* with Attitude (HWA) teamed up with the US trans group Trans Menace (named after the lesbian women’s movement Lavender Menace in turn reclaiming former “red” and “yellow menace” US propaganda movements of the 1950s and 60s) to picket an American Association of Paediatrics (AAP) conference in Boston on 26th October 1996.

As with trans, intersex people have long resented and resisted the medical pathologisation that comes from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the US DSM, now on version 5 which refers to intersex persons as having “Disorders of Sex Development” (DSD**). Whilst this may sound like a logical description, the word “variation” rather than “disorder” would be less pejorative and more accurate to nature.

*Most intersex people reject the term hermaphrodite, but a few are seeking to reclaim it. **Even more reject DSD, few are attempting to reclaim that.

My Sex and Gender Story

I was misgendered at birth for a mere hour or so, had minor genital surgery at 5 for an apparently unrelated issue, suffered more than 6 years of intrusive and dehumanising paediatric investigations for delayed atypical puberty development and growth issues. As an adult I continue(d) to grapple with my gender and sexual identity which were further confused by ongoing underlying sex differences that meant I never felt fully a part of male, female, trans, or GLB identities and communities. Not belonging and yet feeling pushed and shoved, sometimes literally, into one sex/gender or another has been an exhausting journey and one I am still not at the end of, and may never yet arrive – at least at times I am beginning to enjoy the exploration. What I hope for, campaign for, educate about, is an increased awareness of sex/gender variation and the increasing comfort of self and society with difference and diversity.

Intersex Prevalence

Intersex conditions may only be initially visible at birth for 1-in-2000 babies but can affect up to 4-in-100 people, often discovered later in life, at puberty, or whilst trying for a child, for example. Many may never even know. US Hospital Johns Hopkins psychologist and sex researcher John Money suggested that up to 4% of people are born with ambiguous genitalia whilst Professor of Biology and Gender Dr Anne Fausto-Sterling in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000) thought 1.7% a fairly accurate figure based upon combining the prevalence of differing conditions. Dr Sharon Preves, author of Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self (2003), says that “the frequency could be as high as 4%”.

Intersex Definition

What is intersex? It is being born with primary and/or secondary sexual characteristics that are not clearly or typically male or female, although may have characteristics of both. Complete hermaphroditism, an old disused and disparaged term (though being reclaimed by some), having the complete organs of both genders, is extremely rare.

There are some 80+ intersex variations covering physical organs, chromosomes, and hormone levels that can further result in atypical secondary development. Being male and female is not a simple case of X and Y, or rather XX and XY, cases of XXY, XXYY, or indeed XXXXY exist, not to mention XO or XXXX, and that is just a few of a more than a dozen chromosome differences, some of which have names such as Klinefelter Syndrome (1-in 500 births, also male tortoiseshell cats) or Turner’s Syndrome. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) has several variations itself and as its name implies is based around atypical masculinisation and hormone development. Chimerism or mosaicism can see people with differing DNA at cellular levels, almost like an internal twin at the simplest form of development, resulting in some cells being XY and others being XXY, for example.

Intersex and the Media

We hear about intersex in the news mostly when athletes have their biological sex challenged. South African athlete Caster Semenya was literally dragged through the media whilst her sex/gender was investigated. Some radical feminists such as Germaine Greer never seem to “get” transwomen, similarly they are bulls in a china shop when discussing intersex, derogatorily describing Semenya as “Big, blokish and bloody fast” with an “unfair biological advantage”.

After the London 2012 Olympics, in order to continue to compete “as women”, four athletes raised and thought to be typical women from birth but subsequently discovered to have XY chromosomes had pressured surgery to remove internal testes. They were deemed to have a physical advantage from the increased testosterone in them. To all extents and purposes they were and are women, but with invisible to the naked eye XY chromosomes and an increased muscle mass. Yet, muscular XX women exist too. Perhaps in some sports we need more than 2 genders or body types, much as in competitions, like boxing, based upon competitor weight and stature.

The main fight of intersex activists is against early surgical interventions, the tendency for doctors and indeed some parents to want the child to resemble as near to one sex/gender or “the other” as possible. In the past that meant making a lot of girls since surgeons used to inappropriately quip, “it is easier to make a hole than a pole”. The Organisation Intersex International (OII), founded in 2003 by and for intersex people, has as its mission “to attain human rights for intersex infants, children, and adults, particularly the right to bodily integrity and self-determination.”

Activists prefer a child to be allowed to grow up free from sex/gender straitjacketing, shoe-horned into one or other, instead preferring free self determination via non-intervention, hormones and/or surgery as maturely requested. Worldwide, every year, 1000s are operated on to conform to binary gender “normality”.

“Many intersex people are perfectly happy with being men or women and more and more of us are quite happy being intergender and find the notion of trans totally foreign to our identity because we are rejecting binary sex and binary gender altogether and the prefix ‘trans’, just like the prefix ‘bi’‚ keeps the binary well intact.” – OII USA

Sex and gender as constructs, societal and surgical

Gender and sex are far more than the feminists’ gender construct or the medics’ surgical one. Sex and gender are at work in us on so many levels from cells to hormones, bodies to brains, appearance to identities. The ongoing studies of sex, gender and sexuality, continue to indicate that we are more than biological essentialism or societal construction. We all share a physical similarity, in that in the womb for the first 7 weeks we all look pretty much the same – then hormones hit us and depending upon chromosomes and hormone receptors we develop differently – but not only and exclusively into two sexes/genders as traditionally understood or defined. We are ourselves, not male and female but fifty shades of male and female. A diversity to be celebrated, not disordered and dissected.

Intersex

IDAHOT & IDAHOBIT take over from IDAHO in awareness of Bi/Trans/Homophobia

International Day Against Homophobia

The annual, since 2005, IDAHO Day celebrates the 1990 removal of homosexuality from the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That it took 17 years from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) initial tentative removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) demonstrates how long change in these areas can take.

Whilst IDAHO initially concentrated on homophobia and lesbophobia – though rarely naming the latter, gay rights have moved on. Over time they have become Lesbian and Gay, LGB, more recently LGBT, with even Stonewall England & Wales now Trans inclusive. The debate over that may be over,  but the inclusion of I for Intersex, Q for Queer, and a panoply of other letters including Pansexual, Asexual, Non-Binary and more, still rages.

Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBiT)

The addition of ‘T’ for Transphobia, turning the acronym from a US state into the less likely to be confused IDAHOT, happened in 2009 but for many has still not taken root. Bisexual erasure is sadly commonplace and the explicit inclusion of Biphobia is more recent still, creating the more fun acronym IDAHOBiT, that sounds like a type of Middle Earth hobbit! Will adding yet more letters create an even more mythical sounding alphabetical chimera?

What about including Intersex?

Do intersex people even suffer interphobia? Yes of course they do. It can, however, appear as any of the other phobias as cases of mistaken or misunderstood identity. Nor is it really an identity, it is not a sexuality or gender, but a sex that may not be fully male or female or varying degrees of combination of the two.

Interphobia may exist in cases of law, sport, services or facilities, which may be defined only in male/female terms, excluding and discriminating against those whose nature may not wholly fit into one of those narrowly defined sex categories. Thus, interphobia is a form of sexism – which itself is often binary-sex defined. The worst case of interphobia is still that exhibited by medical clinicians and some parents who often try to shoehorn intersex children into one bodily sex category or another via non-consensual surgeries (on the part of the child).

Some LGBTI and LGBTIQ/LGBTQI groups have taken to including intersex as the ‘I’ of HOBIT, erasing the original purpose as the ‘i’ of Bi. It is, furthermore, doubtful whether intersex advocacy organisations were even asked whether they wanted to be part of HOBIT, or indeed HOBiTI. “Nothing About Us Without Us” was the appropriate battle-cry of disability activists, which might be co-opted here – with respect. That said, few would turn down the opportunity for increased understanding and awareness, so long as the education is accurate and publicity helpful, which it is not always. Misplaced good intentions and misappropriations can do more harm than good.

OII UK, the UK arm of the leading international intersex organisation, has praised the United Nations Human Rights commissioner for drawing attention this IDAHO Day to the plight of not only LGBT youth but also intersex youth stating that:

“intersex children and young people may be subjected to medically unnecessary, irreversible surgery and treatment without their free and informed consent. These interventions can result in severe, long-term physical and psychological suffering, affecting children’s rights to physical integrity, to health, privacy and autonomy and may constitute torture or ill-treatment. States should prohibit such interventions.” –  Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

What about the Others?

Pansexuals can be accused of not being real or be erased, somewhat ironically, by bisexuals – usually the chief victms of erasure. Non-binary and agender folk can experience something similar. Asexuals can often be misconstrued and misunderstood. A Facebook post by the 1.5-million-followers popular Lizzy the Lezzy page ran a comical post on asexual attitudes to sex which had some 2000 shares and hundreds of illuminating comments, many spot on, but some exhibiting the abusive assumptions that “sexuals” may have, that “having sex” should be an entitlement within a relationship.

 

lol! asexuals, is this true?

Posted by Lizzy the Lezzy on Saturday, 16 May 2015

Inclusion and Acronymitis

Diversity and equality should mean full and equal inclusion for all, It can, though, become unwieldy over time, as the tail becomes longer than the original dog, and those at the head of “gay rights” begin to resent being wagged by the ever-lengthening tail, which few may understand except those in MOGAI, AVEN, Alt and Fetlife communities. In the same way, in the UK, Race Equality, Sex Discrimination and Disability provisions were eventually combined with anti-homophobia initiatives to create the 2010 Equality Act. At some point IDAHO Day will need to become the International Day Against Hate and Discrimination Based Upon Sex, Orientation, or Identity. Quite a mouthful but shorter than IDAHOBiTIQA…XYZ. In short, human rights and respect – something in the 21st century we should all be moving towards, if not arrived at. “LGBT rights are human rights” as the recent Council of Europe report reminds us. Until that day, IDAHO/Bi/T reminds us that we are not there yet, but still undeniably a work in progress.

Intersex

Beautiful Queer Non-Binary Beardy Pride vs Fetishing, Hate or Body-Shaming

Hirsute Self-Love rather than Self-Loathing or Other-Lust

If you are different, queer, ‘other’, a bearded lady, or something else, the only two choices are not – be persecuted or be fetishised, be hated or loved for a mere body part/characteristic, be single and lonely or stuck in a settled-for second-best relationship.

“Don’t be grateful [for second-best] … Because someone out there will “actually” love you for who you are.”

Little Beardy Bear Schwarz via Twitter
Little Beardy Bear Schwarz via Twitter

That quote is from a great post by Little “Beardy” Bear Schwarz, a queer non-binary woman who just happens to have a beard.

Yes, that is possible. Various medical conditions (e.g., PCOS), and/or intersex variations, can mean that a woman’s hormones produce the extra secondary sexual characteristic of facial hair that can rival or beat that of some men’s attempts to grow a lumbersexual beard. Most would shave continually, indeed Schwarz did for 17 years. A rare few like Little Bear or Balpreet Kaur embrace the difference and are part of humanity’s out-and-proud diversity.

“I don’t need to perpetuate an idea that having being female-bodied and bearded is WRONG, as it is not.  I am beautiful as I am.” – Little Bear Schwarz

Standing Out from the Crowd

But difference marks one out for mostly unwanted attention – abuse, curiosity, investigation, fetishisation, exclusion, or intervention and normalisation.

If you are different, othered by birth, choice, or accident, in some way, going unnoticed is not an option, there is no radar to fly under, you are under constant view and scrutiny.

“How do I assert that no one who chooses to live out loud is “asking for it?” Catcalling, entitlement, and body shaming exist among all people and to all genders. However, there is an expectation among people like me whose appearance is deemed “othered.”” – Lil Bear Schwarz

Fetish, Kink and Body Shaming

Little Beardy Bear Schwarz via Twitter, Fetish, Bearded Lady, Kink
Little Beardy Bear Schwarz via Twitter

Schwarz says with bucket-loads of self-respect that:

“If all you can do is reduce me down to one small aspect so you can add me to your fetish collection, it is YOUR LOSS, because you are missing out on all the other things that make me beautiful.”

At the same time as Schwarz not wanting to be body-shamed, nor do they kink-shame, as they clarify on Twitter:

On Labels and Definition

Whilst labels can be limiting, they can also be liberating. These are just some of the other words that Little Bear uses to describe, but not necessarily to define, themselves by:

“Bearded Lady, sideshow performer with Wreckless Freeks, opera/showtune singer & fan, writer, editor, spoken word artist, poly/pan, NB, SJW, and casual chef.”

GenderQueer and Gender-full

Another word they use is “GenderQueer” or the fabulous “genderful” to describe their male-female blend, fluidity and, when performing, their focus on a part of the gender spectrum.

“Being both genderqueer and being billed as a “bearded lady” presents no conflict to me because it is not as much inaccurate as it is just incomplete.  My gender identity is what I call “genderful” – a blend of masculine & female elements and everything in between.

Little Beardy Bear Schwarz via Twitter
Little Beardy Bear Schwarz via Twitter

See the full, pulling no punches, personal blog post by Lil Bear Schwarz on Ravishly, whose tagline is “There’s no wrong way to be a woman”. If you want to follow Little Bear more, having read their post and for all the right reasons, then they are on Twitter @LilBeardyBear and Facebook.

Loving yourself for who you are and how you look become even more vital to self worth and survival if you stand out in a crowd, in a non-stereotypically beautiful way. It is, in the end, the only route to self-confidence and happiness, and the best way to guarantee that anyone you choose to be with is with you for you, because you don’t need their affirmation, it is just the icing on the cake of self-love and self-respect. Genderqueer beard, beautiful person, and all.

Intersex

UK Parliament tables Non-Gendered Identity 3-option M-F-X Passports

Third/Non-Gender passport options could be debated in the UK Parliament following a lengthy campaign by people outside the male-female gender binary who feel erased and discriminated against.

[UPDATE – Government “considering” changes to gender identity laws, passport and driving licence changes. Maria Miller, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities committee, said a person’s sex was “not relevant” on official documents, and it created an “unconscious bias” in job applications. Gender details on passports also do not assist with identification, she added. The committee will publish a report on transgender discrimination in January 2016. In an interview with The Times, Miller said gender stereotyping can be as “damaging” for men as women.]

Three gender option passports

A motion was tabled yesterday (5 June 2014) in the UK Parliament to allow non-binary M/F passport gender markers in the UK, to aid those that identify as non-gender, non-binary, agender, bigender, or intergender – or simply hate gender construct labels. The internationally allowed X marker already allows this, not as some compulsory trans or third gender marker which could be used to reduce people’s rights as citizens, but as a self-selected optional marker for those that feel they do not fit the only 2 options given in UK and most nation’s passports. Australia and New Zealand accept the non-gender specific X passport as do India, Nepal and Pakistan. Canada is debating change; Malaysia are allegedly considering removing gender from all passports. Argentina makes switching between Male & Female easy, without legal-medical requirements for trans, intersex, genderqueer, or anyone else for that matter – a move, it has been announced, that Denmark looks set to follow.

This motion is essentially a re-tabling of previous attempts, but taking advantage of a new Parliamentary session – it will need hundreds of signatures to even trigger a full debate.

“Although there is very little prospect of EDMs being debated, many attract a great deal of public interest and frequently receive media coverage … In an average session only six or seven EDMs reach over two hundred signatures. Around seventy or eighty get over one hundred signatures. The majority will attract only one or two signatures. An EDM is not likely to be debated even if it gains a large number of signatures.” Parliament.uk

The move follows LibDem sponsored Government reviews into this since 2011, and yet progress had stalled. The new early day motion has been sponsored by Julian Huppert (LibDem) and is supported by Jeremy Corbyn (Labour). Non-gendered Christie Elan-cane has long fought for non-gendered passports and had her case taken up by MPs such as David Blunkett (Lab), Liberal Democrat MPs Lynne Featherstone and Simon Hughes and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP.

Some of the last 3 years’ history on this has been blogged about here.

One might think that just two options M/F on passports prejudices just trans, intersex and genderqueer people but if part of a family then gay, lesbian and trans are also affected as the designated parents on child passports. Some countries, including the US have thus adopted gender-neutral parenting option on children’s passports, not mother/father but parent 1/parent 2.

The words “mother” and “father” were being removed from American passport applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology, the US State Department said in 2011. The UK and Australia were said to be following suit.

Legal documents that reflect a person’s gender – or non-gender identity are a basic human right. Denying them, restricts, travel, identification, and citizen rights such as voting or access to welfare benefits.

“The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-genderedChristie Elan-Cane

Elan-Cane prefers ‘per’ in place of him or her and the honorific title Pr, short for Person, neither Mr nor Ms. Shouldn’t we all be entitled to be seen as persons first, and not primarily gendered categories?

Facebook now has some 50+ gender options, why do we need any on official documentation? The military does not use gender as a means of identification, just name and rank. Height, eyes, and finger prints should be sufficient on biometric passports. Gender, race and identifying marks are invasive, insufficient and inappropriate. Nationality, for the sake of legal travel rights and repatriation. But I cannot see how gender matters.

[An early version of this article first appeared here.]

Update on “X” Gender not specified UK Passports

During the current April-May 2015 General Election campaign, several parties, initially just the Greens and LibDems, but now both Ed Miliband (Labour) and David Cameron (Conservative) have pledged to re-examine X-Gender passports:

“The Conservative leader also said he would consider following Australia and New Zealand in introducing ‘Gender X’ passports for people who do not identify as male or female – after Ed Miliband also pledged to review the issue in his PinkNews Q&A

Intersex

17 May IDAHO, IDAHOT, IDAHOBIT Day to combat Homophobia, Transphobia, LGBTI Acceptance

IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

May 17, each year, is IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, since 2009 called IDAHOT to fully incorporate Trans people. I’ve always prefered the longer IDAHOBIT to include Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia, not to mention the little people with hairy feet from Middle Earth!

May 17 was the day that homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990. IDAHO day first took place in 2005 with activities taking place around the world including the first ever LGBT events to take place in the Congo, China, and Bulgaria.

In 2009 Transphobia was added to the day’s remembrance and activism although, unlike homosexuality, trans activists are still campaigning to have Gender Dysphoria removed from the various mental health classifications (ICD10/11, DSM-IV/V), though France was the first country to do so that same year. In May 2012 Argentina passed a radical groundbreaking Gender Identity Law depathologising trans and providing medical access for all without psychiatric hoop-jumping. Argentina should be watched and observed to see if its model becomes one that could be followed by other nations and allow for the safe and full depathologisation of transsexuality.

ILGA LGBTI Report

Times have changed and things improved since the removal of the criminal threat and mental health stigma from homosexuality, at least. If a recent ILGA LGTBI report is to be believed, Britain is the best place to live if one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex.

 ILGA LGBTI Europe map 2014Launched to mark IDAHOT day, the ILGA Rainbow Europe Map “reviews the standing of European countries against essential legal benchmarks for LGBTI equality, while the Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe 2014 provides an analysis of trends and an overview of key political and social developments country-by-country.”

For many there were improvements, such as same-sex marriage (although not in Northern Ireland) and for some to the East of Europe, such as Russia, a deteriorating situation of LGBTI freedoms and protections.

Apparently, the UK has the best laws (the 2010 Equality Act was pretty groundbreaking), rights and freedoms, even better than the Netherlands, Spain, or Scandinavia. This is partly down to some nations being gay and lesbian positive but then failing on trans and/or intersex, and usually totally ignoring and hence erasing bisexuals.

Homophobic & Transphobic Hate Crime

Here in the UK, homophobic and transphobic crime seems to be on the rise, although this may just be perception and/or data inflation, since increased numbers may just be better victim reporting and police recording, rather than increased incidence of hate crimes or incidents. We’ve been tackling racism for decades and it doesn’t go away over night. Just ponder the upcoming European elections and the 30% vote share that UKIP the party of xenophobia are likely to gain. Fear of difference is still endemic everywhere.

A recent NUS report into the experience of gay and trans students demonstrates that schools and colleges are still not safe places for LGBTI people. Only 20% of trans students feel safe or accepted in higher education. 20% of LGB+ students and 33% of trans respondents experienced at least one form of bullying or harassment on their campus, making them 2-3 times more likely to drop out of education, affecting future job prospects, and mental health and wellbeing.

Trans students are 2.5 times more likely to have a disability in addition to being transgender. They are, furthermore, the group at the greatest risk of suicide with 34% attempting it and up to 80% considering it. Thankfully, the UK is better than many other places and these figures are greatly increased elsewhere, e.g., the USA, Eastern Europe, etc.

Other Rights Still Not Equal

The right to bodily integrity of people with Intersex conditions (people with differences of sexual development, sometimes unhelpfully termed “disorders”, DSD) is an issue still being fought for. Just because gay rights are seemingly “in the bag”, same-sex weddings won, does not mean trans or intersex people have the same or equal benefits, nor does it mean that any LGBTI person is free from bullying, hate crime or prejudice in the workplace.

Equality itself is not yet equal, either between different strands of the diversity umbrella of protected characteristics nor across different countries in the EU, Commonwealth, or world. Some 80 nations have laws that still criminalise homosexuality, some with the death penalty. Just because a civil rights battle is part-won in one country does not mean that is everyone’s experience, either at home or abroad. So days like IDAHOBIT, regional and national LGBTIQ Prides, are still needed to remind us of how far we have come, and… how far we still have to go to achieve equality, acceptance and freedom for all.

For more information about LGB+ sexualities, the transgender spectrum, and intersex variations, visit Genderagenda.net, and on facebook: facebook.com/GenderAgenda

On International Transgender Day of Visibility (31 March) see:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/2812307-international-transgender-day-of-visibility
On Bisexual Visibility Day (23 September) see:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/1194960-bi-visibility-day-celebrating-bisexuality
On the Intersex day of Awareness (26 October) see:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/1427921-intersex-day-of-awareness
On the Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November) see:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/1622567-transgender-day-of-remembrance-tdor-and-awareness-week

FIrst published here.

Intersex

Eurovision, entertainment, entente or enmity? Austria’s Conchita Wurst Genderqueer Drag act wins! Russian revulsion and reactions

The Eurovision Song Contest was established post-War to bring nations together in peaceful pop appreciation but as ‘greater’ Europe’s nations (including Russia and Israel) battled it out over national pop songs (mostly sung in English!) on 10 May, new conflicts arose.

Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision 2014First, there was the new enmity between Russian and Ukraine and the break-up of the former Warsaw-pact voting block. Second, there was the usual analysis and outcry at nationalist and neighbouring countries mutual self-interest voting patterns, not to mention vast divisions between the newer 50/50 split between public and professional jury votes.

Finally, there was the homophobia and indeed, transphobia, of some nations (Belarus, Russian and even some Austrians) complaining about Austria’s label-defying gay genderqueer drag diva Conchita Wurst, who went on to win the contest.

Russia-Ukraine | Reaction | Voting | Camp/Queer History | Conchita Wurst | Bearded Women

Eurovision Song Contest logo

2014’s Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, was the 59th competition, having begun in 1956. This year, 37 nations, competed, and it top-ten trended on Twitter most of the week, such is the European, if not international following of the entertainment extravaganza.

Eurovision 2014 – Russia and Ukraine

Tuesday’s semi-final had more at stake than music as rival posturing nations Russia and Ukraine continued their war of words.

Eurovision Song Contest #JoinUs

Both Russia and Ukraine made the semi-finals with Ukraine’s entry drawing cheers and Russia’s, boos. Eurovision 2014’s tagline #JoinUs had a darker new meaning as Russia wants Ukraine to “join us” having already taken Crimea to a dubious vote – just like Eurovision!

One of last year’s Eurovision stories was Twitter top-trending as hundreds erroneously re-tweeted a BBC story about Azerbaijan’s failure to nominate any points to Russia’s entry in the Eurovision song contest and Russia’s foreign minister calling this “outrageous”!  Except this was 2013, and a conspiracy theory at that, with the report that Azerbaijan’s President subsequently ordered an inquiry into how its votes for Russia apparently went missing. In the game of Eurovision “Risk” Russia had given Azerbaijan’s entry maximum “douze points”.

This year, Russia’s entry, the Tolmachevy Twins, aged 17, seemed perfect Eurovision fare, beautiful on the eyes and ears, a popular choice – apart from being Russian. Their song and teenage innocence with respect to all the international politics meant they were received well until they progressed to the final and were booed by the Danish and international semi-final and final audiences, who seemed strongly anti-Russia’s stance against gay rights, Crimea and the Ukraine. During the awarding of points almost every award of any points to Russia was greeted with jeers rather than cheers as the voting public punished Putin for Russian territorial aggression and anti-LGBT laws.

Ukraine’s own entry, Mariya Yaremchuk, also qualified for the final with the added visual drama of a suited male dancer running inside a giant hamster wheel to her song “Tick-Tock”.

In the end, Conchita Wurst of Austria won by a large margin 290pts (beating Netherlands 238pts), but Ukraine, with 113 points to Russia’s 89 points, will be pleased it came 6th over Russian’s 7th place! Ironically, Russia gave Austria (5pts) one more point than it gave to Ukraine (4pts).

Russian news sites during the week reported on the respective nations’ entries as “aggressive”, “militant” or about supposed political messages hidden in the songs.

Russian and International Reaction to the Eurovision 2014 Winner

The morning after Eurovision 2014 was won by gay genderqueer drag artist from Austria Conchita Wurst had Russian politicians reaching new lows of homophobia and European “liberal” condemnation.

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, tweeted that the Eurovision result “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”

According to TheJournal.ie, another Russian politician, the ultranationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, told Rossiya-1 state television:

“There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe. It has turned wild. They don’t have men and women any more. They have ‘it’. Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria. We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed.”

Zhirinovsky has been described as “One of the most enduring fruit loops in Russian politics” – note that was ‘enduring’ not endearing. He is stubbornly sexist, homophobic, racist, anti-Western. He has called for the deportation of Chinese and Japanese people, threatened a female journalist with rape, and crazily suggested that the British royal baby would suck Russian blood!

Russian hip-hop rapper Timati had over 76,000 likes in just 15 hours for his Instagram post about Conchita Wurst in which he wrote that her win was symptomatic of a “complex mental disorder of modern society”. He went on to bemoan having to explain gay kissing to children, bearded trans – “and that’s supposed to be normal”,and to praise Putin for banning LGBT Pride Parades.

Russia’s reactions are somewhat, ironic and hypocritical given that in the 2003 Eurovision Contest they were represented by faux-lesbian t.A.T.u. and their same-sex kissing. Again, in February, at the Sochi Winter Olympics the Russian Olympic team marched out to the music of t.A.T.u.’s Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova, dressed as schoolgirls, kissing in the rain.

Eurovision Block Voting Scandals

Eurovision’s extra political undercurrent this year is nothing new as block-voting has been allegedly going on for decades, whether Greece-Cyprus, Scandinavian, Balkan or Warsaw pact blocks. Whilst mutual voting may have helped Ukraine win in 2004, Russia in 2008, and Azerbaijan 2011, it seems that for many former Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact countries cooperation is now over with Russia’s perceived aggression in the real world outside of camp pop culture.

Eurovision’s Camp GenderQueer History

Eurovision is no stranger to camp, drag or trans artistes, such as Israel’s pioneering 1998 trans winner, Sharon Cohen performing as Dana International. Sharon had come out as transgender aged 13 and had transsexual surgery (SRS/GRS), aged 21, in London in 1993. Initially, she had performed as a drag act but she had also felt female from a very young age. Her background was Romanian and Yemenite Jewish and her Eurovision entry received strong opposition from Orthodox Jews, calling her “deviant” and other traditionalists who attempted to block her competing in Eurovision as Israel’s entry. She said after winning, “I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.” Winning meant Israel hosted 1999’s Eurovision and again conservative forces attempted to keep “sexual perversion” out of Israel’s “holy city”, Jerusalem.

Eurovision 2002 saw Slovenia set feathers ruffling by entering the first drag act, rather than a transwoman, a trio called Sestre.

In 2007 double divas ruled the competition as Denmark’s DQ performing “Drama Queen” came from the back to pip Ukraine’s own Dolce & Gabbana wearing drag act Verka Serduchka to win the contest. Verka, a.k.a. Andriy Danylko, had to overcome Ukrainian opposition to their act in the form of radio protests and statements in the Ukraine Parliament labelling him as “grotesque and vulgar”.

Last year, Turkey allegedly refused to broadcast the show because of a same-sex kiss by Finland’s entry.

Austria’s GenderQueer “Bearded Lady” Drag Queen

This year’s Eurovision has seen Austria’s innovative genderqueer entry, Conchita Wurst, steal the show and go on to win it. She has not been without controversy, though, and has attracted her own oppositional battles, but along gender/sex/uality lines not state sovereignty lines as with Russia and Ukraine.

Conchita Wurst

Vienna-based Tom Neuwirth performed as a “drag” persona Conchita Wurst – a thinly veiled euphemism for “Vagina Sausage”. What makes this creation stand out further is that Conchita sports a very neat and kempt beard! Well, thickly brushed on eye shadow to be accurate.

It is ‘said’ that Tom-Conchita identifies as “gender neutral”, “trans” and prefers female pronouns. “While identifying as gender neutral, she uses female pronouns to describe herself but still likes to play with drag, satire and gender identity.” Hence most labels struggle to fit them, somewhere between gender identity and gender performance, neither traditional drag nor typical trans, male nor female, seem to 100% fit, and their preference for “gender neutral” seems best, whether that extends to non-binary is something we just don’t know.

Conchita Wurst performs at Eurovision 2014Tom-Conchita’s Eurovision official profile page gets all the gender pronouns mixed up – and some people are still mixed up in trying to define her, I say, let her stay unboxable. 

No doubt some trans may be horrified by Conchita’s depiction of a “bearded lady” after issues with British TV’s Little Britain and Paddy Power’s transphobic “Spot the Tranny” competition. Conchita is happy to use the term “bearded lady” and adopts it as a “symbol of tolerance”. Asked what was special about Conchita’s entry, she said:

“For me the most special and honoring thing is that Austria shows tolerance and acceptance and I’m so happy to be this statement. I’m allowed to be the voice of their beliefs during this time and this really makes me very proud. We, and not at least myself, want to stand for a society without hate and discrimination. And if I’m honest, I think everyone of the contestants should stand for the same, cause we are joining a very opend minded project, so they should be open minded too…I really hope that I get the chance to change some minds all around Europe. I want to show them that you can look whatever you want and that everybody must have the right to live their life however they want it, if nobody gets hurt…I really want to convince them to be the best version of themselves rather than a bad copy of someone else! You can do whatever you want if you’re not hurting anyone.” [sic]

No stranger to controversy and prejudice, their involvement has attracted protests from homophobes and transphobes in Austria, Belarus and Russia, describing the competition as full of “European liberals” and “a hotbed of sodomy”. One Russian politician has called Conchita an “Austrian freak” and that “the future of our children depends on us” banning them from Eurovision. Armenia’s entry, Aram Mp3, described Conchita as “not natural” and offered to, “help her to … decide whether she is a woman or man”. Conchita responded with:

“I am a working woman/queen and an incredibly lazy young man in my free time and that is not going to change. If you have problems understanding that, then I would be happy to sit down with you and explain it to you in more detail. And with your homophobic comments, that is a conversation that we really need to speak about.”

Curiously, trying to find the exact source of Conchita’s response results in about 50 references to “working woman” and some 80+ to “working queen”. For instance, the HuffPost version has “I told him I don’t want to be a woman. I am just a working queen and a very lazy boy at home.” For a transwoman, a beard and a name with all the sexual innuendos Conchita Wurst has would be somewhat strange. Yet for a drag queen she seems to prefer life as a woman to that of a gay man. Whatever her labels and self-identity she is free to be who she is and/or wants to be. Conchita said:

“I feel more comfortable in this persona than being a boy at home … Being a teenager, a gay teenager, in such a small village is not that much fun. I am part of the gay community and most gays have a similar story to mine.”

Even in liberal California a Psychology Professor polled their class and 77 out of 138 said they found Conchita’s appearance “offensive or confusing”. Obviously, it is confusing, but there is a big leap from confusing to offensive. They also said:

“I think having a beard and having a feminine body at the same time the singer shows that he/she is still in the process of transformation (from male to female, Which is ok) …[but] … there are only two kinds in all species in the world………male or female? Anything in between is considered unusual… But in Conchitas case, I think he/she is crossing a very thin line which actually is not only unethical, (and I don’t care about the ethical part) but just confusing, absurd and almost unexceptable. Every single one of my gay friends thinks this way and I can prove it… Even my gay friends are offended by Conchhita. Actually they’re furious and angry at her.” [sic].

Conchita’s song called “Rise Like a Phoenix” can be heard here:

You can follow Conchita on Twitter or on Facebook, where she has 40,000 likes, around the same number as the Austrian facebook campaign against her which also attracted nearly 5000 signatures on change.org. Conchita summed up her motivation and message in a Radio Free Europe interview:

“My stance is that I fight for something positive rather than against something negative. I was always an outsider and I was confronted with discrimination. I don’t want this to happen to the next generation.”

Conchita Wurst Eurovision Ireland interviewGarrett Mulhall Of EurovisionIreland.net interviewed Conchita in November 2013 about her music and mission, ideology and identity, and she had this to say:

[Conchita] “I have arms like a man, face like a girl, and also the beard, and I told them that this is, that there are people out there who are in between you know and I took them by the hand and I said you are here (the boy), the girls – here, and I am just in the middle…I think they understood that there is more than a surface of a person” (11m27s)

[Garrett] “I think you being at Eurovision is a pivotal point in Eurovision’s history, and it’s one that I’m very glad about, because, … Eurovision was established so long ago to bring a war-torn Europe together and times have moved on now where we’re trying to bring different people from social backgrounds or gender backgrounds or … whatever, … we don’t want to label people anymore, and tolerance is obviously a very important thing to you…” (12m20s)

Many have challenged her sexuality, gender identity, presentation and pronouns – She prefers “she” and “her” and is more comfortable as Conchita than Tom the “lazy boy” she dresses down as, however. her male partner didn’t know she was Conchita as well for a week or two.

Our need to label, even as minority communities, to claim, correct or reject, her personal expression, is indicative of a common human need to categorise, define and then decide whether they are a threat or not. She is a threat to stereotypes of man, woman, gay, trans, drag queen, for she does not conform to any in a traditional way. Some trans are up in arms over her beard and for the possible inclusion of a drag queen under their umbrella. Some gays see her as too female too often. Some women oppose her use of female pronouns and, again, the beard.

By her own description, she does not fit, but is “in between”, non-binary, and that she is more than just her surface. By her own admission she is not transgender, or at least it is more artistic expression, “I am a drag artist”, she says.

Indeed, in performance, and initially in the interview there is a touch of drag and gender performance about her, but as she settles into talking about equality and acceptance, the seriousness takes over and her feminine expressions remain, but more integrated less performative. These are not judgements or criticisms, for I find the more I listen to her the more I love her. We all need to get beyond the “surface” of a person and cease visual and labelled judgements.

Her goal according to the Irish interview (around 15-17 mins in) is for people to engage and talk about difference, to start to think, to accept – whether they like/love it or not. That much she can 100% regard as being successful in. People are talking – good for her! Conchita made it through Thursday’s semi-finals to Saturday’s live final after some delays down in part to questions as to whether Belarus had even broadcast her act, such is the opposition to her from some quarters. Indeed, after her win on May 10, she was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church and many in Russia were shaving their beards off in protest – the men that is!

Conchita Wurst performs at London LGBT Pride

After Eurovision Conchita Wurst has been in great demand and was the headline performer at 2014’s Pride show in Trafalgar Square, London on 28 June. She was introduced by veteran gay rights activist and Magneto/Gandalf actor Sir Ian McKellen with the words:

“Showbusiness has always led the way when it comes to the freedom to be yourself. So, Conchita is following in the footsteps of our predecessors. There is a long tradition of outrageousness and confidence that performers embody, and that has an enormous impact. It clears the way for others to dare to be themselves. She has done just that.”

Conchita Wurst said before the parade how much she was “looking forward” to it and what Pride meant to her:

“Let us be proud about who we are and let us give a statement for love, respect and tolerance. And most of all let us be proud and think about those LGBTI people around the world, who can’t make a Gay Pride in their countries.”

Chair of London LGBT+ Pride, Michael Salter said:

“Conchita is an incredible example of the power of having the #freedomto be oneself. Winning Eurovision, she raised the profile of the LGBT+ community across a continent and sent an important political message. We are thrilled that she is coming to celebrate Pride in London.”

Balpreet Kaur, bearded Sikh woman

Balpreet Kaur bearded Sikh woman PCOS All of this recalls the recent challenge to not only typical female gender presentation but also traditional Sikh expectations by Balpreet Kaur who has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) but has embraced her facial hair which it caused and let it grow to a full beard. Her baptism into the Sikh faith now requires her not to cut it. At school and online she was bullied to the point of self-harm and felt suicidal but found huge public support and acceptance for her brave stand. She has now accepted herself, her beard, and discovered a new confidence and humour – read more about her.

[Parts of this article were initially posted here and here.]