Kneena (last name withheld) came to the Lowcountry to attend the College of Charleston. They (Kneena prefers them/they pronouns) has been involved with the Really, Really Free Market, Girls Rock Camp, and We Are Family. Kneena has spoken with doctors at MUSC about the biological and social politics behind being intersex and received national attention after BuzzFeed.com profiled their attendance at a Rick Santorum rally, an experience they blogged a response to at kneenatalk.tumblr.com.
The term intersex is just so heavily politicized. There's just a lot going on right now. So I guess something to keep in mind when talking about intersex people — which are, as you may have guessed, they are people who are between the sexes, not male or female — to think about male and female not as just boxes that you check, but if you think about them like a list. Like you have male and then you have all these male characteristics under it like reproductive organs, outward genitalia, hormones, then other things like muscle mass and beards and facial hair. And then you also have the same thing going on for women. There's just these lists, and most of us do not fall strictly on one side of the list or the other. Maybe sometimes we do, but there might be some variation in our hormone levels or something like that.
Intersex people are people that very definitively have check marks on both of these lists, to the point that their outward genitals might be female but their chromosomes are male. And we don't often think about a hierarchy of gender characteristics, because we just see it as a characteristic, not as a compartment made of those characteristics, so the conversation of what defines males and females is pretty secluded to science and I think it's a very not transparent conversation, so everything revolving around intersex people is not very transparent. Most people don't know what it means; the letter is just stuck on the end of that acronym, which I kind of find insulting, because I think that intersex and transsex folks are dealing with a lot more than gay people. Because gay people want to get married. Intersex people want a box to check on their driver's license. These are very separate things.
The claim that I make to doctors when I go talk to them is that they participate in a genocide of a population essentially, because intersex people have existed cross-culturally over and over again. And in my education that's one of the tests you use to see if something is universal. Like rape is not universal; it does not happen in every culture throughout time. It happens in some cultures, but that doesn't mean that it's an inalienable phenomenon. But intersex people are one of those things that happen over and over again. It's really interesting to look at other cultures and see how they deal with them or how they interpret this part of their population, and in a lot of cultures and religions, intersex folks are seen as really holy. In the United States, the way that intersex populations are dealt with is straight up normalizing surgery.
Sometimes it's so funny because I think that my body very much matches my gender identity. I think I'm queer bodied, and I'm queer. I guess that's where the gender you were assigned at birth comes into play, because obviously that doesn't match, so I'm trans. But there is no gender I can take on and feel comfortable with equally, like boxes on a driver's license. Which one there do I check? It's a very hard thing to straddle, especially looking and identifying as trans. I'm thinking about transitioning, but I wouldn't want to transition all the way. I guess that's what happens when you're stuck in gray space in a world that doesn't really make room for that. I think that there's definitely a lot of compromising that happens when I think about the gender that I'm assigned and having to fit into that role because I just don't feel like it's true.
I think that my role is definitely, in a lot of ways, to educate and be visible. Going into Kudu in a dress and having a beard, I know that I definitely let people know that there's more things possible in the world. So I think being visible with those identities is really important. I guess it's a responsibility that I choose to take on. I don't have much agency over whether I'm visible or not. I guess I could wax or shave my beard, but I choose not to. I feel like hair removal is not very effective, and I know that because I've been trying to remove hair since I was 10. So I understand you can only shave so much until you get a five o'clock shadow. Electrolysis doesn't work. Waxing works but it's really expensive. It's so painful. So there's all these things I can do, and to a certain degree I decide not to do them.
I'm not always like this great activist that's visible. Most of the time I'm just living and it's not really a choice that I make. I guess I don't know if it's anyone's responsibility to be visible because obviously we don't live in a safe place. It's really dangerous and people have parents that they need to placate. So I think it's good to be visible. I think it's easier to be visible if you have a community to be visible with. In the BuzzFeed article, they definitely portrayed me as full-on transgender when I was there with like 20 people. I was there with my crew. Because I have a crew, I have 20 people in Charleston that are watching out for me. This is the life I can live. It's the responsibility of communities to make each other safe. Whether that means you accompany somebody to their doctor's appointment or you just walk them home or if you're on call in case anything happens, it's just important.