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Nonbinary Realities


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I want to thank Dennis Rodkin for writing and the Reader for headlining the 2/2/07 article "What Sex Am I?" As a sexologist, I believe this story is important because it helps readers to think outside the socially constructed either/or categories of male/female or heterosexual/homosexual. The scientific evidence demonstrates that rather than a binary either/or, there exists in nature a spectrum of biological variability. With this broader perspective we can more readily affirm individuality rather than stigmatize differences. Only by challenging cultural assumptions of male/female oppositions will women achieve social equality. (We have not yet passed an equal rights amendment, have we?) Similarly, challenging assumptions of homosexual/heterosexual binary difference is important for achieving equality of social rights, whatever our fluid and dynamic sexualities and gender performances might be.

In particular, two points motivated my response. First, a 2005 Chicago conference of medical professionals is mentioned which called for replacing the term intersex with disorders of sexual development or DSD. It is further noted that the Intersex Society of North America, ISNA, did not change its name. Think about why ISNA or any intersexed person might prefer to retain the descriptive terminology intersex to accepting the stigmatizing label of disordered. The reinforcement of negative self-image and social consequences of such negative medical labeling make me wonder about the degree of representation of the intersexed and sexologists at the conference.

The second point appears on page 19. Alice Dreger, Joel Frader, and Jorge Daaboul deserve recognition and praise for the progressive evolution of their thinking and Frader and Daaboul for their paradigm-shifting article. However, the following quotes indicate the need for further evolution and conceptual shifting:

"So how do you raise a nongendered child? You don't, says Dreger: 'You have to assign the child a gender, because there are boys and there are girls.'" (Probably the late John Money's line of thinking about sex-reassignment surgery.) "Frader adds, 'You can assign a gender and raise the child as a boy or a girl without assigning a sex.'"

While I applaud postponing "the choice" and reassigning decision making from physician initially to parents and, after the medical journal article, to the intersexed person, "the choice" seems to remain conceptualized as binary, either man or woman. . . .

In taking sexual histories, again and again I find people "doing sex" but unable to comfortably talk about what they do even with their partners and closest friends and worrying, "Am I normal?" Sex therapists know that many fewer of them would be needed if more sex educators existed for primary prevention of the "problems" for which they are consulted. . . .

Sexology is the science of what people actually do sexually and how they really feel about it. Sex education needs to be sexologically based and, like all other education, focused on skill development. . . . We need to create venues where sexually active people of all ages and orientations can receive the information needed to optimize the safety and pleasure of their sexuality. . . . Certainly medical professionals need sexological education also, since the majority do not receive it as a requirement in their professional training, even though so much about sexuality has been medicalized, appropriately or not. Sex education for medical professionals needs to be just as science based as the rest of their curriculum, based on sexology not sexosophy.

Jerry Lama, R.N., A.C.S.

W. Ridge

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