Intersex people are ticked at Facebook

Intersex (also known as hermaphroditism, but it seems to encompass a lot of other things as well) is now growing as a gay rights issue, in some circles. Here’s the definition of “intersex” from the Intersex Society of North America Web site:

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

A gay Nepalese member of parliament is upset at Facebook for not providing a third category of gender, beyond male and female:

Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2012 01:50:57 -0700 (PDT)
From: sunil pant Subject: Facebook’s irresponsible response says “Opt Out”

Dear All,

On March 22nd, I wrote an open letter – http://tinyurl.com/7mrrmzf – to one of the most powerful businessmen the world has ever known, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of facebook, the world’s most popular website. My request was simple: allow people who do not identify as male or female equal opportunity to express themselves by adding an “other” option under sex on Facebook profiles.

I have received no reply, which is really disappointing. Many journalists have written to Facebook as well, and looking at the blog below, reading Facebook’s irresponsible remarks saying “People can already opt out of showing their sex on their profile,” shows Facebook is not respecting human diversity and still forcing third genders and gender variant people to be invisible. This is outrageous and unacceptable. And like to say to the Facebook that “Yes we also have a choice to opt out from the Facebook altogether”. Until Facebook changes its position I am deactivating my Facebook account for now and if the genuine demand is not considered I will leave Facebook for good.

Thank you every one for your support and solidarity.

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/nepal-asks-facebook-for-third-sex-option/11117

Update at 6:00 PM PST: “People can already opt out of showing their sex on their profile,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re constantly innovating on our products and features and we welcome input from everyone as we explore ways to improve the Facebook experience.”

I’ve gotten into trouble before for posing the questions everyone is afraid to ask, but that’s what I’m here for, call me freedom’s punching bag, so here goes.  What does this have to do with gay rights (some people use the term LGBTI)?  I’m sympathetic to the plight of intersex people, as I’m sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans, people with disabilities, and others.  But I don’t think that all African-Americans and all people with disabilities are per se members of the gay community, or the LGBT community, if you prefer.  That re-opens the age old question of what defines us as a community, our non-confirming gender or our sexual orientation.  I’ve argued before that if gender non-conformity is what makes you gay, or LGBT, or whatever, then female pilots and female EMTs and female doctors, and male nurses, are all per se members of the LGBT community, regardless of whether they’re L G B or T, or I in this case, because they’re doing gender non-conforming jobs, which makes some people look at them funny and even discriminate against them.  I’m just not ready to tell a straight nurse that he’s LGBT, I just don’t think he’s a member of our community simply because he’s a male nurse and therefore experiencing discrimination based on gender-nonconformity.

Regardless, this begs the question of whether Facebook should do this, provide a third category for people who don’t consider themselves male or female.  I have no idea.  Do intersex people actually believe they’re not male or female, regardless of the current state of their sex organs?  And would it matter if people considered intersex to be a birth defect?  Some people have tried to claim that being gay is a birth defect – and while we get supremely ticked when they say such things (Dr. Laura’s famous “biological error” line comes to mind), I’m not sure why having a birth defect should preclude you from civil rights protection (certainly, birth defects that lead to disabilities are covered under civil rights laws, for example).

It’s an interesting question.  I’m just not convinced that it’s a gay, or LGBT, question.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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