“Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER: I want to give you a
little intro to Hil Malatino. They are an Assistant
Professor in the Department of Women’s Gender
and Sexuality Studies at Penn State and a
Research Associate at the Rock Institute. Their first book is out. It’s “Queer Embodiment–
Medical Violence and Intersex”– sorry, “Monstrosity,
Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience” on
University of Nebraska Press, and their new
research and writing addresses transition,
negative effect, care work, and trans fertility. And landmark trans and queer
theorist Susan Stryker says, “Queer Embodiment”
joins a small shelf of important work in critical
intersex studies in beautifully written, lucidly
argued, theoretically sharp, and emotionally
evocative prose. Malatino articulates
queer and trans theory with
continental philosophy and a radically conscious,
decolonial perspective to produce a teratologically
sublime work of scholarship on bodies that
challenge our culture’s belief in biologically
based binary genders.” Now, I don’t know what
some of those words mean. HIL MALATINO: I can tell you. SPEAKER: And Hil will
definitely tell you. But that’s really
enough from me. They speak for themselves,
and they speak for all of us sometimes. This is Hil Malatino. [APPLAUSE] HIL MALATINO: All right. Hey, all. You can hear me OK? So this, being at Google,
is really strange. I’ve been telling Matt
all day, in academia we have usually two screens
max and nonfunctioning tech equipment all the time. So I’m a little bit
weirded, out but I’m trying to be cool about it. I’m just not used
to this environment. So what I’m going to do today
is give a really brief overview of what intersex
is for those of you who might not be
familiar with the term and what it denotes, and
then read a bit from my book and then talk about what a
vision for social justice might be for intersex folk. So that should take me
maybe 25 or 30 minutes, and then hopefully we’ll have
a fair amount of time for Q&A at the end of this. So I’m managing a lot
of things because I insisted on wearing a
scarf and don’t have a mic. So I’ve got to hold a book,
I’ve got to hold a clicker, try to make sure this
thing stays by my mouth, but I’m going to do my best. So this is a pretty
broad definition of intersex from InterACT– Advocates for Intersex
Youth, which is probably the most active and
vibrant intersex advocacy organization in the United
States at this moment, although they work on
a transnational scale. So I’ll just read it and then
talk through it a little bit. “Intersex refers
to people who are born with any range
of sex characteristics that may not fit doctor’s
notions of binary male or female bodies. Variations may appear in a
person’s chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs
like testes or ovaries. Some intersex traits
are identified at birth, while others may be may not
be discovered until puberty or later in life. “People with intersex
traits have always existed, but there is more awareness
now about the diversity of human bodies people
with intersex bodies, like anyone who may be seen
as different, sometimes face discrimination, including in
health care settings as early as infancy. There are over 30 specific
intersex variations, and each intersex
person is different.” So that’s all from
InterACT, and I think it’s just important
to begin the talk with this acknowledgment. There’s been a lot of
debate over what conditions might be included under
this broad umbrella term that is intersex. If you want to go into that
in Q&A, I am happy to do that. But the statistical
sort of reference that gets used most often these
days is intersex conditions, if you’re using this sort
of big tent definition, are about as common as
folks with red hair. So it’s kind of shocking
that we don’t talk more about this culturally and think
more about this culturally, and that we still are sort
of taught systematically in our biology
courses when we’re young the human sex
differentiation is binary, when it’s actually anything but. So I just want to have that
up and then read a little bit from the prologue of this
book, “Queer Embodiment,” which is titled “Neither/Nor, Notes
on Theory and Livability,” and it starts with an
epigraph from Butler, who I’ve been reading
since I was a tiny child and I can’t stop,
for better or worse. And this is from a preface
to the 1999 edition, the reissue of “Gender
Trouble,” where she writes, there’s nothing radical
about common sense. She was talking about
Adorno, I think, but I just take this anyway
and use it for my own purposes. So there’s nothing radical
about common sense. “I was 16 when I first
received an intersex diagnosis, though that wasn’t
the terminology used. I’d gone to a general
practitioner– I hesitate to say my
general practitioner, as regular physician
visits where an irregularity in the
hovering around the poverty line world of my adolescence– to find out why I hadn’t
begun to menstruate. After multiple visits, blood
work, and trips to specialists, I was told that I wouldn’t
be able to have children, that my body needed
a bit of a push if I were going to more
adequately feminize. “When I requested my medical
files years later while in graduate school, I noticed
that the formal diagnosis he used in those files was
testicular feminization, an anachronistic term even
then, in the late 1990s, when the contemporary diagnostic
terminology was Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS. What being androgen
insensitive means is this– I have XY chromosomes,
but my body is unable to respond to
so-called masculinizing hormones, resulting in a more
female typical appearance but without reproductive ability
and the capacity to menstruate. Androgen insensitivity comes
in both complete and partial varieties. Folks with Partial Androgen
Insensitivity Syndrome, or PAIS, tend to
have more mixed sex traits than those
who are completely androgen insensitive. “I have PAIS. I was told that I
had gonads sunk deep in my lower abdomen that would
need to be removed because they were, quite evidently, useless
on account of their indecision. They seemed to have
no idea what they wanted to be when they grew up. Testes? Ovaries? They were content to make
a little nest in my viscera and crouch there until a
urological surgeon removed them following a consult with a
pediatric endocrinologist. The stated reason
was that there was a high risk of them
becoming cancerous, which is a risk difficult to
argue with when you’re a kid.” But also, it’s important
to note that whatever gonads you have right they
might become cancerous. So this is, like, my initiation
into the medical double speak used in the context
of intersex treatment. “So a side benefit,
I was told, was that the removal would decrease
the levels of masculinizing hormones in my body. Supplemented with
estrogen pills, I’d develop larger breasts, my
fat distribution would alter, and I’d develop a more
conventionally feminine figure. On estrogen I would
inhabit a corporeality very different from the athletic
rather railish one I dwelled in at 16. “These are things that a teenage
tomboy doesn’t necessarily want to hear or to experience. After being on Premarin, which
is one of the major mass market hormone replacement therapy
pills”– which some of you may be familiar with– “for a handful of months,
I simply stopped taking it. I’d gain something
close to 20 pounds, felt like an emotional
wreck, probably on account of altering my body
chemistry while I was grappling existentially with the shock
of an intersex diagnosis, and was self medicating with
many other substances to cope, or rather not cope, with these
substantial shifts in my body schema and, by extension,
my most basic modes of being in the world. “So when my mother asked me
why I stopped taking hormones, I told her I was vegan,
and that the thought of taking a pill derived
from mare’s urine clashed significantly with
the ethics and politics of my dietary practices. What I actually said was more
along the lines of, I don’t wear leather or
eat dairy, so why would I swallow horse
piss every day?” And that’s indeed
how Premarin is made. It’s a portmanteau of
pregnant mare, prem- marin, if you didn’t know. Now you know. “So that was the last
time we mentioned it. The pills were sunk
in the garbage, covered over with coffee grinds,
and taken to the landfill. What was actually happening
was much more complicated than a rigid dietary choice. I was tacitly refusing the
idea that my body needed hormonal modification,
that the advice of the medical establishment
to ameliorate my failure to present as hyperbolically
feminine was something other than sage,
something less than useful for a [INAUDIBLE]
queer kid who didn’t want to inhabit that kind
of body to begin with. “There’s a way in
which receiving a diagnosis of the
sort whittles down the complexity of
subjective realities. I experienced that diagnosis,
despite the softened rhetoric utilized by the
medical professionals I interfaced with, as
a declaration that I was neither male nor female
on the realest level possible, that of the biological. This is in part why many
intersex folks, myself included, are
hesitant to mention their status as intersex
unless rather necessary.” Although I guess I
should revise this now. I guess I’m not hesitant
to mention it anymore because here I am. But whatever, at one point. So yeah, wouldn’t
mention it in the– unless, right– in the
context of sexual disclosure. “Your congenital quirks often
become the skimmer filter through which all other
subjective aspects are read. You date women, men, and
non-binary folks, both cis and trans? Probably because
you’re intersex. You’re a gender
transgressive young thing, one who skateboard and
played in punk bands? Probably because
you’re intersex.” This reductive game could
proceed interminably. So it was this moment
when I was young where I realized if people
knew I was intersex, anything that was conceived
of us as somehow gender transgressive or inappropriate
would be attributed to the biological reality
of my body, which I felt was pretty fucked up, for
reasons that we can talk about in the Q&A. “Philosopher Ladelle
McWhorter writes of this phenomenon
in a different, thought resonant,
register, dilating on the ways in which
she experienced coming out as a lesbian in
the US south in the 1970s. She describes the process
as an emptying out of subjective interiority
and identitarian complexity. After struggling for
years against inhabiting an identity that didn’t seem
chosen but rather, as she writes, steadily and
progressively constituted and enforced at both micro
and macro political levels for over a dozen
years, she willingly, whatever that could possibly
mean here, affirmed it. “She writes, quote, “Once
I conceded the struggle and acknowledged, to myself
at least, what I am”– she puts that in scare quotes– “the issue that confronted
me was how to be it. According to
everybody around me, homosexuals didn’t
have an inner life, didn’t think or feel anything. Queers were surfaces,
merely, across which gender transgressions were written. It was as though to
be queer was to be some sort of puppet whose
strings were pulled bisexuality alone. Queers did nothing but
perform, gaily of course. “Real feelings, thoughts,
analyses, assessments, decisions, dreams,
hopes, and ideas were only for straight people. Only straight people
actually had a point of view. Homosexuals could be seen, but
their eyes stared blankly back. There was no real
person in there. So once I’d acknowledged that
I was a homosexual, what then? How could I be that? How could that have an I?” Actually, let’s skip. So I sat with this quote
of McWhorter’s for quite a long time, and it became one
of the central preoccupations of my own research over the
course of the last 15 years now. How could I be that? How could that have an I? We’re constantly taught
that intersex embodiment and intersex modes of
being are basically an impossibility, or
at best a pathology that needs to be corrected. But if you reject that logic,
then where does that leave you? It leaves you in kind of an
impossible subject position. So a lot of what I
write about in this book has to do with
that impossibility and how you live with
that impossibility. So “similar to what
McWhorter describes, the notion that I
was intersex was something that
arrived from without, something that was
steadily constituted at micro and macro
political levels, through”– and these are all things
I talk about in the book– “developments in medical
imaging technology, mutations in Western
epistemologies of gender, medico-scientific
congresses, case study interviews, blood work,
and transformations in genetic research,
among other phenomena, long before I ever
began the slow process of trying to make sense of
myself in relationship to it. “The question of consent or
choice was as fuzzy for me as it was for McWhorter. When a verdict on what
sort of being you are is delivered from without,
particularly if that verdict bears the locution force of the
medical professional”– we’re taught not to agree with
doctors and basically treat what they say as truth– “it’s not a label you can
choose or willingly assume. Rather, an
authoritative judgment has been made regarding what
sort of subspecies you are. The truth has been
delivered, and your choices seem limited to acceptance
or denial, which, of course, can take many forms. “I accepted the diagnosis. I did not attempt
to evade or deny the knowledge that was
connoted by it, essentially that I was neither
male nor female. This knowledge, however,
seemed to relegate me to an impossible
subject position and place me squarely in the
midst of a set of quandaries that echo, in part,
those McWhorter faced. I was forced, one
I’d acknowledged that I was intersex, to
ask, how could I be that? How could that have an I? “But that was precisely
this sort of thing I wasn’t supposed to be asking. I was supposed to
heed the rhetoric of the medical professionals
who focused on the notion that I was an unfinished woman,
one who needed a bit of help along the path to
full-blown ladyhood. I was meant to
construe the diagnosis as a congenital disorder that
didn’t trouble me at the most basic ontological level”– the fundamental sort
of level of being. “The performative
linguistic protocols”– meaning the way that doctors
talk about this stuff– “utilized by medical
professionals in intersex diagnosis guard against this
sort of existential dilemmas regarding what one is.” They’re trying to
sort of prevent it from occurring within the
patients that they treat. “They’re trained,
though unevenly, given the relative
frequency of patients with intersex conditions
crossing their paths, to emphasize the
rightness of a sexually dimorphic understanding
of embodiment and to posit the intersex
patient as already well on their way toward
one or the other of two incontrovertible sexes.” And that sex is usually
female, for reasons I’ll discuss in a second. “This set of protocols springs
from an entrenched perception of intersex bodies
as natural errors. Nature, whatever that is, how
a set of intentions for a body, but somehow some other
agencies intervened and these intentions were
forced off track, throw awry. It’s the job of
medical professionals to fulfill the goals that
nature, that strange entity, had all along. “Within this schema,
one can, of course, not be mixed sex or
perhaps something other than male or female. But not only that,
within this schema, sex is nothing more complex than
a strictly dimorphic conception of bodies allows. Within the schema,
intersex bodies are inevitably
failures falling short of the dyadic natural forms
of maleness and femaleness. “But failures can be corrected. Bodies can be placed
in remediation. Enter hormonal treatment,
genital surgery, electrolysis, post-surgical vaginal dilation,
and the injunction delivered by many medical professionals
that one must never speak of one’s
intersex condition unless absolutely necessary. “But I wasn’t buying
that narrative, the notion that nature had
an intention that my body was somehow disobeying or
belying, that I was a failed but remediable woman. It didn’t resonate with me. It seemed that I failed to
meet the constitutive criteria for womanhood at
what I’d been taught was the most basic
level, the biological, and that no amount of
gender appropriate dressage would change that. “That was when I
began to ask myself if I could inhabit a
specifically intersex identity. I was preoccupied above
all with the question of what I was, now
that I’ve considered myself neither male nor female. “Some big questions concerning
me, in no particular order– what was wrong with
conventional understandings of biological sex if a being
like me can be produced? What did being intersex mean
in terms of my sexuality? Could I still be heterosexual? Homosexual? Bisexual? Did any of these sexual
identities pertain? “Did this mean that my long
history of gender transgression was somehow genetically encoded? Was there a way of being a
person that didn’t rely on also being male or female? Was I human? What was human? “What were these biological
entities called men and women? What was this phenomena
termed biological sex? On what grounds
was a distinguished from this other
phenomena termed gender? If I was intersex, could I
also be a woman or a man? If so, how? Through what understandings
of gender, sex, the natural, the socially constructed
was this rendered either possible or impossible?” These are enormous, unwieldy
questions for a 16-year-old to grapple with. And indeed, I spent
most of my adult life trying to answer them in
some way, shape, or form. And most of that
work, like the math, is here if you’re interested. So I’m going to
stop reading there, but I just feel like it’s
important to insert myself in my own narrative within
this broader conversation so you all know at
least what my stakes are when I suggest or talk through
the points I’m about to. So I’m sure some of this
is familiar to some of you, but I wanted to get
it all on the board. So this is a running
and incomplete list of intersex injustices. I’m sure we could add to this,
but these are the big ones, at least in my thinking. The first is the frequency
of nonconsensual and coercive medical treatment, up to
and including clitoridectomy So this began to happen around
the middle of the 19th– of the 20th century, so in
the late 1950s, early 1960s. It was primarily spearheaded
by this guy, John Money, who wasn’t a medical
doctor, but worked in concert with medical
doctors, particularly at the Johns Hopkins
Gender Identity Clinic in Baltimore,
Maryland, in the middle of the 20th century. And that was a clinic that saw
intersex children and infants, and that also
treated trans adults, which means that some of
the surgical procedures that were being utilized
on intersex infants were then refined and
used on trans adults. So I mention that because
intersex history and trans history, if we’re thinking
about medical institutions specifically, are really,
really deeply interwoven. And for me, this means that
intersex activism and trans activism, especially around
questions of depathologization, are deeply allied
to one another. But anyway, the practice of
nonconsensual or coercive gender assignment and then
hormonal and surgical treatment began in the 1950s
with John Money, who recommended that infants
be assigned a gender if they’re born mixed sex or
intersex visibly. And not everybody is
born visibly mixed sex who has an intersex condition. But those who were should
be assigned a gender as early as possible and
then have their genitalia reconstructed in line
with that gender. And the argument
that he made was if caretakers were relating
to an intersex child who was visibly intersex, they would
treat that child differently in a way that would be
psychologically scarring. So early genital surgery was
really, really important. And this became
standard practice. Because, surgically, it’s much
easier to perform vaginoplasty than it is phalloplasty–
that remains the case– most of these infants
were assigned female and had genital
surgery performed at relatively young ages. And this is a practice
that continues. It’s not quite as
widespread as it used to be because, since
the mid to late 1990s, there’s been
significant activist pushback against this
practice, but it still persists in many major
medical research institutions across the country. So that’s one sort of
important injustice. And it’s also worth mentioning
that these treatments were phallo-clitoral reductions
often to the point of complete clitoridectomy. And there’s one in the medical
archives that I’ve worked in, which are housed primarily
at Indiana University in the Kinsey Institute– I came across this
statement by John Money, the architect of this medical
protocol, where he argued– and he actually used the
language of clitoridectomy, but he said that there is
no proof that clitoridectomy causes a decrease in
sexual functioning or sexual pleasurable response
in the clitoris, which makes no sense because you can’t
remove something and then still have it experience pleasure. But he said there’s no– I think the wording was,
there’s no deleterious effect of clitoridectomy on sexual
pleasure for intersex subjects. So yeah, there’s that. That’s important to mention. It’s fucked. So also enduring trauma. So when you’re an
intersex infant or child, and you’re subject
to these forms of coercive medical
trauma, up to and including
clitoridectomy, that also means that you have a
long history of going to see medical professionals
without a clear understanding of what the treatment is about,
what they’re attempting to do. And you’re being given
this doublespeak. So you’re told
that you just need a little bit of a push in
the direction of becoming a sort of proper and normal
woman with normal genitalia. And for these medical
professionals, having normal
genitals meant having a vagina that was able to
intermit an average size– whatever that is– penis. So you’re experiencing
this treatment, but nobody’s telling
you what’s happening. You just know that
medical professionals are sort of investigating
your body and your genitalia specifically for years and
years, multiple appointments, sometimes multiple surgeries
over the course of many years. And there’s a ton of stigma
and secrecy and shame that surrounds these visits. So that means that
many intersex adults– many intersex youth and adults– have this sort of long
standing complex PTSD because of the medical
treatment that they’ve received, so not necessarily how
they’ve been received by people in their social world,
but specifically stemming from the
medical treatment that was supposed to rehabilitate
them or normalize them. So there’s also inadequate
medical and psychological care in the aftermath of
these treatments. So if medical professionals
find out you’re intersex, there’s a large
apparatus of doctors that are willing to
offer you hormonal and surgical treatment
to normalize your body. But there are very, very
few who are intersex competent and able to offer
primary medical care that’s not stigmatizing or
psychological care that can deal with the trauma
and the fallout that stems from this really, really
problematic medical protocol. So you have an
army of physicians that are willing
to normalize you, but very, very few who are
willing to help you live in the body that you
have and that see it as sort of non pathological
or perfectly OK the way it is, regardless
of whether you’ve accessed hormones and surgery or not. So silent shame and stigma
around intersex conditions. Very, very few
people are actually willing to talk about these
things publicly, in large part because most folks
are either aware of it in a very sort of fetishistic
way or a voyeuristic way, like, a real life intersex
person is talking. My god, I’ve never
seen this before, which does not create
good dialogic space. Or because they’ve been taught
that intersex bodies are in some ways impossibilities
or monstrous, freakish. So we see less– in popular media today,
there are less and less jokes about hermaphrodites. But when I was coming
of age in the ’90s, they were pretty frequent. And I actually never heard
about intersex conditions except through
popular comedy where there were jokes being made
about hermaphroditic bodies. So that was my
entry into the kind of being that I was, at least
as far as mainstream media was concerned. So there is this intense stigma
and ongoing social illegibility and invisibility due to
lack of public awareness and continuing institutional
entrenchment of binary sex. So if you’re thinking about this
casually, when you were taught about biological sex
differentiation in school, if you remember it at
all, were intersex issues on the radar for any of you? Yeah. I mean, it’s usually a
very small unit, even in college classrooms. And intersex bodies at most,
or intersex conditions, might be a footnote, but it’s
not really on the map at all. We’re not taught the
biological sex differentiation is infinitely more complicated
than just this binary sex schematic that we’ve been given. And I’m very interested
in changing that. Most of us are familiar
with thinking about gender as a spectrum,
but very few of us have extended that to the way
we think about biological sex. And I think if we’re going to
achieve any kind of justice for intersex folk, that
shift has to happen. Not just gender,
but biological sex has to be seen as a spectrum,
a continuum, or maybe something more complex, metaphorically,
than that right. So that’s the short
list of injustices, and it feeds pretty naturally
into the second shortlist. And this is the last
slide, I promise. Then we can all talk
with each other. So when I think about what
social justice for intersex folks might look
like, the first thing is informed consent
and bodily autonomy in all medical and
therapeutic spaces. But informed consent
and bodily autonomy are really thorny concepts. And I say this because
when you think about– when I think about my
experiences in intersex youth– let me use like
personal language– when I was 16 and I was
diagnosed with an intersex condition, and
then I was offered this sort of normalizing
therapy for my body, it was in the context– so I was old enough to consent,
technically, to any procedure. And I consented, whatever that
might mean, to a gonadectomy because I was told this will
make your body less masculine. Because you’ve been
assigned female at birth and raised as a girl, that’s
probably what you want, right? But at 16, I couldn’t articulate
a counterargument to that. I just knew that
I was not normal. and then I had the medical
professionals telling me, we can make you normal. This is how we do it. And I agreed to a
gonadectomy, and now I wish I hadn’t because
it’s sort of wreaked havoc on my hormones. Also– whatever. It’s a long, long
story that I don’t need to get into right now. But I wish that gonadectomy
hadn’t happened. And even though I
consented to it, it happened under conditions
of such incredible coercion, in large part
because I had no role models for what it would
be to live in a body that was other than binary. This is the late 1990s. And I might have been able
to turn to trans folks as role models in some way,
just in terms of their ability to resist some sort of
coercive modes of binary gender and live otherwise, but they
weren’t really accessible to me in media at that time. So consent and autonomy are
really, really thorny concepts because when we live in a world
that insists on binary sex, any decision you make is going
to be a decision you make under conditions of coercion
because the binary sex schematic itself is coercive. But anyway, so that
would all have to change. Accessible, affordable, and
intersex-competent health care is another must. And anecdotally,
another short story– I recently was scouting
a primary care physician because I moved to Pennsylvania
and wanted adequate health care. I have good insurance. I work for a major
research institution. I was like, I should
have a doctor. And I hadn’t had a
doctor for 10 years because I was really terrified
of medical professionals because they were,
at best, clueless and, at worst, perniciously
trying to shoehorn me into treatments that I
wasn’t interested in. So I go to see a doctor. I have a PCP now. She’s pretty wonderful. But our first visit
together, I said, hey, I have this condition. And she’s like, oh, I’ve heard
of that, maybe once or twice, but I really don’t
know anything about it. Do you mind if I look it up? So she looked it up
in the room with me. And I was like, oh, well,
I can work with this. This person has a great
degree of humility about their knowledge. But that was kind of the best I
could hope for because I can’t expect medical practitioners
at the PCP level to be intersex competent. I’m probably– especially
because I live in a small college town in rural PA– the only patient they’ve come
across in their practice. So that’s a huge issue, I think. And then something else would
have to change as we would have to move beyond sexual dimorphism
in the way we understand bodies and biological sex, which means
delinking assumed continuities between chromosomes, hormones,
genitals, reproductive– and you can see I put
non-reproductive there because sometimes the organs
that we have are not capable of reproduction even
though they exist– and so-called secondary
sex characteristics. So these naturalized
linkages happen all the time just in the way that we speak
about bodies and the way that we talk about maleness
and femaleness, masculinity and femininity,
even among those who are incredibly trans and
maybe even intersex aware. There’s still this tendency
to link up XX chromosomes with female embodiment and
assume all sorts of stuff about the condition of
one’s corporeality and index that with chromosomal
language or gender language. So we would have to delink all
of those things and no longer infer anything, really, about
embodiment from the gender pronoun somebody uses. And this is another
place where I think intersex activism really
dovetails with trans activism. This is a call that’s
been very firmly articulated by trans
activists for a while and the delinking of genitalia
from gender, specifically, and that would need to happen
to do any kind of justice to intersex folks and
intersex conditions. And then finally– and this is
where I out myself as a gender abolitionist and also
a sex abolitionist– an end to binary sex and
gender at every level, whether it’s like the
micro interpersonal level to the
institutional level. So yeah, I guess I’ll
stop there because I think I’ve probably been
going on for a little while. But I would love to
talk with you all more for the next few minutes. Thank you. SPEAKER: All right, folks. So that is the portion where
Hil speaks, and now Hil will speak with us. There are a couple of
microphones in the room. And for those on the
Livestream, if you want to use the Dory
link, go for that. We’ll be reviewing
that here and there. I have a couple of
questions to start us off. Do you want the tech question
or the social question first? HIL MALATINO: Do you all
want the tech question or the social–
the tech question? Probably. [INAUDIBLE] SPEAKER: I mean, you
happen to be at Google. HIL MALATINO: I do
happen to be at Google. That doesn’t mean I’m going
to give a competent response. There might be
people in the room– SPEAKER: No, no. This is fine. HIL MALATINO: –who could
give better responses than me, depending on what you ask. SPEAKER: So when you talk
about doctors giving diagnoses or really kind of trying
to give sort of truth to things, or truth
as they see it, we think, in the tech universe,
that we often discern things. So when we talk about
AI, ML, et cetera, when we are looking at
photos and assessing things about what we’re
seeing in photos, often that is coupled in
these similar ways where we’re saying, oh, this subject
in this photo is female. This subject in
this photo is male. And we just kind of add those
as normal classifications. And I say normal not
because I think that that’s appropriate, but just commonly. Obviously, you probably
think that’s wrong and we shouldn’t do it. But what could we do instead? This might be the hard question. But what are the
constructs that we can be using to help recognize people? HIL MALATINO: Yeah. So there’s– OK, so I’m going
to start with two references before I go into attempting to
answer this because there are– SPEAKER: Please. HIL MALATINO: –people that
have written about this in ways that I find really compelling. SPEAKER: Awesome. HIL MALATINO: There’s a book
by Toby Beauchamp called “Going Stealth,”
which is specifically about the interface of
surveillance practices and the technologies involved
in surveillance practices and trans lives, trans
experiences, that’s brilliant, that you should read if you’re
interested in this nexus of thought. And then there’s also a book
by a political scientist named Heath Fogg Davis
called “Beyond Trans– Does Gender Matter,”
where he basically argues that it
makes no sense given the biometric technologies that
currently exist to use gender as an identifier, really ever. And he’s not
necessarily saying, I’m a huge fan of biometric
identification technology. But he’s saying, we have it. So why are we still
using gender markers? And I have a lot of
sympathy with that position. And I also think
about people who have been writing specifically
on intersex in relationship to sports and also
trans participation in sports because the
argument articulated by people who work in that
area is basically, there’s way more differentiation
within sex categories than there is between
sex categories. So why is this the sort
of prevailing schematic that we’re using to identify who
can or who can’t participate? So yeah, I think I would
like to see an end to it. And I think there
are other identifiers that we could use that are
much more sort of individuated than a gender marker. And then just anecdotally,
one of the most sort of infuriating technologies
for trans and intersex folk is the ProVision L3 in the
airport, so the scanner that you walk through. And I think they might be on a
different version of that now. But for me, in my head,
because of that one Against Me! song about it. It’s always the ProVision
L3 but the scanner that you go through. So I live in a
small college town. I go through this. I fly a lot. I go through the
scanner all the time. The security folks kind
of know me at this point. And every time I go
through this scanner, I get a groin
anomaly, regardless of whether they press the male
button or the female button when I go through. And I don’t know what’s going
on the technological end that produces this, but I just
know I always get pat down. And then it’s
like, do you want– they ask me often, do you want
a female subject to pat you down or a male subject
to pat you down? And then they’re trying
to get me to say, this is how I identify. But I just start– I just go, I’m non-binary,
assigned female at birth and intersex. I don’t give a fuck
who pats me down. I just want it to be done soon
so I can get on this flight. SPEAKER: Do they usually
have someone with that– HIL MALATINO: With what? SPEAKER: With your
same characteristics? They want to match
you up with someone. HIL MALATINO: Yeah, they
want to match you up. Yeah, no, they just have the– there’s a really well-paid
position for non-binary intersex trans– one non-binary intertrans
person that just comes out from, like, behind the
scenes, and then pats me down and then goes back. And that’s really the
only work they do. It’s, like, five minutes
every three weeks, but it’s paid really well
and they have good benefits. SPEAKER: Yeah, exactly. It’s a union job. HIL MALATINO: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I don’t know if that
answers your question fully, but I think that it behooves
folks who work in this industry to think about how you can– if you are using these or
developing these recognition technologies, how to do so
without [INAUDIBLE] binary sex and gender schematics
because it ruins our days if you’re intersex and trans. SPEAKER: Thank you. I think that clearly answers
at least part of that question. So now the social question. Many of us in this room– and certainly I,
as your friend– would like to help work on the
social justice for intersex folks. And short of ending
binary sex and gender myself, which I don’t know if
there’s a pitchfork or a torch that I can wield that
will do that by myself, how can us as purported allies
help work in that direction? How can we be there for you? What can we do? HIL MALATINO: Yeah. I think one of the
things is to really begin to do the hard work. And it is hard work because
it’s a total epistemological reorientation of
delinking assumptions about embodiment from the
gendered pronouns one uses. And this happens– I mean,
we were talking yesterday, and you said something. It was really charming. You said something like, I
don’t care what kind of gonads you have, it grabs you by them. And I was like, oh,
that’s really cute. I mean, it was great
because it was obviously Matt grappling with
how to say something like grabbing
somebody by the balls without actually saying it and
making it intersex inclusive. Whatever. Maybe it seems crude. I thought it was really lovely. And I thought, if that
happened, that kind of attention to detail, if that happened
just casually in the way that people interfaced
with each other and spoke about
embodiment, and also spoke about desire and gender,
that would be really lovely and would make sort
of day-to-day life that much easier. And then if you get
used to doing that, then you get used to identifying
how these continuities become enshrined and sort of
sedimented institutionally. And that’s the first
step to working to undo them when you’re in
a sort of decisional position where you can sort
of leverage power in ways that might help
undo these sedimented sort of binary schematics. Yeah. But I think it starts just
in the way that you think and the way that you talk about
embodiment and everything that sort of stems from
that, so the way you talk about
reproduction, the way you talk about what kind of
bodies you desire, et cetera. SPEAKER: So it’s a
chest feeding room instead of a mother’s room. HIL MALATINO: Exactly. SPEAKER: And I mean
that like not a joke. HIL MALATINO: Yeah. SPEAKER: That’s helpful. There aren’t people yet standing
in front of these microphones, but I want I want you
folks to start lining up. But I have, I guess,
one other question, other than this example of
mine that you used yesterday. Ha ha, thanks. HIL MALATINO: It
was really sweet. SPEAKER: Thank you. I appreciate that. I try to be funny. But what are examples
that you’ve seen maybe institutionally or systemically
that you feel are affirming? Do you see many of them? Have you seen many of them? HIL MALATINO: Yeah. I feel like all of the
innovations that we’ve seen institutionally
around trans inclusion have the added benefit of
fostering intersex inclusion. So I’m not going to
list all of those, but really, like,
every time you see forms rework so that there’s
not this sort of coercive binary gender assignation that
you choose, that helps. Every time there
are spaces that are gender inclusive and
accessible and inclusive of all bodies, that makes
space for intersex people to feel more
comfortable, which is not to say that all intersex people
are sort of visibly gender nonconforming. They’re definitely not. But it’s a way that institutions
signal a certain degree of awareness that then
means your preambulations throughout the
everyday become sort of less constantly triggering. And all of that really is
indebted to trans activism over to last very long
time, many decades. Yeah, that’s my
short answer to that. SPEAKER: Great. Thank you. I think you were the
one that stirred first, so we’ll start with you. AUDIENCE: Thank you for coming
and thank you for your talk. I’m wondering about– as
intersex activism and awareness increases over time,
how you currently think about the
medical profession as a whole and doctors
individually and specifically, do you see the medical
profession as a potential ally? Or do you think
that because of– or does the entire institution
think about intersex as a condition to be corrected,
and that is something that cannot be changed? HIL MALATINO: Yeah, so I think
it’s definitely important– that’s a great question. I think it’s
important not to think about the medical industry or
the medical industrial complex as a monolith. It’s indeed not. And most of the reforms
that have happened in terms of this problematic
intersex treatment protocol that I outlined really briefly
earlier in the talk have happened because of
consortiums of intersex people, parents of intersex children
and physicians working together to shift the
paradigm, medically. That said, it’s discontinuous
in the United States and also transnationally
because John Money’s protocol became sort of exploded unevenly
to different nation states. So this problematic
medical protocol persists, while at
the same time there is consistent resistance to it. And it really depends on
the medical institution that you end up in,
who’s working there and who’s been exposed to– whether people have been exposed
to the critique of intersex pathologization or not, who
they train under, et cetera. So I think some of the most
promising intersex activism has to do– and I do a little
bit of this work– with talking with premed
and medical students, and just sharing
stories with them and getting them
to sort of rethink this compulsion to shoehorn
people into a binary sex schematic because their
bodies are sort of actively resisting it. So yeah. I think that that’s one
of the promising frontiers of activism, but it still
is really discontinuous because there’s there’s also
been no state or federal level regulation put in
place around this. There’s activism around getting
that to happen, in California in particular right now. But in the absence of
that, medical institutions are sort of left to their
own devices to decide. AUDIENCE: And do you feel
like there’s space for that and there’s– or is it just about
activism and awareness within the medical community? Or is there active pushback? Or do you feel like there’s kind
of inherent conflict as well? HIL MALATINO: I feel
like there doesn’t have to be conflict, that the
conflict does not necessarily inherent. But I feel like there are
certain medical professionals that are entrenched in a
particular way of doing things. And when that entrenchment
sort of becomes obvious, then public activist
pushback becomes necessary. So they recently protest at
the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, which is one
of the sort of main centers where this problematic
medical protocol persists. And it’s also interestingly
one of the sort of innovative centers of
care for trans youth, too. So again, you see this
entwined of intersex and trans medical protocol in ways
that are complicated. So they’re doing really
affirmative work, I think, with trans youth, but
then also sort of insisting on this problematic medical
protocol for intersex youth. But thank you. AUDIENCE: Thank you. AUDIENCE: Thank you for
a well-informed session, I truly appreciate it. I’ve got a question
about informed consent. You mentioned at age 16 you
had trouble understanding how to respond and so
forth, and you also mentioned about some
sort of treatment happening from the extremely
early childhood and infant session. How do you think that
parents and guardians should play an active role in
that informed consent if it’s a baby [INAUDIBLE]? What’s your thoughts on that? HIL MALATINO: Yeah. That’s another great question. So if a child is born a visibly
intersex, then that consent, obviously, abdicates
to the parents. But what tends to happen
in those instances, as parents are often not
aware of intersex conditions, generally, or if they are aware
of them they’re aware of them, they tend to be aware
of them in this way that sort of othering and
aberrant and pathologized. So the framework
that they’re relating to the condition within hinges
on understanding their child is disordered or
deformed in some way. So you can see, if
that’s how parents are exposed to knowledge
about intersex conditions, then even though
they’re consenting on behalf of that child,
they’re consenting under conditions, again,
of extreme coercion because they don’t
have access to or awareness of healthy
intersex people, intersex activists, parents
of intersex children who are, like, no, you can
delay surgery, actually never have surgery, and they’re
still going to be healthy and all right. So this is another sort of
really important frontline of intersex advocacy
and activism is making sure that physicians,
when parents are confronted with an intersex child or have
the child that they weren’t expecting because very
few parents expect to have an intersex
child, that they’re then put in contact with
intersex advocacy groups and parents of intersex
children who have already sort of thought about all
of these thorny dilemmas, and also who recommend,
basically, across the board a delay of any
surgical treatment until the child is old
enough to consent to it. AUDIENCE: Right, the
education is really key. HIL MALATINO: But
that has to be coupled with a destigmatizing awareness
of intersex embodiment as well. AUDIENCE: OK. Thank you. SPEAKER: All right
so we actually have a question from the Dory. In what ways, do you
think the trans community should or shouldn’t be
including intersex folks? As a trans person, I worry about
perpetuating the assumption that all intersex
people are trans. It’s a great question. HIL MALATINO: Yeah, no, that
is a good question, especially because– so I want to give a little bit
of context to this question, too, that I think
is really important. For many, many years,
for many years, the very same treatments that
trans people were actively seeking out, the gender
forming procedures that trans people are
actively seeking out, were rigorously
gate kept from them. But the door was wide
open for intersex people to access those same
procedures because it was seen as correcting a natural error. So what this meant,
sort of pragmatically and operationally, was that when
I was a teenager in the ’90s, I could access vaginoplasty. I could access
hormonal treatment. It was all covered by
insurance because it was addressing this disorder. It could be billed as such. There wasn’t a caveat
on my insurance policy that said, no, no, no, you
can’t access these procedures. At the same time, many– I mean, all of my trans friends
in the ’90s and early 2000s could not access the
procedures that I was actively trying to like not access, but
I was being pushed towards. So there is– SPEAKER: That’s crazy. HIL MALATINO: It’s crazy. SPEAKER: That’s crazy. HIL MALATINO: Yeah,
but it’s true. I mean, that’s the history. So given that, there
were some trans people that were like,
well, if I could only prove that I have an
intersex condition, then I could have access
to medical treatment. So this produced– and
it’s totally understandable when you think about
the gatekeeping. It produced this phenomenon
of some trans people going to be tested,
sometimes repeatedly, to find out whether
they might have some sort of intersex
condition just so they could get insurance coverage. And this led to a conflation
of intersex and trans identity in a way where a
lot of people even now– I consider myself– well,
I am intersex and trans. I was assigned female at birth. I do not identify as
female any longer. But there are many
intersex people who do identify, rather
unproblematically, as the gender they were
assigned at birth, et cetera, et cetera, not
the same category. But there is this
categorical confusion, and it relates to this
history of gatekeeping. So I think one
thing to do is just to insist over and over again
that trans and intersex, to clarify for people, that
they are not the same thing, although there are some
intersex people who are trans and some trans people
who are intersex and it’s, like, overlapping
Venn diagram situation. And that would be step one. And then just resisting
the assumption that everybody who’s intersex
is going to be somehow visibly nonconforming. I am, but actually, most of the
intersex people that I know– that I know and know of– are not. So you never really
know when you’re interfacing with
somebody whether or not they have an intersex
condition, and that’s just really important. So I kind of presume– and maybe this is not
the best strategy, but I’m just going to be
honest with you all about it. I just work from the assumption
that everybody I meet is some combination of
trans, intersex, or queer, and then I pretend
to be surprised when I find out that they’re not. SPEAKER: Literally, same. Next question. AUDIENCE: Thank you. Great lead-in. I just want, first of
all, to say that people are so excited for this book. And as I’ve been reading
it the past few days, and in a variety of
settings, it’s come up. More excitement for a
scholarly book than I think I’ve ever seen– scholars,
people who may be intersex, but just really
saying that they’re so excited for this book. So I’m really
excited to see what comes of its life in the
coming months and years. And what I wanted to ask you is,
how to think about explaining the gender differences and
sex differences medically in a way that doesn’t
become more surveillance? And I find when I try to
talk to people about gender across a wide variety of
different kinds of populations, the social construction argument
is actually working when you walk people through it. Many different kinds of
people can understand, OK, gender is created through
these various ways. They can see it. But then many of them will
often say, but at some level there’s biology. And so this op-ed by
Anne Fausto-Sterling that was in “The Times”
I think about a year ago or so about how sex
itself, how biology itself isn’t determined. That, I’ve found,
is a very useful way to bring them in, saying– you can almost put social
construction to the side and say, and even still
there’s all these variations within biology that
make it something that’s not so settled. But I worry about, in particular
after hearing your talk and starting your
book, are there ways to walk people through that
think about that that doesn’t then become reason just to
become surveying and perform surveillance on all these
different characteristics, particularly around athletics? And I think there is
some consciousness around the stupidity of
gender reveal parties, as they are literally
killing people now, and people starting to say
we should call them genital reveal parties or
chromosome reveal parties. But yeah, do you have
any thoughts about how to talk about that in a way that
doesn’t become, yeah, OK, now the athlete has to prove these
30 different categories to fall into one or the other, or
that people have to explain it to get justification? HIL MALATINO: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think
about this a lot because we’re taught that
biology is in some ways ontological granite, that
when all is said and done, the biological is somehow
coterminus with the real. And that’s maybe an
unnecessarily fancy way of saying, if we admit that
biological sex differentiation is much more complicated than
a binary schematic allows us to think, does that
then entrench this turn to biology to justify? AUDIENCE: Yeah. HIL MALATINO: Yeah. And one of the things
that’s happening was pre-implantation
diagnosis right now is that we’re finding out
that many more people who are intersex than we probably
would have otherwise thought, statistically. And it’s raising a lot
of complicated questions because it’s like, well, then
with pre-implantation genetic testing that can identify
intersex conditions, does that encourage parents to
then eliminate those children or those possible births? Well, let me not stray
too far from the point. I think that we do– if we keep treating biology
is really fundamental and the social is sort of like– and that includes gender. Gender is a social
construct– as, like, scaffolding built
on the biological, then we run the risk of
heightening surveillance technologies, and then
utilizing more and more testing to prove sex status. And I think what
we instead should do is just refuse all of that. And in the context
of sports, this would mean if you identify as
a woman you can participate in women’s sports, period,
without any kind of sex testing. The other– I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m being
necessarily clear in response to your question. So can I ask you a
follow-up question just to get some clarity? What are the forms
of surveillance that you worry about
in relationship to– AUDIENCE: Potentially
that somebody would have– so in a sports thing, that some
would have to prove categories or that to justify being
considered intersex or trans or non-binary
or gender nonconforming, that somebody would then
have to present a reason to have that justification. HIL MALATINO: Yeah, so,
like, a proliferation of ever more finely grained
sort of taxonomies of identity that require proof. Yeah. I mean, I think for me this is
where the gender abolitionist sort of framework
comes into play. I think we should not move
in that direction culturally, politically, and
institutionally. I also see us increasingly
moving in that direction, which is why I mentioned
pre-implantation testing, because that’s one of the ways
I see us moving culturally, in this really
troubling direction of intense
surveillance, and then authenticity debates
about who gets to identify as what based on
what sort of evidence or proof. Yeah, I’m not a fan of it. I guess that’s the answer. But it is a risk. And the more
refined technologies we have for sort of parsing
biological sex differentiation, the more we have to
worry about those becoming operationalized
in really sort of non-liberatory ways. Yeah. SPEAKER: All right. Thank you. I think we have
one more question. Yeah. AUDIENCE: OK. Is there a time? SPEAKER: I think there’s
time for one more, right? HIL MALATINO: Really fast. SPEAKER: Time for
one more question. AUDIENCE: OK, sure. So this is a purely selfish
question, just to preface. As someone in the
non-binary community who tends to date in the
non-binary community, I have dated several people
who have identified themselves to me as intersex. Do you have any advice
for being a supportive partner to an intersex person? HIL MALATINO: Yes, I do. I should put you in
touch with my spouse, actually, who’s a very
supportive partner to intersex people. But no, for real,
I think that one of the most important
things that you can do is understand that if
somebody is intersex, they don’t necessarily,
but they probably have a history of
trauma in relationship to that kind of
embodiment, especially depending on what their
medical interface has been and how they feel about that. So I being aware of that
is really fundamental. And also understanding that
in your day-to-day dealings with them, in your intimate
dealings with them, things might be triggering
that you would never actually anticipate or it would
be hard to anticipate. I also think that within– I’m very invested in T for
T right modes of desire, eroticism, et
cetera, meaning I’m a trans person who tends to
really only date trans people. And I think that
that’s because there’s just a much more
heightened sensitivity to these kinds of issues. So I think the fact
that you are non-binary and that you’re already a
large part of the way there, probably, in terms
of your awareness around the complexities of
how troubling bodies can be and how sensitive you have to
be to dignify and respect bodies with histories of trauma. And that’s– I mean, I’m saying
this in intersex and trans contexts, but it’s also
true for cis people. I feel like all of
the advice we give about how to be a good
partner to intersex people and trans people
should just be advice for how to be a good
partner to anybody. SPEAKER: What are
you talking about? Cis people are just so
good at it, just naturally because they don’t have
relationship problems ever. HIL MALATINO: Yeah, none. Thank you. AUDIENCE: Thank you. SPEAKER: Thank you, everyone,
for the great questions. And thank you, Hil. HIL MALATINO: Yeah. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

38 thoughts on ““Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience” | Talks at Google

  1. Invest in Sex Tech and avoid contagious, diseased people, as avoiding traffic and the subway greatly reduces exposure to unhealthy pollution. Live to be 100 and enjoy a long healthy lifestyle $$$. 👍👍👍

  2. It is hard to watch this video without an anxiety attack. Where are Jordan Peterson and reason when you really need them? That individual went completely unchallenged. Simple question arises: If that is the level of discourse in higher education classrooms, is there no more hope for academia?

  3. Doctors see a foreskin on a Male or ambiguous intersex genitalia and they mutilate it. These doctors need to be hunted down and jailed for life

  4. Doctors also say foreskins can become cancerous. They also use this double speak to sexually violate children at every turn

  5. When you have gender dysphoria, which is a very self centered outlook on life which is what happens when we become so comfortable in life that we obsess about things that don’t really matter.
    A lot of us don’t like ourselves, but we don’t involve the world in our pity party.
    This is forcing the world into you delusion.
    Which is sadistic.
    No one is perfect, and there are a lot of things that we can focus on changing and being change in the world that is outside of ourselves.
    Majority of the population doesn’t even know what none of this means.
    That’s like being schizophrenic and trying to force the world to see what you see!
    In any other instance this is just insane,.
    I’m all about “Do You” but leave it there. I don’t need to do you with you. I have enough problems on my own. So does everyone else.
    People have access to knowledge at a level that we have never seen, but it has just made us dumber. People know so many things that just isn’t so. At what point does education get to the level where people are just becoming stupid? They lose all common sense & rely solely on subjectives to determine their world views.
    I feel sorry for the children of this generation. Things are so confusing as is,why burden them with something that effects less than .01% , but it’s being normalized and that’s where the problem lies.
    We must draw the line at the children. A population that can’t protect its children does not survive.
    There is nothing new under the Sun.
    Flavius Josephus in the 1st century spoke of the drag queen army of Jon of Gaschala.
    This is at every fall of nations.
    God help us!

  6. What timing. Just been reading "Hard Times Create Strong Men" by Stefan Aarnio. This person is a perfect example of what easy times have produced. Easy time that were produced due to strong men now mostly from the 1920 up to at least the 1980's. Men who you would want to have around. Men who would and did give up everything for something greater than themselves. Those times have produced such abundance within America we now have people who have such easy lives they do not know if they are male or female and truly believe that is the most important thing there is. Figuring out your gender, or trying to make sure others don't hurt their "feelings". This is a living example straight from the book. Right down to the scarf wearing fake glasses look. What a sad example of a human. Obviously their life has been filled with confusion, possibly due to a weak up bringing, social surroundings, tremendously poor or no strong moral examples. I am somewhat surprised anyone even Google would choose to make such videos public. Since it is the embodiment of weakness in the human race and a prime example of what is wrong with today's society. Could you even imagine a person like this storming the beaches of Normandy, living for months in the jungles of Vietnam, or facing the Taliban? Or even being a strong mentor to a young boy? Of course you couldn't because that would never happen. Obviously a person such could never make a society strong, free, or independent. Their life decisions have made it clear they only truly care about their own feelings.
    I probably should go re-watch The Fight Club just to get this crap out of my mind as soon as possible.

  7. It's unfortunate to see so much hostility against this presentation. The fact is that there is an objective and measurable biological condition, however uncommon, that these scientists are attempting to study and address. As for the attire choice, nearly every presenter pays considers closely what to wear. Kudos to Google for inviting him and for posting.

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