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Online Intersex Communities: Virtual Neighborhoods of Support and Activism By Brian ...

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Online Intersex Communities:

What is intersexuality? Once referred to as hermaphrodites, intersexed persons are born with a sexual anatomy or physiology inconsistent with social expectations of what constitutes a normal male or female. They may not have all of the required organs to be identified as a particular sex; a female, for example, may be born without a vagina, or a male without a penis. Others possess the parts of both sexes—one body with both testicles and ovaries, penis and clitoris. Finally, some children with all of the right parts for a specific sex are still deemed intersexed because those parts are sufficiently ambiguous to prevent doctors from quickly or easily determining sexual identity, or their appearance deviates too far from the norms for newborn girls and boys.

Of course, this definition of intersexuality, like all definitions, is rhetorically charged. “It is by our use of things,” Stuart Hall writes in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, “and what we say, think and feel about them—how we represent them—that we give them meaning” (3). In other words, intersexuality does not have meaning in and of itself that can be separated from the culture in which it resides. It is a product not just of scientific fact but also of a myriad of cultural forces that have changed through time, and with it our perceptions of what is normal, of who should be corrected if they are not deemed normal, of when and how this treatment should take place, and of who has authority to speak on such things. As Emi Koyoma notes on the Intersex Initiative Web site, “There is no single ‘intersex body’; it encompasses a wide variety of conditions that do not have anything in common except that they are deemed ‘abnormal’ by the society.