I would like to point out that OII is not of the opinion that this is a controversy simply about terminology. OII’s members have discussed this in great detail and have taken the time to read the documents and familiarize ourselves with the different experts and activists involved. OII has objections to the DSD Guidelines and the underlying abuse of power used in imposing this term on us without consultation. If others around the world had been consulted and treated with respect and human dignity, there would not be such a controversy.
Please note that the following comments do not necessarily reflect my personal opinions. They reflect various opinions from many different board members and intersexed persons who are members of our support groups. We do not all have the same opinions on this subject.
What follows is a list of objections to DSD terminology and the DSD Guidelines:
A. Reducing intersex to a genetic defect
Some members are concerned that DSD is not so much a new medical term for intersex variations but a new “genetic defect” which would put many different medical conditions that have different etiologies all in the same “genetic” birth defect category. For more information read: What is in a word
B. American imperialism and the abuse of power to define others
Many people in French-speaking countries feel that the DSD Consortium is typical of United States imperialism and its abuse of power to define others and place them in categories while they have no right to self-representation and definition. One disturbing event that galvanized French activists was the large article devoted to intersex in a magazine with high circulation in France just about the time that the DSD Consortium’s announcement was to be official. This article in French media was exclusively about US activists with only one little footnote about all the great work that French intersex activists are doing in their own country but they have not had access to the French media. They have expressed great resentment that they were not consulted about this change because their input would have helped alleviate some serious problems when this term is translated in to French. We in OII have yet to find a French-speaking intersexed person who is not disturbed about this terminology and the guidelines. Their health systems are very different and the terminology used is very offensive because in French the translation is very ambiguous and leads the layman to think that you are talking about sexual orientation, pedophilia, fetichism, masturbation, etc. (See footnote for examples)
In English, one can make a distinction between: “Sex development” and “Sexual development”. This is not the case in French.
As a result, in French the translation is ambiguous and it gives the idea that what one is talking about is every aspect of one’s sexual development from childhood to maturity, including sexual orientation and gender identity. A Disorder of sexual development could be interpreted to mean almost any perversion, fetish or gender atypical behavior, not something most French adults would probably like to tell a child.
See letters from French speaking intersexed people:
C. Increased pathologisation of the intersexed child throughout their childhood and adolescence
When the DSD inducing treatment fails, rather than approaching this as evidence of the shortcomings of the disordering approach, individuals become further pathologised into other categories of disorder (such as GID or some alternative *psychosexual disorder*). This then means that "experts" can avoid difficult questions about what has gone on in the past. Those who do not correspond to the intended outcome of the disordering treatment can then be de-categorised in a way that they do not feature as evidence that the DSD approach has failed to work. Source: Click here
D. Exclusion of intersexed people
The decisions were arrived at by people speaking about us but who have not listened to us. As adults who have experienced what it was like to be an intersexed child, it is tragic that we were not included in the discussions. Why such secrecy? Why such exclusion? Why do people with no experience of either being intersexed or having been treated in childhood conduct these consortiums and arrive at a consensus with no input from the larger community of actual intersexed people? Click here to read more
E. Pathologizing only the gender atypicality of intersex bodies with little emphasis on the underlying specifics of the particular intersex variation
Viewing these variations as a medical illness creates a special medical category which includes an extremely large group of “disorders” which have nothing in common from a medical point of view except that the person is of intermediate sex as established by current norms. Intersex people need health care just as everyone else does but each intersex variation has its specific health needs which will be overlooked when placed in a catch-all umbrella term such as DSD (Disorders of Sex Development) and will make “gender” normalisation the main issue because that is the only factor that all these “disorders” have in common. This is why the term “intersex” is preferable since it includes all the different variations without implying that they have any medical condition in common which they do not. What we have in common is that we are of “intermediate” sex as defined by current norms for male or female. If the medical community sees a need to pathologise each and every variation, it could come up with a specific diagnosis for each one, such as is already common for many intersex variations. This would at least make the medical community aware of each variations unique etiology and specific health needs. Placing them all under the umbrella term gives the impression they are the same disorder and that the disorder is the gender itself. We have gone full-circle and are back to the John Money school with a few minor variations from it.
F. Eugenics research
Some express concern with the fact that intersex is being used as a roadmap to explain gender identity and sexual orientation and the DSD researchers involved in the elaboration of this research are not concerned about ethical protocols involving the possible misuse of the research by a colleague of theirs, J. Michael Bailey, who has published a legal argument for the justification for aborting homosexual fetuses should the testing become available to determine homosexuality in utero. Both Eric Vilain and Sherri Berenbaum are involved with J. Michael Bailey. The eugenics application of the research is of much concern to many of us and it is already happening to many intersexed fetuses right now in places around the world. See: Eric Vilain, J Michael Bailey and DSD
G. Entrenches arbitrary gender assignments without consultation with the child
After reading the publications of the DSD Consortium for parents and doctors, our board members were very disappointed by the fact that once again the DSD guidelines are primarily about GENDER and assuring parents and doctors that the right gender can be chosen without consultation with the child. We resoundingly reject this.
As intersex people are used to determine "normal sex-typed behaviors" and their origins, more and more of the population will be affected by the findings of this research which is being conducted by Vilain, Bailey and others. I would suggest that the science behind this cannot be separated from the surrounding sexist culture which finances it and that the basic political and social assumptions which make these issues "important" to the scientific community are rooted in the political need to justify social norms for men and woman based on genetic findings.
I. Transphobia and homophobia
For views about the transphobia and homophobia of the DSD Guidelines:
J. Even in English speaking countries this term will most likely make it more difficult to speak to the actual child about being intersex.
What follows are examples of the use of the term “développement sexuel” in French.
1. Example of the common use of the term “développement sexuel” in French: (l’homme termine son développement sexuel physique vers 21 ans et la femme vers 18 ans Translation: Men finish their sexual development around 21 and women around 18). Source: http://www.anael.org/francais/lamasturbation/
3. Même sans motif sexuel de la part de celui qui l'inflige, la fessée perturbe le développement sexuel et psychologique normal d'un enfant. Parce que les fesses sont si près des organes génitaux et si intimement liées aux centres nerveux sexuels, les coups portés à cet endroit peuvent déclencher des sensations puissantes et involontaires de plaisir sexuel. Ceci peut arriver à de très jeunes enfants, en dépit d'une douleur intense et clairement désagréable. (This article states that spanking can have deleterious effects on the sexual development of a child.)