Intersex health

An interesting angle to take when thinking about difference is to think about ‘not seeing sameness’. This is Asia Friedman’s argument, and is a useful approach for me when thinking about the problems in apprehending difference in the sciences (e.g. Jenny Reardon's Race to the Finish). Friedman argues that, as we ‘filter’ for difference, what other ‘possible bodies and worlds’ are being ‘filtered out’? (Friedman, 2011 and 2013). The historiographies of race in science, as outlined by Jenny Reardon and Dorothy Roberts, show explorations of difference that polarize and divide, often rendering us ‘blind to sameness’ (Friedman, 2013). Friedman (2013; 2011) explains that unconscious processes of perception render us ‘blind to sameness’ (Friedman, 2013). Focusing on sex difference specifically, Friedman explores how substantial similarities are visually transformed into ‘polarized difference’ through attention to difference and disattention to similarities (Friedman, 2011: 200). 

Like the 0.1% genetic difference between human beings (Roberts, 2011), sex differences are proportionally small amid much greater similarity (Friedman, 2011: 201). And that is one way to think about the continuing marginalization of biological sex variance. The example below shows the very real consequences vis-a-vis the differences we pay attention to and the sameness we filter out.

Full article @

Claudia Astorino writes:

My intersex variation is androgen insensitivity (AIS) - specifically, complete androgen insensitivity (CAIS)…

In the various searches I’ve done for intersex, there is surprisingly little medical-related research going on that isn’t about new ways to surgically slice and dice our bodies up without our consent… 

While it has been noted that AIS people may have more bone problems like osteoporosis than typical females - and can start having these bone problems earlier - these observations seem to be more anecdotal than anything. There aren’t studies out there indicating when, on average, AIS people start having bone problems, how severe bone problems may be with progressing age, and the secondary effects of these bone problems. Like, I’m kind of worried not knowing what’s going to happen to me…

Something else I wonder about is the supposedly high risk of cancer in intersex gonads. I had a gonadectomy when I was just a few months old … The prevailing wisdom, based on a medical study from 1976, is that intersex individuals are likely to develop gonadal cancer, so routine gonad removal for intersex kids is recommended to avoid cancer risk. I think it’s really unclear whether recommending gonad removal right off the bat is reasonable or medically necessary, however. There hasn’t been a lot of follow-up study since this one study from the 1970’s…

I have no idea if the cancer risks reported in this paper are legitimate. I have no idea if I could have kept all of my body parts intact, could have not needed to take a pill every day for the rest of my life (and pay for them, whether or not I have health insurance) to replace the hormones that my gonads naturally made (for free). 

Medical researchers could be working on this important health concern that’s really relevant to AIS folks like me, but they’re not … They’re not investigating how our bodies work on a basic biological level, so we’ll know what to expect and how to stay healthy during our lifetimes. They’re not figuring out how to better treat us, with new knowledge specific to our various intersex variations. 

They’re just figuring out how to change us…

The historical medicalization of intersexed bodies has somehow failed to take cognizance of the medical needs of intersexed persons…indeed, the discourse pertains to correction and pathologization. The why is obvious, less so how to transform this sedimented reality - of policing gender binaries in particular.

Other interesting reads: 

Gender Dysphoria and Disorders of Sex Development: Progress in Care and Knowledge. Kreukels, Baudewijntje P.C.; Steensma, Thomas D.; de Vries, Annelou L.C. (Eds.) 2013.

Psychological research and intersex/DSD: recent developments and future directions. Katrina Roen, Vickie Pasterski. Psychology & Sexuality. 2013.

Folks! Blog announcement!

So, as a handful of you know, I have been working on a side project with my feminist science and technology studies class and that project is finally ready to go live.  The group of us, as well as a few other students in the field, have been working on a science and social justice tumblr.  It’s called SJSci and you should all check it out! 

“[W]e can see an immediate relationship between commodity fetishism and stranger fetishism.  First, the object comes to be valued (is ‘enigmatic’) only through a prior act of detachment from the social relationships of labour and production that produced it.  Second, the object is invested with meaning by being associated with the figure of the stranger: indeed, the object becomes the stranger; it is consumed as that which contains the 'truth’ of the strange or exotic.  The fetishism of the commodity becomes displaced onto the fetishism of cultural difference: we calue the lost object by assuming it contains differece in its own form (a containment which is enabled by a double concealment of the history of its production and the history of determination that allows the stranger to appear). - Sara Ahmed, Strange Encouters, (from chapter 6, "Going Strange, Going Native”)

In her book Strange Encounters, Sara Ahmed engages the allure of the Oriental to explain the relationship between the consuming colonizers and the producing colonized.  Products that promise us the allure of the strange, that conjure the tropes Edward Said illuminates, are desirable by foreign markets because they allow for a safe engagement with the “strange” or unknown.  This safety is produced by the active alienation of production processes, such that the consumer does not need to acknowledge the bodily fact of the other.

The body of the other is always dangerous, hence why the British colonial projects in India placed so much emphasis on the control of the body through law, work, and religion.  Today, we marginalize and abuse the body of the other by means of inhumane working conditions as well as culturally and environmentally destructive relief work and structural adjustment policies.  The global north can participate in these practices, Ahmed suggests, because while we desire the other only as the final link in “a series of metonymic associations” that bind that stranger to a consumable product.  Only when the body is reduced to characteristics, to some vague Orientalist allure, is that body manageable and desirable.


In this quick interview, Dorothy Roberts explains her project surrounding Fatal Invention, and the ways in which she brings together a variety of sources and sites to explore how the category of race functions within policies surrounding genetics and biomedicine.  Also the program she describes creating sounds super interesting.  

Growing up poor and stressed impacts the brain in adulthood

This week, an article in Science Daily discusses further evidence that our socio-economic realities have material impacts on our health as adults. As we saw in the film Unnatural Causes, findings like these unravel the mythic notions of racial difference in health, pointing to the myriad interwoven social environment which impacts on our overall wellbeing.

Read more here: Science Daily

Image: Childhood poverty impacted how much the two regions of the prefrontal cortex (as shown in orange circles) were engaged during emotion regulation. (Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine)

This article also reminded me about work by a colleague in South Africa. Prof Mark Tomlinson develops a theory of ‘toxic poverty’ which has a range of implications during pregnancy: for the fetus, the child after birth, as well as the pregnant woman. Prof Tomlinson’s work shows the social causation pathways of mental distress among pregnant women (that is, 'toxic’ poverty) and the impacts of this particular cause of mental distress. Depression or anxiety can lead to compromised caregiving capacity, which in turn has repercussions for the child. 

The image below shows the brain sizes of 2 different 3-year-old children. The one on the left is an average sized brain for a 3 year old. The image on the right is of a child who had experienced extreme neglect. This is another example of how socio-economic experiences can shape biological difference. 

A summary of Prof Tomlinson’s upcoming article can be read here:


Edward Said’s book Orientalism has been profoundly influential in a diverse range of disciplines since its publication in 1978. In this engaging and lavishly illustrated interview he talks about the context within which the book was conceived, its main themes, and how its original thesis relates to the contemporary understanding of “the Orient” as represented in the mass media.

“That’s the power of the discourse of Orientalism. If you’re thinking about people and Islam, and about that part of the world, those are the words you constantly have to use. To think past it, to go beyond it, not to use it, is virtually impossible, because there is no knowledge that isn’t codified in this way about that part of the world.” -Edward Said

In our Feminist Science Studies Class on Race and Postcolonialism we are discussing orientalism and its relevance today.


This is an interview with Vandana Shiva by Bill Moyers from this past July.  She discusses genetically modified seeds, globalization, interconnectedness, her background in physics, as well as her newest book, Making Peace with the Earth.  The interview actually begins at 1.59.