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Middlesex Meditations: Understanding and Teaching Intersex

I knew it as an experience long before I knew it had a name

. Even now that I know it has a nameactually a few of them .

My condition is called hypospadias,1 which is often considered a mild form of intersexit's not always clear to me how adequate the different names are, nor what the relationship is between those names and my embodied experience.

The experience I knew was one of repeated returns to a hospital bed (16 in all, from ages 2 to 37)a bed in which my body would be punctured with tubes, the flesh of my genitals stitched together in crazy Frankenstein patterns that would be comic if they weren't written on my flesh.

It was one of never knowing when the next urinary tract stricture would develop and the next surgery would be necessary, not knowing when I would have to go under again, reviving from the blankness of anesthesia with my body feeling infinitely worse than it did when I entered the hospital.


It was one of wanting to and finally not believing my doctors when they suggested that the next operation would be the last. I learned to see my doctors as antagonists, people who thought they had my best interests at heart, but who I began to suspect didn't.

I felt internally different but appeared, when clothed, the same as any other, alternately cute (if I may say so myself) and awkward, growing boy. Yet I felt secretly monstrous, that I was different in precisely the areas with which our culture is most obsessed. My experience finally was one of profound confusion.

Teachers reading this essay might not be surprised that my sense of confusion was particularly pronounced during my high school and college years. The genital trauma I experienced during the repeated surgeries mixed in confusing and disturbing ways with the onset of puberty.

Sex and pain, desire and violence were complexly intertwined in my adolescent mind. Like most teenage boys, I wanted to have sex; unlike most, I was also terrified by the possibility.

Some of my confusion could have been prevented. What I needed was knowledge of what had happened to my body and why. I also needed the ability to talk about what I had experienced, not only in private settings, such as counseling and psychotherapy (to which I owe much of my current relative well-being), but also in a public forum, such as the high school classroom.

The creation of such a forum is, in part, what inspires me to teach. I teach about issues of gender, sexuality, and embodiment in the English classroom not because they are trendy topics of scholarly endeavor, or even because they greatly enrich the analysis of literature and culture (although they most certainly do), but because they matter, often in the most profound and intimate of ways, in the lives of students.

Young adults are typically concerned with sex and physical appearance; imagine how much more preoccupying and potentially self-negating such concerns are if your body, your desires, or your gendered experience differs from those that are the norm in American society.


For the female student living in a culture that still privileges male desire and experience; for the gay, lesbian, or questioning student living in a culture that stigmatizes homosexual desire; for the overweight student living in a culture increasingly obsessed with impossible standards of thinness and beauty;

For male and female students who find conventional constructions of masculinity and femininity restrictive or oppressive; for the intersex student living in a culture that insists that a person can only be either male or femaleteaching about gender, sexuality, and embodiment in an empowering and supportive manner can provide a crucial public forum in which they can feel affirmed and recognized, rather than stigmatized and negated.

Middlesex Meditations: Understanding and Teaching Intersex

By: endeavor
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