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Naturalizing Intersex Bodies

Middlesexes: Redefining He and She
Director: Anthony Thomas
HBO Undercover

I found this film to be very applicable to the field of gender studies because it problematizes the division of bodies by gender. It accomplishes this through complicating biological sex. Middlesexes investigates bodies that are born without clear markers of a defined sexuality. Because essentialism in sexual identity is at stake, the notion of a “natural� sex is deemed problematic.

“The time-consuming nature of intersex diagnosis and the assumption, based on the gender identity theory, that gender be assigned as soon as possible thus present physicians with difficult dilemmas� (Kessler, 60).

Although the film negates gender essentialism by troubling the divide between male and female bodies, it is ripe for analysis because it perpetuates the notion that being “middlesex� is freakish and unfortunate. In the film, Noah’s father explains how he tried to steer Noah away from being “middlesexed.� He says: “Nobody wants their son to grow up like that.� Noah’s father wants his son to be “normal,� thus to be defined by a single gender and sex. This quote entrenches the importance of masculine behavior in “boys� and feminine behavior in “girls.� The father finishes his interview by explaining that Noah’s brother is, “a boy like any other boy.� Again, this statement re-naturalizes masculinity, heterosexism, and gender conformity.

When the HBO announcer refers to middlesex bodies he says, “people with these conditions.� His labeling of intersex bodies as deviant in a program meant to query the issue of biological sex seems to work against the argument the show seeks to expose.

Anne Fausto-Sterling is interviewed in this special on the diagnosis of intersex babies. She is the author of Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. In this book, Fausto-Sterling hashes out the politics of compulsory heterosexuality and sexual determination at birth. She explains the scale and criteria doctors use for male-female determination and pronounces sexual variation to be the norm instead of the deviant. Her argument is similarly oriented to that of Dr. Kinsey and the Kinsey scale regarding sexuality. I hold this book in high regard and recommend it to anyone interested in the politics of sex and gender differentiation and determination.