- E.R. Degrey
From the legalization of same-sex marriage to the slowly growing acceptance of transgender persons, the American public's understanding of what is "normal" in regards to gender has changed radically in the past 20 years. But for all of the progress, there's still a long way to go.
Genderevolution, Utah's only conference created for gender variant folks, is part of this movement to keep pushing society toward a greater acceptance of those who don't fit America's strict male-female binary. Over the course of a day, attendees can choose from 25 sessions led by trans and intersex activists and allies to discuss topics surrounding the transgender, nonbinary and intersex communities. But even a progressive conference can make internal progress. While this is Genderevolution's 11th conference, it's the first year that keynote speakers come from the intersex community.
Hans Lindahl—an intersex writer, activist, artist andYouTuber, who prefers the interchangeable use of "she" and "they" pronouns—is one of these speakers. They say while there is no single definition of intersex, an approximation is "intersex is a category of experiences that has to do with having a body that develops differently than the two usual paths of sexual development." Intersex people struggle to get their gender and bodies recognized as valid, with doctors often pushing for medically unnecessary surgeries on children to "normalize" them. Although roughly1 in 2,000people are intersex, they are often overlooked, even by LGBTQIAP+ people.
Nickolis Arteaga, planning committee chair, says this is why there hasn't yet been a person from the intersex community headline the conference. "It's time to say enough is enough, let's share this space with everyone and stop making excuses. It's time for us to shut up and listen to those who haven't had a voice," Arteaga says. "We all need to get used to checking our privilege and knowing that this fight isn't over."
Sean Saifa Wall, intersex activist, artist, public health researcher and keynote speaker, says his rights were violated as a child. He was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome, which hinders the body's ability to respond to androgen. Doctors encouraged his mother to raise him as a girl, and he was forced to undergo surgery at 13. To protect others, he's at the forefront in the fight for legal protections for intersex children through organizations such as InterACT and the Intersex Justice Project.
"I think, for me, using my voice to sort of bring awareness to this issue has been liberating," he says.
Lindahl felt a similar call to help their community after finding out she was intersex as a teenager. She uses her art and online presence to make a safe space for other intersex folks. "Having that connection to other people, and having some context for what other generations have been doing ... was very helpful to fight back against that narrative of stigma and isolation," she says.
Despite the fact that medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children still occur, and many intersex people are still isolated, Wall and Lindahl are hopeful for the future. They cite an increased awareness of intersex persons following a popular2015 Buzzfeed video on the topic, and the continued presence and activism of allies in the queer and trans communities.
"The medical establishment is very well-funded; it's like a multibillion-dollar industry, and you have doctors who have a lot of power and a lot of bias," Wall says. "Which makes it very difficult to do the work we need to do, and yet, we persist."
In addition to their keynote speeches, which will focus on the history and future of intersex activism, Wall and Lindahl also host general sessions. Wall focuses on creating mind-body connections to heal from trauma.
"Intersex folk, black folk, people of color, we get traumatized by the system, we get traumatized by the state, and I think that we have a responsibility to heal from what we have endured and what we've experienced—for the betterment of our movement, and for the betterment of our relationships with each other," Wall says.
Lindahl's session focuses on using the concept of play to help attendees become comfortable socializing. Describing social justice work as "draining," she says, "It's hard for me sometimes to address my own needs and connect with people. I'm hoping that we can connect as a community and just play."
Arteaga says he hopes the Genderevoltion event helps persons openly claim their identities. The conference offers scholarships for some attendees, he added. "It's a way for us to say, 'Yes, you matter and we have your back,' because that's what strong communities do," Arteaga says. "We thrive in the face of adversity and flourish in our diversity."