University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor provides speech on intersex individuals, activism as part of 2018 LGBT+ College Conference

Photo and story by Savannah Meade / Contributing Writer

Georgiann Davis, a professor of sociology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, gave a keynote speech about intersex people and activism in America Saturday in the College of Education Building as a part of the 2018 LGBT+ College Conference.

The keynote, titled “Ask Me Who I Am: Intersex in Contemporary America,” started out with Davis telling her personal story of being intersex.

When Davis was around 13 years old, she felt a pain in her abdomen that led to a series of tests that revealed she did not have ovaries or a uterus. Instead, she had testes and XY chromosomes.

“But, none of that was told to me when I was 12 or 13 years old,” Davis said. “What they told me was I had underdeveloped ovaries that were cancerous. So, they told me, as a teenager, I had cancer… But they didn’t tell me (the truth), because they thought it would disrupt my gender identity.”

At 17 years old, she underwent a surgery to remove what she thought were cancerous ovaries but were, in reality, testes with no cancer in them. It wasn’t until she was in college, well after the surgery, when she requested her own medical records. Then, she learned the truth.

“I was so shocked (and) confused,” Davis said. “When I read XY (chromosomes), I was like, ‘I must be messing this up. XY must be female. XX must be male, and you’re just forgetting.’ And then I kept reading … I was so upset. I didn’t know what to make of this. No one told me this.”

While in college, Davis was in a feminist theory lecture and saw a photo of the Hermaphrodites with Attitude, an intersex activist group, protesting outside of a health care clinic. Shortly after that, she went to a conference for intersex people and their allies in Chicago, and her experience of meeting more intersex people for the first time convinced Davis to make her dissertation about intersex individuals.

She went on to talk about the new nomenclature of intersex in the medical world, “Disorder of Sex Development,” or DSD, and how she personally felt about it.

“They (doctors) reinvented the diagnosis,” Davis said. “They reinvented the diagnosis because they no longer, today, fix intersex traits. They treat disorders of sex development… It’s pathologizing. We don’t like it. So, here I am talking about intersex. If I didn’t mention disorder of sex development, would you make the connection between the two? Would parents make the connection between the two?”

Davis then spoke about research she has done about intersex people who accept the DSD terminology and those who reject it. In her research, she interviewed intersex people, parents of intersex people and doctors who have treated intersex people.

As it turns out, Davis has found that, typically, people with poor relationships with their doctors and parents reject DSD. While individuals with strong, positive relationships with their parents and doctors accept the DSD terminology. Additionally, Davis noticed in her research and in life that people who accepted DSD were more self-conscious about their DSD and gender than people who had rejected the DSD terminology.

“(People who rejected DSD) understood the fluidity of gender more than other folks,” Davis said. “You can have great relationships with doctors and parents because you adopt this pathologizing, sick identity. But then, you’re forced to live within that sick identity and forced to live as if you were abnormal.”

While Davis personally does not agree with the DSD terminology or that intersex should be classified as a disorder, she made it very clear that she did not want to erase the voice of those who accepted it.

Davis ended her keynote with one request: “Ask me who I am. Ask people what terms they prefer.”

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