Op-ed: Hey, Fox News, Intersex Is Not A Punchline
Everyone loves a good joke with a creative punchline. However, when well-known Fox News hosts Clayton Morris and Tucker Carlson took a cheap shot at the entire intersex community in a story about Facebook’s move toward offering folks more gender options to choose from earlier this month, many people were left hurt and frustrated, especially our intersex friends.
Facebook’s more expansive gender options aren’t perfect, but they are a step in the right direction toward inclusivity. Because of this development, individuals in our community are now able to publicly claim their intersex identity on their respective Facebook profiles. We should be thankful to the LGBT community for pushing Facebook toward creating these options that will create not only a national but a global dialogue around gender identity. This ought to be a time of celebration, however, Fox News has used this development to poke fun at intersex.
No, Fox News, you don't get to laugh at the thought of being intersex.
Intersex refers to a variety of traits in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy, internally and/or externally, that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Medical providers often respond to people born with unique bodies such as ours by performing irreversible surgeries on our internal, and sometimes external, genitalia. That’s right. They usually cut intersex bodies to make them look and feel "normal." What’s worse is that when children like us are rolled into operating rooms, they are rarely, if at all, told the truth about their bodies and the medically unnecessary and irreversible surgeries that they are about to endure. Instead, they are lied to about their diagnosis.
Not surprisingly, these medically unnecessary surgeries cause more harm than help. They tend to leave folks with a lack of genital sensation, sexual struggles, and even emotionally deep and dark scars. Medical interventions are often bodily violations that impact people with intersex traits for the rest of their lives. Many people with intersex traits feel ashamed by their bodies. Folks like us often keep their diagnosis secret from their closest friends. Many are stigmatized and made to feel like “freaks.”
While there are many sources that feed these feelings of abnormality — for example, the medical profession’s treatment of our bodies — the media’s portrayal of our bodies is a big part of the problem. How did Fox News think people with intersex traits would feel when they made a laughing matter of our bodies? Did the newscasters even care?
Maybe Fox News doesn’t care about our community or the media’s role in emotionally harming individuals, but surely the network’s higher ups care about ratings or they’d all be out of a job. Intersex is not rare. For example, hypospadias, a trait where the urethral opening is located toward the base of the penis, affects 1 in every 250 male births making it almost as common as being born with red hair! Given this fact that intersex traits are actually quite common, we are sure at least some folks in our community are, or at least were, supporters of Fox News. Surely the network wouldn’t want to intentionally alienate its audience.
Chances are many of the employees of Fox News know someone in their personal lives who was born with an intersex trait. At the very least, with this letter, we are assured that they know at least two people born with an intersex trait who are regularly made to feel abnormal because of their unique bodies. Before laughing at folks like us and the intersex community to which we belong, we encourage Fox News to exercise caution over this very serious issue.
SEAN SAIFA WALL is the board president for Advocates for Informed Choice. GEORGIANN DAVIS, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and the president of, AIS-DSD Support Group.