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Below are excerpts from an interview I did in November, 2009, with a fascinating artist and activist, Ins Kromminga, who initiated a process in me, simple and obvious, and yet complicated and hardly ever embarked upon vis-à-vis the politics of gender and sexuality. Ins has challenged the routine of the politics we engage in and the worldview we sometimes unintentionally take for granted and thus make static.
Ins Kromminga was the guest artist at the Nigah Queer fest ’09. The fest, which has partially collaborated with the Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, for the past two years has invited one artist from Germany each year. Ins Kromminga is an artist and activist who works on a range of issues concerning intersex persons. He/She is the German spokesperson for the Organisation of Intersex International. I whisked him/her away for a while during the Nigah picnic, at Nehru Park in Delhi, the closing event of the fest this year. Below are Kromminga’s opinions on intersex persons’ issues and the role of art in the same.
Ponni Arasu: What is “intersex”?
Ins Kromminga: I will try and explain this complex aspect in as simple a form as possible. It is a form of bodily reality where a person’s body integrates parts that are usually considered to be “female” and “male”. This can be at multiple levels. It can be in the genitalia, chromosomes, and the genetic system on the whole and so on. There are many variations in this continuum. Medical science has identified eight categories to determine any human being’s sex and all persons have to fit within these to make a clear-cut call on a person’s gender. And thus, presumably, most people will not fit perfectly within these minimalistic paradigms. The term itself comes from medical science. Before the emergence of the term ‘intersex’ the term used commonly was ‘hermaphrodite’. Since 2005, it has been called Disorder of Sexual Development (DSD) by some following a medical convention where this term was proposed and accepted by the delegates. Intersex activists have resisted this term vehemently, the reasons for which are rather obvious. Essentially, the term pathologises our bodies even further. As a result of this change, intersex has now become a term used by us with pride and as our identity.
PA: What would you say are the basic issues with regards to intersex people?
IK: The basic demand is that no harm is done to persons irrespective of their genders at birth and later. Second, we have always demanded that there be no intervention in terms of surgery or hormonal therapy on any person without the full consent of the person in question. It should not be a choice made by parents, as it is impossible for parents to imagine their child to be neither male nor female given the current social conditioning and stigma. Sometimes, intervention is needed due to other health concerns that are inevitable. However, the medical establishment is not capable of differentiating between normative notions of what a body is to look like and other health issues. The broad politics of most parts of the movement is to work towards a world where society, law and politics should be aware that there are not just men and women as society is not that simple. There is a constant focus on ‘fixing’ the problem without even telling the person what is being done to them. We argue that being intersex is not a ‘problem’ by default but is only, sometimes, one of the many causes for broader health issues.
PA: Please give us a brief overview of your own life as an intersex person.
IK: I was born like a “girl”. Raised as one as well. When I turned 13, I had hair growth and there were changes in my genitalia. My menstruation also did not start. It was when I was 17 that I finally went to a doctor. The doctor frankly and rather rudely declared that I was confusing. As much as it hurt, it was at least clear and direct. I was asked to consult some specialists who told me that my “ovaries” have to be removed, as they may get cancerous causing danger to my life. I consented to the surgery, as a life threat is obviously a reason enough to do so. I realized later however that my so-called ‘ovaries’ were actually internal testes, which cause no danger to my life, and I could have lived healthily with them. I was lied to by the doctors in order to keep my gender as ‘female’ a intact, a choice they made for me and not me for myself. They presumed that right by virtue of me being intersex. The process of the medical check-ups is often violative of all intersex people irrespective of age and I faced some parts of it also. I was made to undress and stand in front of a medical grid and pictures were taken of me. Intersex people are made to be specimens on a regular basis for doctors and medical students without their consent. Some little children have surgeries performed on them where for instance a ‘vagina’ is constructed and dildoes inserted into them on the regular basis to make their ‘vaginas’ as ‘real’ as possible. This act, which amounts to rape essentially, is performed in the name of medical treatment. Many who have gone through this process are traumatized for years to come if not for the rest of their lives. Most of these procedures are not needed for their health and well-being but only to determine their gender as one or the other and to maintain it that way. It is a violative heteronormative notion of what ‘female’ and ‘male’ bodies should look like and how they are to live their lives that informs these practices. For instance, an intersex person who is made into a woman is not just a woman but also a heterosexual woman by default.
PA: Can you give us a brief outline of the intersex movement in Germany?
IK: It began in 1996 when Michel Reiter along with others started the Working Group Against Violence in Pediatrics and Gynecology. They initiated and ran campaigns critically and openly through flyers, articles and films. One of the first organizations in the world is the Inter Sex Society of North America (ISNA), which is now defunct. I am the German spokesperson for the Organization of Intersex International which works in many countries across the world including Australia, South Africa, Uganda, South America, Palestine, Tunisia, Taiwan and so on. We also have a contact person at Ekta, an organization based in Mumbai, India. The intersex movement has been inspired by the women’s movement and the queer movement in Germany. It is informed by feminism. The continuum in the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s rights and that of intersex people is blatantly clear. Even in Germany when much of the LGBT persons are apolitical, we argue that if doctors could decide the sexual orientation of a child the way they decide the gender at birth or later, LGBT people need to remember that parents will still choose heterosexual children. The connections are clear and thus the mutual solidarity obvious.
PA: What do you see your role as an artist in this process?
IK: As an artist, I express myself based on those things that I see. The absurdity of the fixing of genders and the policing that is needed leaves one with a whole host of material for the creation of art. Hopefully, putting them out there visually will challenge existing notions of gender in society and make a case for all those who live lives without fixed genders and for all others who hope to create a society where the binary notion of gender is broken down.
Ins Kromminga from his/her own experience has given us a brief overview. There are millions of intersex children, teenagers and adults in India as well who are not even within our world view. We have no details about these people whatsoever. The queer and feminist movement has to incorporate within it the lives of intersex people. More importantly, we need to acknowledge fully the absurdity of the attempt to simplify and codify society, in terms of gender in this case and the oppressions and exclusions that this process cushions on a daily basis. In an atmosphere where we can make progress vis-à-vis a public discourse on gender and sexuality, this is a basic concern that should define our work and thought, without which we would be excluding in a way that the systems we fight against always exclude. It is about time we see and acknowledge the brutal violence of the gender binary and stand up for a complex world with people of various genders and sexualities.