This letter was written by Elena H. of the intersex youth leadership organization Inter/Act. For privacy reasons, the author's full name is being withheld.
Let me talk about shame. We've all experienced it to some extent, but for those rare few who haven't, I define shame as a feeling of complete and utter worthlessness. The sense that there could not possibly be a place for you in the world, that you are utterly alone, unknowable and frankly not worth knowing. Shame can be associated with abuse, neglect or ignorance and often leads to hostility, isolation and unhappiness.
As someone who has experienced this kind of deep, overwhelming shame, I don't understand why anyone would want to make others feel this way.
I have Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). This means that I was born with female external anatomy, internal non-functioning testes and XY chromosomes. I was that weird phenomena that happens when our XX/XY chromosomal system breaks down and creates something that's a little bit of both and none of either. When I first got my full diagnosis at 17 years old, I was consumed with shame. My parents told me to keep it secret (I wasn't even allowed to tell my sister) and my doctors treated me like some prized freak. I had no idea what to think because no one would talk about it with me and I had never heard about it before. So I assumed the worst — that I was an unloveable oddity bound to live alone on the fringes of society forever.
Naturally, it didn't take long for the shame to sink in. It ate at me, made me untrusting, sad and small. For years, it was all I could feel. I didn't trust that anyone could love me with the knowledge of my "condition." I kept asking myself questions like, "Am I supposed to like girls? Boys?" or "Who am I? Is it worth even trying with people because they'll never understand." The girl who used to chatter incessantly became stuttering, silent, angry — unable to trust her own thoughts. Shame made me into a cold, selfish person I didn't recognize.
It's taken me years to rid myself of shame, and even more years to start to appreciate my intellect, recognize my strengths and begin to speak out for myself and my community. But without the example of people who inspired me to be fearless and open about myself and a group of wonderful friends, I might still be in that black box of shame with room to breathe but no room to grow.
Last week, however, Fox News made me feel that shame again. Some of their commentators made me, and my community, a punchline to their joke. Instead of celebrating a move Facebook made to give its users a chance to fully express their gender or sexual identity, Fox News correspondents decided to mock it. Unable to realize their own ignorance, they snickered at the thought that anyone could identify as intersex, even asking the question, "What if you want to identify as a pinecone?"
By laughing at our identity, they proved they'd rather spread ignorance than grapple with the complexity of our truths. We are all different, and our differences don't make us any less human. Their commentary added to the chorus of those in power who continue to force us to accept a binary that isolates and leaves out people like me. I feel so sorry for those people. They forget that if we would accept others and be more open, like Facebook is trying to do, maybe we could stop making each other feel so deeply screwed up. Maybe, just maybe, we could even make each other better.
I applaud Facebook for its push to make it easier to share our complex identities through social media. Difference is not something to spit upon and laugh at; it is something to celebrate because in the end our differences are what we all have in common.
But Morris' apology did not address the root of the problem. As Inter/Act member Emily Brehob said in response:
This host's apology doesn't make up for what was said, but it does demonstrate a rare willingness by a Fox correspondent to learn from his mistakes. Fox's reporting on intersex issues is far from perfect, but this segment gave us reason to hope for better in the future.
It is our hope that one day we will live to see a future actually free of stigma and shame.