Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Alice Dreger, have you no shame?

Dear Reader,

Alice Dreger recently posted a page in her blog that now reads:

Why "Disorders of Sex Development"? (On Language and Life)

The original title of that speech which she gave at the Kinsey Institute was:

"No Matter How You Slice It? Parsing Intersex"

The official announcement follows:
Nov. 12, 12 p.m.-1:15 p.m., Kinsey Institute Conference Room, Morrison Hall 2nd Floor, Bloomington -- Alice Dreger, Ph.D., associate professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, will present "No Matter How You Slice It? Parsing Intersex." Is "intersex" a biological description or a political identity? A pathology, a variation, a human rights issue? And who belongs in and out of the category? This lecture will consider the many ways "intersex" has been constructed and deconstructed -- historically, medically, politically -- and will end with a suggestion of what makes the most sense today. For more information, contact jbass@indiana.edu.

Many people contacted the host of Dreger’s lecture and expressed their concerns about the lack of sensitivity in such a title being presented at the Kinsey Institute.

It is very interesting that ever since Alice Dreger started defending J Michael Bailey and writing long, inaccurate articles claiming that poor Bailey has been terribly mistreated and his life "ruined" by transsexuals, it seems that she has started following Bailey’s script herself by purveying the most absolutely offensive kinds of images (remember the cover and title of Bailey’s book) in order to generate controversy and attention. (See: Why would anyone defend this man?)

The Organisation Intersex International received many e-mails from intersex people from all over the United States and Canada about this title. All of them expressed their hurt and disgust that anyone would even think of such a title, especially after all the controversy that Dreger’s DSD Consortium had generated. The use of the title "No matter how you slice it" is unbelievably offensive to most of us. It’s one thing to attack a gender minority with DSD terminology. It’s quite another to rub it in by using vengeful titles for seminar talks.

Modeling herself on Bailey: Generating controversy and attacking critics

Many of us are now convinced that Dreger is positioning herself as the “J Michael Bailey of Intersex.” Whether that is true or not, she is off to a good start. She is out there stirring up even more controversy about DSD by using inflammatory titles for her talks, and will undoubtedly lash back at those who criticize her obscene titles.

Even those outside the intersex community are starting to understand how Dreger reacts to the slightest criticism, something many of us have had to contend with for quite a while now.

In a particularly flagrant case, Dreger recently attacked a transgender graduate student who criticized transphobia in academe:

Letter to WPATH Board of Directors about Dreger's attack on graduate student:

See also the following essay by Elise Hendrick: “Alice Dreger Destroys Academic Freedom in Order to Save It”

Responding to this new pattern of attack:

Let’s parse Dreger’s lecture. It’s time that intersex people do some of the parsing for a change. It is about intersex people, isn’t it? All the parsing that has been going on, that is?

Dreger knows full-well what she's doing when she uses language like that. It's a deliberately creepy hint about the "slicing up of genitals" by Dreger's expert medical colleagues after they decide who is to be assigned male and who is to be assigned female. The abstract then goes on to assign Dreger the power to decide about just about everything: who's in and who's out, who's real and who's an ideologue, etc., even though she's become an anathema to the intersex community for her insistence on pathologizing terminology.

Let’s start at the beginning, and work our way through Dreger’s talk:

The challenging thing about talking about the history and politics of the term “intersex” is that the term is a moving target. That is to say, it’s meaning seems to change even as we talk about it. – Alice Dreger

Target: why is it being targeted and who is targeting it? It appears that Dreger has made a slip and given the reader the whole purpose of her intersex/DSD activism – targeting intersex people and their rightful place as adults who should also have a say in what happens to us and to intersex children.

How you define intersex depends on how you define males and females. The category of intersex, like the category of male and female, has been (and will continue to be) constructed in different ways at different times and places. Nature is messy, even though we try to create neat categories from nature’s mess. – Alice Dreger

Messy. Nature’s mess: Another slip. So, we need experts like Dreger to help clean up Nature’s mess by making it clear that intersex people are “disordered” (maybe the messiest group) while those who can fit more easily in the male and female categories are “ordered”.

Reading between the lines, this appears to be a long apologia by Dreger of why she chose to champion DSD and why it was a great idea. She must be getting a lot of pushback from various quarters (even beyond the intersex community) for having done that. Thus she's now come out to explain it all, via yet another revisionist history.

Some observations:

After beating around the bush with all sorts of extraneous stuff, Dreger gets down to what she's really trying to do: Dreger makes it clear that she was the key person who "decided" that DSD was the right thing to do for the good of the intersex community. If nothing else, Dreger still wants to claim full credit as the decision-maker.

However, she goes on to make it appear that her DSD decision was seen as being good by almost all others, as if everyone immediately saw her "wisdom". Nowhere does she mention the extreme lengths she went to to promote DSD and push it down everyone's throats. Nor does she mention that when encountering pushback from the intersex community, she made personal attacks on critics as being a tiny minority of fringe identity ideologues, etc. - in a manner very reminiscent of Bailey's behavior.

Unfortunately for Dreger, criticism of DSD will not go away. Milton Diamond's essay in particular is steadily gaining traction and must be really grating on Dreger now - as then evidenced in the following re her Kinsey talk:

A couple of people at my Kinsey talk pressed me about the terminology and asked me to work more on trying to find a new, better term. What about, for example, "variations of sex development," as some have suggested? Honestly, I don't see that term flying in the medical system; I've asked about it, and it doesn't go anywhere. Part of the reasonable fear among medical professionals is over-de-pathologizing sex anomalies. . .

In a paper just published in a special issue I edited with Paul Vasey, historian Elizabeth Reis proposes "divergence of sex development" as an alternative. I think this is a good idea in general, and I hope that the big players will consider this term as an option.

But in general, I'm not interested in spending more time on nomenclature for sex anomalies and sex variations. Nomenclature is, at some level, a problem of luxury. Given a choice between spending energy on trying to get the perfect term or trying to save perfectly healthy clitoral tissue from well-meaning pediatric surgeons, I'll go for the later. – Alice Dreger

That certainly appears self-centered and dismissive of those actually directly concerned. It is as if intersex people who are over 18 years of age have no right to address any of these issues concerning intersex children. Unlike Dreger, there are issues about this topic that we do understand. Intersex adults were once intersex children.

Dreger spends an entire year or more of her life in a mean-spirited effort to push DSD down the throats of the intersex community. And now, when people even outside that community are beginning to question the wisdom of her “nomenclature victory", she replies with “...I'm not interested in spending more time on nomenclature for sex anomalies and sex variations. Nomenclature is, at some level, a problem of luxury."

"No Matter How You Slice It? Parsing Intersex": The Dark Side of Dreger's DSD Activism

That title reveals an insidiously hateful side of Dreger’s character: For someone who prides herself in being ever so clever with words, she had to know how hurtful that title would be to intersex people (especially those who've been "sliced" physically and emotionally by the system Dreger represents, and who don't appreciate being referred to as "it" either).

What reason could she have had to use such an awful title? Now I'm not one to attribute motives without hard evidence, but some folks might suspect Dreger of being in a rage against intersex people for having "turned the world against her", or some other such imagined injury. Folks might also suspect Dreger of designing that title to ensure that few or no intersex people would attend her talks (given the difficulty in maintaining one's emotions in the face of such despicable taunts).

So there we have it: Dreger out there trying to ensure that she gets credit as the decision-maker who gave the world "DSD", then dismissing any suggestions that the nomenclature should be changed as a "luxury" not worth wasting precious time on. Furthermore, when doing this Dreger presses home her academic power to define, defame and dismiss intersex people, in talks entitled "No Matter How You Slice It? Parsing Intersex".

For more information about Alice Dreger and DSD:
by Curtis E. Hinkle