Friday, 1 November 2013

A sensible decision – and an outbreak of stupidity

Caster Semenya: living proof of gender/sex complexity

It’s a move that will, hopefully, help to avoid situations where parents are forced to make a decision on gender, with the result that doctors may then perform drastic and irreversible surgery that may not actually tally with what the individual feels as they grow up.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it would be difficult to view this as anything other than a sensible and sensitive decision.

The very recent case of South African athlete Caster Semenya should illustrate how the matter of sex is not always a matter of absolutes – and Semenya is far from unique.

And the life and early death of David Reimer (and his brother) is another example of the tragic consequences of an obsessive need to categorise gender/sex too early (and of male circumcision).

So what could possibly be controversial about the news of this decision in Germany?

Well, when the BBC allowed comments after publishing the story earlier today, it unleashed a remarkable mount of ignorance and downright bile.

“This says everything you need to know about Europe and its God despising politicians. We need to get out of the EU IMMEDIATELY,” screamed one poster.

“This will just confuse the children even more. Look to the Lord God our Savior and let Him decide.
Man should not be making these sorts of decisions, the rapture will come soon to punish those acting in the name of the Lord God Our Father,” said another.

“Next we'll have legal marriage between three people under the banner ‘we deserve it it’s our right’ – what a joke. Are we going to have have to fit everywhere with 3 sets of toilets: ‘Male’, ‘Female’, ‘Not quite sure’ – life is tough, get on with it,” read another.

Then there was this little classic: “God created WOMEN from the rib of MAN. God did NOT create another gender. THIS IS BLASPHEMY.”

And this simplistic summing up: “Ridiculous – they either have a Y chromosome or not – end of story. The sooner people stop thinking that gender is a matter of choice the better.”

Then this fantastic piece of expert medical advice: “A boy is medically different from a girl, just ask the doctors to put their glasses on! It’s only in extraordinary circumstances that we should meddle.”

And this piece of paranoid lunacy: “And so depravity rules eh.....Haarp anyone? Something in the water. SIck society, the end is nigh.”

This one starts with a good old laugh at those Jerries: “Well their language works like that so masculine, feminine and neuter probably seems more natural to them,” before going into loony terrain: “Meanwhile back in the real world outside of the halls of the BBC and Westminster, a third gender is creepy and unnatural. why do we have to keep putting up with this nonsense in Western society?”

I have quite deliberately not edited a single one of these: they are exactly as published.

To be clear, there were also many, many comments that reflect compassion and, if not a scientific understanding, then a readiness to accept that the issue exists and that this is a sensible and sensitive way to deal with it.

But boy, oh boy, there are also a remarkably large number of these negative comments. Well, not simply “negative”, but stark staring bonkers.

Even within their apparent own belief systems, some fail to exert internal logic.

For instance, if you believe in a god that is – as the Christian god is traditionally believed to be – omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, then it was that god that created those babies whose sex/gender is not clear at birth.

Are some people really trying to pretend that no babies are ever born with, say, genitalia that is not limited to one sex, and are thus saying that this story is based on a lie to start with?

The EU comment is simply the sort of raving bonkersness that probably comes of care in the community.

Not that such people limited themselves to simply posting such crap.

For instance, you have to wonder at the mentality of whoever it was who, within seconds of this calm and sensible comment being posted, marked it down:

“Generally speaking, unless there is impaired functionality (as with cleft palate or “hare lip”,congenital cardiac defects &c.) “correcting” inter-sex features immediately upon birth might be -- in some cases -- more traumatic than beneficial.It will require a lifetime of medication with hormones.May be better to provide effective counselling to parents & focus on psychoemotional &social aspects1st.”

What? In marking it down you suggest that you think (I use the word loosely) that instant surgery is absolutely the best option, regardless of any later problems that it creates if it turns out the physical characteristics that you’ve chosen for the child do not meet the emotional ones that they subsequently possess?

I mean – come on: really?

This isn’t about ‘creating’ a third sex – it’s about a country finding a way to help ensure that children who are born with indeterminate sex are not rushed into situations that could be negative for them in later life.

These children exist – the condition exists.

What’s to get so hot and bothered about?

A century ago, Magnus Hirschfeld – the world’s first sexologist – was campaigning to increase understanding, decriminalisation and greater tolerance of homosexuality and homosexuals.

We’ve come a long, long way in the time since – at least in some parts of the world. As Stephen Fry’s recent look at homophobia showed very clearly, there’s still a very long way to go in some places in particular, but you do look at these sort of comments – and there are plenty of them – and you wonder at the continuing intolerance, deliberate misunderstanding and just downright stupidity that seems to exist among sizable amounts of the population.

Is it really too optimistic to hope that, at some time, we could actually have entire populations that are educated to a point where they don’t come out with such drivel?

Or will we need to develop a fourth way of categorising people for those who are simply stupid beyond help?

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