Critical Intersex

What should be waiting for me when I got home but an exciting parcel containing my shiny new copy of the long-awaited and hot-off-the-press volume Critical Intersex, edited by the wonderful Morgan Holmes? It's an absolutely beautiful book and this little thumbnail doesn't really do justice to the stunning cover photograph by Katja Hofmann. The official publication date is 28th October but you can pre-order it from Amazon or direct from Ashgate (who currently have the edge on price!)

My essay in this volume is called "Theologies of Resistance: Intersex/DSD, Disability and Queering the 'Real World'." It was a privilege to be able to contribute a theological piece to this important new multidisciplinary collection and I am oddly pleased that mine is the final essay in the volume.

Incidentally, if you're someone who knows anything about this, you may be wondering why a new book would choose to use the term "intersex" rather than "DSD" (disorder of sex development) in light of recent and ongoing debates about terminology. Indeed, several of the essays discuss the controversy at length, but I think Morgan herself sums up really well and concisely why this terminology was appropriate for the book:

"Why bring together a group of essays from an international group of scholars to examine the issue of intersex precisely when 'DSD' is being promoted as the most appropriate way to refer to and to think about what has been medically identified as 'intersex' throughout much of the twentieth century ..? Does the titling of this collection not belie a lack of awareness on the part of the editor that 'intersex' is no longer the appropriate term through which to apprehend and understand the identification of bodies that are neither discretely male nor discretely female? Is the collection not terribly out of date even before arriving on the shelves, and perhaps radically off the plot as well?

In response to these troubling worries, this collection asserts that we (whether we are scholars, intersexed persons, activists or some combination of these three) are not yet done with 'intersex', even as we seek to turn a critical gaze on 'intersex'. The implicit imperative in the title of this collection is that it is too soon to accept the language of disorder wholesale and that, in fact, a critical value remains in the use, deployment, recognition and interrogation of 'intersex'. What is critical about intersex? What does it mean to think about intersex critically? ...

This collection understands that 'intersex' is not one but many sites of contested being, temporally sutured to biomedical, political and social imperatives in play in each moment. 'Intersex' then, is hailed by specific and competing interests, and is a sign constantly under erasure, whose significance always carries the trace of an agenda from somewhere else."

(Holmes, M.Morgan [2009a], "Introduction: Straddling Past, Present and Future", in Holmes, M. Morgan [ed.] [2009b], Critical Intersex, Farnham: Ashgate, 1-12, citing p. 1-2)

In any case, it was brought home to me today that, as reported in The Guardian, the South African athlete Caster Semenya may have been shown by tests to be a hermaphrodite. I think it's easy for those of us working in this discipline to forget, even as we wrangle over "intersex" v. "DSD", that much of the rest of society is still clinging to that archaic and inaccurate designation which we thought was long gone and buried. It seems that reports of "hermaphroditism"'s death have been greatly exaggerated.


  1. Susannah! Thanks for the glowing endorsement of the collection. I found your blog when I googled the book to get to the Ashgate site. Also thanks for your recent email. We've just moved house and started a new academic term so I haven't had a chance to reply, but the email was very much appreciated.


Post a Comment