Five College Women's Studies Research Center

Symposium on Intersex

Caitlin Childs

Intersections: How disability can inform intersex in the classroom and beyond

When the Intersex Society of North America was founded in 1993, it incorporated the prior work of disability rights activists and disability studies scholars. Building on that history, this presentation will approach intersex by exploring its intersections and collisions with disability. Weaving my experiences as an intersex person and activist together with reflections on my organizing work in development disabilities and social justice, I will consider how ideas from disability studies and disability justice activism can continue to inform intersex discourse.  Intersex and disability provide useful contexts for one other because of their many commonalities. Like disability, intersex is a large umbrella term under which many medical diagnoses fall. People with disabilities and people who are intersex live in bodies that are generally deemed undesirable and in need of correction and/or erasure through related processes of social and medical normalization. Issues of voice and agency compound the impact of this normalization. Medical experts and parents assume decision-making authority for both groups, imposing choices on their behalf and in their alleged "best interests" that deny them the right to fully informed consent and bodily integrity. Academic and professional experts who are not personally impacted routinely determine outcomes in policy, academic discourse, medicine, and general terminology without including intersex and disabled people or acknowledging the vital importance of their personal expertise and experience.  This presentation will offer both practical and theoretical ways of addressing intersex in research, pedagogy, and organizing work that draw from and build upon disability studies.

Bio:  Caitlin Petrakis Childs is a twenty-something, white, queer, intersex, femme, community organizer from Atlanta, GA. She has been active in social justice movements of various kinds for half of her life. She has been an intersex activist for 10 years and frequently speaks to diverse audiences on the topic. These days she is working in the developmental disability field and is especially interested in the ways disability and intersex intersect and how we can build off of those intersections. Read more about her at www.caitlinpetrakischilds.com.


Lynnell Stephani Long

Intersex Activist & Educator

 Intersex 201 – Alliance with your LGBT organization on or off campus

Through alliances with existing organizations, The Intersex community can better leverage limited resources to make information and peer support available in all communities.  LGBT organizations are the most resourceful organizations with which the Intersex community can develop such relationships.  Through the relationships that we develop, we can enhance both the work of the Intersex community and that of LGBT organizations working at the national and local level.  Organizations and their members can also help by talking to their friends and family members about the Intersex movement. The idea is that the more people are aware of Intersex the less likely they will be to accept surgery as the only option when they or someone they know have an Intersex baby.

 Bio: Lynnell Stephani Long is an Intersex Activist & Educator, licensed Paramedic and Photographer living in Chicago.  She has spoken publicly on the subject of improving treatment for people with Intersex conditions and their families. This has included appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2008 and the Montel Williams Show in 2002.   She was also featured on the Intersex documentary “One in 2000” by Ajae Clearway, and the newly released Intersex documentary “Intersexion”.

 Lynnell’s Intersex activism has taken her across the USA and Canada educating people about Intersex and Intersex Genitalia Mutilation (IGM).  Her short-movies, "My Body is My Body," and "Momma and Them Call Me James," were shown in film festivals in the USA and Canada.  She recently finished a short-movie called "Still The One," which she hopes will be submitted to film festivals as well.

 Lynnell continues to educate people about Intersex on the Internet as well. She is also the co-founder of “Intersex Collective” (www.intersexcollective.org), which is dedicated to forming a collective of Intersex activists available for speaking engagements across the world.

When Lynnell isn’t saving lives as a Paramedic or educating on Intersex she enjoys writing poetry and photographing the world.


David A. Rubin

Senior Lecturer
Women's and Gender Studies
Vanderbilt University 


"An Unnamed Blank that Craved a Name": A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender

This lecture traces a genealogy of intersexuality's underrecognized but historically pivotal role in the development of gender as a concept in twentieth-century American biomedicine, feminism, and their globalizing circuits. Using a queer feminist science studies approach, I argue that intersex has been and remains central to the history of gender as a classificatory schema, object of knowledge, technology of subject formation, and paradigm of sociality in late modernity. This genealogy pushes beyond current scholarship on intersexuality to suggest that, while dominant understandings of sex and gender have overdetermined the meaning of intersex, historically speaking, the concept of intersex paradoxically preceded and inaugurated what we would today call the sex/gender distinction. Through a close reading of psychoendocrinologist John Money's biomedical research, I show that intersex was integral to the historical emergence of the category gender as distinct from sex in the mid-twentieth-century English-speaking world. I argue that Money used the concept of gender to cover over and displace the biological instability of the body he discovered through his research on intersex, and that Money's conception of gender produced new technologies of psychosomatic normalization. Situating Money's work within the history of feminist theorizing about sex and gender, I conclude by reflecting on what the intertwined histories of intersex, biomedicine, and feminism might mean for the field of women's and gender studies.

Bio:  David A. Rubin is a Senior Lecturer in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Vanderbilt University, where he has taught since receiving his Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Emory University in 2010. His research and teaching interests include critical intersex studies, feminist and queer theory, the history of science, LGBT studies, transnational feminisms, masculinity studies, and disability studies. He is the author of “‘An Unnamed Blank that Craved a Name’: A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender, forthcoming in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society; coauthor, with Miranda Joseph, of “Promising Complicities: On the Sex, Race, and Globalization Project,” in A Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies, edited by George Haggerty and Molly McGarry (2007); and the author of “Women’s Studies, Neoliberalism, and the Paradox of the ‘Political’, in Women’s Studies for the Future: Foundations, Interrogations, Politics, edited by Elizabeth Kennedy and Agatha Beins (2005). He is currently working on a book project that investigates the convergences and divergences between biomedicine, intersex activism, and feminist, queer, and disability studies.