Annotation: Roundtable Discussion on “Intersex Practice, Theory, and Activism” (2009)

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Creighton, Sarah M., Greenberg, Julie A., Roen, Katrina, and Volcano, Del LaGrace. “Intersex Practice, Theory, and Activism: A Roundtable Dicussion.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 15.2 (2009): 249 – 260. Print.

A group of activists and scholars gathered to discuss the crucial issues, obstacles, strategies, and goals facing intersex activism. Ranging across multiple personal and professional backgrounds, these activists–Creighton (Gynecologist and researcher), Greenberg (law professor), Volcano (visual artist), and Roen (social scientist)–emphasize the importance of sustaining such a conversation and “building bridges” in order to understand and address activism through multiple channels (259).

One of the most crucial issues facing gender variant individuals is genital surgery. Many infants born with variant sex are either operated on by doctors without the awareness of the parents or executed by the consent of the parent. This leads to questions of what constitutes the best interest of the child as well as the autonomy of the child in determining whether or not ze desires surgery. Legal scholar points to two ways in which the law could be used to address this issue: (1) through legislature preventing surgery and (2) as a means of redress through filing a lawsuit. Yet, several obstacles impede such efforts, including lack of governmental support and the question of who is to file the lawsuit. Other related questions are definition and “normative pressure” (254): who gets to define the child?; how may the child negotiate the category of intersex when it is defined by the medical community that is often oppressive through the individual?; how does one decide when surgery is necessary?

Efforts could be made through other means. For clinicians, they often feel the tension between activists who insist on appreciation of gender/sex differences and social pressures for gender normativity that might be internalized by patients. This tension between desires for social change and individual patient desires may be mediated through other means to ensure the best interest of the patient are met. Clinicians must ensure that parents and patients understand all the benefits and risks of surgery. Clinicians should also discuss all the treatment options available. Indeed, surgery is necessary at times. For older patients, the inability to have sex might be a frustration leading to a decision for surgery. However, alternative treatments such as vagina dilation are available and must be made known to patients. Unfortunately, desire for genitals that appear ‘normal’ lead many to choose surgery and may result in damage to sexual sensation as well as a lack of psychological improvement.

More structural issues then are forms of societal pressure and discrimination against intersex bodies, which are forced to conform to faulty gender and sex binaries. Thus, individuals face “fear of difference and compulsory heterosexuality as well as gender normativity” (253). These social pressures often lead individuals to desire a ‘normal’ appearance and to view surgery as a cure for all their problems. While scholarship and activist work serve as means to change social opinion, education should also be entertaining, as artist Volcano suggests.

Many obstacles still exist in terms of establishing a dialogue and working toward social change. Difficulties exist in reaching across disciplinary boundaries and building relationships between individuals and institutions. Although this article ends on this disappointing note of realities, the formation of this discussion and increasing scholarship/activism on issues of justice for intersex individuals serves as a source of inspiration and hope for an increasing movement.

Annotation: Soo-Young Chin’s “Asian American Cultural Production” (2000)

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Chin, Soo-Young, Feng, Peter X, and Lee Josephine. “Asian American Cultural Production.” Journal of Asian American Studies 3.3 (2000): 298-282. Print.

Written as an introduction to the journal in 2000, the writers examine the proliferation of discourse around “Asian American cultural production” as a means of re-visioning understandings of ‘culture’ within Asian American Studies.  Temporally, this essay is positioned not only at the turn of the millennium, but also as a middle point between Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts and Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise.  Consequently, this piece offers an astute analysis of the distinct linkage between “Asian American” and “cultural production” and affords the possibility of extending upon as well as highlighting the limits of both theoretical frameworks.

Framing ‘culture’ within the discourse of cultural nationalism in Asian American Studies, the writers highlight the three forms in which ‘culture’ now manifest: (1) intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; (2) idea about a way of life; and, (3) intellectual and aesthetic activity (271).  Asian American culture, the writers argue, is “inherently activist” (271) given its emergence as resistance against dominant images perpetuated by the hegemonic culture, which possesses representational power.  Thus, discourses around Asian American culture must always address the relationship to this history of activism.  Cultural nationalism was useful in fostering “what [Chele] Sandoval terms an oppositional consciousness” (271; emphasis added) and building a collective political identity.  Furthermore, it beckoned an examination of the everyday in a site of creating Asian American culture and also a site in which problematic ideologies are exposed.

In the debate surrounding ‘culture,’ the writers point to continuing tensions between those with a more theoretical basis in striving for disciplinary legitimacy and academic recognition and those who stress the need to connect act with goals of social activism.  Asian American culture must then negotiate these multiple visions in order to establish the connection between the aesthetic and political that is necessary to effect social change.  The section “The Social Imaginary: Toward a Theory of Cultural Production and Consumption” is particularly apt in conceptualizing the multifaceted players and processes within “cultural production.”  The writers stress the need to examine not only the creation of art, but also its consumption.  Inherent in the examination of consumption are interrogations of who the intended consumers are and why.  The writers beckon us to understand “culture as simultaneously a material and a symbolic production” (273).  This notion echoes needs for critiquing disciplinary boundaries, as argued for in an Asian Americanist critique.  The writers apply Paul Ricoeur’s concept of “the social imaginary” to frame “Asian American” as a collective of history and practices that influence current textual production (experience).  The medium through which this imaginary materializes into experience is the fictive.  In what ways can we extend this framing of Asian American culture as “the fictive” in order to rethink Chuh’s urge to read literature as theory?