Reddit, known birthplace of the MRA movement and “creepshots,” has finally done something right by featuring intersex woman and Adventure Time Production Coordinator Emily Quinn on their weekly AMA (ask me anything) thread.
Just in time for Intersex Awareness Day, Quinn’s post made it to the front page, gathering over 1600 upvotes and 1004 comments.
Quinn is an advocate for Advocates of Informed Choice, an organization that provides awareness to intersex people. She first came out as an intersex in a PSA for MTV. In it, she writes, “No, seriously! I have balls. Not, like, basketballs, or footballs. I’m a girl who has testes.”
Quinn has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS), which means that her body is unresponsive to testosterone and is phenotypically female. She has undescended testes and XY chromosomes which makes her biologically a combination of being both male and female, but has breasts and a vagina.
The glorious part of Reddit’s AMA is that anything goes, or at least, anything that the interviewee is willing to answer by quirky, impenitent Redditors. However, this unfortunately leads to users taking advantage of their posting anonyomity by asking inappropriate questions.
Despite their natural curiosity, the AMA led to Quinn answering insensitive questions like, “How did you learn about this birth defect?” and “So you have a vagina and a ballsack?” But she kept answering, informing the general public about the “I” in LGBTQIA.
Here are her best responses that declare her unapologetic beauty:
- Her answer to “What exactly is intersex?”
Unfortunately, intersex (not intrasex!) is pretty complex, which is why most people don’t know about it or understand what it is. But basically, it means that somebody is born with traits that don’t quite fit in the “male” and “female” boxes. Because sex is a spectrum, there are so many possible variations. You could have someone like me, who starts to develop as a male in the womb but then doesn’t respond to the testosterone and develops differently (androgen insensitivity). You could have someone who is like a typical female in every way, except they don’t have a uterus (MRKH). You could have a typical male who’s urethra doesn’t come out at the tip of the penis but rather somewhere else along the shaft (hypospadias). There are so many possibilities and variations, it’s hard to pin down in a simple explanation.
I have a vagina, but my gonads (the umbrella term for testes or ovaries or both) are testicular in nature. They do produce testosterone, lots of it, but my body doesn’t know what to do with it. It ends up turning some of it into estrogen because bodies are amazing.
- Her thoughts on gender identity, gender roles, and the LGBTIA movement
“That’s definitely a struggle that I still deal with, and that I think most intersex people deal with – figuring out what your sex means about your gender identity. I definitely feel like a woman, but there are little factors here and there that remind me that I’m different. I’m six feet tall for instance, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but for me it’s still a reminder that I’m not like typical women. I definitely check in with myself every now and then just to make sure I still feel like a woman, if that makes sense.
I think adding the I is SO important to the LGBT movement. Even though not all intersex people will agree. We all share the same feelings of shame, isolation, being closeted, etc. though, I think we can really learn a lot from each other.”
- She explains the genital mutilation that intersex persons often endure for the sake of being “normalized”:
Doctors often like to do what they call “normalizing” surgeries to fit children into a binary male and female box. They call it “normalizing” surgery. Ask most intersex people and they’ll tell you it’s genital mutilation. Because it is! Often times surgeries cause scarring, pain, incontinence, so many other problems. The main goal of one of the groups I advocate with is stopping these unnecessary surgeries.
There’s a doctor at UCLA right now who is very uncomfortable with my testes. She wants them gone. Her idea of consent is telling me stories of children who get cancer. Literally. Her reasoning for me to have life-altering, irreversible surgery is that “this one kid completely unrelated to you and your condition had cancer this one time.” I’m not belittling cancer or cancer patients at all, because I know how scary it is. But it’s like telling someone who is perfectly healthy that they need to remove their arm because this other person got cancer in their foot the other day. That’s not informed consent.
- She captures the barrier between consent and informed consent:
I had a doctor try to do a vaginoplasty (where they essentially create a vagina) at age 18, and literally the only reason I escaped it was because I was moving out of the state two weeks later. If a doctor tells you that you need a surgery, you listen. If it was any other time in my life I would have consented without knowing what it meant, because a doctor told me I needed it. Also, like I said, I’m still getting doctors who are trying to coerce me into having a gonadectomy (removing my testes), but I’m informed enough now that I can educate them otherwise. We talk about INFORMED consent because if you say yes, but you’re not told exactly about procedures, repercussions, consequences, options, etc, then that’s not informed.
- And her stance on gender alignment surgery performed on children:
Stop the non-consentual surgeries! All of them! Unless they’re medically necessary, but usually they aren’t.
I think it all depends on someone’s intersex variation, but cosmetic surgery should only happen once a person is ready to fully comprehend what that means. Definitely older than six. For instance, if someone has “ambigious genitalia” (a stupid term meaning their genitals are somewhere in-between a penis and vagina) and identify as a male, that doesn’t mean they’re going to want surgery. Surgery can potentially mean scar tissue, nerve damage, incontinence, etc, rather than just raising the child to love their genitals no matter what they look like. (I’m strictly talking ambiguous genitalia. I don’t mean telling somebody who identifies as male and has a vagina that he hates to simply love their vagina.)
- Her response to the question of kids. Can she have them? And how it affects her in her decision to identify as a woman:
Built in birth control, baby. But I still have to worry about STDs – safety first, people.
As far as adopting goes…I always planned on it until I realized that I don’t actually want to have kids. That has nothing to do with me being intersex as much as it’s just all the other factors in my life. I still identify as a woman, I just don’t want kids. Does that answer your question?
- She reveals how she deals with dating and how being intersex is a game-changer:
I didn’t start dating till I was 20 because I was so scared of rejection. I kept it a secret until I felt comfortable sometimes it took 8 months, sometimes it took a week, but I would rarely share the whole story. As I’ve become more involved in advocacy I started sharing more, and more quickly.
I had one partner break up with me because of it, and that was super damaging. I spent my whole life waiting for that to happen though, so when it didn’t I almost expected it? Yeah, super damaging. But I’ve gotten over it. My current bf is incredible and I told him on our second date…also because I knew he’d eventually find out with the whole being on MTV thing, haha. But he’s been so wonderful and supportive. Everyone’s reacted differently!
- She reveals how she has sex in great detail:
CAIS people have what is medically deemed a “blind pouch” vagina. I hate that term a lot, but I get it. Either way, typical vaginas have two portions. The lower portion is the actual vagina, and it grows up to meet the upper portion which grows down from the uterus. Since I don’t have a uterus, my lower vagina never went anywhere. In order to have penis-in-vagina sex, I had to stretch it out with dilators – which are basically boring, medically looking dildos. The new ones now are getting fancier and fun, but the kind I had were hard, white plastic and super boring. If I had sex now, a new partner wouldn’t know. But, my first boyfriend definitely knew.
Sidenote: my mom was terrified that I’d never be able to have sex. She was relieved when I told her, but also a little sad. Sorry, mom.
To read her full AMA, click here.
(Main photo by Chloe Aftel for Non-Binary Photo Series)