Remembering Sally

“Should I die in my bed tonight, be I remembered for it or not, my life and endeavours will have laid the legislative foundations in our law for the significant enhancement of the rights and prospects of people who are intersexed. Knowing this, when I go gently into that good night I can go proudly” (Gross 2011: 237).¹

In memory of Sally Gross, who passed away a fortnight ago. She was an hugely valuable activist and a warm, humble, kind and honest person, who saw the best in people, and was always more interested in others than herself… right to the end. She posted a few words of comfort to my social media perhaps a day or 2 before passing away and right then I was in a crisis but wished I had the spoons to write and catch up with how she was doing at that time, she was battling with bigger unresolvable health issues that I was then.

I want to write about disability, illness and isolation but it’s too overwhelming in my own life currently. I disagree with one thing in this tribute and Sally would perhaps disagree with me. I think guilt would be healthy, it can prompt us to enact well-needed change. I learned from someone that Sally didn’t have a lift to and from hospital on occasions, then I didn’t know her well enough but eventually offered her a lift. It may’ve been awkward to insist when it may have been odd for her to have me ask in the first place, I learned this fact about her from someone else after all and I realise now that other friends of hers didn’t know. She occasionally took a cab, as did I (I am and was unemployed but that’s the way it is with disability and illness, asking for a lift when in need is hard, I did anyway and it became clear I’m an inconvenience, for me it becomes easier to get help from strangers than ableist friends). I found out our dear maxi taxi driver knows a Sally when he took me to my GP, the same she went to. I guess he assumed I knew all the disabled people he did, or for some reason talked about them a lot. I knew the others, and had met Sally but couldn’t tell and didn’t ask which Sally he kept referring to until he disclosed to me that she was intersex. Maybe he knew she had been out in the media.

I’d met Sally at events we attended, once at a talk she gave on intersex issues – I was thrilled when she said she was asexual (she had been describing it in other terms since about 2000 but I had not read about her really), I went to introduce myself at the end as a fellow asexual among other things. It was huge for me to meet another ace in flesh for the first time (who was also aromantic -and- walked with a cane!), asexuality was not a big deal for her though and we were both in a rush. I’d see her at events now and then but I got to know her better only in the months before I left South Africa sadly.

Coming back to isolation, I had 3 individual farewells. Odd in a place where I had lived my adult life, I had many friends but not since I said I was moving out of the country or it was my latest disability that made some uncomfortable, and when that was clear I became withdrawn too. I was already multiply-disabled and felt I must stop revealing this one, I bore the health consequences of that and it limited me socially.

I had a most memorable farewell with Sally – a drive through my favourite part of Capetown, lunch and a chill session at one of her favourite places, the Buddhist eatery in Simonstown. She was saying it’s probably her farewell too, and while I hoped I would be back and visit her again, it was refreshing to have frank conversations about death. She was, she said, ready to leave this realm and only concerned about leaving her cats. She was speaking in the context of Buddhism, she didn’t mention her fear of dying alone, later reported by her friends. Perhaps she avoided making me think of my own prospective situation.

It’s hard to ask for help or company in times of need in places where there is no disability justice movement; that said, I didn’t know her friends in Capetown – a mutual one had ceased to interact with me when I mentioned my last disability while access need was still easy, another who had been introducing me to people as her new child was back to being a stranger when she became aware of my lived reality. So many people get uncomfortable speaking about illness, especially illness that doesn’t end or other “negative things”. Instead of being immediately ableist they could’ve first told me there is a fundraiser for Sally. I found out about this fundraiser only after Sally’s death. Please note that it is ongoing, Mani Mitchell is carrying on her work as well as Nthabiseng Mokoena in South Africa.

A last visit to Sally was something I was really looking forward to. I regret that too many issues came in my way and then I boarded a 1-way flight I thought I would postpone. I was going to deal with homelessness for other reasons and my only alternative was very probably to crash at Sally’s place but of course my being allergic to cats would’ve been an issue.

 

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Intersex – Intersexué

If you are unfamiliar with intersex (one of the 3 sexes), please watch this brief discussion on Huffpost Live for an introduction or browse Organisation Intersex International. Pour l’instant un lien suffira et la traduction viendra peut être dès qu’il m’est facile de taper (et dès que je trouve une traduction pour ‘sibling’) – car taper ce qui suit m’a pris des semaines.

To the intersex, the sex category which continues to be ignored, all of us ought to be allies (which entails a process whereby we forever learn how to ally) regardless of where we fit in or outside the gender binary. transgender advocate Courtney O’ Donnell’s piece is a case of hogging the all-too-little space for conversation around intersex issues, and intersex visibility. Courtney is conflating issues and since people are hardly aware of intersex people, it’s wrong.

Anti-trans “moralists” range from feminists to extremists and include otherwise very intelligent people, one would think they may not all overlap with those bigoted about intersex. It is true that if society had a place for even intersex children, then transgender children would have a place, as there are commonalities.

Courtney’s generalised description of intersex seems simplistic and inaccurate. One would imagine that in most countries, the intersex are forced to undergo treatment and surgeries from an age at which they cannot give their consent, if not infancy and early in their childhood. Furthermore they are then often repeatedly hospitalised for procedures, all in the name of gender binary worship and medically-endorsed genital mutilation. This is not for health reasons, as pointed out after 12:50 and at the end of the discussion I posted as introduction above.

Assigning a fixed gender according to sex is the medical trend and it is sacrosanct to limit the options to two, so much so that the majority, even those born intersex like Sheena Metal, ignore the existence of a third sex until late in their lives as Sheena admitted. There are no bathrooms specific to intersex where bathrooms are segregated and it is as if there’s a social conspiracy not to include them, in sports and life in general. Sure, many of the same barriers apply to trans but some can perhaps pick a bathroom. Others share similar concerns as intersex folks and intersex living as male or female often have treatments in common with trans.

Society and institutions have mandated sex (or at least gender) reassignment as essential for our intersex siblings and we conspire in our silence or by detracting from their issues. This mandate is often coming from the same crowd who oppose sex reconstructive surgery in another part of the population where ironically surgery is desired and the teens or adults are consenting and empowered.

“Sheena Metal is a popular L.A. radio host, journalist, comic and sometimes-actress. Recently she came out as intersex over the air and in an interview in Gay Star News. What struck me about this is that Sheena says she’s baffled that nobody wants to talk about it. She believes the media isn’t that interested in covering it because “the general public doesn’t really want to understand anything about being intersex.” As for the “intersex community,” Sheena says there isn’t much of one. She asks how one can find others when nobody admits to being intersex.”

In spite of anti-trans sentiment, there are increasingly opportunities for people to transition in many countries (that doesn’t mean there are other opportunities or equal consideration) whereas even the Intersex Society of North America has become oprressive according to testimonies, and they have started using the term people with Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD) which makes the opposition to real or helpful advocacy evident. The only horrific example I can think of is countries where people are forced to transition to avoid same-sex unions, like Iran, I imagine this does not affect trans folks but perhaps lesbian, gay and bi folks as well as some intersex. If I had to draw comparisons I would think: I have a suspicion there is medical profit to be made by encouraging visibility of trans whereas the industry profits by decreasing visibility of intersex folks. There is not nearly enough visibility, LGBT organisations often don’t even want to include an I or a Q in my experience (and not there but in some places the opposition originates from the Intersex community, sure) while the intersex issues overlap and intersex activits speak of LGBT issues even if they are personally not affected, as allies.

There is no competition but some of us have privilege – visibility; and although white supremacy has determined history, some groups have been recognised throughout Western history. transgender and intersex have a commonality in that historical acceptance is through indigenous communities throughout the world and our continent. The discourse around that fact remains predominantly about transgender such as when we think of Thailand. I personally know many people who have visited Thailand but ignore the existence of intersex, as most people I know of.