Desirability politics: sex and the intersex body


Headshot gender trio – image supplied.

In the 5th grade, when I was aged 11 or 12, there was a moment where all the girls went into one room to watch a puberty film about periods and all the boys went into one room to watch a puberty film about erections. I’m sure that was incredibly awkward for everyone, so maybe I was lucky that I got to sit in the library and watch “Bill Nye the Science Guy” because my adoptive parents wouldn’t sign a waiver for me to see a puberty film. It wasn’t because they were very old fashioned (they were). It wasn’t because the films were probably outdated (they were). It wasn’t even because they wanted to teach me about ‘the birds and the bees’ themselves (they didn’t). No, it was because I was born with an intersex body.

Nobody was really sure what natural puberty would be like for me at that point. They also weren’t sure what kind of hormone replacement therapy and surgical procedures would be pressured upon me in future. The real reason my adoptive parents opted to exclude me from the puberty film was because they were (and still are) convinced that as an intersex-bodied person I didn’t need to learn about sex because… I would never be experiencing it.

We never discussed my uniquely intersex genitals beyond reminders to tell no-one about it. My body’s natural state was a shameful secret. It was understood that I would never date or be married. While it was never said aloud, I heard the message clearly: My body would not be desired by others. That could not be further from the truth.

My body was indeed desired, but not in ways that I desired. Throughout childhood, my body was desired by the medical community. I had no say about who saw my naked body, who touched or probed my genitals, or who took photos of me. Doctors were in a position of power and control over my body. Many intersex people have similar experiences with the medical community, as well as other abuses. That kind of shame, secrecy, and trauma is pervasive and can negatively impact people’s relationships with their body, their relationships with others, and their ability to use their body for intimacy with others.

I found healing and empowerment in my sexuality; which enabled me to reclaim power over my body. I get to dictate who can see my naked body, who can touch my genitals, and who can take and see pictures of me. As an adult, I quickly discovered that contrary to what I had been told, my uniquely intersex genitals were desired. In instances of casual sex, my genitals were actually more than just desired, they were fetishized. Similar power dynamics are in play to those in my childhood: like the doctors who saw me only as a mass of flesh and genitals to explore for their own benefit; the folks interested in my body for casual sex are only interested in my flesh and genitals to explore for their own benefit. In neither case am I seen as a human with emotions or desires for my own body.

“If it exists, someone, somewhere gets off to it” is a common phrase amongst sex industry workers. There is a niche market for every kind of sex act, body type, power dynamic, and body part. If you can imagine it, someone’s into it. My intersex body is fetishized. Whether I want it to be or not. As a highly sexual person I choose to not just capitalize on that fetishization by being an escort; but to also shift the power dynamic associated with it. The fetishization and exploitation of my body is my choice, for my benefit. Reclaiming my body means dictating how I allow it to be seen, how I use it, and with whom. It also means that I get to dictate my own worth. Literally. I have a niche market. I have something that is so desired that people will schedule a time, travel, and pay to experience it… but only if I want to. Only if I let them. Being an escort gives me a great sense of pride about my body. I can think of very few things more empowering than to put myself in a position of power using the parts of my body that society deems ‘undesirable’ while also charging people to admire them.

Concerns of how others perceive the desirability of our bodies may lead us to seriously consider altering the appearance of our genitals for someone else. Thoughts of “What will my partner think?” or “What if my potential sex partner if turned off by my genitals?” can be a major influence in someone’s decision to seek out cosmetic surgery to alter the appearance of their genitalia. For me, if a sex partner is more concerned about the appearance of my genitals than my comfort, my safety, and my fulfillment in the act of sex – then they don’t deserve to be my sex partner.

Ultimately, it’s all about consent. Only I can consent to someone looking at my body, touching my body, or altering my body. My body has been looked at, touched, and altered without my consent. It was devastating and dehumanizing. My body has also been looked at, touched, and altered with my consent. It’s about what I wanted for me, what makes me feel good and empowered in my body. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Consent is about dignity; and dignity is the only thing that no one can really give you, but anyone can take away. Don’t let anyone take it from you. It’s your body, don’t be ashamed of it or what other people may think of it. Own it and use it in ways that make you feel powerful.

My uniquely intersex genitals are awesome.

– Koomah. @_KOOMAH_