I’ll be honest: When I first went out to agents with None of the Above, part of me worried that traditional publishing wouldn’t touch a project with an intersex main character. For one, it was impossible to write about intersex without talking about testicles and vaginas, and who wanted that? I mean, the word itself had the letters s-e-x in them, so goodbye, sales from people who wanted clean teen.
Even more worrisome to me was just how much ignorance there was surrounding the entire topic, and how many myths there were out there about intersex bodies. True story: One of my first beta readers was really stressed out while reading an early draft of NOTA’s first chapter. She kept on waiting for my main character to pull out her penis during the sex scene (N.B.: most intersex people do not have both a penis and a vagina).
I won’t lie. Sometimes talking about my book to prospective readers feels like pushing a stalled car up a hill. I was told point blank by one of my publisher’s sales representatives that my book was a “tough sell.” Later on, they clarified that it didn’t mean that book buyers weren’t picking up the book – in fact, indie bookstores have been crucial to NOTA’s relative success, and we wouldn’t be on a fifth printing if it weren’t for them. Rather, there was an activation energy of sorts when you told someone about the book, both because it required background info and explanation, and because transphobia—indeed, the phobia of any body that is different from the dominant paradigm—exists.
Times, of course, are a-changing, and the wheel of progress continues to turn. Largely because of the tireless work of organizations like interACT Advocates: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and OII (Organization Intersex International), intersex visibility increases every day. In the two years since None of the Above was published, these organizations have operated on shoestring budgets to increase intersex awareness. These are just some of the highlights of two years of intersex advocacy:
- May 2016: Four intersex advocates, including myself, presented at the 2016 Society of Pediatric Urology meeting. As a result of the meeting, at least two surgeons postponed surgeries they had already scheduled on intersex children.
- November 2016: A federal judge ruled in favor of Dana Zzyym, an intersex veteran, who is seeking a passport that reflects a gender other than “male” or “female”
- December 2016: The UN Committee on Torture formally requested that the US provide information on the number of sex assignment surgeries performed on intersex children.
- January 2017: The State of New York issued the nation’s first ever intersex birth certificate to Sara Kelly Keenan, who is now 55.
- January 2017: Supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex in USA Today, with coverage in Vogue, the NYT, Washington Post and others.
- March 2017: interACT filed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court, explaining why transphobic bathroom policies hurt not only transgender students but those born with intersex traits as well.
Despite all these advances, there is work to be done.
- The nation’s been talking about bathrooms for a while now, and even though the infamous HB2 “bathroom law” was recently repealed, the compromise that led to its reversal also bans any additional nondiscrimination laws until 2020.
- Emboldened by the recent presidential election, hate groups are thriving, including anti-transgender groups such as the one behind the so-called “Free Speech Bus” that is making a tour across the US. By creating a false equivalency between chromosomal sex and gender identity, the bus erases the existence of intersex people. The irony, of course, is that biology doesn’t justify bigotry—its diversity should promote tolerance.
This last election galvanized a lot of people to put their money where their mouths are. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center saw record-breaking donation levels. With upcoming budget cuts, it’s likely that things will be tighter for a lot of organizations. I will say this, though: interACT Advocates does more with less than most non-profits.
So when I say that 100% of the April royalties to None of the Above will go to interACT, know that if you buy a copy of the shiny new paperback—whether it be for yourself, a dear friend, or your local library—it will benefit an organization that is dedicated to shedding light on one of the human rights issues of our time.