'Diversity is an Enrichment, not a Threat' – Gender & Diversity Part I

In terms of language, Ins A Kromminga, participant of a workshop on Gender & Diversity in 2019 by ifa’s CrossCulture Programme (CCP), sees progress for intersex people in Germany, but there is still much to do within the scope of politics and medicine. With their work at Organisation Intersex International (OII), Kromminga advocates for the rights of intersex people worldwide.

Exhibition view "Ahnen" in Schwules Museum
Ins A Kromminga, Ahnen, Schwules Museum 2015; Photo: Ins A Kromminga

ifa: 'Everything has already been said, but not yet by everyone'. You begin the brochure Inter* & Sprache (Intersex & Language), which you published together with other authors, with this quote by the comedian Karl Valentin. While in the last 20 years intersex people have made their voices better heard, in our language, and thus in our reality, they are still relatively invisible. Do we still not have words for this reality?

Ins A Kromminga: Maybe 10 years ago I would have said this, but in the meantime, we have sufficient words in the context of the German language – a language that's now less medical. It used to be called 'people with intersexuality', for example. This sounds like an illness, and ultimately feeds the idea that you have a syndrome or a disorder, which in turn also affects your own perception of yourself. Today we talk about intersex or gender diverse people (in German, Inter* or intergeschlechtliche Menschen). It's best to ask people how they would like to be addressed because there are intersex people who do define themselves as either female or male. Then in my case, I don't identify myself as either. I would identify myself as non-binary. When being addressed, I prefer my first and last names or the title of artist, Künstler*in in German, which is indicated with a star or underscore in writing.1

ifa: Since 1 January 2019, it is possible to select either 'male', 'female', or 'diverse' when entering oneself into the civil registry. Would you say this is a milestone when it comes to accepting sex/gender diversity?

Kromminga: It is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough. We still haven't freed ourselves from medical dictations. A person is still required to have medical proof to select the entry 'diverse'. For intersex people, this means further pathologizing. On a positive note, the entry 'diverse' into the civic registry and the debate around it has made LGBTIQ2 issues more visible.

ifa: Intersex is often defined alongside LGBTQ – that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and queer. Could you briefly explain what intersex is and how it compares to transgender/transsexuality?

Kromminga: Intersex describes people who are born with variations in physical sex characteristics that do not correspond to the normative conceptions of male and female. This can be physically evident at birth, or it may become apparent later in life, or not at all. Therefore, many intersex people undergo operations, having sex-modifying (medical) treatments as early as their childhood in order to be fitted into one of the typical binary notions. This usually happens at an age when they don't yet have the power to choose their gender identity. Transgender people, on the other hand, have a different gender identity than the sex they were born with. As adults they may consider body-modifying interventions to change their sex to match their gender identity, which involves many physical and mental hurdles.

'Art makes what can’t be said visible'.

ifa: You call yourself an intersex activist and handle this topic artistically as well. What role does art play for you? What role can it play for other LGBTIQ people?

Kromminga: Art creates a space free of attributions. It makes that which others cannot yet say visible. I know that even if they haven't yet found a way of manoeuvring the issue themselves, intersex people who find themselves in my work will be triggered by my drawings. When they see the issues which are affecting them receiving public attention, it empowers them. When I figured out I was intersex, there was no one I could look up to, no orientation for what this meant. In this regard, I'd like to be catalyst, motivating other intersex people to be true to themselves and to defend their rights.

ifa: On 26 October Intersex Awareness Day will be celebrated worldwide. It commemorates the first protests by intersex people who demonstrated in Boston in 1996 against intersex medical practices. What does it mean to be intersex or LGBTQ today?

Kromminga: Around the world, we are confronted with human rights violations, discrimination and pathologization because of our sexual characteristics. Still, we aren't a homogenous group; our experiences are very different. The problem for intersex people is that those who are evidently intersex at birth or in childhood are made invisible through surgical and medicinal interventions and are made to conform to the phenotypes 'male' and 'female' without their consent. This has been happening systematically since the 1950s and in the wake of John Money's widespread gender theory. Money was of the opinion that masculinity and femininity were arbitrary and that physical changes should occur as early as possible in order for a person to better identify with the sex assigned to them. Of course, it's not that simple. Sex-modifying (medical) treatments also happen in India or Africa, but they have a completely different meaning because not everyone has access to medical care. In some African countries, medicalisation can prevent child murder and thus save lives. This is a different strategy, but of course, not a solution.

ifa: Nature is diverse. Then culture categorises, restricts and excludes. How does the European gender culture differ from other gender cultures? What kind of potential can a transcultural perspective offer?

Kromminga: In general, gender perceptions in Europe are characterised into two categories – male and female. In European history, people who did not fit into mainstream societies have always been regulated and made to adapt. There are 16th century jurisdictions attesting that a sex or gender was imposed on people by law. However, there are also examples of European cultures in which gender was not always understood in these binary terms. And there are alternative models in various cultures around the world, from the indigenous American cultures to those in Oceania. In South Asia, for example, the cultural tradition of hijras has existed for thousands of years. Still, I think it is important not to glorify other cultures and how they deal with gender. Every culture has its own conceptions and limitations.

'Sex/Gender diversity should be included in school education'.

ifa: You are an active Awareness Raising & Campaigns Officer at the Organisation Intersex International Europe – OII. What does OII aim to achieve?

Kromminga: We are committed to protecting and fully enforcing the human rights of intersex people throughout Europe and across the globe. We encourage that they be empowered and capable of making the decisions that affect their bodily integrity, physical autonomy and self-determination. One of the foundations of our work is the Malta declaration of the Third International Intersex Forum in 2013. Over 30 intersex-led organisations from around the world collaborated on the statement. We would also like to raise awareness of our issues in the general public. I personally think sex/gender diversity should be included in school education!

ifa: How is OII gaining more attention for intersex people and their rights, particularly in the eyes of key players in politics, media and education?

Kromminga: We offer trainings and information about the circumstances of intersex people and the human rights violations committed against them, and we advise EU and UN institutions on the violations of human rights. In addition to this, our members are represented in relevant working groups. We regularly comment on current political decisions and develop campaigns like #MyIntersexStory. We've also published a book of 15 stories which describe the day-to-day lives of intersex people in Europe.

ifa: ifa's networking meeting brings together LGBTIQ people from Germany, countries within the MENA region, as well as those from Central and South Asia. What specific ideas will you take with you for your work at OII?

Kromminga: I've been asked to translate certain information and materials into other languages, specifically into Arabic. Although we focus our work within the European context, having this information in other languages is extremely important, in part because there is now a large Arabic-speaking community in Germany.

'Often there is no specific community for intersex people'.

Ifa: OII has been a guest organisation in the CrossCulture Programme since 2019. What motivated you to participate?

Kromminga: This exchange allows us to approach topics differently. Through our former fellowship recipient from Egypt, we know that the situation for intersex and trans* people is very different there. For example, the two groups are hardly distinguished from one another. Many people in the trans* community are actually intersex, but there is no specific community for them. Of course, we have to be careful not to assign our own values to other cultures during this exchange. We should remember that our language operates within Western concepts, namely that of compartmentalisation. If there are terms within other cultures that have been developed in the respective communities, we should respect them.

ifa: And finally, what message can you give other LGBTIQ activists as they make their way?

Kromminga: We have been part of your communities for some time now. Include us! If you'd like to work on an intersex topic, ask us if we'd like to be involved or contact intersex organisations like OII. Support us and our needs. 'Nothing about us without us'.

Interview by Juliane Pfordte

German translation of the interview

About Ins A Kromminga

Ins A Kromminga is an intersex human rights activist and artist. They work for Organisation Intersex International (OII) Europe, which fights for the rights of intersex people. Kromminga's art work focusses on the experiences of intersex persons while intending to raise questions as well as the interest of the observer.

About CrossCulture Programme and 'Gender & Diversity'

On June 28, 1969, transsexuals and homosexuals resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. A milestone in the LGBTIQ movement, which is celebrated worldwide with Christopher Street Day. But even 51 years after the so-called Stonewall Riots, the rights of sexual minorities worldwide are being restricted and LGBTIQ persons often face social stigmatization in their countries. ifa's CrossCulture Programme provides a platform for LGBTIQ actors to engage in a global exchange together. In 2019, a first workshop on the topic of 'Gender & Diversity' was implemented for alumni of the programme. In the series 'Gender & Diversity' three interviews of alumni involved in the LGBTIQ movement are published.

CrossCulture Programme

1 In German many titles and terms are differentiated as either female or male; with the use of an underscore character or a star, these words can be both. For example, Künstler (artist) is male, Künstlerin is female, and Künstler*in denotes gender diverse people.

2 LGBTIQ = Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer and other forms of sexuality.