Ep. 31 Mo Cortez - Houston's Intersex Community
Podcast episode available here.
Mo Cortez 0:00 ***radio effect on voice*** I think that we need cultural competency, we need to educate, we need to get that word out and educate more people, to have a... because like you know, if you have someone and they know a gay person, they're like, Oh yeah, I know somebody, or know someone trans, they're like, Oh yeah, I think I have a trans friend. But like, do you have an intersex friend, uh you know... that's when people stop because they don't, they don't relate to that on a personal level. So I think having that cultural competency is really the uphill battle we're going with, but, with the digital age we're in now, it's able to get the word out.
Music 0:34 ***Intro Music***
Rob Icsezen 0:41 What's up Houston! Welcome to H-Town Progressive, Houston's impenetrable fortress of progressive thought! I'm your host, Rob Icsezen!
Rob Icsezen 0:50 Today we turn our focus during this last week of Pride Month 2019 to the "I" in LGBTQIA+. The intersex community in Houston is, to say the least, not well understood. We've talked a lot on this show about the gender binary, how it's a fallacy and a societal construct that's led to the marginalization of so many of us. Well, the sex binary is very similar. Our culture defines your sex as male or female based on your body's physical parts. If, however, your natural body doesn't fit neatly into one of the male or female boxes, rather than accepting your natural body for what it is, our culture has accepted, an atrocity.
Rob Icsezen 1:38 Much like our trans siblings, our intersex siblings are regularly the victims of terrible violence. If your natural body does not reflect the culturally defined sex binary, then your body, often at a very young age, is likely to be mutilated and forced into that binary without your consent. It's a practice that's more common than we realize, and it's truly horrible. Today our guest is going to help us understand the full extent of this problem.
Rob Icsezen 2:10 Maximo "Mo" Cortez is an intersex bodied trans Latino man from Houston, Texas who works tirelessly as an advocate for intersex and trans people's rights and visibility. He's one of the co-founders of THIS, T-H-I-S, The Houston Intersex Society (https://www.facebook.com/houinter/; https://thehoustonintersexsociety.wordpress.com/). He's a former Interim Vice Chair of the transgender Education Network of Texas (https://www.transtexas.org/) and a founding member of Mayor Turner's LGBTQ advisory board. Mo has lectured on intersex and trans topics at colleges, universities and medical schools, law schools, hospitals and various other places. And he, along with interACT Advocates (https://interactadvocates.org/) and fellow intersex advocate, Koomah (https://www.facebook.com/Koomah/), introduced the first intersex protection bill at the Texas State Senate during the 2017 Legislative Session (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=85R&Bill=SB1342).
Rob Icsezen 3:00 It's my honor to welcome to the show today, Mo Cortez!
Rob Icsezen 3:04 Mo, welcome to H-Town Progressive.
Mo Cortez 3:06 Thank you for having me.
Rob Icsezen 3:07 It's really, really great to have you today. Thanks for, thanks for coming out. So our topic today is the interests of Houston's intersex community. And so I thought we'd start off just talking, defining what that is, because I think there's there's not a lot of awareness in the community about what that even is. So let's, if you could walk us through sort of intersex 101.
Mo Cortez 3:27 Certainly so since most people, and not even not even some doctors understand what intersex is, it's whenever someone's born with an anatomical chromosomal or hormone, hormonal difference that falls somewhere in between what's in between what's usually considered typical for being male and female. So people have heard of the word "hermaphrodite" which, it doesn't actually exist, and that's actually a pejorative, but... No one's born with both sets, sets of genitalia. Sometimes you're born with, without an ovary, or maybe, you know, a micropenis, just different things that the human body can be formed. And usually what happens is that whenever kids are born, infants are born with indeterminate genitals, the doctors usually push to make them female. So you have a little a little baby who can barely, who can't even say mamma or papa or can't even verbalize anything. And you know, they're making these these decisions on these kids at such a young age that, that they're just, they're just pushing these agendas on them. And the negative consequences of these surgeries... Typically what they do is they take out the hormone producing organs that the child has, so whether it's gonads, ovaries a streak, streak ovaries, things like that, they usually take that out, and then they they make, they make the, they do surgery on the child's genitals to make them appear female. So, so basically they they create a different person, they create their ideal model of what the human being should look like. And the problem with with these surgeries is that, you know there's a lifetime of problems with them but to keep the organ open, you have to actually use some sort of... you know the doctor's not going to be there, the nurse is not going to be there, and it has to be kept open, it has to be maintained right, so...
Rob Icsezen 5:07 Yeah.
Mo Cortez 5:07 ...that's the problem with that, is that it, this is very much, this is America! This is really happening in America, this isn't just Texas, it's all over the nation and the negative consequence of the surgeries are... pretty much if you think about any older woman who's had a full hysterectomy. So whenever you take up the hormone producing organs and you know change everything else up, you have to have something to compensate for that. So you have to take a lifetime of synthetic hormones. There's bone loss there's osteoporosis, osteopenia, PTSD. A lot of people in the intersex community have substance abuse. If they were fertile, they're now sterilized. So these are, this is pretty heavy stuff.
Rob Icsezen 5:47 Yeah, so, okay so, it's so difficult to think about this because it is, it really is mutilation of people against their will.
Mo Cortez 5:59 Exactly.
Rob Icsezen 5:59 At an early age when consent is impossible.
Mo Cortez 6:03 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 6:03 And choices are made by I guess, doctors sometimes, sometimes parents, sometimes both.
Mo Cortez 6:08 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 6:09 Because of the disagreement with the natural occurring body of a human being.
Mo Cortez 6:17 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 6:18 So bodies come out as they come out. And the people around that person, that new person who comes out, say, Yeah, that that body doesn't conform to the binary.
Mo Cortez 6:28 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 6:28 The sex binary.
Mo Cortez 6:30 Exactly.
Rob Icsezen 6:32 And, and then they, they start cutting, and that is really, really horrible.
Mo Cortez 6:37 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 6:38 And it's happening today in the United States.
Mo Cortez 6:40 Yeah, it is. Several states have tried to introduce legislation which which they have in California. They did a resolution, but they also did a Senate bill this year, which was, it was just it was pretty much killed... Connecticut also introduced a bill this this year as well. Their bill also died. And then and then here in Texas, we introduced, myself along with Koomah, we introduced two bills, one in the Senate and one in the house. But it's the same bill.
Rob Icsezen 7:08 Koomah?
Mo Cortez 7:08 Koomah, he is the other openly intersex advocate in Houston.
Rob Icsezen 7:13 Okay.
Mo Cortez 7:13 We're roommates! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 7:15 So wait, there are only two of you?
Mo Cortez 7:17 That are, that are openly out, in the entire city of Houston which, which is what 7 million people that live in this...
Rob Icsezen 7:22 I was going to ask about, I mean, because I'm, we're kind of referring to this as the interests of the intersex community. And I think one of the things that that is striking to me, and that you've just kind of confirmed, which is, there's no way there's only two intersex people in Houston.
Mo Cortez 7:37 Oh, oh no, definitely not.
Rob Icsezen 7:37 So a lot of people are in the shadows, because it's not the sort of thing that has to be outward, it is a very private personal thing about your body that is stigmatized.
Mo Cortez 7:50 Very much so and you know, just offhand, we know about 30 other intersex people in Houston, but they'll never come out, they'll never come to an event. We even have, had a support group, and they wouldn't come out, it's just the fear and stigma really.
Rob Icsezen 8:04 Yeah. Well, okay, so, so one of the things that, the reasons we're doing this is, intersex is the "I" in LGBTQIA+, and this is Pride Month. And we want to honor and, and focus on these issues during Pride Month, for a number of reasons. But awareness... I'm curious how you feel about intersex, being a part of that litany of terms, because the interests of the intersex community are markedly different from gay people, from transgender people, etc. all of these different identities that fall into that litany of terms have different interests and and different challenges that are thrust upon them by society. So how do you feel about the "I" in LGBTQIA+?
Mo Cortez 8:54 Well, before we get there before, let me hold my thought, but... the frequency of intersex births, basically, a conservative number says one out of every 2000 births, but a new study coming out of Scandinavia saying it's one out of every 250 births. So what that looks like is, our twins. And that's a whole lot more common than we think.
Rob Icsezen 9:11 Yeah. Well, that's actually a great point. I was I was doing some research before our meeting today, and in the past few days, and it's one of these things that people probably think that they don't know an intersex person, but they probably actually do. And it's it's a natural occurring phenomenon that is suppressed by cultural power structures.
Mo Cortez 9:36 Oh yeah.
Rob Icsezen 9:38 And that, on its face, is something that is unjust, and that all people and particularly progressives, people who identify themselves as progressives, should care about and should speak up and out against.
Mo Cortez 9:50 And and just, even non-progressives we would have support from conservatives, even ultra ultra right people, the very religious, and that they see this as changing the form of the body that God has granted the child.
Rob Icsezen 10:05 Ah yeah. There is an argument from from religious folks, I suppose, I'm not one, but I think that there's, there's...
Mo Cortez 10:11 nor am I! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 10:12 Right on! [laughing] But there's an argument that, you know, things that occur in nature you don't mess with. And intersex folks are naturally occurring and then are changed by the people around them. And so and so you know, that argument, you have to be careful with that argument, because it can be pernicious when turned against, you know, other other allies in the community.
Mo Cortez 10:34 And that's a very tricky, and that's that's a very tricky thing too, in that... Especially when formulating bills, you want to make sure that you write in such a way thatwhere it doesn't damage like our trans siblings and whatnot.
Rob Icsezen 10:45 Sure.
Mo Cortez 10:46 Our non-binary siblings. And, there's a lot that goes into policy! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 10:50 Yeah, absolutely! Well, and and then back to the question of the place of the intersex community in Pride in the whole Pride Month and Pride, Pride Movement. So sex and gender, that's one of the things you, I think folks who don't know anything about this stuff learn early on that sex and gender are different things. And then we learned that gender identity is actually fluid. And that the binary is, is a particularly malicious thing. The binary, however, it doesn't just exist in gender identity, it exists in sex assignment, as well. And a binary sex assignment structure is equally bad, if not worse, because you're, you're physically mutilating people, when they don't fit the binary.
Mo Cortez 11:36 Yeah. And I think a good good thing to point out here is, kind of an intersex 101 part, point two I guess, 201 I guess, in that a lot of people confuse intersex with trans. So trans, you know, someone can, like myself, I'm intersex and trans, right. So you can be intersex and also trans, but they're not, not the same exact thing. So trans, you know, you're born with this distinct body, and it's on this side of the, it's on this distinct side of the binary, and there's no real, no real confusion. Intersex, you know, you can be born in the middle, but there's also certain conditions of intersex where you look like the binary too. So where that comes into play is pretty much with the roots of intersex movement in America. Like the first protest against these surgeries was in '95 in Baltimore, it was Hermaphrodites with Attitude (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermaphrodites_with_Attitude) with the trans [inaudible], so, you know, from the very beginning, it's been intersex people with trans people that have partnered together. You know, coincidentally a lot of people, maybe half of the people in the intersex community are are on the spectrum LGBTQ, and that's kind of where it is now, where it's about the same thing where half of the community relates to being a part of the LGBT community and the other half don't want anything to do with it. So it's, it's very interesting.
Rob Icsezen 12:49 And why do you think that is, Is it because of the the phenomenon that you just described, which is that if you're intersex that that has to do with your sex identity. Your gender identity might perfectly fit into the the gender binary, in which case you're not really interested or you might not really be interested, or at least personally implicated by the interests of the LGBTQ community.
Mo Cortez 13:15 I think homophobia and transphobia really plays a big part in this because a lot of, especially with certain certain people who are afraid of being seen as, as trans. Like, Oh, I'm not trans I'm, I'm a regular, I'm a quote unquote, "normal woman" or "normal man" and I'm just born differently. So it's just a lot of, a little stigma and also societal pressure of not being seen as trans or as homophobic.
Rob Icsezen 13:38 Yeah, I was actually just reading the Monica Roberts Trans Griot blog (https://transgriot.blogspot.com/).
Mo Cortez 13:42 Oh yeah, I love that.
Rob Icsezen 13:43 Yeah, which is fantastic. Everyone should read that. And she was talking about how a lot of folks who, I guess should be allies, like Rupaul in the community have actually said, pretty anti trans things in public (https://transgriot.blogspot.com/2013/01/why-i-cant-stand-rupaul.html).
Mo Cortez 13:55 Oh yeah.
Rob Icsezen 13:55 And it seems that the trans community, and we just released an episode on specifically, violence against black trans women in Houston (https://www.htownprogressive.com/post/ep-30-dr-william-t-hoston-toxic-silence). That's a huge problem.
Mo Cortez 14:05 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 14:06 So it's, they're specifically, intersectionally, I think they are... this this vulnerability is, is a result of this intersection of white supremacy and, and the gender binary, power structure that's put on folks. But, and so and so within the intersex community, you might not identify on on the binary, or outside the binary, let's say, in which case, you may or may not then be compelled to fight for the interests of those who don't fit the binary.
Mo Cortez 14:43 Yeah, and those of us that are on the front lines, and most of us are queer, or on the LGBTQ spectrum. And, you know, well we do this, because this work needs to be done, you know, and, and it's to the benefit of even the people that hate LGBTQ people, we're still fighting for those people, because they have the same, the same issues, you know, so it's, it's a thankless job! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 15:04 It is, you know, that's, you know, the, your, that statement you just made, that's really big of you. I mean, to express that idea, that even the folks who would hate you, and create policy that does not respect your identity, you know, you're doing this for everybody. I mean, that's a wonderful sentiment.
Mo Cortez 15:24 Yeah. And a lot of this, really a lot of this activism, it's self serving, really [laughing] in that you don't get paid the big bucks doing this, but for me, it's about, you know, I'm trying to be the person that I needed growing up. Like, I didn't have someone out there, you know, advocating for rights, our rights, or just, you know, just or, you know, offering to go to a doctor visit to advocate for, you know, just proper medical treatment and not to be, you know, thrown to a bunch of medical students, you know, like on display to be seen, like in a concert. So...
Rob Icsezen 15:53 Yeah, I think we often... you know, we have the, we fall back on stereotypes. And, and when we are challenged to think outside of the typical, let's say, there's a lot of pushback, because people become complacent, they become comfortable in their own their own worldview, which doesn't include exceptions. And so that's how a phenomenon like people saying, Oh, I don't know any intersex people, can exist. Because I'm sure you do. You know plenty of twins. I have twins. You know, my, two of my kids are twins.
Mo Cortez 16:34 Oh wow.
Rob Icsezen 16:35 Yeah. And so. So the way that happens, though, is that is that people choose to close their eyes. They choose to shroud what is otherwise the truth. Even even med- medical professionals, doctors that they view it... they, you used the word "hermaphrodite" earlier, which is a absolutely pejorative word that was used historically.
Mo Cortez 17:00 And it's still used, like in my medical records, it says, male pseudohermaphrodite, and I have PAIS partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. But uh, but yeah, you have those archaic terms on there.
Rob Icsezen 17:10 Yeah. And it's, and one of the interesting things about this is the history. I mean, it's not like this is a new thing.
Mo Cortez 17:17 Oh no, we've been here since humanity's been here.
Rob Icsezen 17:18 Intersex people are people and they've been around as long as people have been around just like men and women and everything in between has been around since the beginning of people.
Mo Cortez 17:27 Yeah, and we've seen birds that are, look at their you know, different colors, and cats that are different colors, you know.
Rob Icsezen 17:32 Well, yeah, that's right. I mean, one of the things that, you know, people kind of push back on is that, Oh, well, there's the double X chromosome and X Y chromosome. But even that is not, is not set. There are people who don't fall into that, that binary.
Mo Cortez 17:48 I know, like my my, like my roommate Koomah, He's intersex too. And he, his chromosomes are like X Y and X O, like, so what is that? What, what sex or gender is that, so?
Rob Icsezen 17:58 And it strikes me as interesting, why do we choose those two chromosomes? Those two chromosome pairs to embody so much of human identity?
Mo Cortez 18:08 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 18:09 And it's a power structure, really, I think. It's the sort of, it's a manifestation of a kind of toxic masculinity, a pa- patriarchy that that is used to subjugate and oppress and to, and to further the interests of those already in power.
Mo Cortez 18:25 I mean, you go to any, any clinic or you go to any school or go to any... you go apply for a job, they ask you, you know, male or female, right? So...
Rob Icsezen 18:33 Right! So I have four kids, and and my my oldest is in middle school, and she's taking all these standardized tests. And we talk about gender and sex, all these things a lot of the time. And so there are out gay and lesbian kids that she's met. But she's not really interacted with trans kids or intersex kids. But she's aware, she's like, well, Papa, there's only an M or F bubble, but isn't that, isn't there more than that?
Mo Cortez 18:59 Yeah! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 18:59 And I say, Yeah, absolutely! And then she's like, Well why, why do we even have to fill these bubbles out? Well, okay, that's, you're right. That's a problem. And, and so it gives, it gives me some...
Mo Cortez 19:12 Hope for the future! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 19:13 Optimism! Yes! And she's not alone. I mean, I'm not I'm not, you know, the only parent who talks about this kind of stuff. And so I think that we've got a lot of young people who are really growing into a society where we're woke about these things. But there's still a ton of work to be done. And you're doing a lot of that work, right! I mean, you're working on policy, you've worked on a couple - excuse me - bills this Session which just ended. Tell us about that.
Mo Cortez 19:36 Yeah. So me and Koomah introduced a bill again this Session, an intersex protective policy for kids in the foster care system, where the, where basically they'll be able to decide in their own time when, when or if not to have surgery at all (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB2462). So this this was like really a conversational on policy at like a midnight or two in the morning on a Saturday, you know, just talking about, Well, if we make it 10 years old, or 12, or 16, or 18, well there is no magic number, because everyone is mature at a different lev-, age level. And we can't really have a one size fits all because it won't work like that. So...
Rob Icsezen 20:14 Yeah, so...
Mo Cortez 20:15 You can't put like, I know some people have thought about putting like a third binary gender, maybe like an X or something. But the problem with that is that, somethng like that has happened in Germany, and I believe also Australia, if I remember correctly, where they have like, have an X where if the child is intersex they can put X. But the problem with that, it's actually counterproductive, where parents are so scared of that little X, or so shameful of the X, that they actually push for surgeries.
Rob Icsezen 20:41 So they're worried about the stigma associated with that identifier that...
Mo Cortez 20:45 Exactly.
Rob Icsezen 20:46 Yeah. What what bill was it that y'all pushed?
Mo Cortez 20:49 Oh, so last Session, it was... that's a great question, it was, I think, let me take a look at my little card.
Rob Icsezen 20:56 Yeah.
Mo Cortez 20:56 Just a br- let's see HB 2462, and SB 1383 (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=SB1383). So the House Bill was with a with a Representative Ana Hernandez and then the senate bill was with Senator José Rodríguez from El Paso.
Rob Icsezen 21:09 Okay, and how far did that bill go?
Mo Cortez 21:11 It died in committee which, you know, sometimes it's okay, because sometimes when a bill is introduced, and it has a hearing, sometimes they put in a poison pill to where you, you have this perfect policy, and they put in a poison pill to do the exact opposite of the intent of what you wanted to have done. So it's, it's, it's a marathon, it's not going to be done in the next year. So it's going to be about 10 years or so before change is really going to happen. But if Texas is able to do this, as one of the first states in the union, you know, that would be a ripple effect. Because we're not California. California, you know, liberal city, as Greg Abbott says! You know, no one takes them seriously that are in conservative states, but Texas, anything we do, even textbooks, you know, people buy them because they know that, you know, this, this works or whatever, and Texas has that influence.
Rob Icsezen 22:05 So I think we've got nine seats in the House that we need, in order to take it over. We being the Democrats, and that would dramatically change law making in Texas with a with a Democrat Speaker of the House.
Mo Cortez 22:21 [inaudible] in the Senate too.
Rob Icsezen 22:23 Yeah, it would, yes, absolutely. But for people who think about what can I do in politics and, and what matters, and I know that the national kind of narrative always is predominant. But while those House races are really going to matter, we're going to talk about them a lot on this podcast. But this is one of those issues that the closer we get to a preponderance of Democrats in the House and then hopefully in the Senate, then things become a reality. But I don't know if there's unanimous Democratic support for what you've been doing. How have the Democratic legislators been?
Mo Cortez 22:59 So I've been on different screening committees for different clubs. But the only pushback was not from a Republican or independent, it was actually from two Democrats in the House that are people of color, which, I won't say their names because I haven't had a chance to ask them the same question again, if they would support intersex rights, but it came from the left. Opposition came to the left.
Rob Icsezen 23:21 Okay. Well, that's that's, I respect to your your choice not to reveal their names, but
Mo Cortez 23:27 You gotta give them a chance! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 23:28 That's right. [laughing] But that's, it's a good reminder that, was it Blake Ellis said on this show that a party is only what their last platform was (https://www.htownprogressive.com/main/episode/1c6f5e63/ep-16-dr-blake-ellis-houstons-progressive-history-and-future). And so as progressives advocating for lots of different things that we care about, intersex rights being one of those things, it is up to us to constantly advocate, and the work you are doing is super important in that sense, that - and this is why all the behind the scenes stuff matters, all the work at the district level at the precinct level, to the to the State Convention, and getting those platforms changed, and then ultimately trying to get elected people in elected office who shared these values - only at that point, does legislation move.
Mo Cortez 24:21 And that's one thing I've been I've been trying to do, me and Koomah and myself, I've been trying to do is pretty much push the envelope where, you know, we'll go to candidates, Democratic candidates, and pretty much just say, Hey, you know, do you do support intersex rights? Which most of them do, and it's kind of pushing the envelope and also adding adding us as a part of the conversation, to say, Oh, look, Representative so and so supports intersex rights, why don't you Senator so and so, you know.
Rob Icsezen 24:46 Yes, there's, there's safety in numbers, I suppose. There's also movement when, when you can say that other folks have been doing it, why don't you? You know...
Mo Cortez 24:55 Yeah, especially if you're talking to candidates, they want to tell you yes to anything, just to get your vote, so! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 25:01 That's right. [laughing] Well, yeah, and then, I mean, that's part of it, though, you get in their face, you talk to them, and then you hold them accountable. And it's, you know, Ana Hernandez is one of the Representatives we spoke to when we did our Day of Advocacy (https://www.htownprogressive.com/post/ep-20-houstons-day-of-advocacy-at-the-capitol).
Mo Cortez 25:14 Oh, nice.
Rob Icsezen 25:14 She seemed very open to, to LGBTGI+ interests, generally. I was there with The Caucus, and she was...
Mo Cortez 25:24 Very supportive.
Rob Icsezen 25:24 Absolutely, and that's, you know, with allies like that, it will hopefully spread, you know. What do you do during, now the Session is over? Where is your focus going to be?
Mo Cortez 25:36 That's a great question. just pretty much what we're doing now is just getting the word out, you know, talking to candidates and going, attending these meetings, just understanding points of view, and just kind of seeing where, where the contention is at. So like some of it, some of what we've seen is like, are parents push back. You know, parents, Oh, I want to have the choice of my child's body. Well, that's horrible, but I can, I can respect that because that's what parents want, they want, you know, take care of take care of their child. They want to follow the doctor's orders, right. The doctor scares them to say, Oh, this could be possibly cancer, so we need to get rid of this now. So it, much of our work right now is just continuing with education. Like, I think a couple years ago, we were published from, in the Texas Medical Center Pulse Magazine, we, you know, we've shared both of our personal stories (https://www.tmc.edu/news/2017/10/raising-awareness-intersex-issues/). And then also, with Human Rights Watch, they released an important report in 2017 that essentially says inter, intersex surgeries, or they call them "normalization surgeries" are torture pretty much (https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/25/us-harmful-surgery-intersex-children).
Rob Icsezen 26:33 They call them "normalization surgeries?!?
Mo Cortez 26:34 Normalization surgeries.
Rob Icsezen 26:36 So that that by itself, that word is is...
Mo Cortez 26:39 Horrible! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 26:40 Yeah, packed with with judgment. It says that it is normal to be assigned male or female. And if you're not one of those things, we need to "normalize" you into the binary.
Mo Cortez 26:54 Exactly.
Rob Icsezen 26:54 I mean, what it does is it takes your identity, an identity of a significant number of folks, and even if it weren't a significant number of folks, even if we were just one fucking person...
Mo Cortez 27:03 Yeah. Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 27:04 Like, can you justify mutilating that person, just to put them into a binary without any medical necessity?
Mo Cortez 27:12 And, you know, these surgeries are so expensive that, you know, people can barely afford their mortgages, afford their car payments, that the parents don't usually pay the tab, it's the taxpayer. So the taxpayers are paying for these surgeries, that no, most people don't want, that are ineffective, and that really dramatically lessen their quality of health, you know, and you know... that would save the state a lot of money if they stopped doing these surgeries.
Rob Icsezen 27:37 So it not only is unnecessary, but but it hurts people. I mean, it's it's it creates a condition that you then have to upkeep the rest of your life and supplement with drugs and all kinds of different things that you have to upkeep. It's a lifetime of challenge that is thrust upon you at a at an age when you're not able to consent.
Mo Cortez 27:57 It's severe weather on the human body.
Rob Icsezen 27:59 Yeah. So I read that I think it's Malta is a, the only country in the world now that's made it illegal, to to do this to children.
Mo Cortez 28:11 I think one of one of five, but I don't remember the other four.
Rob Icsezen 28:14 Oh, is that right? Okay.
Mo Cortez 28:14 I think it was Peru too. But, uh, yeah, and that's kind of been a mixed bag. It's showing us that, you know, it's kind of working, but there's also medical tourism. So, Oh we can do in Malta, so we'll just go to Italy or go to somewhere else. So, and then there's all, and there's, there's still people on the ground there the doctors that are there still pushing for it. So it's, it's a great bill, but it doesn't have any, it's a great, I guess, policy, but it doesn't have any teeth.
Rob Icsezen 28:40 Right. And a country that that's that small, until the United States, China, you know, large countries that have significant populations start embracing these ideas, these values, let's say...
Mo Cortez 28:52 and like in Canada, just pointing that that out there now that in Canada, the New Democratic Party, it's on there party platform that intersex rights are, are, are basically to be protected and bodily integrity. So this happened in 2017. A couple of my friends in Canada were able to do that. But my friend that's a politician, you know, asked me, like, Should this be added to our party platform? I said, Well, of course, yes, you know, if you can do that, that's great. And they are able to do that. So that's, that's one thing that we kind of want to do here in the States too. But we've got to at least introduce, you know, have a bill catch somewhere. So...
Rob Icsezen 29:27 Canada's ahead of us and so many things! [laughing]
Mo Cortez 29:29 Oh yeah, it's a beautiful country. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 29:33 But But as you said, if if Texas can go, if Texas can push things forward, then there will be a huge domino effect around the country, perhaps. And so what would you say folks should be doing? What, you know, sometimes when I speak out about this kind of stuff, and I'm openly advocating for LGBTQI+ rights, whatever part of that intersectionality we're talking about, people will assume that I identify within the community. And I don't, but I kind of go back and say, Well, why would you assume that? The LGBTQI+ community, the intersex community, they're all part of humanity. They are we, we are them.
Mo Cortez 30:20 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 30:20 Shouldn't we all advocate for each other and the interests of all folks who are part...
Mo Cortez 30:26 A part of life!
Rob Icsezen 30:27 Right! Who are, are people. That's, that's what we're doing. And kind of people kind of say, Oh, okay. But they'll assume things like, Oh, you identify or one of your kids identifies or someone in your family identifies, you know, at, and and that's often true, I think, of allies and accomplices, but it shouldn't have to be true.
Mo Cortez 30:47 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 30:48 We should, we should advocate behind closed doors, whether or not we're in the presence of those for whom we are advocating, yeah.
Mo Cortez 30:56 Exactly. Like, I have a friend that's going to med school, and you know, he was there doing some kind of lecture on intersex stuff, and you know, he was able to kind of stop them and say, Hey, you know what, this is not cool. You know, this is not how it's done. And this is, these are actually counterproductive. So, just just speaking up whenever you hear something that just doesn't sound right, really.
Rob Icsezen 31:15 Yeah.
Mo Cortez 31:16 And just calling it out. And you know, and most of the time will they listen to you, and you know, implement something? No, they won't. But it's, it's just speaking up really.
Rob Icsezen 31:24 Well. Yeah. And I think that that's one of those things that because intersex is something that has been kind of brushed under the carpet in a way that a lot of other identities are not, because people can hide in the shadows...
Mo Cortez 31:40 Or in plain sight! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 31:41 ...or in plain... yeah, that's, thanks for correcting me! In plain sight, people can hide in plain sight. Because of that, a lot of folks can just claim ignorance and put the blinders on. I don't see it. It's not it's not really a real problem, not that big a problem. It's just, you know, two people in Houston. So I think that it's really important for us to speak up and say, No, no, this is a particular issue that exists because people are swept under the carpet and they are not, they are not respected. And there's a stigma, and we need to, we need to peel that stigma back, and away and get rid of it. You know.
Mo Cortez 31:41 Definitely.
Rob Icsezen 32:18 So what are the things that you are working to advocate for going into the next session, city council races are coming up, you know, at the different government levels? What are some things that that you can you have tried to and can perhaps aspire to get down at the various levels of government right now?
Mo Cortez 32:39 And that's a really great question. It's really understanding the web that the government is, because, you know, there's no way you can know everything about the government and also know who does what or who is able to do what or what resources are available or resources are available. So that's, that's really the next thing is, locally, coming back locally into the county level to figure out where we can get help at, you know, Lina Hidalgo, Judge Lina Hidalgo did a roundtable about a year ago. I was there with her as long, as well with Monica Roberts and a few other LGBTQ activ- advocates and, she was very receptive. But we need action from them. So like, you know, if the county were able to develop a an intersex intervention team, a staff with intersex people of color like myself and Koomah, then you know, we would be able to advise these parents, you know, anytime an intersex child is born, and there's an issue of wanting to push for surgery, you know. That's something that the county could do, and it would, it would save, it would save money for the county - we're not now having to pay for all these surgeries - but it would really save lives. Because, I know, I have a few intersex friends that, you know, unfortunately have fallen, you know, to suicide. So this is, you know, this is definitely a real big issue.
Rob Icsezen 33:52 Yeah. But and, you were part of Mayor Turner's LGBTQ Advisory Board...
Mo Cortez 33:57 One of the founding members of the Advisory Board.
Rob Icsezen 33:59 Yeah, and so, so contrast that now with, so the County's not done anything there yet. But we have, there's a majority of Democrats at Commissioner's Court. And so there's hope that that might get done. The city, however, has had this advisory board in existence for a little while. What work have you all done there?
Mo Cortez 34:19 Well, I was on that committee for about 18 months, and it was just very, it was very focused on a few select issues, I would say and it really wasn't focused on intersex issues, per se. But I think more of that is, has to come from the intersex community and intersex allies to kind of work with politicians. I, that board, you know, I'm glad we have that board, you know, they're able to work on certain things and certain policies, but I think that whenever it comes to intersex policy, we need people, intersex people, you know, right there to work with it. So I would say for now, I'd go more for the county level, just because it has a higher impact.
Rob Icsezen 35:01 Right. And there's health care provided at any level as well.
Mo Cortez 35:04 And we might lose our mayor. I mean, I hope I'm not, I'm knocking on wood, you know. But...
Rob Icsezen 35:08 Yeah, yeah, no it's a distinct possibility for sure. And you might get a Republican, even though they're not, they're not technically partisan races. There are a couple of Republicans...
Mo Cortez 35:18 Like this past, I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday, I went to, I go to I go to various different political parties, you know, events. I went to the Log Ca-, the gay Log Cabin Republicans.
Rob Icsezen 35:28 Yeah, okay.
Mo Cortez 35:28 I mean, yeah [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 35:30 How are those guys?
Mo Cortez 35:32 Mostly white! [lauging]
Rob Icsezen 35:33 Yeah, shocker! [laughing]
Mo Cortez 35:35 I know. But, I asked Bill King, I was like, Would you be interested in creating an LGBTQ advisory board, such as a Mayor Turner? And his response was, Oh I have gay friends and I can talk with them, so. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 35:49 Are you serious?
Mo Cortez 35:49 Yes. I wish I had a recording of that. But yes. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 35:52 Wow! Okay. [laughing] That that is... I'll let that speak for itself. Here's a thought though, it seems to me that what happens when you, when you lump together the interests of different identities, that sometimes the interests of, of...
Mo Cortez 36:11 Specially with 40 plus people, that's a lot of competition, right there.
Rob Icsezen 36:14 Yeah. Well, it's the interests of some get, get, overshadowed by the interests of others. And so during Pride Month, when we honor lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender people, you know, queer people, non binary people, intersex people, all those different groups, and everything inbetween, there's a lot more there, there's a reason we say "plus", because it's fluid, that it's not just one or the other, or these kind of distinct boxes, it's that gender is fluid. Sex is fluid. We just create these kind of tags. But each each identifying group, each intersectional identity has their own interests. Do you think it's a good thing to keep it together? Is it, is this LGBTQIA+, as I say, is that a good thing? Or should we just separate it and say LGBTQ, and then have separate celebrations and protective policies in the way we honor and identify intersex people? Should that be separate? Or should it be together? I mean, how do you feel about that?
Mo Cortez 37:23 It, it really depends on on who you speak to, but like, I'll say, in intersex people, half of us like to be a part of the other half don't so... I would say...
Rob Icsezen 37:31 Just like all humans...
Mo Cortez 37:33 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 37:33 ...people have different perspectives. Yeah. Okay, so what were you going to say, sorry, I interrupted!
Mo Cortez 37:38 Oh, I was just gonna say, you know, just having a coalition really helps a lot. And, you know, and a lot of our support, you know, in the very beginning has been from the LGBTQ community and, and allies. So, just, I guess, to kind of not work with them, would it be counterproductive.
Rob Icsezen 37:53 Yeah. You know, that's, that's, I think that's a profound point, because it's, coalition helps. Even if your interests aren't the same, the fact that it's a safe space, that is that is respectful of your identity, and and who you are, that in itself is valuable. And, and so I think that, that perhaps one thing people could do, and tell me if you agree with this, is make clear that LGBTQIA+ is not one thing that everybody agrees about, that everybody has the same interests and needs and desires or whatever. But it's a coalition of people with very, very diverse identities and interests and needs. And, and... yeah.
Mo Cortez 38:40 Yeah, a coalition, it's all about coalition. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 38:43 All about coalition. That's right! [laughing] Okay, so so then, as we kind of, you know, bring this around, I always like to talk about calls to action. You know, what, what can people do? We've talked a little bit about that already. But what, you know, if you had a magic wand and could say, you know, let's, let's organize, let's get people moving...
Mo Cortez 39:03 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 39:04 Is it people understanding intersex interests? Or, or what? What would it be?
Mo Cortez 39:11 Let's say people understanding intersex issues and interests, but also, just willing to ask the question. Like, maybe a year ago, I think Beto was stumping somewhere here in town, and I wasn't able to make it to the event, but my friend, my friend was able to go, they were able to be there. And I asked them, Hey, can you please ask them if if Beto supports intersex rights? You know, and he didn't say yes or no, but he said, he'll take a look into it. So, you know, just having that, having that question, you know, come over again, and again, and again, and again, where they're like, Okay, all right, I'll take a stand! Yes or no, you know, just basically pushing them until they, they finally, you know, answer the question.
Rob Icsezen 39:50 Isn't that kind of, like when politicians do that, I'll look, that's like kind of the bullshit cop out. Like, I don't know, I don't really know anything about this, I don't know if it's gonna hurt me in the polls, so I'm just gonna say I'll think about it.
Mo Cortez 40:00 Yeah, exactly. They're playing it safe. But you know, you got to keep pushing them. Because, you know, they're supposed to be on our side. Then they take that initiative and take that stand.
Rob Icsezen 40:07 Yeah. And the more you push it, the more people will think, when they go back after these events and say, altight we need to think about this and develop a policy on this, and so that we can, you know, answer that question the next time it comes around.
Mo Cortez 40:21 Yeah. And like one thing, I noticed that we were, back in 20-, kind of going back to 2017, when we were testifying against the bathroom bill. I know, in Austin, you know, I heard heard a few people say like intersex, intersex, intersex like this, these bathroom bills negatively impact, you know, the intersex community too. So just having the people, you know, doing their homework, and then constantly saying over and over again, you know, we'll have the policymakers, like kind of sit up and pay attention. So...
Rob Icsezen 40:48 Yeah, you know that that's interesting, you bring up the bathroom bill, it's one of those things that just, if people actually just sat and thought about what that does to folks, and I see, I guess, in this sense, the interest of intersex people definitely overlap with the interests of transgender people. Because you're pushed into a box that, this is where they, they take the policymakers to gender and they conflate it with sex. And they say you must go into this one box or this other box, and if you don't, we're gonna freak the fuck out.
Mo Cortez 41:20 Oh, they try to use chromosomes to say, Oh, if you have X Y chromosomes, you can only use a men's restroom. But women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome have a phenotypically female body. But the chromosomes just say x y. So should they go to the men's restroom? It's it's,
Rob Icsezen 41:35 Yeah.
Mo Cortez 41:35 It's a lawsuit waiting to happen, really. [laughing] If that were ever to come into effect.
Rob Icsezen 41:40 Yeah, it's one of those things that it's sort of infused in all of this is, is this toxic masculinity, is this idea that that a penis is a weapon. And it must always be viewed as that and those without the penis are the target of that weapon.
Mo Cortez 41:54 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 41:56 And Lou Weaver said this earlier this month, when we talked to him, that we need to stop talking about that, in that way. We need to talk to our boys, our children, our people with penises, about not using them that way and understanding that, that it's, you know, just a part of your body. It's not it's not intended to be used in this particular way. Not glorify, the use of your body in this way, which is really what we're talking about. It glorifies that, it's sort of that that hyper sexualization of male assigned people, so much so that if you were male assigned, that you could not possibly be expected to control your penis weapon, going into a bathroom...
Mo Cortez 42:43 Rage or whatever...
Rob Icsezen 42:44 Right! Whatever it is, you walk in, you you're, you know, trans and, and you are a trans woman, you may or may not have a penis, and the government is saying, well, we don't trust that, we're not going to respect your identity, we're going to put you in, we're going to force you into this box, because of what we say. And that is, is an awful, awful thing. And similarly, I mean, in the intersex community, it's, it's so much to a certain extent, even greater, in that there's mutilation involved at birth. And that's, and sometimes afterwards, of course.
Mo Cortez 43:23 Oh yeah, like, in my case, like, actually, I was born at the Mormon Church, my mom and dad are Mormon. But, you know, so they fought off the surgeries when I was little, and plus, the bigger issue at the time was actually I had a hole in my heart, I was born with a heart murmur. And they, you know, they worked on that, but, it wasn't until the age of five, where someone turned my mom into the CPS saying that she was raising a little boy as a girl. So then that's when they did, you know, these, these intersex surgeries on me to make my body look, you know, normal, like a normal- phenotypically female. So, you know, this happens, even even as, as teenagers too, you know, this happens in, even if they miss you at birth, or as a kid, they might get you later on in life. So that's, that's, that's pretty scary.
Rob Icsezen 44:08 And, and so it behooves us as a community, to create laws that will prevent that from happening, and and to embrace the values which are the autonomy and the integrity of our bodies.
Mo Cortez 44:21 And I think a bigger piece of that, which, you know, say tomorrow, with the bill, you know, magically Greg Abbott says, All right, I'll go ahead and sign this bill, you know, it's magic. I think, that we need cultural competency. We need we need to educate, we need to get that word out and educate more people to have a... because like, you know, if you ask someone if they know a gay person, they're like, Oh, yeah, I know somebody or, or know someone trans, like, Oh, yeah, I think I have a trans friend. But like, Do you have an intersex friend? You know, that's where people stop, because they don't, they don't relate to that on a personal level. So I think having that cultural competency is really the uphill battle we're going with, but it's, it's, I mean, with the digital age, we're in now it's able to get the word out.
Rob Icsezen 45:01 That's right. Yeah, I think that's right, that we're all connected in a way that we haven't been connected before. And there are a lot of bad things about that, obviously. But I think one of the good things is that we can see, oh, that idea of normalcy that has been thrust upon us is not, that that's a convention, and it's a pernicious convention born of a power structure that we need to break. So So then, okay, the, the progressive army in Houston, [laughing] be outspoken! Don't stand by as people express ignorance about intersex issues. If people are hostile to intersex issues, if people make jokes, if people just dismiss, don't let that happen.
Mo Cortez 45:52 That and also just just basically ca- calling on us. So like, say for example, if you need us to speak at Rice, or like at U of H which, which we spoke at both, mostly universities and even medical medical school here, basically just saying, bring us to the, into the conversation, and also just saying, Hey, you know, we can't give you a lot of money but here's an honorarium of, you know, we'll cover your your ticket and here's a dinner or something. Just basically bringing us to the students and to the med students, to the future leaders and decision makers of tomorrow.
Rob Icsezen 46:20 Yeah.
Mo Cortez 46:20 And you know, even I've been telling judges this to you know, which some of them have been wanting to learn about intersex issues, are basically just, hire intersex people to consult, really.
Rob Icsezen 46:30 Yeah, yeah, amplify the voices of actual intersex people here. And that will help the process, and pay them when you do it!
Mo Cortez 46:38 And don't bring people from out of state if they don't have a good reputation. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 46:42 Oh is that happening?
Mo Cortez 46:44 It's happened in the past and just, it was very problematic, in that they were confusing intersex with trans and that's a whole different podcast! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 46:54 Well, that's definitely something though that intersex and trans are absolutely very different things and and people, if people still are confused about that, they need to look it up. I think the thing we made it pretty clear what that is, and we've been talking about it on this show, a lot of of different interests that make that clear, but it's absolutely not the same thing.
Mo Cortez 47:16 Yeah.
Rob Icsezen 47:18 Okay, well, Mo we could go on for a long time I feel here! But thank you so much for this. I think it's, it's been real...
Mo Cortez 47:25 [laughing] definitely! And those that aren't intersex are indosex. So you yourself would be indosex.
Rob Icsezen 47:29 Okay. All right. There you go. And that, you know, that's one of the things when Lou Weaver was on the show, he he made the point that we've all got gender identity. This is not just if you're outside the binary, then you have gender. No, we all have gender identity. If you're cis if you're indosex, I mean, this is, we have sex identity, we all have gender identity. These are all identities. It's just some have been subjugated, and others have not. And it's up to us to lift up those that have been subjugated and oppressed.
Mo Cortez 48:01 Exactly.
Rob Icsezen 48:02 Well, Mo Cortez, thank you so much for being on the show.
Mo Cortez 48:04 Thank you for having me again.
Rob Icsezen 48:05 Appreciate it.
Rob Icsezen 48:06 Next week, we're going to recap the 2019 Texas Legislative Session with State Representative Jon Rosenthal. Hope you'll join us!
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