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Communicating Sex Variation Research Cluster

Dr KING, Brian


LIU, Xuekun

PhD Researcher

CHHIM, Putsalun

PhD Researcher

This research cluster is concerned with the language and discourses used to communicate about human sex characteristics in all their variation, normative and non-normative, and an array of healthcare contexts ranging from the hospital to the home. Also central to the cluster's interests are material consequences for people of all ages, which emerge from ways of speaking and writing about sex characteristics in healthcare contexts. The term 'sex characteristics' represents an array of natural body traits and/or chromosomal possibilities that sit both within and outside of common expectations about what counts as male and female in the culture of biomedicine and in society more generally. It stands to reason that human rights to bodily integrity and autonomy sit at the heart of these issues along with, of course, the rights of adults whose bodies have less common sex characteristics. 

Current Project:

Language use and the intersex body: Communicating sex variations in multilingual Hong Kong (2020-2023)

This GRF-funded project (no. 17621819) is the first research study to investigate the use of intersex/DSD (and related ) terminology in an Asian context or a multilingual context through a focus on Hong Kong. ‘Intersex traits’ are statistically uncommon body traits that do not meet medical and social norms for genital, hormonal and/or chromosomal arrangements. Terminology, and especially its use in society, is at the heart of coping and agency in intersex-bodied experience, for naming and classification systems have material consequences in relation to general access to health care but also mental wellbeing. This means that research into the terminological preferences of people with intersex traits is critical. Historically, activists appropriated the term intersex from biomedicine, demedicalizing it and claiming it as a positive embodied difference. The institution of medicine’s response was to abandon the term, adopting ‘Disorders of Sex Development’ (DSD) as a new tool of diagnostic categorization in 2006. Since its adoption the term DSD has had mixed reception among people with intersex traits. Contrastingly the medical community has adopted it wholeheartedly, reasserting their role as the ones who manage intersex bodies and ‘fix’ them. The result has largely been a re-silencing of those marked by the diagnosis. This research reviews the power of biomedicine to shape language, and thus knowledge, about intersex bodies, particularly in Hong Kong’s multilingual environment.

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