Xoxy: A Memoir (Intersex Woman, Mother, Activist)
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About the Author
In XOXY Kimberly Zieselman engages and inspires by sharing the intimate details of her burgeoning awareness at mid-life that she was born intersex, and the incredible journey she has been on to help herself and others. It is a gripping narrative that explores how having had information withheld- and lies told to her by her doctors- even more than her unique biology, has impacted her life. It also chronicles Zieselman's tireless efforts as an advocate and leader to educate those unfamiliar with intersex, and to eradicate the shame, stigma, and discrimination that the 1 in 50 of us who inhabit intersex bodies experience almost daily. She documents how organized medicine continues to perpetuate secrecy and shame by performing harmful and largely irreversible cosmetic surgeries on intersex infants with the singular objective of making their bodies conform to gender norms.
Zieselman is a caped and capable crusader for change, and her book is filled with glimmers of hope for the current and future generation of intersex children. This book is for anyone who has ever felt different, or has stood up against judgment or intolerance, and for anyone who wants to understand what's at stake.--Sherri Groveman Morris, Founder, AIS Support Group USA
XOXY makes clear how binary notions of gender and sex embedded in U.S. health care contribute to life-long harms of intersex persons. This candid personal narrative shows us an intersex woman who refuses to be erased and chronicles the flourishing of an intersex movement that she helped build. An important and engaging read.--Charlene Galarneau, Associate Professor Emerita, Women's and Gender Studies, Wellesley College; and, Senior Lecturer, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School - Center for Bioethics
Zieselman's riveting account of secrets and their consequences should motivate physicians to end the damaging, nonconsensual approach to intersex management of children, and inspire many who have endured similar medical trauma. Her turn to activism for intersex people everywhere as director of interACT is nothing short of remarkable.--Elizabeth Reis, Ph.D., professor of gender and bioethics at the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, and the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex.
An intimate, searing memoir of an intersex life, XOXY lays bare the trauma of being betrayed by the medical profession, and details how one person finds empowerment through community and advocacy.--I.W. Gregorio, urologist and author of the Lambda Literary Finalist None of the Above.
In XOXY Kimberly Zieselman details the shame, secrecy and lies she's faced as an intersex person since her childhood. Her perseverance and strength in the face of an ignorant medical establishment makes for an astonishing story that you won't be able to put down. Kimberly has been advocating for intersex children 2014 as the director of InterACT, an organization focused on ending harmful medical interventions on intersex children, and she played an essential role in helping me tell my own story to the world, for which I will be forever grateful.
This book will help readers understand intersex, and the need to protect the bodily autonomy of all intersex individuals.--Hanne Gaby Odiele, Internationally Renown Model and Intersex Activist
Early in XOXY, Zieselman writes, "I felt a rush of anxiety, but there was a simultaneous emptiness that was settling into me." That poetic tension is threaded subtly throughout the book. Zieselman tells her own story mellifluously, but with a sense of palpable unease. After all, the narrative arch is of a woman in her forties learning how she was lied to most of her life, and then learning how that lie was part of a spectacular web of medical misinformation and ill-treatment.
If you know the story of how most intersex people have been systemically abused by modern medicine, this will be a read laced with foreshadowing for you. If you don't, some of the most eerily familiar and quotidian passages will expose you to an important, often misunderstood narrative about what it means to be different in this world. There are vignettes about the typical childhood discoveries-the anticipation of getting a period, being studied by classmates at a new school as if an exotic artifact, doing drugs and shoplifting. Zieselman is brutally honest about the vulnerabilities of adulthood, too-from imposter's syndrome at work to anxieties over the chaos of parenting kids with disabilities. These stories all take on a new, textured meaning when the truth is revealed. And then there are plot twists that seem ripped from a science fiction film-Kafkaesque half-truths from your parents, a doctor telling a 16-year-old her vagina is too small for her future husband to be sexually satisfied, and that nagging feeling that, even as you get older and wiser, what seems to be everyone else's reality isn't quite the same for you. Even in these moments, Zieselman delivers her story of trauma with alacrity. At one point, the teenage author-narrator is told there's only one other person in the world like her-a mysterious woman in Canada. She becomes a minor character for the rest of the book-at once desperate and comedic.
And in joining Zieselman on her journey in XOXY, you get to take one of your own, and meet the intersex community. A community formed around trauma, strengthened by validation, and liberated by too-often still-elusive truth and justice. This book is part not only of an individual's life, but of a movement. It's a movement demanding the simplest of things-truth, autonomy, dignity.
You'd be forgiven for assuming the memoir of a white straight cisgender woman in Massachusetts wouldn't be a story of profound self-discovery in a marginalized community; you'd also be wrong. Therein lies the power of XOXY-in a raw narrative, Zieselman delicately guides you through her own journey as an intersex woman, a mother and a lawyer, and perhaps a not-so-unlikely activist.--Kyle Knight, Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch
XOXY is a remarkable testimonial to the power of truth and connection to alchemize shame into empowerment. Overcoming the trauma of discovering in adulthood that surgeons lied to her when she was a teenager and removed her gonads without her knowledge or permission, Kimberly Zieselman refused to remain an invisible member of a "silent majority" long assumed by doctors to be satisfied with their treatment. This is the story of how she transformed herself into a fierce international advocate who champions the human rights of intersex children everywhere to discover for themselves who they want to be.--Arlene B. Baratz, MD, Parent of two intersex children, Coordinator of Medical and Research Affairs: AIS-DSD Support Group, Chair of Medical and Research Policy Committee: interACT- Advocates for Intersex Youth