Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nikki Araguz - PBS Video Interview

On August 6, 2010, the public television broadcasting station in Houston, TX aired an extended interview with Nikki Araguz, the widow of firefighter Thomas Araguz, who died on July 3, 2010. The interview lasted about eleven minutes. The purpose of the interview seemed to be an attempt to humanize Nikki Araguz for Texas television viewers, and to provide a some contrast with the generalized drubbing Nikki has endured in reports broadcast by the for profit television stations in Houston. The interviewer was Ernie Manouse, the PBS station's news anchor. In the quotations below from the interview, Ernie Manouse is abbreviated EM and Nikki Araguz is abbreviated NA. A complete transcript of the entire interview is available in a separate post on this site.

In the interview, one of the most significant themes that Nikki Araguz and her interviewer Ernie Manouse presented, was Nikki's outright categorical characterization herself as a woman born with a congenital intersex/hermaphroditic medical condition, that later involved medical treatment, and as a heterosexual female, without qualification; distancing and differentiating herself from transsexual women. However, she did make a curious gaff right after describing the diagnosis of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome she had received as a child, mischaracterizing that intersex/hermaphroditic diagnosis as a "transgender syndrome" rather than an "intersex syndrome". Her statements in this regard during the interview, which occurred about about two minutes into it, were:

NA - I simply am a heterosexual woman. That’s how I define myself. I’m not a medical professional, but I know that I have been diagnosed with partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and that falls under a classification medically as a transgender syndrome.

EM - And folks have a problem getting past the idea, and they assume that when we talk in these that it is someone who was a male, born a male, grew up as a male, somehow felt they weren’t a male, so they had sexual reassignment surgery. That is a different condition than what you went through, correct?

NA - Completely, completely, I, in my growing up, even in my early years, my parents started to notice that I was not developing into a boy, umm, that I was developing into a girl, and sought medical professionals, umm, late 70s early 80s, nobody knew what was going on. And so umm, they just allowed me to continue to develop into the woman I am today.

Later on, at about nine minutes into the interview, Nikki elaborated further, specifically differentiating her genital reconstruction surgery from sexual reassignment surgery in the statements she made as follows:

ME - And again I want to clarify for our audience, when you say it was the birth defect we are not talking about a fully developed all male individual going and having a sexual reassignment surgery.

NA - That would not be at all an accurate description of what happened for me, umm, because I was an underdeveloped, umm, and not past the age of two or three years old did I develop anatomically, genitalia.

However, from a purely technical, surgical, and medical, perspective, the surgical procedure Nikki Araguz received from Marci Bowers, MD in Trinidad, Colorado, was precisely the same surgery given to transsexual women. Nikki Araguz's characterization of it is that she believes the surgery had different implications with regard to her because she has AIS, not because she believes a different surgical procedure was performed on her. Dr. Bowers is one of three or four surgeons in North America who specialize almost entirely in providing genital reconstruction surgery to transsexual and intersex/hermaphroditic patients.

From a legal perspective, in terms of legal strategy and having some sociological influence, Nikki gave the impression during the interview that she was differentiating and distancing herself from transsexual women in an attempt to give the general public the impression she is somehow more female than transsexual women by virtue of the intersex/hermaphroditic AIS condition with which she was born. She did speak carefully and thoughtfully though, about the specific issue of her defense of her marriage, and any potential relationship to her cause that may exist within the transsexual population and among people born with intersex/hermaphroditic medical conditions. Near the end of the interview, Nikki's thoughts on this subject were:
ME - A lot with this story is being morphed into gay marriage now, and they are talking about ramifications from that. How do you view your marriage?

NA - I view marriage as, as any loving commitment between two people, period. And I am not trying to be a platform for anyone, except for my own marriage at this point. Whatever comes as a result of that in helping anybody else, helping anybody else be able to have equal civil liberties, then, so be it.


ME - Being put into the spotlight that you have, I’m sure that you get both sides of the spectrum reacting to you. How do you weather through that?

NA - Honestly, I, it is very difficult. I, I’m still grieving the loss of my husband and it is preventing me from doing that in a lot of ways, it’s um, but I weather through it because I believe so strongly in my marriage and in the love that Thomas and I shared that I am not going to stop fighting for the truth and the equality.

Her statements just above give the impression, apologetically but emphatically, that she is interested first in protecting the validity of her own marriage, and whether any other single person or group of people might gain similar recognition or civil marriage equality rights if her attorneys are successful in litigating her case, appears to be of only secondary concern to her. Her sentiments are certainly valid, but for activists and enthusiasts in the transsexual population who hope that Nikki Araguz is going to be their champion to obtain marriage equality for transsexual people in Texas, it appears that Nikki Araguz is not interested in being their poster girl. If the attorneys for Nikki Araguz fail in the trial court and again on appeal, the consequences of her case could effect thousands of similarly situated people who currently live in Texas. That is another fact that the major news media as ignored entirely, the fact that thousands of marriages similar to the one entered into by Nikki and Thomas Araguz exist in Texas, and they exist in a state of legal limbo, and in a state of potential legal jeopardy for the intersex or transsexual person who is a party to them.

Among the unfortunate characterizations made and implied by the interview is an implication that transsexual females aren't actually female after surgery, maintaining the bigoted and oversimplified "born a boy always a boy" notions trumpeted incessantly by most of the Texas media about Nikki Araguz and by the attorneys representing Heather Delgado, Frank Mann and Chad Ellis. Nikki Araguz herself, attempts to characterize herself as a more legitimate female than transsexual females because she was apparently born with partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) (see the separate detailed article on that topic on this site). While such a characterization may have some small chance of helping her legal case, and may possibly help generate public sympathy for her from at least a small portion of the uninformed and mostly bigoted Texas population, such a characterization also has the side effect of throwing transsexual females under the bus so to speak, tacitly ceding to her interviewer that maybe transexual women who have undergone the same surgery by the surgeon who performed genital reconstruction surgery on her, are somehow less female than she is. Ironically, her surgeon, Marci Bowers, MD, is a post-surgical-transsexual woman, who received her own genital reconstruction surgery from another American surgeon, Toby Meltzer, MD. The scientific fact is that the popular argument among bigots that sex chromosomes are the one and only determinant of physiological human sex/gender is entirely specious anyway. Ironically, such incorrect and misguided notions about the nature of physiological human sexuality also undercuts the argument made by Nikki Araguz as well, that somehow having AIS, a genetic condition that makes a person unable to respond to testosterone, places her in a different category from transsexual women. Curiously, in the video interview above, Nikki Araguz also appears to misspeak and calls her condition a "Transgender Syndrome", a misnomer she appears to have made up on the fly.

Another disturbing aspect of the interview, which Ernie Manouse pressured Nikki Araguz about repeatedly, is the issue of disclosure, with the tacit implication that transsexual people, or even intersex people, have some sort of social and/or moral obligation to disclose their medical condition to others. If every individual in our society is going to be required to disclose every single private, medical, or other, fact about themselves to others in order to be considered honest, it seems like social discourse and human relationships would grind to a halt. The idea that lack of disclosure to another about one's self constitutes dishonesty seems patently bizarre.

The interviewer Ernie Manouse also broaches another unsettling notion, the preposterous idea the general populace somehow believes that it couldn't be possible for someone to love an intersex/hermaphroditic person or a transsexual person. The fact is, there are likely hundreds of marriages like the one between Nikki and Thomas Araguz in Texas, and thousands of such marriages throughout the United States. Ernie Manouse subtly gave the impression that the general public disbelieves that Thomas Araguz could have fallen in love with Nikki Araguz knowing that she is possibly intersex/hermaphroditic and possibly transsexual by virtue of having undergone genital reconstruction surgery, especially having met her and married her before her surgery. Such a notion insults both intersex and transsexual people, and fosters the absurd implication that intersex and transsexual people are somehow less worthy of love as human beings than other people. Anyone who has read the comments attached to newspaper articles about Nikki Araguz has seen this irrational hatred expressed in unequivocal terms by countless average people.

Among the many curious aspects of news coverage about intersex/hermaphroditic people and transsexual people is that it has been occurring for forty or fifty years, but apparently without actually penetrating the psyches of average people. Even after those forty or fifty years of media coverage and attempts at so called public education, every time the topic arises in the news, the topic is treated as though it is the first time it has ever been publicly discussed. One has to wonder how fifty years of efforts on the part of non-profit organizations and medical experts to discuss these topics doesn't seem to have resulted in any significant public education. Instead, it seems that with each new media exposure intersex/hermaphroditic people are treated with increased derision, fear, and hatred. What is equally disconcerting, as that the people expressing such negative sentiments seem completely unable to recognize the bigoted nature of their behavior, and the manner in which their behavior is an analog for racist attitudes that were freely and publicly expressed by the majority until the 1970s. Surely there are still racists and eugenists around, but in large part their bigotry is less acceptable. In the meantime, it seems like much of the general populace equates intersex/hermaphroditic people and transsexual people with something akin to Frankenstein's monster, no matter how physically and socially acceptable they may superficially seem.

Despite the foregoing, it seems essential to reiterate that despite Texas culture, many people throughout the U.S. hope that Nikki Araguz prevails with her attorneys in her defense of her marriage. An attorney interviewed later in the same television program during which the interview above aired, projected that the eventual outcome for transsexual people and for intersex/hermaphroditic people will depend on whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court eventually upholds the recent California federal district court ruling by judge Vaughn Walker that banning same-sex marriage is a violation of due process and equal protection rights accorded all Americans under the U.S. Constitution and its amendments. That result will hopefully prevent intersex/hermaphroditic people and transsexual people from being caught up in a political maelstrom that shouldn't really apply to them, but is used against them by opponents of universal marriage equality, because such bigots incorrectly conflate intersex/hermaphroditic and transsexual people with gay and lesbian people.

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