Dani Coyle on Breaking Down Intersex Stereotypes

Meet BRICKS Voices cover star, intersex artist and activist Dani Coyle who is raising awareness and encouraging understanding for intersex identities

IMAGE Stephanie Penelope

For those who don’t already know, can you tell us about who you are and what you do?

I’m an intersex artist and activist from the UK, based in Berlin. I adopt a lot of mediums and platforms, but all with the aim of exploring and advocating for intersex and othered identities in order to raise awareness, encourage understanding, and inspire other intersex people to live openly and freely.

What is your earliest memory of the queer community?

This is a really hard question to answer because I don’t think there was anyone defining first memory. My time in Berlin has been one big learning and unlearning process which is still evolving. Surrounding myself with different types of people, identities and bodies allowed me to free myself from projected norms and ask myself: am I acting this way because I want to, or because I’m expected to? Would I look like this? Would I identify as this? My healing as part of the queer community has developed over time and could almost go unnoticed, until one day you’re surrounded by a bunch of fags, naked, singing Britney doing poppers in a bathroom stall, feeling completely at ease with yourself and wondering how you got there.

How can we foster a sense of community while in isolation?

Honestly, in this time I find social media gives us an illusion of connectivity, yet makes you feel ultimately less connected to the real world, and even more lonely. For me, this time hasn’t been about how to stay connected, but rather how can I use this time to disconnect and slow down. I think taking some time to reconnect with ourselves is important, and once isolation is over we will hopefully be able to come together and form healthier and happier communities. 

What does the word queer mean to you?

For me, the word ‘queer’ means ‘different’. In western society we celebrate superficial ‘difference’, but in reality these differences must fall within very strict ideals in order to be accepted. Those who exist, live, and express themselves outside of these set boundaries (defined by cis-white-men) are feared and policed.

Much of the conversation surrounding gender and sex often leaves out intersex identities, why do you think this is?

We’re left out of conversations because people fear the unknown. Acknowledging our existence would mean acknowledging that the binaries we’ve built our entire society around are a lie. Binary sex is seen as fact – so what do we do when these ‘facts’ are disproven by marginalised people? We try to erase them. It’s far easier for those with power to erase a seemingly powerless group than admit they’ve had it wrong for generations. This acknowledgement would also dismantle some of the most frequent arguments used to oppress those with gender queer identities. The misconception that gender is inherently linked to biological sex and therefore gender must too be either ‘male’ or ‘female’, is something we fight constantly as non-binary people. We need visibility in the press and media with control over our own narratives, and as a society we need to encourage the daily practise of empathy and kindness to those who differ from you.

We’re left out of conversations because people fear the unknown. Acknowledging our existence would mean acknowledging that the binaries we’ve built our entire society around are a lie.

Who in the queer community do you most admire and why?

All of us. Surrounding myself with queers who refuse to shrink themselves in order to make others more comfortable and witnessing those leading in a world that try to exclude them is always a humbling and empowering experience. As a community, there are so many ways that we exist in collective resistance, and I’m filled with gratitude for every single one of us.

Do you feel it is crucial as visible queer people to set boundaries so you don’t give too much of yourself?

100%. This work is so emotionally draining because it requires you to delve into your most explicit trauma on a daily basis. Boundaries are an important and interesting concept, and one I’ve been considering more recently. I saw discourse online about how those who belong to marginalised groups are often only recognised and celebrated for their work if it explicitly explores their trauma. Of course, this representation is crucial, but to be defined entirely by this trauma isn’t ideal. When the only thing we are represented for is our suffering, it’s hard not to feel a sense of fetishisation. At the same time, I am the outcome of these experiences: they’ve moulded my identity and perspective. My work is an extension of me, they are one and can’t be separated, and this is what makes my work unique: no one else can tell my story. But I am a whole person, and there is more to me than my trauma. How do we set boundaries in order to be portrayed not only as people fighting against oppression but as whole humans with entire lives? I’ll let you know once I’ve figured it out.

For those who may not know, can you tell us what intersex is and what are of the misconceptions of intersex bodies are?

The term intersex “is an umbrella term that refers to people who have one or more of a range of variations in sex characteristics that fall outside of traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. For example, they may have variations in their chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs like testes or ovaries. Sometimes these characteristics are identified at birth, while other people might not discover they have intersex traits until puberty or later in life.” We are made to feel freaky, but we’re actually pretty common: about 1.7% of the population have intersex traits (which is roughly as common as twins)! Ironically the biggest misconception isn’t about us as people, but rather again that gender and sex are binary. This fake ‘truth’ completely disregards our existence and often results in policymakers overlooking our rights. Many of us cannot express ourselves fully while trying to exist within this binary: there are as many gender expressions as there are people, so why limit ourselves to two?

If there is one thing you could say to oppressors of queer people, what would you say?

We exist, and no amount of denial or ignorance will ever change that. We won’t be silenced, and we won’t be erased. We will win and you will lose. Also, you’re boring and your shoes are ugly.

Are you optimistic about the future for queer people?

My optimism fluctuates on a daily basis, and today, I’m just tired – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for hope. What frustrates me is that our future doesn’t depend only on our decisions. Currently, we don’t have autonomy over our own narratives, and as a result, we don’t have autonomy over our own futures. That being said, I know that this is changing. It’s changing because we persist in finding ways to be heard, to be seen, to be understood. Every day we fight for representation, for validation, and for respect. It’s really fucking heavy. I’ve only been out a year and I’m exhausted. The main thing that I’m optimistic about though is the increase in mainstream discussions around intersectionality. I see intersectionality becoming a fundamental foundation of conversations around marginalised issues and this is imperative in order to dismantle our common enemies: cis- supremacy, white supremacy, and the patriarchy amongst others. In order to eradicate one, we have to eradicate them all, and coming together against these will be our strongest weapon against oppression.

Follow Dani’s work on Instagram

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