Controversy was already brewing before Alice Dreger, the Dresher Center’s speaker for the 9th Annual Korenman Lecture, even arrived on campus. Dreger is a self-proclaimed “impatient advocate” for intersex rights in America, as well as a medical and science historian.
The AOK Library Gallery became crowded quickly on Wednesday evening with over 80 students and faculty attending to hear Dreger speak on the difficulty of securing intersex rights in America. The audience listened attentively as Dreger spoke on the history of sex-change surgeries performed on intersex people at infanthood, and the ethical issues that stem from their inability to consent to such surgeries. During the question and answer segment at the end, Dreger’s opponents raised questions about her support of transgender rights.
The conversation remained civil, but some students were clearly dissatisfied with Dreger as a speaker. One student asked how Dreger could speak for intersex and transgender people, as a cis woman. Dreger’s answers to tough questions were level-headed and polished.
Many of Dreger’s opponents were transgender students or transgender supporters who feel Dreger is not an ally to their community.
“She’s a controversial figure to say the least,” said Archie Slade, a senior english major who came in support of friends in the trans community.
Slade and their friends did not take issue with Dreger’s take on the need for better intersex rights in America. Instead, they took issue with Dreger’s handling of transgender issues in the past.
“She has a history of caricaturing trans activists as irrational and against science,” Slade said after the event, as friends mingled over fruit and desserts. “Today she stayed away from speaking on the topics that have made her such a controversial figure.”
Not everyone who attended was aware of the controversy. Taylor Deblase, a junior majoring in English who is interested in minoring in women’s studies, came to see Dreger because it was required for her class on gender. Deblase didn’t expect the controversy, but she didn’t feel like it was a negative thing either.
“You hear someone speak and you kind of see them on a higher level,” said Deblase. “It’s interesting to see people contradict her. You learn more from two points of view.”
One of Deblase’s biggest take-aways was Dreger’s response to a student who asked about her position speaking for intersex and trans people.
Deblase said, “I loved that she said how privileged people, it’s sort of their responsibility to help those who aren’t privileged. That’s something I’ve always felt, but I never knew if it was ok, coming from a privileged point of view.”