Today’s Intersex Awareness Day highlights the right of intersex people not to have their bodies mutilated and to underscore the fact that they exist and need to be accepted and respected.
An intersex person is born with some of their biological sex characteristics varying from what is typically considered clearly male or female. Intersex people represent a significant percentage of the global population, from 1.7% (Anne Fausto-Sterling, sexologist, 2000) to 4% (various authors).
But although intersex babies are born, their right for self-identification and bodily integrity is not in their hands. Instead of intersex people given a chance to be supported and mature to an age where they can make decisions about their bodies and identity, the decision is made for them, often in the hands of the medical profession.
Many in the medical profession still view intersex people as a “pathological condition” or “disorder” (sometimes labelled Disorders of Sexual Development) which needs “intervention”. Such “interventions” employ surgery and hormonal “treatments” to ensure complete maleness or femininity, i.e. “normalising” gender-assigning operations.
In an ABC News interview with parents and intersex adults speakers discussed the irreparable damage doctors have caused them by such surgeries and interventions that are typically performed just a few weeks after birth.
These “normalising” procedures done purely for cosmetic reasons can have devastating life long effects; resulting in trauma, both psychologically and physical, in some cases, sterilisation, and even castration which leaves the person unable to procreate and even experience sexual arousal or enjoyment.
In the ABC News interview, Saifa, who was born intersex, was castrated and “surgically assigned” the gender of a girl, although he always felt more male. He grew up in the Bronx, wearing girl uniforms to the Catholic school. But as Saifa grew up he realised that he felt himself to be a boy and discovered what has happened, without his consent. And although Saifa feels to be man he now has for the rest of his life to inject himself with testosterone and come to grips with how his body has been mutilated. Saifa discovered that on his medical records he was labelled as having being born with “ambiguous genitalia”, but later this was crossed over with “normal girl.” Saifa said that he “then felt betrayed” because he was left in the dark and at the age of thirteen his undescended testes were removed (i.e. castrated). His mother didn’t really know much about intersex people, hence trusted the doctors and consented to the procedure. Often, the parents are misinformed or given pathologising information so that they are convinced surgery is a must when it is actually medically unnecessary.
While many people are rightly outraged about female genital mutilation, they lack the information and knowledge to understand the horrific consequences of bodily mutilation done to intersex babies and how traumatic and debilitating this can be.
“What we want is bodily integrity and informed consent rather than secrecy, surgery, and shame. What chance does an intersex kid have against the organized might of the medical profession and the complicity of society at large?”, stated US based intersex campaigner and writer Lianne Simon to KaleidoScot.
The is why campaigners seek to inform and raise awareness that being intersex is not an “abnormal condition” that needs to be precast and forced into what the medical profession sees as “normal” gender. Rather, intersex activists and campaigners argue that it is just one of many genetic and biological variations that exist in humanity. Campaigners stress that intersex could become a sex identification of its own and, in that way, obtain the rights, respect and recognition that intersex people deserve.
Intersex people who have not had their bodies mutilated by “normalising” gender-assigning operations, live happy, productive and loving lives and enjoy their sexualities. In many cases they can have children. And in their own time they can themselves, naturally sense their gender identity, which would express who they are.
Alex Robin Gardner, a Scottish intersex campaigner, told KaleidoScot: “being intersex is important to me, before I knew I was intersex my mind was a bit of a mess but since then I’ve discovered my identity, my place in life and I’m proud! Others should be able to be proud of their identity which is why we need recognition and awareness!”
What campaigners say is that Intersex surgeries should only be performed when a person of intersex experience willingly consents to operation and feel it is needed. The United Nations has taken action over this matter and recently discussed the human rights violation of forced “genital normalising” surgeries.
Intersex advocacy and activism has meant that medical practitioners and hospitals have started to review their protocols with regards to interventions and have even led to some countries adopting a moratorium on infant genital surgeries, but this is not yet the case in Scotland.
It is often the case that the I of the LGBTI community gets ignored, miscategorised and misunderstood. This is why intersex awareness is so important.