Posted on November 05 2019
Intersex day of solidarity is November 8th. Intersex people are everywhere and are not as uncommon as one may think. Around 1.7% of the human population is intersex, and there are intersex members of almost every species of multicellular organisms. For comparison, this is approximately the same percent of natural born redheads in the world. While you likely cannot spot an intersex person when you walk by them, chances are you pass by intersex people every day.
Just in case you have gotten to this point, and are confused on what exactly intersex is, let me try to explain. Intersex is an umbrella term for all the ways someone’s biology can differ from the typical classifications of “male” or “female”. Sex is naturally on a spectrum and while most of the population does fit into the “male” or “female” boxes, a good amount of us do not. Sex is defined partly by genitalia, hormone production and response, gonads, chromosomes, reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. If you separate those characteristics into the typical “male” and “female” classifications, it becomes apparent how many different ways a person could have an intersex body. Any variation from these lists, from a small deviation to a mix of all traits, would make one intersex. I, for example, am androgen insensitive. I was born with XY chromosomes, internal testes, testosterone production, no testosterone response, no other reproductive organs, and a vulva. This is just one way to have an intersex body.
While intersex people are all different (just as all humans are different) there are some challenges that intersex people face in our society. A big challenge is intervention known medically as “normalizing surgery”. This is especially common for intersex people with a physical genitalia variation from the typical sex binary and is often done long before the person is able to consent. There is no medical need for most of these surgeries. Regardless if a baby is male, female, or intersex, all humans have the inherent right to genital autonomy. To put it simply, “if they can pee, leave them be.”
I wasn’t left with my whole body intact. At just three months old doctors found my internal testes and removed them because “girls don’t have testes”. Doctors wanted to choose what they felt was appropriate for me without any consideration for what I would want for myself, and because of this my body was not left intact. If it was up to me, I would have kept all the body parts I was born with. If I was left alone, I would not need to take testosterone daily. Unnecessary and nonconsensual genital surgeries must end, and informed consent of the patient must be achieved if surgery was desired.
While irreversible nonconsensual surgeries are a large problem for intersex babies, it is important to note that this is not the only medical intervention issues that intersex people face. Many intersex people, including those I have spoken with personally, have extremely negative experiences with doctors. I remember, myself, being brought to tears in doctors’ offices on multiple occasions. Doctors often attempt to make us subjects for teaching, and invade our privacy, by bringing students in during exams or office visits. When permission is requested, it is often difficult to say no even if uncomfortable with the request, especially if unprepared. I had the benefit of having a doctor who knew what intersex was and knew how to explain my biology to me from a young age, but many of us did not have that. Many intersex people find themselves educating their doctors, some of which may not have even heard the word “intersex” before. Becoming your own medical advocate can be difficult, especially when people are taught to trust doctors and their knowledge.
It may be easy to focus on the medical treatment side of intersex issues, but even that treatment is rooted in a much larger problem. Let’s face it, intersex people are not “mistakes” they do not have “disorders” and they do not need to be “fixed”. Doctors are not perfect, neither is any human. The bigger problem with intersex acceptance and treatment is with society. Interphobia and transphobia are very much linked. While intersex and transgender are two different things, they are related in that they deviate from the binary that society has put in place. While some intersex people are transgender, not all intersex people identify this way, and intersex people have a spectrum of genders just like anyone else. Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) is fueled by interphobia and this notion of clinging to the binary even when it is clear that this is not the whole story.
A society that doesn’t accept the difference between sex and gender will continue to harm intersex and transgender people, both physically and emotionally. Acceptance for natural variances of the spectrum is vital in the battle for equal rights, medical care, and mental health as a whole.
Written by Anastasia
Anastasia is an intersex and non-binary person living in Chicago, IL. In addition to their intersex advocacy, they are an activist for animal rights and for the rights of all children to be free from genital mutilation. Using their educational background in biology and personal experiences, they aim to speak out and do what is possible to protect future generations, and to assist in making the world a better place for those who inhabit it.
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