“The term intersex describes human beings who have naturally occurring differences of sex anatomy and whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female. An intersex person may have the biological attributes of both sexes or lack some of the biological attributes considered necessary to be defined as one or the other sex. Intersex is always congenital; the term is not applicable to situations where individuals deliberately alter their own anatomical characteristics. Intersex people are marginalized both in society and in law. Many human rights instruments fail to identify intersex people as rights holders, rather protecting “men” and “women”. Even where their rights are explicitly protected in law, intersex people are often unable to enforce those rights. They suffer from many forms of discrimination in all aspects of life, including their family life” (“Equal Rights for Intersex Vol. 10”).
As you may have realized above, intersex runs in conflict of society’s idea of a binary sex system. While intersex people face similar struggles as bisexuals/romantics, pansexuals/romantics, non-binary/genderqueer people since they all have identities that run in direct contradiction to the idea of a binary system, the struggles of intersex individuals has a key difference: physicality. Intersex individuals are discriminated against starting in utero where if the doctor discovers intersex traits, the parents of the baby may abort the baby entirely for not conforming. In some countries, if a baby is born intersex, then the baby may be killed or left to die because they don’t fit into the sex binary. For the lucky intersex babies that survive, they may face a “normalizing” surgery which happens when a baby’s genitalia don’t look exactly like a penis or a vagina. Usually, this occurs when the phallis is shorter than the norm for a penis so the doctors reconstruct it into a vagina. BEFORE a baby can talk that baby could face a surgery that mutilates one of the most sensitive parts of the human body because the baby’s genitalia doesn’t fit into society’s idea of a male or female. This is not only a violation of the baby’s privates but also like stealing a major part of the child’s identity. Many children grow up not even knowing that they are intersex whether in hormones, sex organs, genitalia and/or chromosomes. Those who wish to have their medical records even as adults are refused them.
Since I am not an intersex person myself, I researched into the subject on Equal Rights for Intersex’s website where I found this PDF of Gina Wilson, the former leader of theOrganization Intersex International Australia and an intersex person herself.
To see the entire article- click here.
If you would rather see my summary of the intersex struggle article which is intermixed with Gina Wilson quotes, then continue reading below. It is the same article from the start of this page to the end. The only difference is that the citations change to page numbers.
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Intersex, as said before, is in direct contradiction to the sex binary of male and female. Society views this difference and gray area as a serious medical condition. Gina Wilson found that “viewing intersex through the lens of medicine and “disorder,” as had traditionally been the case, was stigmatizing and delivers no benefits to intersex people, but rather shame and secrecy” (134).
The language we use also perpetuates the “disorder” view. Ex. “”Intersexed” implies that something has been “done” to a person; and the recently introduced “disorder of sexual development” is stigmatizing and implies the difference of intersex people constitutes an illness or a disease” (134). The language implies that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. (Note to audience: don’t use the term “intersexed.”) Meanwhile, the term, intersex, “does not have these negative connotations; it merely suggests difference, and that we are neither male nor female” (134). Still, drugs, surgery, or a combination of box are often “used to try to “cure” or normalize intersex people without their informed consent” (134).
Gina Wilson: “It became apparent to me that the desire to normalize us, and to do away with ambiguity by “invisibility” our intersex, was to see us as “normal” males and females”” (135).
Many of the challenges that the intersex community faces comes from a lack of understanding and awareness of “what it means to be intersex” (135).
The first challenge arises from the assumption that a human being can be either a male or female (a social construct, not imaginary). The key problem with this idea is that not all people can be categorized in this way which bothers some people, ex. the medical community. This leads to many thinking that intervention and normalization through medicine as necessary. The medical community reacted to homosexuality in a similar with medical treatment, therapy and treating it as a curable illness. A similar forced conformity is put upon intersex people to assimilate into the binary.
This sex binary doesn’t only hurt intersex people. It also hurts people within the binary. For example, “female” at birth. In many regions, people assigned female at birth are seen as second rate citizens, property and as a result, receive less rights.
Gina Wilson specifically recommended ridding ourselves of sex categorization and stretches as far as to say that we should be rid of gender as well.
In 2013, Organization Intersex International advocates for people 18 and older to be able to chose X instead of male or female on passports, whether they are intersex or not. So they can have the right to be silent. Then they won’t be judged on sex but strength of character.
The second challenge comes from how society operates on the basis of the sex binary. Intersex is different breaks the binary which society and the medical community view as a problem that needs to be fixed with medicine, LIKE homosexuality. The argument is that because parents and friends can’t accept intersex family/friends, then they have to reshape the newborn baby’s body. That is instead of promoting acceptance of natural differences. One of the “cures” is Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) or “Normalization” Surgery: the procedure is done on newborns when their genitals are ambiguous enough where they can’t be labeled as penis (male) or vagina (female).
IGM has striking resemblance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which “is a surgery carried out upon genitals of newborn babies, infants, and children for cultural or religious reasons” (137). is done on the genitals of newborn babies for religious or cultural reasons. Both are infant genital surgery and both can cause irreparable damage to children.
The medical establishment as a whole never argues for the acceptance of intersex but instead wants to force them to fit into the sex binary which risks physical and psychological damage to intersex people (137).
Wilson, Gina. Equal Rights for Intersex Vol. 10. London: Equal Rights For Intersex, 2013.PDF.
If you would like to follow where this source came from check out the Equal Rights Website.
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