November 8 is international Intersex Awareness Day. The objective is to attract attention for the rights of intersex people and the torture they have to undergo in many cases. Intersex people are people with rights. Rights that are being trodden as soon as your status is discovered. Intersex is the theatre of very strong medico-moral interventions. Since last century the debate fluctuates between acknowledging the intersex person’s feelings or the medical opinion, fixing sex in the direction the doctor thinks best or listening to the patient.Intersex people have variant genital, chromosomal and/or hormonal makeup than the average person. ‘Normal’ people have a clear genetic (XX or XY sex chromosomes), hormonal (more testosterone in men, more estrogens in women) or gonadal makeup (penis and testes with boys; vagina, uterus, ovaries with girls). When at birth is discovered your sex organs look too big or too small in the eyes of the doctor or midwife, you are prone to be ‘corrected’ as soon as possible. Depending on where you live in the world you even run the risk of infanticide, as the child will be considered an abomination, the product of witchcraft. Where very strong opinions on sex and gender reign, any variation is a danger .
Sex must be fixed as soon as possible. Parents in most cases are told either not the truth, half the truth or that they should not tell it to anyone. Modern doctors will maybe explain it all to parents and child, but will define the phenomenon in a clear pathologising way. Often it is told the child has a risk of cancer when untreated. Medical assistance may be wished for to ensure the body develops in as healthy a way as possible, but “intersex” or DSD, “Disorder of Sex Development” is not something inherently pathological. And the surgical interventions are all but state of the art, leaving the patients with lots of pain, and shame for their situation.
If you are not familiar with intersex, I suggest you to watch this 13 minute documentary, called XXXY. It tells of the problems intersex people face because of their bodies not conforming to the standards. And because there is such a focus, such an importance given to our genitals an all that comprises our “sex”, panic arises easily.
Of course every intersex person has the right to choose how they want to live and thus also if they want to be open about their history or not. But is we take that right seriously, then people should not have to blend in as men or women nor have to be scrutinized so strongly.
XXXY (2000) (opens in new window or tab)