Views & Voices

Intersex Awareness Day calls attention to an often ignored, misunderstood community

Intersex flag

Intersex flag

Intersex flag

Intersex flag

Today is Intersex Awareness Day, an internationally observed civil awareness day designed to highlight the challenges faced by intersex people.

Intersex is a term applied to human beings 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.

Another version of the Intersex flag

Another version of the Intersex flag

Intersex is always congenital and can originate from genetic, chromosomal or hormonal variations. It may be a combination of all three elements.

Environmental influences such as endocrine disruptors can also play a role in some intersex differences. Intersex people represent a significant percentage of the global population, from 1.7% (Anne Fausto-Sterling, sexologist, 2000) to 4% (various authors).

It is often the case that the intersex community gets ignored, mis-categorized, or simply misunderstood.

Worse still, intersex people are often denied even the basic right to self-definition, information, and knowledge and are sometimes forced to undergo medical and psychological procedures that damage and traumatize them for life.

It’s important to note that intersex can be diagnosed at any time from birth to adulthood, and it has been know for people to live their whole lives without every knowing, or being told of their intersex status.

Another important issue is the prejudice, misconception and their disastrous consequences on intersex people. As Morgan Carpenter from the Organisation Intersex International (OII) eloquently explains: “We face a range of health and human rights issues — and deep-seated stigma — caught between two contrasting visions of who and how we should be.”

“On the one hand, this includes medical interventions in infancy and childhood that are explicitly intended to make intersex bodies conform to social norms for a specific sex or gender. On the other hand, people with intersex variations increasingly face misgendering, through social expectations to identify as a third gender or sex, to challenge or transgress gender norms,” says Carpenter.

“Neither approach lets us truly make our own choices.”

Intersex infants, children and even adults endure non-consensual surgical and hormonal interventions to fit into a more socially acceptable embodiment of being male or female. This may be at the behest of their parents, and/or clinical pressure toward the parents. Such treatments may even involve sterilization.

In most countries being intersex is not seen as a natural attribute, rather than an “aberration” which justifies the procedures discussed above. In short, being intersex often isn’t recognized as a human right at all, unlike sexual orientation and gender identity.

There is some movement from a limited number of international bodies to recognize intersex issues as human rights and the above practices as human rights abuses, but this remains very limited.

Most commonly, even by members of the LGBTQ community, intersex people are incorrectly assumed to identify as transgender sometimes rejected as gay or lesbian, labeled as hermaphrodites, or dismissed as abnormal, or as examples of gender gone wrong. None of these are accurate, and all are deeply pejorative attitudes held about intersex people that can add to their feelings of isolation.

These are some of the many reasons why Intersex Awareness Day has become a growing civil awareness day, and a platform for intersex people to gain greater acceptance as who they are, not as who others think they should be.

Between 26 October and 8 November, intersex organizations around the world will try to bring attention to the challenges intersex individuals face, culminating in the Intersex Day of Remembrance, also sometimes known as Intersex Solidarity Day.

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