Finally, the mystery, intrigue and, in fact, shame that has historically been associated with what is now known as “intersex” is beginning to come out of the closet. Recently a milestone in this important shift happened recently when Sara Kelly Keenan successfully had her birth certificate change to indiate “intersex” in the little “sex” box that appears on all birth certificates (see The Guardian, January 11, 2017). Even in the LGBT community, notice how seldom we include “I” in the alphabet. But the Intersex movement is out there, growing in numbers worldwide, and celebrating every October 26 with “Intersex Awareness Day” (see Facebook “Intersex Awareness Day) and November 8th with “Intersex Solidarity Day (see Intersex Day Blog).
As feminist writer Charlotte Bunch noted way back in her 1980s essays, the most important thing that people must know is another person’s gender. I have even experienced this with my beloved dogs – people who stop to admire my furry companions they typically use the pronoun “he,” and apologize profusely if I correct them to indicate my dog’s preferred pronoun of “she.” So when a child is born with genitalia that are not gender-specific, everyone is typically thrown into a tizzy!
This tizzy is explained in the excellent article by Jenny Kleeman that appeared in the Guardian last July. In the medical world, where this typically comes to light in the first moments after the birth of a baby, sometimes now predictable on the fetal ultrasound, the condition is now referred to as a disorder of sexual development (DSD). Instead of gleefully hearing the announcement or confirmation “its a boy!” or “its a girl,” someone in the room nervously whisk the newborn off, or wraps the infant before handing over to the mother, and in myriads of ways try to stall dealing with what is taken in the moment to be a serious problem. What now follows is a long series of genetic tests to determine the genetic profile of the child, and a challenging period during which parents make decisions about any surgical procedures offered to them, and how they want to present their child to the world and help them grow and develop as a healthy human being. Before genetic testing, and even today in some communities, providers and parents make hasty decisions, sometimes resulting in surgical intervention to force a particular identity on the child.
The social and cultural challenges of beginning life or growing up as intersex is beginning to change, particularly in areas of the world where more and more people are beginning to identify proudly as “gender queer,” and the transgender movement has opened conversations about what gender identity means. Still, people who are intersex struggle to find an identity and as yet the movement to claim “intersex” as an identity is small, and it is hard to find support, information and affirmation of this experience.
So here at LavenderHealth, we pledge our support for the Intersex Community, welcome more discussion, and join with all who proclaim, with Sara Kelly Keenan – “There is power in knowing who you are!“