Being open to exploring one’s own sexual identity is important, especially in younger years. However, in the same vein, it is also completely okay to wait for a while before trying to understand your sexuality better. It is important to embrace who you are. This Pride month we bring to you a clearer understanding of what it’s like to be intersexual in today’s world.
People whose bodies fall in the vast continuum between "male" and "female" are often known as intersex people, that is, a person cannot transition to “become” intersex, it is a variation in reproductive anatomy present at birth that doesn’t fit typical binary notions of male or female (Understanding Intersex and Transgender Communities, 2016). Being intersex is not out of the ordinary at all, every year, an estimated one in 1,500 to 2,000 babies are born as intersex (Interact, Advocates for Intersex Youth, 2016).
There's no one way for intersex people to look or feel about themselves. Intersex people can identify as men, women, gender-fluid, non-binary, or in a myriad of ways. However, intersex people are generally assigned as either male or female despite their anatomical atypicality.
As their bodies are seen to be different, intersex children and adults often face stigmatization and are put through multiple human rights violations. According to the United Nations for LGBT Equality (2017), Intersex persons are often subjected to discrimination and abuse if it becomes known that they are intersex, or if they are perceived not to conform to gender norms. Anti-discrimination laws do not typically ban discrimination against intersex persons, leaving them vulnerable to discriminatory practices in a range of settings, including access to health services, education, public services, employment, and sports. Ultimately, this takes a significant toll on their physical as well as mental well-being, and intersex people are more likely to be susceptible to developing psycho-social complaints later in life (Psychology Today, 2013).
Moreover, many intersex people have been subjected to surgeries in their infancy that attempt to “normalize” their atypical genitalia that is, to make their bodies look more typical, even though these surgeries have shown to lead to damage to sexual function and fertility.
International human rights entities such as the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and the United Nations have called for an end to these surgeries. In 1998, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association issued a resolution observing the physical and psychological impact of early genital surgery and calling upon physicians to adequately inform parents of the negative outcomes and the opportunity to delay or reject surgery altogether.
It, thus, becomes very important to set aside the current binary approach to sex and gender and adopt a broader interpretation that understands sex as a spectrum or continuum in our legal, medical, and educational reforms and policies.
On a more personal level, it is important to stand up and be open to listening, while taking it upon yourself to use the tools around you to learn and answer your questions.
Being aware of your implicit biases, learning to research more about the history of the struggle, to accept how you participate in the oppressive systems and how to change them while amplifying (online and when physically present) the voices of those without your privilege, goes a long way in showing support.
Acknowledging that while you, too, feel pain, the conversation is not about you; don’t compare your struggles, or belittle your or anyone else’s trauma because it wasn’t ‘as bad’ as someone else’s. The best way to understand their struggle is to be sensitive and aware of your implicit biases while talking and listening to their stories.
- Intersex Human Rights Australia. (2011). Intersex intersectionalities with gender diversity. Retrieved from: here
- Interact, Advocates for Intersectional Youths. (2016). Retrieved from: here
- National Centre for Transgender Equality. (2016). Frequently Asked Questions about Transgender People. Retrieved from: here
- Berghausen, M.E. (2011). Northwestern University School of Law, U.S.A. (2011). INTERSEX EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION: TITLE VII AND ANATOMICAL SEX NONCONFORMITY. Retrieved from: here
- Travis, M. (2014). Accommodating Intersexuality in European Union Anti‐Discrimination Law. Retrieved from: here
- Free & Equal. United Nations for LGBT Equality. (2017). Retrieved from: here
- The Guide to Allyship. 2019. Retrieved from: here