For a long time I didn’t know what it meant to be intersex. I’d briefly encountered the term in discussions and books but not enough to latch onto it’s actual definition and importance. Having just come to terms with my sexuality at 19, I was more focused on myself, and how my sexuality effected my life and those around me. In fact, it wasn’t until years later, when I started re-questioning my sexuality and for the first time, my gender, that I started becoming more interested and involved in the LGBTI community as a whole.
I saw a BuzzFeed video today (below), talking about what it’s like to be intersex. I got really excited at the idea of mainstream media covering such a topic; though I wouldn’t expect anything less from BuzzFeed. It got me thinking though, about why I was so excited. The more I thought about it, the more I realised it was because of how little society actually knows about intersex people and how little they generally get talked about or represented in the media.
Not only the wider population but many people in the queer community know little or nothing about the issues and struggles faced by intersex people. Intersex people are so often grouped with people of diverse sexuality and gender that their issues and battles are often forgotten or not acknowledged; the fact that I’m writing this article is proof in itself of that. So let’s change things and start talking!
Someone who is intersex is someone “born with physical, hormonal or genetic features that are neither wholly female nor wholly male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male.” –Organisation Intersex International Australia Limited. There are many variations and no one intersex story is the same, however intersex people do have one thing in common and that is that they are constantly being silenced by society.
Being intersex is nothing to be ashamed of, but society (driven by the medical and binary world we live in) think it is something to be fixed and hidden rather than celebrated. This brings with it many issues including but not limited to;
– Many think being intersex means having health issues when in fact there are very few diagnoses where medical intervention is needed from birth; being intersex in and of itself is not a health issue.
– Intersex people are often effected by medical intervention (childhood cosmetic genital surgeries and sex hormone treatments) in the name of making their bodies conform to the ideals of male or female. The reasoning behind this? It will “minimise family concern and distress” and “mitigate the risks of stigmatisation and gender identity confusion.” This can happen with or without the consent of the parents, without the consent of the child as they are not old enough to consent, and sometimes with pressures from the doctor to the parent on conforming to societal norms.
– People perceive intersex variations as making up a small percentage of the general population. There is actually a 1.7% chance someone will be born with an intersex variation which makes it about as common as red hair. I don’t know about you but I know quite a few red heads, so an intersex variation may not be as uncommon as you might have initially thought.
– Intersex people get boxed into sexuality and gender categories and therefore their rights are not often acknowledged and their voices go unheard. They get left out of health and human rights initiatives, and political arguments such as “same-sex marriage”/”gay marriage” laws. More commonly, intersex people are mistaken for being transgender and/or gender diverse (sex, sexuality and gender are all different and can not be used interchangeably).
– Lastly (and as mentioned at the beginning of the article), little media coverage and representation – Because of all the points above, and many more, there is little media coverage and representation of intersex people. It appears to the average person as a taboo topic with a lot of stigma attached. It doesn’t need to be like this, and the only way we can change this is by talking about it, sharing stories, educating people and having positive representations of intersex people in the media.
I know I haven’t covered every issue faced by intersex people, in fact I’m just touching the surface. The purpose of this article is to get people talking and familiar with what it actually means to be intersex, rather than being on autopilot and continuing to confrom to societies ideals of what is “normal”. Sex is a spectrum and people need to know that. If just one person walks away from this article knowing more about intersex people then I will be happy that I have contributed to its coverage in the media.
Society can not continue to ignore intersex people; this is NOT what the I in LGBTI stands for.
See below for further media coverage, advocacy and representation of Intersex people.
- OII Australia is a really good resource for all information regarding intersex human rights, information and peer support. They also have a large range of examples of representation in media and personal stories.
- NICHE IDAHO Campaign “I”, Tony (Your Story) – A personal experience piece from Tony Briffa
- Predestination – A movie with an intersex lead character
- XXXY – A 13 minute movie by Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh featuring two people born intersex, Kristi Bruce, and Howard Devore, along with family members and a clinician.
- Schoolbook on “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” (It SHOULD say Intersex Status as it contains that information as well).
- Employer’s Guide to Intersex Inclusion
- Orchards: My Intersex Adventure – Documentary filmmaker, Phoebe Hart, comes clean on her journey of self-discovery to embrace her future & reconcile the past shame & family secrecy surrounding her intersex condition.
- Faking it (TV Show) – In season two of ‘Faking It’ we find out that one of the main characters is intersex.
If you have any other resources, stories or examples of intersex representation in the media, leave them in the comments below!
*Please note, I do not claim to be an expert on intersex variations or the struggles intersex people experience. This article is not coming from a personal perspective, but from wanting to support the intersex community and lower stigma surrounding intersex people.