Painfully, too few took notice of an important event that took place on October 26. Intersex Awareness Day was observed across the globe but with much less of the fanfare offered to LGBT people during Pride season. While November may be Transgender Awareness Month, only a single day has been set aside to remember the issues of intersex people.
This year Australia led in recognition of intersex issues with the First Federal Parliamentary Forum hearing from intersex activists in Canberra.1 This hearing might be compared to the first Congressional hearing on transgender rights in Washington D.C. which took place in 2008.2 But this isn’t enough for intersex people. It’s shouldn’t be enough for the rest of us either, transgender or not, who have not been diagnosed with an intersex variation.
Intersex experience, despite differences from transgender issues per sé, overlap transgender issues and we must not ignore them in recognition of that overlap if for no other. But even apart from this, intersex experience deserves the attention and respect from all people, and the international, multi-generational cruelty inflicted upon intersex individuals should be regarded as inflicted upon all humanity.
HISTORY OF INTERSEX AWARENESS DAY
Intersex Awareness Day became an annual event sparked by a protest against the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on that day in 1996. Tony Briffa calls it the “Intersex Stonewall.”3 Tony Briffa was the first openly intersex elected official, becoming Deputy Mayor of Hobson Bay, Melbourne, in 2011.4
The American Academy of Pediatrics was conducting its session in Boston in 1996.5 Boston also gave us Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett, whose deaths in the years following sparked the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance to be held later this month.6 Two intersex activists tried to address the conference. They challenged the persistent treatment of intersex children, which still feature infant surgeries and other permanent interventions to ‘normalize’ genitalia. The AAP responded with pure intolerance, removing the activists from the conference.7
Why would the American Academy of Pediatrics so readily reject this message? Was it just because the academy only offered speaking positions to academy members? If that was the case, then members of the AAP should have acted as spokespeople, with the activists as visible examples, because the message is a valid and long suppressed issue. But that didn’t happen. The conference officials literally quashed their message, opting instead to favor enforcement of a binary of sex and gender that runs roughshod over self-determination, advancing a cause favorable to the propagation of patriarchal dominance.
But the actions of the AAP in 1996 unwittingly laid a political foundation for a human rights observance that deserves to rise above obscurity. It gave impetus to the movement for intersex rights, and transpeople as allies need to pay attention. Movements for transgender rights and intersex rights have long paralleled one another and at times intertwined. Intersex people have supported transgender rights and we would be amiss not to recognize their contributions over the years and to embrace their cause as they have supported ours.
SOME INTERSEX STATISTICS
We can’t realize any true discussion of intersex rights without understanding the physical phenomena intersex people face. Intersex variations happen far more often than people admit according to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) whose website still exists for educational purposes after Accord Alliance replaced it in 2007. Chances are, you’ve met an intersex individual. You might unwittingly be intersex yourself. Some intersex variations may be that subtle.8
Intersex variations present as anatomical and chromosomal anomalies pertaining to physical sex and may require specific attention in medical treatment. Some of statistics include:
Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female: 1 in 100 births
Not XX and not XY: 1 in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (47 Karotype XXY in males and females): 1 in 1,000 births
Vaginal Agenesis: 1 in 6,000 births
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: 1 in 13,000 births
Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: 1 in 13,000 births
Ovotestes: 1in 83,000 births
Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: 1 in 130,000 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance: 1 or 2 in 1,000 births9
We might note some others not mentioned in the ISNA list: Swyer Syndrome (46 Karotype XY), noted in “females”, De La Chapelle Syndrome (46 Karotype XX), noted in “males”, 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (46 Karotype XY), noted in “females” external phenotypes but with internal male gonads, Chimerism, and Turner Syndrome (46 Karotype XO). Other variations occur besides these and can be found at http://oii-usa.org/1124/intersex-variations-list/.
But ambiguities in external genitalia have garnered the most attention for Pediatrics. A clitoris might resemble a penis or vice versa. For that matter, one might not be able to determine the sex of an infant at all because the ambiguity may leave a medical practitioner guessing. Determination of sex has overwhelming legal implications and few jurisdictions allow recognition of anything outside the gender binary. It follows the classic belief that anything other than male or female cannot exist apart from “birth defects,” maliciously branding intersex people “abominations” or “monsters” and many pretend they don’t happen even so.
What has been the overwhelming treatment of choice among pediatric surgeons? They’ve typically chosen surgery to assign a sex out of their own medical and legal convenience. In most cases these surgeries have rendered infants as “female” because it’s easier for a surgeon to surgically fashion female genitalia than male genitalia and upon this convenience perpetrating doctors have declared the legal sex of 1 or 2 in 1,000 births without any consideration for the patient’s actual gender identity.
That’s a problem for those intersex individuals who realize they aren’t who they had been assigned by the surgeon to be. It compels such patients to seek corrective surgery, called Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS) as opposed to Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) offered to transsexuals. For intersex individuals this isn’t so much about gender dysphoria driving one to cross over from one sex to another as an issue of the quality of life and righting a crime perpetrated by societies and their institutions.
A COMMUNITY SEPARATE AND DISTINCT
In the past, intersex people have worked with transgender organizations to advance the cause of human rights. But our part as transpeople has been insufficient for intersex needs. Intersex people are now determining their own path independent from ours. Tony Briffa told Gay Star News that events like Intersex Awareness Day give intersex people the opportunity to speak with legislators about changes they seek to protect intersex children and support the work of “intersex organizations run by and for intersex people.”10
This level of activism kicked into gear in Darlington, Australia in March 2017 when members of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex community organizations issued a joint statement directed primarily toward those nations, but also to allies worldwide. The Darlington Statement consists of 59 points in 9 pages, addressing issues of human rights and legal reform, health and well being, peer support, allies, education, awareness, employment.11
The Darlington Statement acknowledges the historical ties of intersex people with LGBT and other peoples:
“We also acknowledge intersectionalities with other populations, including same-sex attracted people, trans and gender diverse people, people with disabilities, women, men, and Indigenous – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Tangata Whenua – and racialised [sic], migrant and refugee populations.”12
However, the statement makes this assertion of distinction from LGBT communities:
“That the word ‘intersex’, and the intersex human rights movement, belong equally to all people born with variations of sex characteristics, irrespective of our gender identities, genders, legal sex classifications and sexual orientations.”13
The Darlington Statement made this declaration as an independent community and calls upon us all to recognize it as such:
“47. Intersex is distinct from other issues. We call on allies to actively acknowledge our distinctiveness and the diversity within our community, to support our human rights claims and respect the intersex human rights movement, without tokenism, or instrumentalising [sic], or co-opting intersex issues as a means for other ends. “Nothing about us without us.”
“48. We encourage all organizations [sic] and bodies that support the intersex movement to recognize [sic] this Darlington statement.
“49. We call for intersex people, and the intersex human rights movement, to be allies to the LGBTQ, disability, Indigenous, anti-racist, and women’s movements.
“50. We call on intersex people to recognize [sic] our own diversity, and call for intra-community dialogue and mutual support.”14
Click here for the full text of The Darlington Statement.
It’s clear that the intersex community has made itself a distinct community and the rest of us must recognize the fact. We must now support them as allies, and no longer as a branch of our own community. To recognize the latter would be a form of “instrumentalizing.”
IMPLICATIONS OF THE DARLINGTON STATEMENT
This development also raises a historical specter of difficulty transpeople have had with the mainstream gay and lesbian community. On the bases of our own intersection of issues with the issues of gays and lesbians we have typically asserted that we as transpeople must remain linked as LGBT people. The Darlington Statement has now weakened that argument. Trans and intersex people no longer stand as a united community. We only stand together as allies. Consequently, we will most likely find ourselves standing with mainstream gays and lesbians as allies as well, no longer as a united community.
It’s sad that the unity many of us have sought has become unattainable, though the position taken in The Darlington Statement is understandable. With this, other forms of fragmentation of the trans community may become inevitable.
The trans community has long been noted as a schismatic community. Transsexual and transvestite have long been at odds. In the 1990’s, “transgender” has been an umbrella term to include both as well as intersex individuals as in this statement from San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission:
“‘Transgender’ is used as an umbrella term that includes female and male cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens or kings, female and male impersonators, intersexed [sic] individuals, pro-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals, masculine females, feminine males, all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may be incongruent with their gender expression and all persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous.”15
This definition of “transgender” set a legal standard throughout California. It got civil rights efforts done. But since that time, the definition of “transgender” has shifted to apply to transsexuals exclusively with the word “transsexual” being regarded as a pejorative. Not a few cross dressers have decried this redefinition, excluded as a people not being “trans enough.” Has this shift likewise alienated intersex people to the point where they have now decided to go their own way? Possibly.
The “nothing about us without us” argument has implications for arguments attacking the trans community as well. Trans activists have long challenged religionist claims that transwomen are not women and transmen are not men with genetic facts including the understanding that the Y Chromosome does not alone determine maleness and that intersex variations abound among transpeople and others. We can no longer offer this argument without “co-opting intersex issues as a means for other ends,” specifically our own.
The Darlington Statement demands something else, lest civil rights interests fall like dominoes. Transpeople now need to renegotiate with its own factions, recognizing each as a separate ally community as we now must with the intersex community, each ally community deserving the same level of respect. It means recognizing a separate and distinct cross dressing community, a separate and distinct drag community, and so forth. Only by doing so can we now continue to make civil rights assertions to the world.
We would be amiss if we didn’t offer that level of respect to others. After all, with massive imposition of divisiveness and rhetoric from the far Right designed to set emotion over fact in order to further divide humanity, unity is key. Separate communities cannot overcome without that level of respect. We must take more than a day to give intersex people the attention they deserve. Survival really does depend upon it.
Featured Image: the Intersex Pride flag, its circle rising like the sun above the words declaring its desire as a community of its own.
- Tony Briffa. “Intersex Awareness Day: Commemorating the intersex version of Stonewall” Gay Star News (October 26, 2017, accessed October 26, 2017) https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/intersex-awareness-day-commemorating-the-intersex-version-of-stonewall/#gs.WOqpLcQ.
- House Hearing, 110 Congress. An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace:Hearing before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Tenth Congress, Second Session (U.S. Government Printing Office, June 26, 2008, accessed online December 31, 2013) http://www.gpoaccess.gov/congress/house/education/index.html. A video series of these proceedings available through NCTEquality. “Congressional Hearing on Transgender Discrimination” YouTube (June 28, 2008, accessed October 23, 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYglCClCsYM.
- Op. cit.
- Daniel Villarreal. “The Amazing, Heartbreaking Story of Tony Briffa, The World’s First Openly Intersex Mayor” Queerty (December 12, 2011, accessed November 1, 2017) https://www.queerty.com/the-amazing-heartbreaking-story-of-tony-briffa-the-worlds-first-openly-intersex-mayor-20111210 .
- Op. cit.
- Leveque, Sophia Cecelia. TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith (Winston-Salem NC, Library Partners Press, ZSR Library, Wake Forest University August 1, 2017) ISBN-13: 978-1618460448 , p. 42.
- Op. cit.
- (n.a.) “Frequency” Intersex Society of North America (accessed November 1, 2017) http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency
- Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex community organizations and independent advocates, including the Androgen Insensitivity Support Syndrome Support Group Australia (AISSGA),1 Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ),2 Organisation Intersex International Australia (OIIAU),3 Eve Black, Kylie Bond (AISSGA), Tony Briffa (OIIAU/AISSGA), Morgan Carpenter (OIIAU/Intersex Day Project4), Candice Cody (OIIAU), Alex David (OIIAU), Betsy Driver (Bodies Like Ours), Carolyn Hannaford (AISSGA), Eileen Harlow, Bonnie Hart (AISSGA), Phoebe Hart (AISSGA), Delia Leckey (ITANZ), Steph Lum (OIIAU), Mani Bruce Mitchell (ITANZ), Elise Nyhuis (AISSGA), Bronwyn O’Callaghan, Sandra Perrin (AISSGA), Cody Smith (Tranz Australia), Trace Williams (AISSGA), Imogen Yang (Bladder Exstrophy Epispadias Cloacal Exstrophy Hypospadias Australian Community – BEECHAC5), Georgie Yovanovic. “The Darlington Statement” (issued March 2017, accessed November 2, 2017) https://oii.org.au/darlington-statement/
- Ibid, p. 3, point 3, bold per the document.
- Ibid, point 4, bold per the document.
- Ibid, p. 8, points 47-50, bold per the document.
- Human Rights Commission. “Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination; respecting San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 12A, 12B, 12C; and San Francisco Municipal Police Code Article 33” City and County of San Francisco, 1998, p. 2.