“HEY! DOCTORS! LEAVE THEM, KIDS, ALONE.”
Let us start with an exercise: imagine your baby is finally born… a moment of joy, for sure. But something unexpected happens… the doctor cannot figure out the sex. He says that it is an intersex baby. What would you do?!
If you are not comfortable with the diagnosis, you probably would ask for more details, so let me introduce you this concept and present you part of the intersex community reality. An intersex people are born with any several variations in sex characteristics that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies”. Nowadays, there are four principals to analyze in order to understand the sex of a person, and they are:
So, an intersex person can have many variations in all these structures and in the relation between them, that means that Intersex it is an umbrella term to cover all the different ways of being – what we called wrongly – hermaphrodite. But, if you think this is a super-rare “condition”, you should know you are wrong! It is estimated that 1,7% of the world’s population was born intersex, what means that they are so common as the red hair people! But… where are they?
During the research for this article, I was really focused to find out the answer to this question and to understand why nobody talks deeply about the intersex condition… what I got it is quite shocking!
First of all, we can not forget this is a biological issue so, the signals can change from one person to another. It can be pretty clear in the moment you are born or, in extreme cases, you can die without knowing. For many people the first signals that something is not going as expected just appear during puberty when the body is supposed to change in a certain way… many intersex describes this period as hard and it is a moment of confusion when shame and fear act as main characters. They tend to transform their condition into a “problem to be fixed” and, sometimes, the lack of information can drive them to hide the situation. Even when they call for help, the medical assistance can be very negligent and unethical leading young adults to take serious and irreversible decisions.
Another explanation for the absence of information about this is the fact that when babies have an anatomy that clearly does not fit in any accepted “sex”, many doctors and parents are reported to decide a sex, attending to the one the baby is anatomically closer, to start a set of treatments to “heal” the children based in very poor analysis. Part of the solution is the genital operation in the first years of life, but if not possible, parents are told to educate the kid as male or female in order to provide social acceptance until the “final solution”.
After this introduction, I am pretty sure that you are now a bit more familiarized with the topic and, maybe, you have now many question coming up in your mind. That is good… but, are you able to answer my question in the first lines?
I do not know if you support the medical proceedings previously mentioned, but I feel I have to share with you to a very critical perspective about that. Many intersex people are raising their voices against the surgery in infancy but also the medical and political point of view related with intersex. Victims of surgery or not, they claim for justice and serious changes because they consider the scientific investigation based in their bodies, the medical determination of the sex and the body intervention without the consent of the individual is sex violence, and of course, a violation of rights that should stop!
I found a big range of testimonies of intersex people and, something that came up as usual in almost all of them is also the request for social and political “acceptance” for a third sex: yes, the intersex. They believe in progress and in a world where they can see their real sex specified in official documents abolishing the basic “boy or girl” option in the birth certificates. But… why all these situations keep happening nowadays?
They assume this is a social problem caused by many factors. Change can be hard even in ultra-developed societies because the line that separates the biological concept of sex and the social construction of gender identity is very tenuous and nowadays minds are not ready to separate it.
It is urgent to see behind what is social acceptable: the human desire to associate and group everything lead all of us to dangerous walks… when parents can not figure out if their baby is a boy or girl they immediately start to question how they should educate, dress or even call the baby. Unconsciously, the baby’s condition turn into a “problem to be fixed” in order to guide the child to the gender “lifestyle” that the sex provides. So, the strong connection between sex and gender concepts and roles, allied to the lack of information and panic are pointed as important reasons to explain why doctors advise parents to educate the kid as a man or woman attending to the sex they will “receive” after the intervention.
While this thought is not erased, doctors will keep looking to intersex kids as “patients” and the law will not cover them properly. Intersex community really wants future generations to be free to decide their lives as they want without the trauma of a stolen sex. The medical community is quite silent about their behavior in the topic but, as told by defenders of the cause, many doctors are now conscious about the issue and doing pressure in countries where there are no legislation for this. They believe that, in most of the cases, surgeries are not urgent for health purposes so there is no reason to medical interventions that, in some cases turned people into several health conditions.
In the moment of writing of this article, only Germany, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, United States of America, Malta and Kenya had laws about intersex or the third sex recognition. Because this is a question of freedom, I would love to make you think about this. What is the reality in your country? Why we never thought about the Intersex condition as another basic human condition for sex?
By Ricardo Leitao