Post submitted by Kimberly Zieselman, interACT, a leading advocacy organization focused on the human rights of children born with intersex traits (pictured above).
October 26 marks Intersex Awareness Day, a day that commemorates the first demonstration by intersex people in North America. On this day organizations across the globe, including HRC, partner together to raise the visibility of the intersex community. This year we have released a resolution calling for the recognition of intersex human rights, and we thank HRC for joining this effort in support of children born with intersex traits.
The intersex community includes individuals born with a combination of biological traits that transcend typical notions of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ These variations include reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosomal or hormonal patterns that expand the typical binary notion of sex, and are roughly equivalent to the number of individuals born with red hair.
One reason many people have not heard of intersex traits is that they are not widely discussed. Since the 1950s, many intersex children in the U.S. have been routinely subjected to irreversible, harmful, and unnecessary surgeries and other medical interventions in an attempt to “correct” their bodies at a young age. But intersex bodies aren’t broken. Rather, what harms them are the nonconsensual so-called “normalization” surgeries, often performed in infancy, that can result in loss of genital sensation and sexual function, scarring, ongoing pain, incontinence, loss of reproductive capacity, depression, and PTSD. When these surgeries are performed during infancy or childhood, the intersex person is denied the opportunity to consent to the surgery and weigh the risks and benefits of this life-altering decision.
Moreover, parents of children with intersex traits still find themselves pressured by medical professionals to make an irreversible and medically unnecessary decision for their child when the child is too young to participate in this crucially important decision. As opposed to providing families with adequate mental health care to process the situation, children with intersex traits are pathologized by much of the medical community, and the decision to perform early and irreversible genital surgery is presented wrongfully as a medical necessity due to society’s discomfort around the diverse array of natural human bodies.
The LGBTQ community and intersex global rights movement are battling similar societal constraints associated with narrow understandings about bodies and identities. Like all LGBTQ children, what intersex children need most is to feel safe and accepted and are capable of knowing at an early age who they are. Like transgender children, intersex children are capable of navigating the world with an atypical body if they have the support of the adults around them. Like transgender children, intersex children and their parents need time and accurate information so that they can make thoughtful decisions about medical interventions, and avoid making irreversible mistakes.
Since the 1990s, intersex adults around the world have been stepping forward to speak out against the medical treatment they received in childhood. Many also disclosed that the secrecy surrounding their experiences led to traumatizing feelings of shame and stigma and had a profound negative impact on their lives. Leaders of the adult intersex community started calling for an end to unnecessary surgeries and for children with intersex traits to have a voice in the treatment of their own bodies.
Today, interACT’s fight for bodily autonomy and acceptance is a continuing battle. More intersex people around the world, especially intersex youth, are breaking through the isolation and shame and speaking out proudly about their bodies and experiences.
To learn more about interACT and to access resources on the intersex community, visit interACT’s website.