A personal reflection written for Intersex Awareness Day and Intersex Day of Solidarity
Once upon a while ago, how long ago I will not say here, I was born into a world that refused to accept that being intersex was valid, or acceptable. Instead my existence was cloaked in suffocating silence, to be spoken of only in whispered huddles whilst I was sent from the room.
These are some of my earliest memories: of that unforgettable smell that all hospitals have: of being paraded before downcast eyes, forever afraid of looking me in the face: of being chastised whenever I dared ask the doctors a question. I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child.
I am intersex. I grew up in the era when to be so was utterly denied, and no explanation was ever given. To this day I have never had any explanation, and despite determined searching, most of my childhood medical records remain denied to me – supposedly lost.
Mine is an all too familiar story. Of parents cajoled and coerced into signing papers that became the talismanic permission for doctors to do what they pleased. Of secrets and lies. Doctors believed they could make a child whatever they chose them to be – and mostly they decided female. Often they were wrong.
Doctors sculpted and shaped me, by scalpel and syringe – the marks they left on my body a visual reminder of having no say in what was said or done. Haunted by not understanding, and lacking a language to describe myself, I searched for explanations elsewhere. I wanted to know why, and found it in old papers, bound in archives, in a university library.
That is a lifetime ago now. I learned the word intersex, and much more beside. Those dark, dark days are not often spoken of now: a new generation of intersex activists have come to the fore, and bring other experiences, and knowledge with them. What saddens me most is how little has changed for the better. How we continually have to re-fight the same battles.
Intersex Awareness Day is the anchor that binds us all. It tells of intersex activism’s pioneering days, and the herculean efforts those first wave intersex activists made to make public what had been denied for decades: it is a public declaration to other intersex people across the globe that they are not alone, there are people who hear you and are willing to reach out a hand of support.
And most of all, it is a clarion call to raise awareness to the many, many people who have yet to acknowledge and understand what is still being done to people born intersex today. And that call is being heard by human rights organisations across the globe.
To understand the reality of today’s situation there is this: if I was born today, rather than all those years ago, I could not expect to be treated any differently. That is wrong. It was wrong when I was born, it is wrong now.
I cannot change what was done to me, the surgeries enacted on intersex children are deliberately irreversible; in my case brutally so. I can try to help change the world to be a better place for those intersex people yet to be born, so that they can live a life free of the fear that I and many others like me grew up with. They have a right to live in a world that accepts intersex variation is valid. That is worth every drop of effort I can muster.