This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.
I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth
– and truth rewarded me. Simone de Beauvoir
Time lends it’s own filter to memories of past events.
Little remembered today in the narrative of women’s struggle for suffrage and emancipation, the most vociferous and organised opponent to women’s fight for independence in the UK was a woman – Mrs Humphrey Ward. The irony that she was the family breadwinner whilst her son, an MP, was the spendthrift, was lost on her as she sought to deny other women what she had gained by marriage into a well-to-do family. Independence.
Almost every generation believes it is the best of everything, and everything is for the best. And almost every generation is wrong. The status quo finds itself the way it is because it suits the people with the most power and authority that it should be so. Change comes in increments rather than unsettling, giant steps.
For over 70+ years medical authority has held an hegemonic grip over the understanding and management of everyone born intersex. For 50 years of that doctors were silent about intersex existence, and coerced parents into similar petrified silence. Nobody was supposed to know, especially intersex people themselves. It was supposed to be for the best.
Management. There’s a word to conjure with. A word that reduces people born intersex to items, to units given dehumanised labels like 46XX DsD, or 46XY DsD, all the easier to contemplate enacting the totally unnecessary surgeries and hormone interventions that are the foundation of current orthodoxies in the clinical purview of intersex people. Intersex variation long ago became a thing to be dealt with. The reality that it is people we’re talking about is lost in the welter of technicalities that so often swathes any discussion about intersex.
DsD is a recent addition to the lexicon of labels and descriptions of intersex people. It was coined in a hotel near Chicago International Airport, and that’s the best there is to say about that. There is much worse that can be said, and most of it has been said already so I will not retread that path here.
“People who are different are constantly dealing with families who don’t understand them.” ~ Andrew Solomon: Far From the Tree
Changing a person with scalpel and syringe without their consent, because they are different, is an egregious abuse of their human rights. There is not a word of acceptance or empathy in any of the protocols and reams of peer reviewed papers written about intersex interventions and differences. The assumptions that motivate these protocols are supposed to be accepted at face value, their motivation purely benign.
Altruism is the beneficent gift of those who believe themselves superior. It is the sub-text that underpins the continuing enactment of infant surgeries on intersex children that clinicians know fail, often disastrously. It is a dangerous conviction to hold. Far from being selfless and disinterested, altruism exacts it’s own price. Altruism expects to be rewarded, not necessarily in largesse, but in the gratitude of those intersex people it has saved from themselves.
Unfortunately for this narrative, Intersex people have time and again shown they are not at all grateful for what they have endured.
Intersex advocates and activists, by their very life experiences, often bring their baggage with them. It could not be any other way. There is little point in denying or decrying the reality of it as some are wont to do; intersex people are damaged by the very protocols that ostensibly seek to avoid precisely those circumstances. That same unwanted trauma visited on so many often becomes the catalyst for extraordinary personal determination.
It terrifies clinicians.
Articulate and well-informed intersex advocates take clinician’s words and tear them apart in coruscating, and unanswered critiques that dismantle the shaky foundations upon which medics claim their continued right to enact human rights abuses on intersex people.
The curtain of clinical omertà was torn away when intersex activists first made their presence felt in the early 1990’s. What was done cannot be undone. In April 2015 Malta became the first nation in the world to adopt legislation to give legal protection to everyone born intersex.
Malta is the first stepping stone. There will be many more to follow.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead