Here be Dragons*

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It began long ago in a land far away to the east, the like of which you will not find in the world today.
~ The Hobbit



Intersex flag

Storytelling is the ancient means by which mankind has always shared information. The Indigenous groups of North America, and Australia shared the stories of their ancestors for millennia – long before the written word came along and formalised it.

Minstrels and fools were the accepted medium in Medieval times, poorer communities relying on their village elders to share a community’s commonly held beliefs and idioms. By comparison digital transmission is but the blink of a gnats eye, it’s so recent. That is a history of a sort, it’s a part of how we learn about ourselves and our place in the world. It’s not the one found in the official tomes. How information is interpreted is often dependent on the source of the story, and who is doing the telling. Established authority always has it’s own reasons for telling it’s story.

Those books of learned, and scholarly teaching that crowd the library shelves, both real and virtual. They often tell a different story; one marked by names and circumstances that few have rarely heard of.

It’s rare that a definitive date can be put to changes in language and meaning, but just occasionally it is possible to put a specific date to an event.


It was the year the term gender was first coined as a terminological distinction applied to human beings to describe masculinity and femininity, by John Money. He also coined the terms gender identity and gender expression. And so the binary roles of being a man or a woman were formalised into language and given authority by someone who wrote what remains a privately published document that has never been peer reviewed.  And it was published in the USA.


“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ~ LP Hartley

The US in 1955: McCarthy-ism, rigidly strict roles applied to the role of men and women in society, and the home, Hollywood making films about the Communist threat using the analogy of being invaded by aliens. A land of segregation, overt racism, bus boycotts, deeply ingrained sexism and overt prejudice toward trans people, lesbians, and gay men.

The USA was the superpower in 1955. Europe and the rest of the world were still recovering from the horrors of WWII. For a comparison, the UK still had meat rationing in 1955, and much of Europe was still being rebuilt.  It’s little wonder that the US bestrode the world. It had the mighty dollar, and a military to match.  It had atomic weapons.

To look at the US today a neutral observer, if there is any such thing, might be moved to suggest that not nearly as much has changed as some would have hoped. It is better, much better than those far off days of long ago, but it is the nature of social reform that those who have the most to gain from them often have to suffer most before being acknowledged.

The US has been in the vanguard of providing the clinical justifications for intervening on everyone born intersex for over 70+ years. It has been the vanguard in the English speaking world, for that is where the nexus of medical authority lies: the USA, the UK and Australia. All other nations have followed in their wake.  Until now.

On April 1st 2015 Malta became the first country in the world to adopt legislation onto statute that protects people born intersex from the orthodoxies of pre-emptive, medically unnecessary clinical interventions.

Malta completely rejected the reasoning that is still used today to justify medical interventions on intersex infants and young children, and remains motivated by what was written in Money’s paper all those years ago, in 1955.  These days the protocols have a formal title. It’s called the Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders. The ideas held within it’s pages would be very familiar to Money. It views intersex as a fault requiring fixing, and heterosexuality as the default outcome of it’s interventions.

Malta, and the assiduous work of intersex and trans advocates there and around the world have shown it is perfectly possible to tell another story. It is a story that speaks for those who have been silenced and erased by authority, yet who have overcome almost impossible odds to make their voices heard.

On May 1st 2015 the Green Party made UK political history by affirming it’s support for intersex advocates in it’s LGBTIQ Manifesto as they seek to overcome intersex human rights abuses in the UK.

Malta is the first. There will be many more.


* Here be dragons means dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting dragons, sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps.