Intersex people (the ‘I’ in LGBTQI+) have innate sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and social norms for female or male bodies, and that creates risks or experiences of stigma, discrimination and harm. Intersex people represent about 1.7% of the population, however they’re a hugely diverse group and may not identify as LGBT. To learn more, we spoke to Michelle from Intersex Peer Support Australia.

Hi Michelle! Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Perth with an Intersex variation known as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH). CAH is one of about 40 known intersex variations, it is also a medical condition that requires lifelong medication to maintain good health. 

I’m a WA representative for Intersex Peer Support Australia (IPSA), a national intersex-led charity that provides peer support to people with intersex variations and their families. In my role, I get to meet many other people with intersex variations and parents, we get to understand the difficulties and joys that intersex people must deal with throughout our lives.

I give peer support because growing up I never had it, we all need someone to talk to and someone that understands and listens.

What does it mean to be intersex?

The term ‘intersex’ is an umbrella term for people with variations of sex characteristics. These sex characteristics are physical features that are not necessarily visible, they can include chromosomes, hormones, reproductive anatomy and genitals. Intersex variations can also appear at puberty and later in life. Intersex people are of no one particular identity; we are as diverse as the general population.  

Many intersex people grow up not knowing they have an intersex variation, doctors and parents don’t discuss their variations with them, it’s not until later in life as an adult that they find out. Some children undergo invasive and sometimes irreversible surgeries when their too young to remember, some are lied to about the type of surgery they have, some of us are not told anything. These surgeries can involve removal of their reproductive anatomy, it can be surgically altering a child’s genitals so that they can live a heteronormative life as per expectations of society.

Intersex people are silenced, we are told to keep secrets, we suffer psychosocial trauma, shame and harm – not from who we are but from our experiences with hospitals and medical professionals.  Intersex children have regular visits to the hospital, some of us have photos taken of our naked bodies, some of us are subjected to genital examinations for no valid reason, some of us go on Hormone Replacement Therapy to change our bodies. All of these violations of our bodies are non-consensual. 

Intersex bodies are natural bodies. They are ours and ours only, no one has the right to change them except us. 

I wish for the day that we can be accepted for who we are by all of society and treated equally.