Intersex Awareness Day is 26 October and helps to highlight the human rights issues faced by intersex people.
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.
What are some of the issues faced by intersex people and can you tell us about the Darlington Statement?
Intersex people today face issues of Human Rights Violations throughout the world – in some countries we are killed because we are different. We are faced with non-consensual, uninformed, medically invasive surgical and hormonal interventions. Surgeries are performed so we can ‘fit’ into a binary society and appear more typically female or male. Due to these medical interventions, we suffer long term physical and psychological harm.
Many of us face inappropriate health care – we all deserve to have affirmative and appropriate treatment, be listened to and respected.
We face limited access to support and peers as children and adults. Intersex people face discrimination in sport, for being our natural selves. Often professional female athletes are given the option of medical intervention or are excluded from competing.
Intersex people have been made invisible and silenced for many years. The LGBTIQ+ acronym gives us visibility and allies.
While we may be faced with some issues that are similar to the community, they are not specific to Intersex people.
The Darlington Statement is a joint consensus statement by Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex organisations and independent advocates, in March 2017. It sets out the priorities and calls by the intersex human rights movement in our countries, under six headings: a preamble, human rights and legal reform; health and wellbeing; peer support; allies; and education, awareness and employment.
Why is Intersex Awareness Day important and how can people get involved in Perth?
October 26 is an internationally observed awareness day designed to highlight human rights issues faced by intersex people. It reflects on the lives of intersex people, our struggles and our strengths.
Perth people can get involved by going to the Intersex Human Rights Australia website. Here you’ll find resources, programs and videos that you can share with your friends, family and organisation.
Active allyship aimed at supporting meaningful inclusion of intersex people that respects our diversity and addresses the issues we care about as a community.
Do you have any final thoughts on how the broader community can help support intersex people?
- Respect the diversity of the intersex population
- Education, do your research, don’t expect intersex people to educate you all the time
- Don’t make assumptions about people’s bodies or identities
- Support our actions against medical interventions
- Read the Inclusion Guide to Respecting People with Intersex Variations and How to be an Intersex Ally.
Council House will be lit up in the colours of the intersex flag on 26 October.
If this topic brings up anything for you, you can contact the following groups:
- If you’re feeling distressed and want to talk to someone right now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- Contact Intersex Peer Support Australia for specialised support.
- For LGBTQIA+ specific peer support, contact Qlife via 1800 184 527 or webchat at qlife.org.au 3pm -12am 7 days per week.
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