'Intersex Awareness Day is also a call for action'
On this Intersex Awareness Day I want to talk with you as someone who is not only the Co-Director of GATE -an organization strongly identified with the trans movement, its goals, struggles and values –but also an intersex person.
When I was born 45 years ago, as happens very often, there was no sign of me being intersex.
I was assigned female and raised as a girl. Only in puberty was it found that my body was somehow different from other female bodies. Doctors assured that a very simple surgical procedure would correct that, and that I would grow up to be a woman. I told them that I didn’t want to become a woman, but my male identification was taken as proof of how necessary that procedure was to fix me: my body and identity. I was forced into a vaginoplasty, and almost 30 years after it, I still survive its consequences: chronic pain, insensitivity, massive scarring, and the persistent feeling of being a trans man who was therapeutically raped through six years of vaginal dilations under general anesthesia.
I am sharing this story with you today because Intersex Awareness Day is also a call for action. As a member of both movements, I need to tell you that there are many things that trans activists can do –and stop doing- to support intersex rights. Let me give some examples:
Intersex is not primarily about identities.
Yes, for some people intersex is a personal and or political identity and yes, many intersex people face challenges changing legal gender markers but being intersex is not primarily about identity. Being intersex is about having been born with sex characteristics (i.e., genitals, chromosomes, gonads, etc.) that vary from male or female standards. Therefore, intersex people are not a natural third sex, we don’t have a third gender by definition, and leaving a blank sex assignment at birth is not the way to “create justice” for us. We need to stop approaching intersex issues as if they were trans issues. Actually, we can collaborate a lot with the intersex movement by making it clear how wrong that approach is.
Some trans people use intersex as a way of explaining who they are, or to make sense of their bodies or identities. By doing this, intersex becomes just another way of saying trans (or saying queer, or saying non-binary). However, intersex is not about being trans, queer or non-binary: it’s about bodies and what happens to people who are born with them. We need to stop instrumentalizing intersex to speak our truth as trans people.
As trans activists we hate when the T is included just as a token; the same goes for the I.
Don’t do it, and protest when others do it. And, speaking of inclusion, some trans people are also intersex people, but sometimes trans spaces don’t have enough space (or space at all) to acknowledge bodily diversity. Actually, binary ideas about bodies and body-shaming make the world challenging for us all. Let’s work together to dismantle them!
Many people –including many trans people- tend to think about intersex as a rare phenomenon affecting very peculiar infants and, therefore, they just ignore how common intersex is, and fail at recognizing the existence of intersex adults. The intersex movement is strong, highly sophisticated and politically committed worldwide. Don’t speak on behalf of us: speak with us. Walk with us.
During the last five years trans and intersex activists have been working –sometimes on our own, sometimes together- on the reform of the International Classification of Diseases, struggling to depathologize us while ensuring our full access to healthcare and coverage, and aiming to identify the intrinsic connections between pathologizing us and gross human rights violations. Recognizing and respecting intersectionalities differences while working on common goals is not only a good way of building emancipatory alliances: it’s the only way.
When I started doing activism two decades ago I didn’t have the right words –for me, for my body, for my identity or for my sexuality.
I just wanted to stop the hell I was going through. In the last 20 years I have seen many incredible changes produced by truly amazing activists from different movements. However, stories like mine –and many, many other stories of stigma and discrimination, ‘normalizing’ mutilation, rape, pain and silence- keep repeating, in different hospitals in my own country and, most likely, in your country too. We –you, me, all of us- deserve to see the first generation of intersex people fully enjoying their human rights. Let’s work together to make that happen in our lifetime.
Global Action for Trans Equality (GATE)