Red hair. Unusual? Yes. Abnormal? No. Prince Harry is ginger. As is all seven of the Weasleys. Bette Midler didn’t try to hide her bright red locks from the public. According to the World Health Organisation and the UN, roughly the same number of intersex individuals exist as there are redheads; so approximately 1.7% of the population.
Intersex is the term given to people whose genitals, reproductive organs, chromosomes, or hormones vary from the male or female binary.
According to this mutually exclusive limitation of sex, their reproductive organs may not match typically together with their genitals or, perhaps, when they mature they might realise that their pubescent hormones are more consistent with those otherwise experienced by people of another sex. The vast majority of intersex qualities have no negative implications, just like the characteristic of ginger hair.
What does Intersex mean for individuals?
From auburn to pure carrot, babies with shades of red hair aren’t required to dye it by society. Yet, intersex new-borns have traditionally been forced to undergo genital normalisation surgery, aka Intersex Genital Mutilation, before they reach six months. Doctors are physically modifying infants all over the world in operations that they are too young to consent to. This is especially shocking considering that the operation in question is not imperative to the person's (or baby's) overall health.
These operations usually cause intersex people to rely on hormone medication for the rest of their lives and need to follow up surgeries for at least until they reach adulthood. Victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder, negative body image, and scarring. In the worst cases, some are left infertile. This harrowing procedure is imposed on individuals all over the world. Fortunately, the UN has now recognised such operations as a violation of human rights, although there is still a long way to go for thousands of people. In several countries, babies are murdered upon the discovery of their intersex identity; the fear of negative societal judgment is so real that some parents consent to this atrocity.
"Normalisation” operations demonstrate the lengths that we, as a society, still need to go to understand and correctly separate sex from gender.
By practicing IGM, doctors are essentially guessing what gender an infant will feel most comfortable living as, in accordance to binary definitions of the male and female sexes. These assumptions are based around the exterior appearance of babies' genitals. No doubt, they often get it wrong.
This may seem more out-dated than the marketing campaign of Yorkie chocolate bars but it is happening everywhere. Take the recent, infamous case of two-time Olympian Gold winner, Caster Semenya, for example.
After "suspicions" that Semenya has a higher level of testosterone than other runners in her category, she began a lawsuit against the international sporting organisation to fight the decision that she would have to take drugs to lower these hormones if she were to continue running for her country. Earlier this month, she lost her case. How ironic is this - coming from an industry governed by doping fears?
The sports world, like wider society, is failing individuals by continuing to implement increasingly archaic binaries. By doing so, they are stealing the individual's autonomy over their own bodies. Throughout all of this, Semenya has remained defiant. Discovery US recently released this video on Twitter in support of the inspirational champion entitled, "How do you stop a determined woman?" We can't get enough of it.
Who is fighting for the Intersex community?
A severe lack of awareness, acceptance, and visibility currently surrounds intersex people. However, there are many activists and organisations fighting to improve this. The Intersex Justice Project is one organisation that is currently pushing to de-stigmatize intersex and end non-consensual medical interventions. This project is gaining notoriety thanks to their leader, the activist, and filmmaker, Pidgeon Pagonis. Based in Chicago, Pagonis is involved with several protests at a local hospital that practice IGM on babies, named the Lurie Children's Hospital. There is a petition that you can sign to support this mission, by following the link here.
Hida Viloria is another US based, intersex human rights activist fighting for equality. She was actually the second person in North America to be granted an intersex birth certificate. She has written a memoir entitled "Born Both: An Intersex Life", and created this downloadable PDF; an educational tool that is primarily for new parents to intersex babies.
As the Chairperson of the Organisation of Intersex International, she rebranded it with Dr. Dani Lee Harris and Dana Zzym, creating the Intersex Campaign for Equality (IC4E). Dr. Lee Harris is an activist, an author, and life coach. Meanwhile, Zzym was the first American ex-veteran to apply for an intersex passport. Together, they have formed IC4E to be a great resource for keeping up to date with Intersex news through radio, podcasts or articles. They promote human rights through the "arts, education and action" of intersex individuals and allies.
For example, the critically acclaimed film, Ponyboi, which premiered in Canada on May 30th, 2019, was celebrated on the site. Directed by River Gallo and Sadé Clacken Joseph, it is produced by Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry and is the first film to feature an intersex narrative. Woop!
Finally, what can allies do for Intersex human rights?
First and foremost, be compassionate and listen. Do not make assumptions and recognise that the rights of intersex people are no different from those of basic human rights. Be aware that an intersex person may not identify as queer or trans.