Inter[sex]action

Today is Intersex Awareness Day, you beautiful Sinners! If you are unfamiliar with the term, intersex is a word used to describe an individual who is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy makeup that does not necessarily fit any “normal” definitions of either male or female. A doctor is unable to assign a male or female sex, as the person may have abnormalities of their sexual organs, sexual hormones, external genitals, chromosomes, and reproductive organs that do not clearly makeup male nor female, however, this is not considered a medical problem.

You may have heard intersex individuals referred to in the past as hermaphrodites, which is not a term often used or well liked by the community. While researching this topic, I found several sources that cite intersex and transgender as one in the same. I have a hard time accepting and/or believing that. I found this quote to be helpful while reading about intersex people on https://lgbtq.unc.edu/resources/exploring-identities/intersex “While some people with intersex conditions also identify as transgender, they as a group have a unique set of needs and priorities besides those shared with trans people. Too often, their unique needs are made invisible or secondary when "intersex" becomes just another subcategory of "transgender."

Why is it that we allow anyone who has needs to be made invisible or secondary? Today is a day of not only bringing awareness to intersex, but celebrating the intersex individuals in our world. You are not invisible, you are not secondary and your needs are important and worthy of being addressed as much as anyone else’s needs are. In my garden, you are accepted. You are loved. You are embraced and you are encouraged to be the best you that you can be, no matter how you identify.

I want to shed light on model Hanne Gaby Odiele who is intersex, who bravely came out publicly and who has a mission for advocacy and support to the community, which I find courageous and admirable. We can all learn a lesson or two from Hanne’s story. Hanne was unaware as a child that she was intersex, her parents kept the dark secret from her, trying to shield her. In an article written after her coming out, I learned that her parents who had assumed she was born a boy, were shocked when told “blood tests revealed that their child had a condition known as androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS)—while she was genetically male, with one X and one Y chromosome, she was resistant to male hormones, or androgens. Hanne was born with internal testes, and without a uterus or ovaries. The Termotes’ family doctor had never seen anything like this. The couple was referred to a specialist, who offered the same information Hanne’s parents would hear ad nauseam as their daughter grew up—their child was intersex; she would need corrective surgeries; and it was paramount to keep it all a dark secret, even from Hanne herself.”

Rushing in to “corrective” surgery to “repair” babies born as intersex was once, and sadly in some places still, the norm. Doctors decided if these people should be male or female and performed surgeries to give these individuals the appearance of one or the other gender. The patients had no say and often the parents were misled into believing these surgeries were the best decision to avoid cancers and other diseases from taking their children too early in life if left “unaltered”.

The decision of identifying with any gender is not for a doctor to decide, nor is the idea of creating an appearance of an individual to satisfy a cultural norm. Only the human being that lives the life should be able to decide who he/she/they are and who he/she/they will live his/her/their life as. It is heartbreaking to know that doctors were advising Hanne’s parents to keep her “difference” a secret, especially to keep it from Hanne. The organs a human body possesses, the genitalia we are born with, the sexual hormones that run rampant through our bodies, etc. do not define who we are. Shame on any doctor for making the decisions for patients and guiding parents to lie to their child about who he or she or they is. These unnecessary cosmetic surgeries can be very damaging to the body in the terms of scars, decreasing and often eliminating the ability to have sexual intercourse, causing hormonal dysfunctions and even early onset menopause. These surgeries are harmful, not helpful, and often the individuals are far too young or given no authority in the decision making process for what happens to their bodies. They are only left with the damaging consequences, both physical and mental.

While reading the interview, I discovered that “Kimberly Zieselman, the executive director of InterACT, an organization with which Odiele is working closely that advocates for the rights of intersex youth, shares an astonishing statistic: “Nearly 2 percent of babies are born intersex—about the same as naturally born redheads.” How many of them have lived their lives shrouded in shame and secrecy?” We need to stop judging, stop shaming people for how their bodies are created and made up. Humans are humans, no matter what. Instead of judging people for things that don't describe what kind of soul they are, get to know people for who they are, what they strive to be, what they achieve, their goals in life, their best attributes and what they advocate and support. Humans are complex and brilliant individuals. Give everyone a chance to be your friend and be a friend to everyone you meet. We have differences in opinions, politics, etc., but we all have hearts and emotions. We are all human and necessary.

During the interview with Hanne I found it a breath of fresh air when I read, “Still, she doesn’t gloss over what makes her different—or, her word, 'special.' I will never know how it is to have a period, have a baby. But I also don’t stand up peeing! I don’t have a penis! I am intersex, but I am much more female. I am not facing a biological clock—I have no clock!” If she is nervous about her coming out, she is also almost gleeful with anticipation. “It was important for me to make this declaration now, based on where I am in my life. I want to live authentically as who I am and help to break down the stigma that intersex persons face—but also to use the profile that I’ve built through modeling to give back to those without a voice. I want to be there for people who are struggling, to tell them it’s OK—it’s one part of you, but it’s not who you are.”

Hanne embraces herself and values herself, she knows she is human and she is worthy and deserving of love, like every human is. Another wonderful part of the interview was the part where she reveals when she told her husband (while dating) that she was intersex and he countered with “Oh, that’s cool—I’m adopted.”

I look forward to the day that we all accept without shock, judgement, or shaming an individual for who they are and how they were born, much like Swiatek did with her.

If you are intersex or if you know someone who is intersex, know that you will always have a place with me and this community of lovers. Please feel free to reach out and express yourself so I may help continue to bring light to your experience so the misguided stigma may cease. You are loved. You are beautiful. As you are.

Yours in Love,

Original Sindy

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