Intersex Awareness Day draws attention to challenges Intersex people face

Intersex Ireland share the current context facing the Intersex community in Ireland as we mark 2021 Intersex Awareness Day

Photo of Intersex Ireland team standing in front of the intersex flag, yellow with a purple circle
Image: Facebook

Intersex Ireland kindly penned this piece for GCN to mark Intersex Awareness Day 2021 and raise awareness about the realities facing Intersex folk in Ireland today. 

Intersex is an ‘umbrella term’ used to describe people who are born with sex characteristics (including gonads, chromosomes, and genitals) that do not fit the medical and social norms for male and female bodies. Depending on the variation, intersex traits can be visible at birth, detected at puberty or not be apparent at all.  According to experts, the number of people with intersex variations is between 0.05% to 1.7% of the population, comparable to the population of Russia.

Intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from sexual orientation and gender identity. Intersex people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and identify as male, female or neither.

Intersex bodies are pathologised for sitting outside of social and medical expectations for male and female bodies and are thus subjected to multiple human rights violations that violate intersex people’s health and physical integrity, bodily autonomy, and the right to be free from torture, ill-treatment, and non-discrimination.

Intersex Awareness Day is commemorated worldwide since 2003, marking the first public demonstration by intersex people outside an American Academy of Paediatrics conference in Boston on October 26th, 1996. Intersex activists Max Beck and Morgan Holmes attempted to participate in the conference, delivering an address on long-term outcomes, challenging prevailing medical opinion that intersex children needed to be “fixed” through hormonal and surgical interventions. They were met with hostility and escorted out of the conference by security. Activists returned carrying banners that read ‘Hermaphrodites with Attitude’.

Intersex Awareness Day draws attention to challenges intersex people face worldwide while Intersex Day of Remembrance, on November 8th, celebrates the anniversary of Herculine Barbin, a French intersex person assigned as female at birth who died by suicide after being legally forced to live as a man at 22 years of age following a physical inspection by doctors.

In 2021 there is much work to be done for intersex people in Ireland. Medically unnecessary “normalising” procedures are still being performed in Irish hospitals on intersex children without their consent. This needs to stop.

Unlike the CDC in the US and the NHS in the UK, the HSE has no intersex information on their website. This needs to change. As much as 1.7% of Ireland’s population is intersex, so it is important that the HSE have comprehensive information on its website to serve the needs of Ireland’s intersex population.

The HSE does however have a page dedicated to FGM, or Female Genital Mutilation, a term used to describe medically unnecessary and harmful surgeries performed on girls and women for cultural reasons, often without their consent. Some of the most common procedures performed on intersex children are identical to those performed during FGM, which is why the intersex community refer to them as IGM or Intersex Genital Mutilation.

Intersex people have their medical histories hidden from them and this contributes to intersex invisibility. While endocrinologists and urologists continue to work on intersex infants there are no medical specialists for intersex people after infancy. Intersex people assigned the wrong gender at birth are left to deal with the staggering levels of discrimination and violence faced by the transgender community in addition to multiple-year waiting lists for medical care.

So how do we change things for the better? Through education and spreading awareness. In 2021 Ireland has Catholic bishops writing its sex education, which is unlikely to include information on intersex bodies. Most of Intersex Ireland were at one time students in Irish schools. Irish people deserve comprehensive sex education, and that includes information on intersex bodies.

The good news is that intersex awareness is spreading. Ireland’s intersex community is growing and strengthening its bonds with the intersex community worldwide. Our members have their artwork currently displayed at the Schwules Museum in Berlin as part of an international intersex themed exhibition; are involved in international intersex research with INIA: Intersex, New Interdisciplinary Approaches and are providing badly needed education on intersex and other matters throughout Ireland with Shout Out.

Happy Intersex Awareness Day 2021 to Ireland’s intersex community and allies.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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