Page 1815 - Week 06 - Thursday, 8 June 2023
more than 40 different intersex variations that can be determined prenatally, at birth, during puberty, when trying to conceive a child or at other times throughout a person’s life. Many people do not know they are intersex until later in life, if ever
While intersex people are part of every community, including the LGBTQIA+ community, most intersex people are cisgendered and heterosexual. It is shocking, given how common intersex variations are, that these instances and experiences of intersex people have largely been erased and overlooked in our culture. Non-consensual surgical and medical interventions, most often conducted during infancy and childhood, have been a more brutal part of this erasure. The consequences of this brutality are borne out by intersex people who have faced the lifelong consequences of these interventions.
Medical interventions, including surgeries and hormonal pharmaceutical treatments, have been performed for decades in hospitals around Australia and here in the ACT, under the assumption that it is necessary to align an individual’s appearance with societal norms of male and female bodies for the purposes of proper social and emotional development. According to Intersex Human Rights Australia:
Gender stereotypes remain evident in clinical thinking. For example, girls with innate variations of sex characteristics have been subjected to surgeries to ‘enhance’ the appearance of their genitalia, while boys are subjected to ‘functional’ surgery aimed at ensuring ‘appropriate’ urination; that is, urination while standing. Such surgeries are associated with impaired sexual function and sensation, a frequent need for follow-up surgeries and treatment, and experiences of shame.
These interventions are often not medically necessary and can cause irreparable harm to intersex people. These surgeries can leave people in pain, without sexual function and reliant on medications for the rest of their lives. They are undertaken because of a false idea that the bodies of intersex people are incomplete and need fixing. The fact that they have been undertaken without consent is a deep violation of the rights of intersex people and it is the very issue that this bill is dealing with today.
The sense of shame and the lifelong implications of unnecessary medical intervention was underlined in a letter written to me by Mimi, who is a local intersex advocate. She told me:
I was sterilised at the age of one for having a body that did not conform with what society thought was “normal”. Because of these surgeries I grew up under the gaze of doctors, prescribed hormone replacement therapy, informed I could no longer have children, and instructed to tell no one of my medical diagnosis – 17-beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency, a word I could not even read—
I relate, Mimi—
let alone comprehend. This secrecy led to shame and I grew up feeling wrong, unnatural, and broken. I was told I was one in a million, that I would never meet anyone like myself and that I was a female who needed some extra help. Never was I told I was intersex.