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  • Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • I have a confession to make, right off the bat.

  • I don't know what you were doing at 16,

  • but I'm a really big fan of "Harry Potter"

  • and was waiting way too long to receive my letter

  • inviting me to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry --

  • I could have gone for sixth form.

  • I was also waiting for an invitation to the Jedi Temple

  • or a tap on the shoulder to invite me to the X-Men.

  • I was that kid.

  • When I was 16 years old, I got my wish.

  • I was taken into a doctor's office

  • and told that I am in fact part of a group of people

  • who are still largely invisible and misunderstood.

  • I am intersex.

  • That's my superpower.

  • For many of you in this room,

  • it will be the first time you've even heard the word "intersex."

  • Intersex is anatomy.

  • It refers to people who were born with one or more

  • of a variation of sex characteristics.

  • That's your genitals, your hormones, your chromosomes

  • that fall outside of the traditional conceptions of male and female bodies.

  • In other words,

  • the most basic assumption we've made about our species --

  • what we're taught in schools that sex is binary,

  • just male and female --

  • is not correct.

  • Like most things in this world,

  • it is much more complicated than that.

  • Intersex people who fall outside of this false sex binary

  • have always existed, throughout human history.

  • Like the wizards of "Harry Potter,"

  • we are pretty much invisible.

  • Some of us don't even know that we are intersex.

  • Like the X-Men,

  • some of our traits are obvious at birth

  • and others turn up around the time when puberty is supposed to kick in.

  • When we find out we are intersex,

  • some of us believe we are the only ones in the world.

  • Me, specifically, I have XY chromosomes,

  • which you may have understood to be typically male.

  • I was also born with gonads instead of ovaries.

  • Standing here on this stage would have been my worst nightmare

  • only five years ago.

  • It would have been impossible.

  • I use the metaphor of the superhuman,

  • but really, we are just like you.

  • Intersex people are thought to make up to 1.7 percent of the population.

  • That means more, depending on where you are in the world,

  • but you get the picture.

  • We are in front of you, getting coffee;

  • we are sitting next to you on the train;

  • we are swiping you left and right on dating apps --

  • (Laughter)

  • So why haven't you heard of us?

  • If we are so common, why don't you see us?

  • How has the world responded to us?

  • We often think of disciplines like medicine and the law

  • as supposedly neutral --

  • immune to bias.

  • The law is "reason free from passion."

  • The doctors' Hippocratic oath states

  • that "warmth, sympathy and understanding

  • may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's pill."

  • In truth, these disciplines that touch our lives are impressive,

  • but they are filled with our prejudices.

  • They are not immune,

  • just as we are not immune to the effects of that prejudice,

  • which can be devastating.

  • In medicine, intersex babies who are born with ambiguous genitalia

  • are routinely operated on without consent,

  • without medical need,

  • irreversibly,

  • in order to make their healthy anatomy appear more "normal."

  • This is before they've even said their first words,

  • indicated a sexuality or a gender identity.

  • Many people are never told the truth about their intersex traits,

  • and those who are are instructed, often, not to tell anyone.

  • Secrecy is enforced and shame is a close shadow.

  • In the law,

  • intersex people fall outside of categorization,

  • and more importantly, protection.

  • This concerns the banal tasks --

  • if you can imagine the number of forms you've filled out

  • that you had to check "M" of "F" on --

  • to lacking protection under any law,

  • specifically, the Gender Recognition or Equality Act.

  • And intersex people cannot correct the sex classification

  • they've been given at birth

  • unless they declare they are transgender.

  • After decades of activism,

  • these life-altering problems are starting to be addressed.

  • So why does this matter to those of you who aren't intersex,

  • who don't have variations of sex characteristics?

  • I imagine many people in this audience have,

  • in the privacy of their own bathrooms,

  • wondered ...

  • "Are my labia too long?"

  • "Are my testicles uneven?"

  • "Is my penis too small?"

  • "Is my vagina too wide or too shallow?"

  • Nothing that hurts or gets in the way, just aesthetically:

  • "Are mine 'normal?'"

  • I imagine that many people in this audience have those small concerns

  • but generally go about their lives not thinking about it.

  • These variations in our bodies,

  • like the color of our eyes or the size of our feet,

  • rarely affect our health, materially.

  • To put it another way,

  • to give you an idea of the intersex experience,

  • what if when you were an infant,

  • your parents or your doctors looked at your labia,

  • your penis, your testicles,

  • and thought,

  • "They're healthy, feeling,

  • but they're not 'normal,'"

  • even before you knew what you wanted to do with them,

  • or you know, want to put them.

  • (Laughter)

  • What if they went so far

  • as to assign you a different sex based off these measurements ...

  • And then they lied to you about what they'd done?

  • What if these surgeries sterilized you?

  • What if they resulted in immense pain and scarring?

  • What if you had to take medicine for the rest of your life

  • to replace the healthy organs they took away,

  • and you had to pay for that medicine yourself?

  • And then every time you went to a doctor's office for a cold,

  • you were questioned about your sex life,

  • your gender identity,

  • what your private parts looked like.

  • And then more doctors and medical students were invited

  • to add to these questions,

  • ask you to drop your trousers

  • or submit to an unnecessary medical exam.

  • This is a picture of what is happening to the intersex community --

  • people like me, every day, around the world.

  • Our community is not antimedicine or antisurgery.

  • We are for the right to make decisions about our bodies

  • and our lives.

  • The current approach to intersex people stems from a now-debunked academic study

  • from a man who, over 50 years ago,

  • believed that you could raise a child in any gender

  • by changing their genitals, never telling them

  • and reinforcing that gender over and over again.

  • It also stems from referring to healthy intersex variations as abnormal

  • or disordered.

  • This makes sense.

  • If you refer to something as a disorder, it suggests there's a fix.

  • It also stems [from] the fear and stigma of being intersex,

  • from homophobia, transphobia, sexism

  • and ultimately, our colonial past.

  • I am not here to say that the categories of men and women don't exist.

  • I'm saying, like most things in this world,

  • it is more complicated than that.

  • The world is complex,

  • and we can choose to see that as beautiful,

  • or we can choose to continue to deny the existence of that complexity,

  • push people into artificial, binary boxes,

  • fix what isn't broken

  • and restrict our own field of vision.

  • One of the challenges that intersex people face today

  • is making ourselves visible

  • and making ourselves safe at the same time.

  • By that, I mean we are appealing to the humanity of lawmakers

  • to make us safe

  • whilst putting ourselves into the public eye,

  • sharing our stories,

  • trying to build community with people like us ...

  • Even when it isn't safe to do so.

  • For parents of intersex children listening and watching,

  • for those in the audience

  • who may become the guardians of intersex people,

  • I want you to know I love my life,

  • but it has not be free of issue,

  • especially in relation to being intersex.

  • No life is free of issue.

  • All coins have two sides.

  • On the one side,

  • I have been humiliated in doctors' offices.

  • I have stood in front of prospective partners and felt afraid

  • and so not good enough.

  • I have watched other women pass me in the street

  • and imagine the ways that they were more woman than me,

  • more human than me.

  • I have questioned whether I have a place in this world.

  • On the other,

  • I have been deeply loved for everything that I am,

  • in friendship and romantically.

  • I have learned compassion and empathy for a wider range of society.

  • I have taken the time to love my body

  • and not judge the bodies of others.

  • I have developed a strength and a hope

  • that would have been impossible without this particular life.

  • The instinct to protect children is instinctive and it's admirable,

  • but the truth is that love, acceptance

  • and refusing to bathe that child in shame

  • will protect them more than trying to fix something that isn't broken.

  • This is why it is in our interest to protect intersex people

  • and make them visible.

  • For as long as societies reinforce one form of acceptable,

  • of "normal,"

  • everyone will face insecurity for being different in any way.

  • Simply trying to erase variation, difference,

  • builds shame.

  • Being intersex has not materialized the powers

  • that I wished for as a teenager ...

  • beyond being able to see where this false sex binary harms us all.

  • It is my belief

  • that if intersex people can gain equality,

  • can be seen,

  • can be accepted

  • and can be loved,

  • then we all will.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause and cheers)

Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

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B1 intersex gender binary people medicine world

What it means to be intersex | Susannah Temko

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/02
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