Two weeks ago, I sat through half of my childhood development class on the verge of tears. It wasn’t from the stress of homework or relationship problems. It was because of two sentences in my textbook: “A conception with an X chromosome from both parents is female. One with an X chromosome from the mother and a Y chromosome from the father is male.”
For me and 2 percent of the population, these sentences are not our reality. I am intersex, an umbrella term for an individual whose sex characteristics are neither definitively male nor female.
I was born with XY chromosomes, but because of a genetic mutation, my body doesn’t recognize the “male” hormone testosterone. Because of this mutation, my body developed completely externally “female.” With my clothes on or off, you would never be able to tell I am intersex and have a pair of fully functional testes inside my body.
Growing up, I had to teach myself my entire reproductive system using Wikipedia. Every day of my high school health class, I had to sit through presentation after presentation describing the stereotypical male and female reproductive system without even seeing a footnote referencing intersex. The ignorance towards atypical reproductive systems is degrading. What message is that sending to intersex youth in their formative years? Why aren’t we acknowledging intersex?
I have yet to meet someone who knows what intersex is without being intersex or knowing someone who is intersex. Even though intersex is extremely common, it has seen little representation in the main stream media. Maybe this fact wouldn’t be so tragic if there wasn’t an ethical debate raging about gender normalization surgeries on intersex infants.
At birth, many doctors advocate for parents to remove the gonads, internalized testes, in their intersex infants. This surgery has no significant benefit and only serves to harm the child. Without gonads, intersex individuals have to rely on pills and patches for estrogen. It’s hard to estimate how much estrogen the body needs, so these patches tend to provide either too little or too much estrogen.
Although I am fortunate enough to have my gonads, the two scars on my lower abdomen serve as a daily reminder of what could have happened to me had my mother not insisted that the doctors keep my gonads in.
A few states, like California, have moved towards banning gender-normalization surgeries, but because intersex is relatively unheard of, there’s no real pressure on legislators from anyone except the intersex community.
With intersex awareness day tomorrow, there is no better time for advocacy. There’s a good chance you know an intersex individual, and your support could mean the world to them.