The continued silence around the intersex community contributes immensely to the issues facing intersex people and those close to them. This stillness, whether consciously or unconsciously, magnifies the ill-treatment of intersex people – which usually manifests in the coercion of these individuals to “fix” their gender ambiguity.
By definition, intersex means “a person born with genitals, hormones or chromosomes that don’t fit a typical definition of female and male.” The United Nations records that as many as 1, 7 % of children are born with these variations. A portion of this is born in South Africa where silence around intersexuality remains profound.
Intersex people and their families suffer isolation and shame. This suffering is widely reinforced by society’s lack of public discourse on the lives of intersex people – most intersex children don’t even know what it means to be intersex. In most cases, parents can’t accept their children’s sexual deviance or explain it to them because they were duped by medical doctors into believing that it’s “flawed and must be fixed”. And that is where the problem starts.
Parents of intersex children are often encouraged to choose cosmetic surgery for their intersex infants. These surgeries are often under the guise of medical necessity, recommended by doctors who undoubtedly want monetary benefits from these procedures or are just downright intersexphobic. Pathologising intersexuality must be condemned as a human rights violation and performing an irreversible medical procedure on an intersexed individual without their informed consent should be denounced.
The first step in breaking the silence around the intersex community is to publicly speak against the stigma surrounding bodies that are different. The second step is to loudly vocalise that intersex genitals are not a life-threatening condition and that intersexed people will do just fine without surgery. The third – and probably most important – step is to acknowledge that diversity is a beautiful thing to embrace.
Nobody is shameful; stop rendering intersex people a hidden population!