Steph Lum

It feels incredible to be able to say—here is YOUth&I, a collection of literary and artistic works from some amazingly talented young intersex people!

Who are intersex people? To be intersex—born with variations in sex characteristics—is not to be any one thing. There are intersex women, intersex men, intersex non-binary people. There are intersex people of all ages, all backgrounds, all faiths, and all sexual orientations. We know of over 40 intersex variations. With so many different body types, intersex people can have wildly different needs from each other and have different experiences in how they have been treated by people around them and how they see themselves.

Nevertheless, to live with an intersex body means to navigate a world not designed for you. At best, you must constantly face assumptions about your body and assumptions about your identity, as well as scepticism and inappropriate healthcare. At worst, you experience a complete disregard for your bodily autonomy and integrity, experience of medical abuse, distrust and fear, and lies about your body and history.

For these reasons, intersex people are a largely hidden and silenced population. Many of us grow up with the stigma and shame of difference, the experience of medical interventions (often without our consent) to change our bodies to look more like typical women and men, and silence within our families and society as to our experiences and the existence of other intersex people. This has made it difficult for us to learn about ourselves, find community, and speak out publicly.

But intersex people are finding each other. We are forming communities, speaking out about our experiences and the wrongs that have harmed us—in Canberra, in Australia, and around the world.  

For those who choose to speak, the personal cost can be great, and made more difficult when others tell our stories for us—often sensationalist, with disbelief, shifting focus onto the issues they see as important, discrediting our experiences, and changing our words to tell the stories they want to tell. But we are the storytellers of our own lives.

Some people promise us change; some claim that change has already happened. And still we keep telling our stories, waiting for the stories to change. Waiting for all intersex people to grow up happy, loved, empowered to make choices over their own bodies, proud of their difference, and connected with community.

YOUth&I gives us a younger generation of storytellers. A space for young intersex people to share their stories in their own words and not be taken out of context or rewritten by endosex (non-intersex) people. A space for intersex voices to be heard in their own right. A chance to educate the people we live with and to connect with others including those who, even if they don’t know the word intersex, might pick up this book and recognise some of these stories and experiences within themselves.

Creating safe spaces in community to share, hear, and hold each other is incredibly important. While the intersex community in Australia is growing, spaces solely for intersex youth have so far been difficult to create and sustain. YOUth&I provides a space for young intersex people in Australia and elsewhere to share, create, be visible, and be valued. It is one answer to the challenges of storytelling in a world that is only just beginning to listen and where sharing can be painful, unsupported, unsafe, and not always clear whether it leads to change. It is also one answer to the challenges of bringing together young intersex people and giving them the opportunity to express the creativity and joy in their lives.

This project has been supported by the ACT Capital of Equality grants program, run by the ACT government and administered by the Office for LGBTIQ Affairs. We are fortunate in Canberra to have a small but growing number of young intersex people who are willing to speak up and who are encouraged and supported by allies in the wider community. While intended as a one-off publication, the creative potential of intersex young people is limitless and in time there may be further issues. In the meantime, this issue captures a particular moment in how intersex people think and talk about themselves, their experiences growing up in this time, the growth of an intersex community in Australia and around the world, and the development of an intersex movement.

In these pages you will find us reflecting privately and speaking publicly. Speaking to our friends, parents, doctors. To each other. You will find our stories are not all like each other’s—we have so many different body types, different experiences with family and interactions with doctors, different cultural contexts, and we live in different places and in different times. But what you will consistently find is great honesty, humility and great strength found in community. What an honour to be trusted to read these stories and have the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of these young people who show us different ways of living and being in this world, and shared with such generosity and heart.

Here is a community of young intersex people. Here is YOUth&I.

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