Steph Lum and Georgia Andrews
Welcome to Issue 2 of YOUth&I! YOUth&I is an intersex youth publication with stories reflecting experiences of living with an intersex body in a world still struggling to understand what intersex means.
Intersex people are born with variations in sex characteristics. These variations cover a range of different body types that do not fit expectations for typically female or male bodies. While our bodies may look very different to each other, we share in common risks of stigma and harm. Intersex people routinely face surgery without personal consent and other interventions to ‘normalise’ our bodies, even where there is no medical need. Little consideration is given to the long-term mental and physical health impacts of these interventions nor to the importance of connection with other intersex people before they are undertaken. The stories in Issue 2 reveal how these experiences are common across all regions of the world and can have devastating impacts on us and our relationships with people in our lives.
There have been some shifts in the intersex policy landscape since the publication of Issue 1 in 2019. More countries now prohibit unnecessary medical interventions on intersex people without personal consent and two Australian jurisdictions are working towards developing legislation to this effect. Nevertheless, the longer-term impacts of these changes are yet to be seen and legislative change, in and of itself, cannot change everything. It will take time, education and cultural change to reduce stigma, misunderstanding and discrimination, improve access to good health care, and ensure resourcing for intersex community support. For these changes to be seen, it is essential that the words and stories of intersex people themselves are heard.
Young intersex people are rarely given agency in decision-making about their medical care. Decisions are often made for us, by doctors or parents, commonly based on assumptions about what we should look like and what we should do with our bodies, and grounded in fear of difference. We are often told to be silent and not share our experiences. Frequently, we are told we are the only one or one in a million. For those of us who do want to talk, too often it feels like no one could possibly understand. We are too different, too unheard of, too shameful. Instead, we are told about our bodies, about who we are, and about what was done to us. Few people listen and ask us what we want.
This issue’s theme ‘It’s their turn to listen’ is directed at these experiences. YOUth&I shares the creative works of young intersex people, aged 30 and younger. These stories discuss the struggles of not being heard, the frustration at people making assumptions about what intersex is and the frustration in some of our relationships with family members, friends and people close to us who misunderstand or choose not to listen. More than this, though, these stories reflect our relationships with ourselves and our own bodies, the moments of loss but also of rebuilding, of not knowing where we belong in the world around us but finding moments of belonging in ourselves. In this issue you can see the places where we have found each other, where we heal together and where we speak out about what has happened to us. These stories are a call from across the world for people to listen to what we have to say and to do something about it. Our hope is that by sharing these stories, these experiences will become memories that are not relived by each generation of intersex people.
YOUth&I seeks to elevate these voices. To this end, we have sought to reach out to even more young intersex people, particularly those who are heard the least. In this issue we have accepted contributions from intersex people in any language and have worked with translators to publish works both in their original language and in English. We are delighted to have received and published stories from every region of the world—but we acknowledge there is ongoing work to do to ensure intersex people everywhere can contribute to and be involved in global initiatives which are largely conducted in English. We give great thanks to our translators who have made it possible for us to engage with more intersex people in this issue.
We also give huge thanks to Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) who have generously supported YOUth&I. IHRA’s assistance has allowed us to support young intersex creatives as well as involve intersex people in the entire development of this issue. We are proud to have been able to support the work and development of young intersex people particularly during such a difficult time. COVID-19 has had devastating impacts across the world and has hurt intersex people and communities in unique ways, including difficulties in access to health care and mental health support, disruption of supply of necessary medications and exacerbated social isolation. These challenging times remain with us for now but at least, through all of this, it is wonderful to bring something positive to our communities and into the world—we present to you, Issue 2 of YOUth&I.