You and I
What is privilege? Privilege is when a certain aspect of your life will make sure you are not discriminated against—in this specific case, I want to show you how intersex people, my people, I, have been and are institutionally discriminated against.
I came up with this idea after I read an article from Lori Lakin Hutcherson, “My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest”. I too, want to explain to my friends and acquaintances a few ways in which you benefit from endosex (non-intersex) privilege.
One. I was not aware of how my body would develop.
Sex education in school? I get that everyone feels uneasy about it, I mean, they’re called our privates for a reason. But for me? It was horror. I remember having to watch a documentary on all that stuff—and deep inside me I felt panic rising, I could feel how I got more and more stressed out—yet I had to remain sitting there and endure it. I was facing down at the table, I wish I could have pressed my hands to my ears so I would not have understood what was said. This was in middle school, and while others joked about it, I was horrified. To me, it felt like someone was telling me very, very bad news. I couldn’t joke around about it. I was in shock. And the worst part? I didn’t even know why. Only years later would I piece the bits and pieces together and come to the conclusion, that deep inside of me, I was triggered when I was confronted with this material again after my castration in my very young years.
Two. I did not have the language to talk about my body and my experiences.
I didn’t have the language around being intersex until I was 16. I’m only in my early 20s now. I didn’t even know I was intersex until I was 16. How do you navigate a world when you don’t know who you are, when you always have this sore spot, but no way to talk about it? Now, as I write this, I know what Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) and gonads mean—how can you communicate if you don’t even know this language? I started pouring over the internet when I was 17 and 18, learning as much as I could in as little time as possible. There was such a need inside myself, a thirst I had to learn about myself and my community. I had to fill this void that was increasingly growing as I got older and older. I found there were more and more things I needed to talk about, but I didn’t have the language for. The years that followed were filled with confusion and a search for community, along with learning my own history and learning about the atrocities my community face. This isn’t something that happens once a year somewhere in a country we deem “uncivilised”, this is happening in our own backyard, every day. It took me a whole semester of winter depression, where I dragged myself to classes just to be present physically, and hours of talking to friends that I could slowly accept what was done to me. Done to me—not happened. Because there was intent and action, it didn’t just “happen”. “Mutilation”, “human rights violation”, “torture”, were just a few of the words I had to wrap my head around. It’s one thing to know things have happened to you. It’s another thing to realise they have been done to you.
Three. I have to rely on hormone replacement therapy—for life.
Sex hormones do many more things than just regulate your sex drive or ovulation—they are also responsible for bone density and without them you’re at high risk of osteoporosis. This means everyone really needs hormones and when your gonads are taken out you need to get them some other way. Many of you, I know, are taking the pill, or have done so at some point in your life. But now imagine that you wouldn’t have a choice but to take it every single day, starting when you’re 14, being told you have to take it for the rest of your life. You might change the way you get those hormones—you can take them orally as pills, or you might get shots every few weeks—but no matter the method, you know that because of the decision of other people, you have to do this for the rest of your life.
Four. I am constantly gaslighted by mental health professionals.
Imagine being a transgender person and going to the mental health professional you have been directed to for help (since many places still require this) and you go to seek help to become who you know you are—only to be told that intersex people are incapable of having gender dysphoria. Imagine being told by a mental health professional that your past abuse wasn’t as bad as you remembered. Of course a doctor wouldn’t have tied you down as a child, they say. But you know the doctor is going to say this because you’ve been in therapy and you know the game. So, you pull out the pictures that are undeniably you and lay them silently on the table before leaving the room to gather yourself before you yell at the person who was supposed to help you. The person you’re paying $120 an hour to, who just denied you care. And you wish you could make them understand. Instead, you leave them with pictures, silence, unease and distrust. But you’ll return. You’ll return to educate them, hoping, at least, that they will listen to the next intersex person who sees them.
Five. We are not heard.
22 years, that’s how long we’ve been shouting for change. It’s why there is Intersex Awareness Day on October 26th. Because on October 26th, 1996, that is when for the first time, intersex people protested against the torture that we are subjected to. Why has so little changed in those 22 years? Why did I still have to hear a speech at Pride about how doctors tried to pressure a mother into consenting to surgery for her child. A child. This child is ours, and we will protect them. We will make sure they can grow up to become the person they are meant to be, old enough to make their own decisions about their own body. We will fight for this child, so that they have their human rights protected. 22 years. I do not want to see another generation growing up having to face what we have had to face. I do not want to go to a meeting in another 22 years and have to hear the same stories from the young ones again. I do not want to think about how many more of my intersex siblings have died by suicide in another 22 years. I too was thinking about it, that the world is better without me. Sometimes I feel completely invisible. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to find my intersex family.
As the saying goes: Change your hearts, not our parts.
This is dedicated to my intersex family. You’re not alone. We’re in this together and we will make change.