Janet says most intersex people—at least those that aren’t world-class runners—live pedestrian lives. ”The intersex-rights movement seeks the same things most civil-rights struggles seek: mainstream acceptance, equality under the law, the right to safely be “out.” And, oh yeah: They don’t want to be called “hermaphrodites.”“The term ‘hermaphrodite’ is stigmatizing and confusing,” says Alice Domurat Dreger, a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University who is cited regularly by intersex individuals and advocates.
Every day in hospital maternity wards, intersex babies are born to freaked-out parents who’ve never even heard of such a thing, parents in a highly emotional state who are offered the immediate opportunity to surgically alter their child.
Reducing the number of these surgeries is something intersex activists see as fundamental to their cause.“Sometimes the word intersex doesn’t help either,” says Janet, who has counseled confused new parents.
But we are not our genitals, any of us, whether our bodies are ‘right’ or not.
Let parents bond with their baby, and don’t create this panic around the idea that your child isn’t right.”This focus on medical care, and building a holistic support network of family and knowledgeable medical professionals, grew out of a movement that has not hesitated to take to the streets.
The surgery has other lifelong impacts, as well—some research has shown that 20 to 30 percent of these surgeries have resulted in a dramatic loss of sexual sensation.“We’re trying to take a lot of the alarm out of it, just by saying to everybody—even people in the medical community—to slow down and not rush to ‘fix’ something right away,” says Green.
“The classic case is for the child to be swooped up and put in neonatal care.And androgen insensitivity syndrome, which can cause people born with XY chromosomes (male typical) to appear feminine.Despite the fact that intersexuality is much more common than generally reported, however, except for brief news sensations like Semenya—and recent speculation about singer Lady Gaga—hardly ever does anyone think about intersex people.People just don’t know what to do with that.”Caitlin, who was diagnosed with a DSD at age 15 (as if adolescence isn’t fraught enough), was old enough to have a say in how the medical establishment treated her, and successfully fought against being subjected to any sort of surgery.Navigating the issue with her parents was another story.“Her initial emotional reaction was, ‘Oh, did I do something to cause this thing to happen?Intersex Awareness Day, celebrated on October 26, grew out of the first public intersex demonstration in Boston in 1996, where the American Academy of Pediatrics was holding its annual conference.