Coming Out Intersex

“If I wanted to be able to talk about my work, as one usually does on first dates, I did need to come out as intersex.” Hida Vilora serves as chairperson of Organization Intersex International (OII), the world’s largest intersex advocacy organization. In an op-ed in The Advocate, she discussed educating her lesbian date about intersex people and the joy she felt in getting a second date.

From The Advocate:

Like most people, she’d [her date] heard the word, but didn’t know exactly what it meant. Just imagine that, if you will. Coming out as L,G,B, or T can be bad enough sometimes, but at least people know what it is!

Most everyone today knows that some people love the same sex and that some feel more like the opposite sex than the one they were raised as, but intersex people make us think outside these binary views because we’re talking about being neither male or female to begin with…

But why has our existence been so “lost”…that even my date, a lesbian librarian from San Francisco, didn’t know what we are? Well, for starters, in a society opposed to things like marriage equality thanks to ideas about what it is to be “real men” or “real women,” acknowledging that humans aren’t all male or female in the first place throws a big monkey wrench into the heteronormative equation.

Because our differences are noticeable at birth, the parts of our bodies deemed “queer” by heteronormative standards are often chopped right off. The practice is called “normalizing” surgery, and I’m lucky — scratch that, I’m blessed — to have escaped it. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that, unlike many of my intersex siblings, I don’t have the loss the sexual sensation and/or function, or the psychological wounds, caused by medically unnecessary treatments meant to “correct” me.

To become a better ally with the intersex community, Vilora recommends reading “Brief Guidelines for Intersex Allies” by Organization Intersex International (OII).

Here are three key questions from the guide:

What is intersex?

Intersex people are born with a mix of anatomical sex traits (chromosomes, genitals, and/or reproductive organs) that do not fit typical definitions of male or female. Many forms of intersex exist; it is not a single category.

Does intersex have something to do with gender, sexual orientation, or sexual behavior?

Intersex is a biological reality, but it gets confused with gender, sexual orientation, and behavior because there is a socio-cultural relationship between one’s body and all of these things. However, intersex is not about gender identity: intersex people experience the same range of gender identities as non-intersex people. Intersex status is also not about sexual orientation: an intersex person may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or queer.

Why are intersex individuals subjected to medical treatment?

Since intersex bodies cannot be easily categorized into one sex or another, the assumptions about how they’ll identify, express themselves, and who they’ll be attracted to, cannot be easily made, and the discomfort this gives some people drives recommendations for medically unnecessary treatment. However, on February 1st, 2013, the United Nations condemned these practices because evidence has shown that medically unnecessary “normalizing” procedures, such as irreversible genital surgeries, may be physically and psychologically harmful, and infants and young individuals cannot consent to them (info at oii-usa.org). Even adolescents have reported feeling pressured, as late as high school, by their parents’ and/or doctors’ recommendations, and often regret having succumbed to them.

Hida Vilora blogs at Intersex and Out. Don’t miss her post, “Jesus was my Intersex Role Model.”

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