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Intersex Rights – Breaking the Cycle of Stigma

Intersex Rights - Breaking the Cycle of Stigma 4

A meeting held earlier in September this year by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(UN OHCH), has championed the cause of intersex activists in outlawing the prevalent medical practice of genital cutting on infants born with ambiguous genitalia, better known as the intersex.


In some cases the said ambiguity in genital make-up is prenatally determined, in others, it is not apparent until after puberty. In any case, the intersex community, in almost any part of the world, like any other marginalized community that is made to struggle with gender identity, is widely discriminated against. This unjust discrimination, for the intersex community, comes very early on in life.  It takes the form of a ‘genital normalizing’ surgery perpetrated by a handful of narrow-minded bigots, who go by the name of doctors, and are more often than not, done with the willing approval of the parents. The surgery thus performed, is medically unnecessary, for an indeterminate genitalia is not a clinical condition, nor does it pose a threat to the general well-being of the person. It is done, solely on the pretext of social acceptance and fitting into the typical definitions of male and female. And doctors performing these surgeries, as would hardly come as a surprise, have no qualms about it whatsoever.

Intersex Rights - Breaking the Cycle of Stigma 5
The Third International Intersex Forum, held in Malta, in December 2013

Now while we are at it, it should probably be mentioned that there is a huge difference between the ‘normalizing’ surgeries performed on the intersexes and the surgeries performed on the transgenders. The surgeries on the transgenders are done with their approval as responsible adults, while the surgeries in case of the intersexes, being performed at birth, are of course done without their consent. And this, without the shadow of a doubt, is a clear infringement of Human Rights.

These surgeries are often irreversible, and far from improving general health conditions, can have serious, long-lasting repercussions. People on whom these surgeries have been performed have reportedly suffered from infertility, loss of sexual sensation, pain and discomfort, mental depression and anxiety. Worse still, most parents do not encourage their intersex children to talk uninhibitedly about their sexual being, thereby depriving them the chance to experience and know their real selves and prohibiting the psychological probing of the same.

geneva 20-10-2012
Activists take to the streets to protest against genital cutting on intersex infants, in Geneva.

Even as Germany has become the first country in Europe to allow a third gender designation(X), with Australia following suit, the better part of the world continues to grovel in the darkness of antiquated gender stereotypes.The only way out of this depressing state of affairs, is to strike at the root of the shallow categorizers in their efforts to define gender only in terms of the two opposing and mutually exclusive categories of male and female. Such flimsy and facile categorization disregards the value of human life by placing society above individual, which again calls into question as to how society can dictate and decide for us, what is ‘normal’ and what is not. If and when a person is born with a genitalia, that is not in keeping with the general social convention, who is to say it isn’t normal when there isn’t any medical condition that comes with it?

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Board members of OII Europe(Organisation Intersex International, Europe)

The endeavour of the U.N. in taking crucial steps to do away with gender bias by outlawing these ‘normalizing’ surgeries has been received amidst thundering applause from all quarters. The major terms of the convention, drawn up by the U.N., not only raises the critical question of gender discrimination, but also drives home the need for social acceptance and integration. Here are a few pivotal points that the meeting has called attention to:

  • To ensure that no discrimination, physical, mental or social is perpetrated against any individual on the basis of cultural norm and gender bias.
  • To ensure that intersex people and their families are given adequate counselling and peer support.
  • To ensure that hate crimes against intersex people are investigated into and alleged perpetrator(s), prosecuted.
  • The right to life.
  • The right to equality, justice and social recognition as a definite gender.
  • Wider representation of the intersex community in all branches of electronic media.
  • A departure from portrayal of intersex people as a set social stereotype in the popular media and encourage their portrayal in a more favourable light.
  • An appeal to the masses to recognize, accept and respect the sexual orientation and gender identity of intersex people and taking steps to expressly condemn violence against the community.
A rare picture that is shown to take a stand against typified gender roles and celebrate intersex rights.

The years of ignorance regarding the differently gendered has its roots running deep and wide into a society of dogmatic categorizers who categorically refuse to look beyond its set standards of ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’, for the sake of its own convenience. It certainly is a tough battle to fight, but with the U.N. addressing the issue of the discrimination faced by the community, the years of relentless struggle of the activists has finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Also, the talk of U.N.’s decision in international spheres is probably a sign that the voice of the community, which had so long been stifled, is finally being heard. As actress and U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson has so poignantly put,

        “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are.”

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