As we are all probably aware, there has been a recent ‘Pantigate’ scandal that has been doing the rounds in the media. I must admit I have found it very entertaining to watch and I have been proud to see folk like Rory O’Neill standing up against bigotry.
The general public seems to be more in favour of marriage equality and gay rights than ever before, but when people think of the LGBTIA community, they primarily think of the L & G, that is gay and lesbian folks. B (bisexual), T (transgender), I (intersex) and A (asexual) identifying people rarely get a mention, if in fact they are mentioned at all.
These other groups often suffer homophobia just like the L & G folks, but they also face discrimination from inside the LGBTQIA community. The intersex community can often be roped in with the trans* community, although they are generally quite different, so the discrimination faced can often be a lot worse.
Personally, I guess I identify with the BIT at the end: bisexual, trans & intersex. I’ll explain the latter further down. I often feel like the BIT that doesn’t really belong. I do think people like to think of everything as black & white, 1 or 0, as it’s easier to understand. In fact this just isn’t true, because nature is stranger than we can imagine.
Most people now have come to view sexuality as a spectrum with all of us somewhere on that spectrum. Most don’t realise that gender can be a spectrum too, and almost nobody knows that biology is also a spectrum, and that last part is something that most people particularly don’t understand. As an intersex friend said to me, we are like unicorns amongst the horses.
I had some birth defects when I was born. At first, my mother was told I was a girl, and then she was told I was a boy. I looked more like a boy, so they decided to go with that, although I never agreed. Some surgeries later, ‘Hey presto, normal child!’ (sarcasm).
I later found out that I do have sort of DSD (Disorder of Sexual Development) or intersex condition, which I’m still trying to find answers to; best guess so far is I have some form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome or AIS.
The reason I am talking about this is simple. There are a lot of people out there who have experienced what I have experienced and worse. About 2% of the population or more is intersex. Most may simply not know they are intersex and maybe will never know. And most intersex folk are not trans* or gay, but of course some can be.
The old word for intersex was hermaphrodite, which gives the wrong impression and makes it too simple; it gets people back their box. Intersex can be quite varied, (physical variations, karyotype, etc.), but pretty much what it boils down to is that as we all start off as being female in the womb (well, kind of), we develop into male or female corresponding to our genes and our exposure to androgens, but some of us just get stuck somewhere.
The three major forms of intersex conditions are AIS, CAH and Kleinfelters. AIS stands for Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. It can be somewhere between mild and complete. Most people with complete AIS or CAIS are viewed as normal women, however, have internal testes, and no ovaries or uterus. They usually identify as women, while other forms of AIS create a mix of genitalia with male and female features.
CAH stands for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. This is when the child in vivo is exposed to too many androgens (male sex hormones). Often surgery is carried out on girls to make them look “normal”, but they may not actually identify as girls.
Klinfelters (47xxy) are usually raised as males but may not identify as male. This person has an extra chromosome and will have a mixture of male and female secondary characteristics (e.g. large hips, breasts, and little body hair).
There are many, many other types, including ovo testes (true hermaphrodite), mosaicism (a mixture of different cell lines, xy, xx, xo etc). Of course, this all simplified and I am still learning.
Society generally is not okay with intersex children and has demanded that intersex kids be either one gender or the other. Society has even provided surgeries to make them look “normal”, to make them look like a gender they may not want to be.
Incredibly, this still happens every day across the world and it’s quite frankly criminal. People are slowly starting to become more aware of it, but it’s one of the greatest human rights abuses of all time.
So, this is something that has been bugging me a lot lately. For me, as a trans person, it’s darkly amusing, because when I hear people constantly playing ‘Guess My Gender’ (as they usually have nothing better to do), they seem to think they know what I am. The thing is, I don’t even know.
But, like other intersex folks I’ve talked to have said, it makes no difference what your body looks like. You know who you are. Going back to homophobia, it’s not just about gays and lesbians. Homophobia also affects the others on the LGBTIA spectrum, including people who often may not be gay but are perceived to be because they look different.
I am very proud of Rory O’Neill and Senator David Norris for standing up to tyrants and bigots, but I hope we won’t all forget that there are other minorities who are affected by all of this.