A Call For Paradigm Shift In Intersex Issues


In a report published by Human Rights Watch, the US medical community has finally advanced its approach to intersex cases. Instead of stigmatising the condition, medical experts are now encouraged to disclose intersexual traits to the child.  A “Differences of Sex Development” team was also established to convene healthcare specialists, including mental health providers, to advise on and treat intersex patients. However, while the team introduced medical practice significantly, it failed to address the underlying human rights issue.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex people are people who do not fit the typical binary notion of males or female bodies. They are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sexual hormones, such variations may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations or chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.

“Clinicians and parents alike refer to the period after the birth of an infant for whom gender assignment is unclear as a ‘nightmare,’” wrote Katrina Karkazis, a medical ethicist at Stanford University. Not only does ‘intersex’ occupy a legal and social limbo, but shame and confusion often rupture the parent’s joy and excitement at the birth of their child. Although it is understandable that parents would want to create normal offspring, one shall not overlook the possibility that things might go wrong. Surgery itself does not solve any problem. Research has suggested there is insufficient evidence to prove that growing up with atypical genitalia leads to psychological distress. Therefore, a lot of times, surgeries are performed such that intersex people can be forcefully assigned a gender in the aforementioned binary framework.

In Australia, the Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate people against their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. In addition, the Council of Europe recognized for the first time a right for intersex persons to not undergo sex assignment treatment in 2015. Unfortunately, while human rights protections in other domains continue to manifest, the implementation of protection regarding the intersex community remains weak. As intersex discussion is a rather young issue, many countries have not incorporated their protection in the constitution or laws. They remain highly susceptible to hate crimes and employment discrimination. A 2015 Australian survey of people born with atypical sex characteristics found high levels of poverty, in addition to very high levels of early school leaving, and higher than average rates of disability. Six percent of the 272 survey participants reported being homeless or couch surfing.

It is also my belief that we should review the binary framework of gender assignment and include a third classification of gender. Science has proved that there is a possibility where sexual traits in some people might be less significant than others. Yet this does not mean they are deformed beings. Marginalizing them does not help in cultivating collective benefits in a society, it is important to educate the public that there are different people among the community. In conclusion, babies being born intersexual do not posses the cognition and ability to make decisions based on their own interests. Parents who bear the burden of decision making shall understand that atypical genitalia pose no physical risk to their child. Conversely, surgical intervention places these babies under unnecessary risk. Focus should instead be placed on education to the general public and psychological support for the family and the child. These are the crucial foundations for the long fight against intersex discrimination.