Intersex Awareness Day 2020

26th October 2020 is Intersex Awareness Day, designed to celebrate the intersex community and highlight the human rights issues they face. The date marks the first public demonstration by intersex people in North America, outside the venue in Boston where the American Academy of Pediatrics was holding its annual conference.

What is Intersex?

Intersex is an umbrella term that is used to refer to people born with the reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the boxes of ‘female’ or ‘male’. Intersex activists describe it as a term used to describe human beings ‘whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female’, while clinicians and others use the term to refer to developmental anomalies: genitals, hormones, gonads and/or chromosome patterns that don’t fit typical binary definitions. 

In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth, in others they are not apparent until puberty and some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all. 

It’s important to note that being Intersex is not a disease or disorder, it is a variation of the human body and The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), states that there are approximately 358,105 people in the UK alone who have intersex variations. A UN factsheet on Intersex says that experts claim between 0.05% and 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits – with the upper estimate being similar to the number of people who have red hair.

What challenges do Intersex people face?

Despite the fact that being intersex is not a medical problem, many intersex children are subjected to unnecessary surgical and other procedures for the purpose of trying to make their appearance conform to binary sex stereotypes and ‘normalise’ them.

Many of these procedures are irreversible and can cause permanent medical issues including, infertility, pain, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation, and lifelong mental health issues. In its fact sheets, the UN states that: “regularly performed without the full, free and informed consent of the person concerned, who is frequently too young to be part of the decision-making, these procedures may violate their rights to physical integrity, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, and to live free from harmful practices.”

Such medical ‘interventions’ often justified by cultural and gender norms and discriminatory beliefs about intersex people and their integration into society.

Intersex people of all ages also face discrmination and prejudice in many areas of thier lives. They are often not protected by anti-discrimination laws, lack of training and understanding among medical professionals mean that they face discrimination when accessing healthcare and they are vulnerable to discriminationary practices in education, public services, employment and sports.

The Intersex Flag

The Intersex Pride Flag – a golden yellow background with a purple circle emblem – was created in 2013 by Morgan Carpenter for OII Australia (now Intersex Human Rights Australia). The creator has recently reviewed the language originally used to describe the flag and states: “The colours and circle don’t symbolise anything to do with gender. Instead the circle is unbroken and unornamented, symbolising wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities. We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolises the right to be who and how we want to be.”

You can read more from the creator and access colour codes here.

How can we support the Intersex community?

  1. Educate yourself and your community – Intersex is an umbrella term and intersex people have different experiences, so read as much as you can and engage with as many perspectives as you can find. Promote intersex voices, share what you find and educate others
  2. Use inclusive language – avoid gendering body parts (e.g. ‘female genitalia’), if you are creating forms, include ‘Intersex’ as an options and ask Intersex people what terminology they prefer to use
  3. Bust myths about Intersex people – Intersex is not rare, it is not a condition to be corrected and physical sexual characteristics have nothing to do with how we consider our gender identity, or with who we are attracted to. Check out this article from Amnesty International
  4. Campaign and challenge discrimination – follow organisations like Intersex UK, the UK Intersex Association and Intersex Equality Rights UK and support their campaigns


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