Intersex Rights – Breaking the Cycle of Stigma


In September this year, a meeting was held by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(UN OHCH), and it 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 parents’ willing approval. The surgery thus performed is medically unnecessary, for indeterminate genitalia is not a clinical condition, nor does it pose a threat to the person’s general well-being. It is done solely on the pretext of social acceptance and fitting into the typical definitions of male and female. As would hardly come as a surprise, doctors performing these surgeries have no qualms about it whatsoever.

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The Third International Intersex Forum, held in Malta in December 2013

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 transgender people. The surgeries on the transgender people 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 had 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.

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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 the individual, which again calls into question how society can dictate and decide what is ‘normal’ and what is not. If and when a person is born with genitalia that is not in keeping with the general social convention, which 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 U.N.’s endeavour 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., raise the critical question of gender discrimination and drive 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 based on the 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 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 the 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 condemn violence against the community expressly.
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. Still, with the U.N. addressing the issue of the community’s discrimination, the years of relentless struggle of the activists has finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Also, the talk of the U.N.’s decision in international spheres is probably a sign that the community’s voice, 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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