No Pride without the ‘I’

It happens every June. Well meaning folks supporting queer rights completely ignore the intersex community, people like myself who are born with sex characteristics (chromosomes, genitals, hormone levels and/or internal organs) that don’t align with typical notions of either “male” or “female” bodies. Although we make up nearly 2 percent of the population and have been speaking out about the human rights abuses based on our non-binary bodies for over three decades, we continue to be erased even by those in the rainbow community who share these experiences of oppression rooted in the same sexist, homophobic and transphobic stereotypes. Some intersex people identify as gay or trans, while many, like myself, do not. Nevertheless, we all experience similar harms largely based on other’s irrational fear of difference.

Traditional gender norms and non-scientific beliefs about binary sex are driving the most detrimental type of discrimination against the intersex community: Physical erasure through irreversible, nonconsensual and medically unnecessary procedures. These medical interventions often cause long term physical and emotional harms and have been deemed human rights abuses by the U.N. and other human rights bodies and organizations, yet continue to occur largely unregulated, around the world. 

Much like the trans community, intersex people are also fighting for bodily autonomy. LGBT+ communities and their allies in the United States are well aware of the influx of hateful legislation denying trans youth the right to gender affirming healthcare. But nobody’s talking about the fact many of these bills include specific exclusions for intersex children expressly permitting doctors to irreverisbly surgically “fix” their healthy bodies without their consent. The same oppressive movement denying trans youth healthcare they want and need is promoting harmful unwanted intervention on intersex kids. And it seems to go unnoticed and without a peep from the queer community. 

Kudos to President Biden for recongizing the intersex community and including us in the recent White House statement in support of Pride month. It is time for the LGBTQ+ movement to finally join the fight for intersex rights and the celebration of intersex lives. 

Kimberly M. Zieselman, JD, is an intersex advocate and consultant, and author of “XOXY: A Memoir.