Intersex is an umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. People are born with these differences or develop them at a young age. Genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, and chromosomes can develop in many ways.
The problem is, children’s bodies are often changed for them because of shame and stigma. This includes surgeries to create a vagina, reduce a clitoris, move a urethra, or remove testes. Most surgeries happen before the age of two. The world’s top human rights organizations agree: Surgeries to change sex traits must be the individual’s choice.
Oct. 26 marks the anniversary of the first public demonstration by intersex people in the United States in 1996. Members of the now-defunct Intersex Society of North America and their allies arrived in Boston at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics. They demonstrated and shared their pain in a very public way, denouncing non-consensual infant genital surgeries and demanding the medical industry take notice. Doctors dismissed the activists as a vocal minority in a 1997 New York Times article covering the intersex action. The tides are slowly changing.
Today, intersex people and their allies are following in their footsteps, organizing in cities around the U.S. and around the world.
In 2018, LGBT advocacy group Voices 4, intersex supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele, Intersex Justice Project, and interACT teamed up in New York City to protest Dr. Dix Poppas, a leader in performing clitoral surgeries on minors, who came under fire for using vibrators on young intersex children to test his surgical results. Poppas faced no discipline and still practices at Cornell. In August 2018, he was quoted as saying that he “should have videotaped” the tests. Intersex Justice Project led its third action at Lurie Children’s in Chicago, calling for the institution to #EndIntersexSurgery. In 2020, the institution finally issued an apology.
Assistant Director of Intercultural Development, Gender and Sexuality Programs