By Rinio Symeonidou*
First published in the issue-tribute “Invisible History: Routes, experiences, policies of LGBTQI + in Greece”,
which was published with “Ef.Syn.” – Weekend on June 8, 2019.
Photo: Commemorative photo from the 2nd European Intersex Community Event, 2018, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Every time you become a parent you re-learn the world again from scratch… Ten years ago we thought, like most people who did not have to research about it, that we are all born either “girls” or “boys” (i.e. chromosomally XX or XY). The information that the baby we were expecting was XXY was something beyond our familiar universe, an unexpected and powerful culture shock: people are not only born female and male, but also anywhere in between, biologically speaking.
It is estimated that 1.7% of children in the world are born each year with different variations of sex characteristics, thus, intersex. For example, some children have genitals that might look somewhat different from the typical ones for boys and girls, other children have female-looking bodies but XY (male) chromosomes or male-looking bodies and XX (female) chromosomes.
Although the global movement for the recognition and the rights of intersex people has been active abroad for 2-3 decades, the term “intersex” was still completely unheard in Greece at that time. And, while the doctor in Athens assured us that our baby was very healthy, and recommended that we should search for up-to-date and valid sources in English, two local doctors refused us to continue, forcing us to terminate my pregnancy, as my fetus was “a mistake” and “a monster of nature”…
“The wonderfully diverse spectrum of biological sex”
This was the first “wall” before our baby was even born. Today we know that more than 80% of intersex pregnancies are unnecessarily terminated, with medical prompting or pressure and the frightened consent of uninformed or phobic parents, purely due to prejudice. Instead, we chose to search the World Wide Web, where we found up-to-date information, dozens of wonderful XXX people and parents of XXX children, till we made sure there was no reason to terminate. We looked for another maternity hospital, everything went well and our baby was born and assigned as a “boy”, a smiling and benevolent little human, who began to learn about the world, and we do with them too.
The second “wall” for some intersex babies born with ambiguous external anatomy is the painful, medically unnecessary, cosmetic and irreversible sex “normalization” surgeries offered to shocked parents “to make the child look more socially acceptable” to parents, peers and future partners. In the absence of the child’s consent, in secrecy and in taboo shaming, the right of children to their physical integrity is simply silenced and blatantly violated “for their own good”.
“Intersex people have always existed and will continue to exist as long as the human species exists”
However, since 1990, many intersex people who underwent such operations as babies have grown up and started talking about their trauma. These operations often turn out to be the wrong choice of sex/gender, are characterized by UN as human torture, are not supported by long-term research, and intersex organizations worldwide are calling for a ban until the person is old enough to give their informed consent. Despite protective global and European resolutions and guidelines, only Malta (2014) bans cosmetic surgery on intersex infants and children, followed recently by California and India**.
A third offensive “wall” for intersex children and adults is the absolute gendered social stereotypes, which they can not always meet. Many intersex people happen to agree with the gender assigned to them at birth (almost always), however, some may develop any gender identity or not identify with the ends of the male-female dipole or feel somewhere in between (like our child ) or not identify with any gender at all, to simply declare as “themselves”.
The inability to accept the different sex characteristics and their different gender identity or expression starts from the first years of education: in the curricula of each educational level the intersex children remain invisible or – at best – are characterized as “eccentric”. So, whether they learn to hide and isolate themselves, or if they feel / express a non-binary or trans identity, they are targeted early, subjected to bullying, questioning and sometimes dropping out of school.
In our small provincial school, the intervention of the Child Ombudsman was needed from the beginning (to educate teachers, parents, students) in order to cultivate the basic knowledge and acceptance that would ensure the child the minimum framework of inclusion and safety. However, the fragmented efforts (of parents, teachers or institutions) are not enough, nor do they secure the right of children to free expression and development of their personality.
It is absolutely necessary, not only for the intersex, but for all LOATKI + children and for every child in the end, to finally have the institutional intervention and visibility: the Ministry of Education must issue guidelines for inclusion (yesterday!) And assign to trained teachers a comprehensive, up-to-date, modern and compulsory Life and Health Education course, properly integrated into the curriculum of each educational level, starting from Kindergarten and up until the highest pedagogical universities. Otherwise, the “walls” in front of intersex young people will continue to rise high, in all aspects of their lives: at work, in health, in their right to free expression, to identity, to family, to childbearing.
Intersex people have always existed and will continue to exist as long as the human species exists with the wonderfully diverse spectrums of biological sex and social gender. Intersex children need what every child needs: unconditional love, visibility, inclusion and support for their psychosomatic integrity. For a world that will contain us all, without discrimination and gender-based violence.
* Parent & Activist, BA in Human Studies (European Civilisation), member of organisations Intersex Greece, Transgender Support Association (SYD), Rainbow School
** And more recently (2019) Germany followed