Dear Mr Robertson.
I am reading with interest your recent publication The Statute Of Liberty, and have seen your articles in the Australian press concerning human rights and Australians.
I write to make you aware of the complete lack of protection for intersex individuals not only in Australia but anywhere in the world.
Intersex people have hormonal, congenital or physical differences of sex that seem to be typical of both male and female, or sometimes neither.
Intersex is not a disability, although some underlying diagnoses that can lead to intersex are disabling.
Intersex is not a gender issue, although some intersex have issues with gender, and some intersex are genderless.
Intersex is not about sexual orientation, though intersex people have sexual orientations, and some have none.
Intersex is about sex and the biology of sex.
We are not disordered or disabled by our differences. Some diagnoses such as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) have a disabling element in so far as the adrenal gland does not function well. Other diagnosis such as Klinefelter’s Syndrome or Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) often include infertility. However those things do not make our sex a disorder or a pathology .
In Australian law, which I am sure you know better than I, there are many protections for individuals, however nowhere in Australian law, and as far as I know in international law, are there specific protections for intersex.
Intersex children are routinely assigned sexes and surgically altered so that their bodies conform to the assigned sex. This assignment takes place in an atmosphere of social panic where parents and doctors alike clamour to have their newborn conform to one of the two possibilities within the gender binary of male and female.
Those surgeries are conducted with little consideration for the life at hand, rather the primary consideration is compliance to ideals of normality. There are no longitudinal studies to substantiate outcomes for these ‘assignments’ and subsequent surgeries. It is supposed that because there are no large numbers of adults complaining about outcomes that few exist. Those that do object are rejected as a vocal minority. No effort has ever been made to discover how many infants have been subjected to genital surgery, and no studies exist that might substantiate theories about the effectiveness of this surgery.
Intersex children are in effect subjected to, without their consent, experimental surgery. No person involved in this experimentation could be regarded as dispassionate. Parents who might hold homophobic, religious or cultural views are likely to insist on an assignment and would be easily persuaded to authorise surgery. Doctors are inclined to be over-willing to offer solutions to distressed parents, and nearly all doctors adhere to common perceptions of maleness and femaleness.
The child is present only as a body with two possibilities and no will in these considerations.
Intersex children grow into intersex adults, and there they are forced to adopt the behaviours and rules of maleness or femaleness, or be ostracised without recourse. On the way to adulthood we may be lied to, to convince us we need further surgery, to be given hormones under every pretext but the truth, and suffer loss of genital sensation as a result of surgery. Even the Rolls Royce of surgery cannot prevent scarring and loss of sensation.
As adults, if we reject our birth assignment we are further pathologised by being thought of as mentally ill. We are diagnosed as transsexual without ever having been tested for an underlying intersex diagnosis (a requirement of the standards of care demand this testing be done, however OII is unaware of any country that actually does it). Were it known we are intersex, then we are diagnosed as having a Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (GIDNOS) under the Diagnostic & Statistics Manual IV (DSM-IV). To diagnose us with a mental disorder completely relieves the birth assigning doctor of any responsibility for mistakes he may have made. The assigned carries the mistake completely; in law, in their embodiment, and in their psyche.
I ask you to consider intersex as a special case when you are thinking about Human Rights. We are often male, and often female, and we are sometimes both or neither, and we are, however, always intersex. The only certain way to ensure our human rights is to name us. Protections under gender difference or identity laws have not protected us because intersex is not a gender. Protection under sex discrimination does not protect us because we are not seen as a sex. Protection under sex and gender diversity does not protect us because both those terms always refer to male and female .
We are sometimes used as a vehicle by special interest groups such as GLBT to demonstrate the uncertainties of sex categories. You will see us tacked on to the end of GLBT as in ‘GLBTI.’ Ask those GLBTI organisations who their intersex representative is. In Australia, the most common answer will be “No one!”
We have been used in the marriage debate where the union shall be between a man and a woman. If there was any truth to this law, intersex who are neither men nor women would be unable to marry. Intersex who are both man and woman at once would, at least partly, belong to a same sex marriage. Never have intersex individuals been asked to participate in these debates – we are simply an academic tool used in the interests of a wider agenda. Never, when intersex have been used as part of a debate about sex and sex diversity, have intersex rights ever emerged.
I am reading your book with interest, however I have not come across any part where intersex would have any more rights in their lives than they have now; and that’s none!
The only way we can have any legal status is by pretending to be one of you. I cheekily assume you are not one of us in the same way that it is assumed, every day of my life, by nearly everyone I come into contact with, that I am not one of them.
Organisation Intersex International