Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a diversity of biological variations in which a person is born with sex chromosomes, hormonal and/or reproductive anatomy that is not considered to be typically female or male.

Intersex status is about variations of biological sex characteristics, not to be confused with gender identity or sexual orientation.
Intersex differences may be apparent at birth, other intersex traits may become apparent prenatally, at puberty, when trying to conceive or at other times.
Intersex bodies are most often born healthy. Some health problems are associated with some forms of intersex status. Only medical procedures necessary to sustain the physical health of a child should be performed.
Statistics show that the total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female may be around 1 or 2 in a 100, and the total number of people receiving surgery to “normalise” genital appearance is 2 in 1,000.
Georgie & Shon / Photographer: Alexandra Hullah
Poster by Sisters & Brothers NT

Normalisation

The healthy and diverse bodies of Intersex infants and children, such as those with ambiguous outer genitalia, are frequently altered by surgery or hormones, to fit them into one of only two sex categories that society currently perceived to be acceptable. Increasingly these practices are recognised as human rights abuses by UN agencies:

“53. Many intersex children, born with atypical sex characteristics, are subjected to medically unnecessary surgery and treatment in an attempt to force their physical appearance to align with binary sex stereotypes. Such procedures are typically irreversible and can cause severe, long-term physical and psychological suffering.”

DISORDERS OF SEX DEVELOPMENT: A stigmatising term used by some in the medical profession to refer to intersex variations. The term intrinsically disorders natural human bodily diversity, and promotes early surgical and hormonal treatments without informed consent.

BODILY AUTONOMY: Intersex people seek the right to bodily autonomy; the right to life without stigma, discrimination, shame and secrecy. Bodily autonomy is the right to make your own choices about your own body including hormonal replacement therapy and surgical intervention.

Shon & Georgie’s stories

NO CHOICE: “No-one ever considered how I felt about what was happening. I lived in constant fear about what was going to happen to me next.”

SHAME: “The true nature of our bodies is quickly hidden from the world with surgery. The unconscious message from the medical world is that they can change our bodies and no one will ever have to know of the different bodies we were born with. This automatically creates a sense of shame, secrecy to the point that most people don’t even know today that intersex people exist.”

SEXUALITY AND INTIMACY: “There is a focus on our genitals before we’re even aware of them or our sexual being. Focus on the right or wrongness of our genitals. We were not given the opportunity to love our unique and individual bodies. Therefore, it’s very hard to heal that feeling of wrongness as life goes on … it stays with you.”

Georgie / Photographer: Alexandra Hullah
Poster by Sisters & Brothers NT

The legacy of trauma

THE ACT OF TRAUMA: “For some intersex people, trauma may begin in early life. The assignment or re-assignment of gender through genital surgeries and then follow up procedures is agreed upon by parents and medical practitioners without the consent and/or full understanding of the young individual. This can cause a legacy of post-traumatic stress that continues well into adulthood and in many cases is never resolved.”

ONGOING MEDICAL TRAUMA: “I find it very difficult to go to doctors now. The memories of the invasive and disrespectful attitudes haunt me and I feel sick and anxious at the thought of seeing doctors.”

TRAUMA FOR FAMILIES: “It is not just my trauma that lingers, but my family also has sustained trauma by way of guilt and regret. They were only doing what they thought was best by going with the advice of doctors and surgeons. The sad thing is that the doctor’s advice has never been backed up by any tangible and reliable research or sustained follow up over the years for intersex people after surgery. The legacy of trauma is ongoing and multi-dimensional.”

Voices from the community

“Personally I didn’t know that I was biologically intersex until I had medical tests at the age of 26. Throughout my youth and puberty I had a series of non‑consensual medical interventions including testicular surgery, hormone replacement therapy, and breast removal so my body would be ‘normalised’ into the binary male sex.

I was never informed or asked about anything that was being done to my body. These interventions have ongoing medical and psychological consequences that I am still dealing with 40 years later.

I cannot begin to express the level of trauma that this has created in my life. Sadly, this is still happening to infants and young people today.” ~ Georgie Yovanovic

“My name is Shon. I first became fully aware that I was Intersex when I was 16 years old. I was born without a reproductive system and without a vagina. It was hard coming to terms with this reality because there was very little information about intersex people at that time (1985). There was a general assumption by all of the adults around me that I would have to have surgery sooner or later to be ‘normal’.

It was unspoken, but those around me could not imagine any other way of being other than heterosexual and or clearly male or female.

That for me meant having surgery to give me a vagina so that I could have sex with men. It was painful and humiliating and at the time, I was realising that I was same sex attracted. This was taboo in our Catholic family so there were no safe avenues to talk to anyone about what I was feeling or going through. I felt shutdown, silenced and alone. I am very happy that things are changing now and that Intersex is becoming more known and talked about. Our body variations and the people with whom we want to be intimate with need to be honoured, understood and allowed.” ~ Shon Klose

Shon / Photographer: Alexandra Hullah

“I am intersex, Shon Klose’s story”, ABC News, December 2014

“I am intersex: Georgie Yovanovic’s story”, ABC News, December 2014

“Intersex advocate to highlight perils of normalising surgery”, ABC News, July 2015

Intersex

“Tony (YourStory)”, NICHE