It is the first question when a baby is born: Is it a boy or a girl? Sometimes the answer is not that simple.
And 'Sometimes' is more common than you think. Roughly one baby in 2000 is born intersex each year. And while the definition of gender normality is evolving it's not necessarily easier to brake the taboo around the intersex trait.
Our learning curve has increased dramatically but when this week, Belgian fashion model Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed that she is intersex, Google search history revealed that most of us had little idea what that term even means. Shall we go back to basics?
Intersex means born with both male and female genitals, also known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).
Not distorted just different. It's a natural variation, however not everyone accepts this and sometimes try to erase its existence. Yet there is nothing to be fixed here because there is nothing wrong with intersex people. While there is no clear protocol, for decades some doctors surgically choose one gender or another. Hanne Gaby Odiele spoke out against correctional surgeries. She was compelled to undergo testes removal surgery at the age of 10.
“I haven’t met a single intersex person who is glad they were operated on”.
As shocking as it might seem, these irreversible procedures are still happening and are robbing individuals from the right to live fully. Sadly it is parent's anxiety backed up with doctors approval to fix an 'abnormal child'. It's completely unnecessary and dangerous for physical, medical and sexual health. Do we need to put it on the T-shirt?
Gender in not in genitalia. Gender identity is open. Doctors and parents should not play god without consent. It makes no sense to remove body parts (or anything for that matter) that aren't actually harmful.
Hanne with her husband John Swiatek
What Hanne did was brave, important and much needed. She's a public figure, has an amazing outreach and definitely sparked the conversation. Plus she's unbelievably inspiring.
There are more brave people like her. Ali Von Klan shared her story as a part of Interface initiative, project that publishes stories of people born with intersex traits.
She was afraid of even using a word intersex, avoided any intimacy and she did not have a community to talk to.
Well, that's how taboo works. It makes you feel like you're the only one out there and you need to hide, fit in or change so others can't discover the difference.
Gold distance runner Caster Semenya leaves little doubt what intersex persons face. The runner was subjected to humiliating gender tests back in 2009 – after media controversy over her “abnormally” high testosterone level for a female athlete. It's still very brave to be authentic in a world where being authentic carries the risk of being rejected.
Thanks to people like Odiele and Ali and Semenya, we're reminded how we all obsessively control our bodies to fit the 'norm'.
To know nobody is shameful.
Photography: Paola Kudacki for The Office Magazine