Editor’s Note: Intersex Awareness Day was on Monday, but it’s always a good time to bring up the issues around intersex people. The more awareness we have, the fewer children who will be forced to undergo gender assignment surgeries.
When I was a child, I loved unicorns. In my room I had unicorn statues, a snow globe, posters, and bedspread. Something drew me to those mythical creatures and their unknown worlds of imagination. As a child, I knew unicorns were not real, but as an adult I learned what it felt like to be somewhat mythical. In 2003, I was in my early 20’s when I decided to further investigate my medical records and searched the internet for Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. It was a shocking realization to learn I was born intersex, which technically means although my body is female I also have male chromosomes. During fetal development, instead of progressing into male development, I was resistant to androgens (testosterone) and reversed development into female. I had never heard of this diagnosis or anyone else like me. It was a rather lonely feeling. Up to that point, I had only heard about hermaphrodites and seen the episode of Friends, where they joked about Rachel being one.
Fast forward to today. I now belong to a fantastic support network of intersex individuals and know a lot of people with the exact intersex condition I was born with. That is the most awesome feeling in the world and makes being born with this difference more bearable! Having these connections through the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome- Differences of Sexual Development (AIS-DSD) support group had increased my confidence to overcome the obstacles of dating, being childless, and insecurities of being born different.
October 26th is Intersex Awareness Day, and some of the major obstacles that the intersex community faces are that many people do not know we exist and that we have had our rights infringed on throughout the years. There is a long history of the medical community encouraging our shame by providing gender correction or assigning surgeries to very young children, removing gonadal tissue before a person is old enough to make that decision, and starting kids on hormone replacement therapy so they can develop normally and fit in to what gender they are “supposed” to be. Today, our community is speaking out against these outdated medical practices. There are practitioners who are willing to listen and walk with us to make changes for the future, but this type of change is slow and we hope for positive changes for future generations.
For us to take control of our lives, we need to be a part of the decisions of our medical care. Because we have not been a part of the discussion, it has fed into the shame and secrecy of being intersex and different. But the more intersex people I have met, the more I realize how frequent it was. We are conditioned in society to think in terms of male and female, pink and blue. But that is not always the case! We are typical human beings, dealt a lousy biological card for something that happened to us during prenatal development. We want to move to move forward from this past of shame and secrecy into a future of being comfortable in our skin and living openly about who we are!
I cannot change my past in terms of what surgeries I have had and what information was given to me being Intersex. But I have the power from now on to choose how I want to live my life. I have been blessed to find a partner who married me and loves me for who I am. I have found a rewarding career in social work. I have been blessed to become a leader in my intersex community and assist in planning our support group conference and the youth. Working with the youth had given me much hope for the future, seeing their strength and courage to be who they are at a much earlier age without hesitations.
Intersex is strange and different for people who don’t understand it. But most people do not understand it, because we are afraid to be openly public about who we are due to negative push back. But the more aware the general public becomes about our existence, they learn we are not unicorns but real human beings. We want to be respected in our medical decisions and have involvement in the research process- not be studied! We want to live life free from shame and secrecy and to not be afraid of being who we are and true to ourselves.
Amy Buzalsky is a secular social worker who works with cancer patients. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, Leo and dogs Tyson and Bailey. Amy stays active with providing support for intersex individuals, loves a good bike ride, and watching professional soccer.