What's it like to be intersex?

What's it like to be intersex?

January 17, 2017

Early last year, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission co-hosted a Roundtable, that brought together multiple stakeholders to address New Zealand’s current practice of genital normalisation on intersex children.

The reality is that around the same number of babies are born intersex as they are with red hair: around 1 in every 2,000. 

Despite these figures, the only legal recognition of intersex in New Zealand comes on our passports, where instead of choosing "M" or "F", we have the option to choose "X", but with progress being made internationally, we can hope for more recognition within our own nation. 

Earlier this month, at 55 years old, Sara Kelly Keenan became the first American to have the label "intersex" on their birth certificate. She actively works on the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project as a paralegal to push for a change in gender recognition. 

“In bringing this change, all the intersex children born now and yet to be born are my children because I can bring change for them,” she said. “I don’t have a biological piece of the future but I have a heart piece of the future through those children because I can help them and give them a better experience.”

It is important to acknowledge that gender normalisation surgery should not be a given for intersex babies. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has made recommendation to the NZ government that  "a child rights-based health care protocol for intersex children, setting the procedures and steps to be followed by health teams, ensuring that no one is subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment during infancy or childhood, guaranteeing the rights of children to bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination, and provide families with intersex children with adequate counselling and support".

Many intersex people refute the idea that the surgery is necessary once they are old enough to understand their biology, and Sara is among a number of intersex people who are proud and happy to be who they are. These young people, talk about how they feel about the treatment of intersex babies from a personal perspective, and what life is like for them as intersex young adults. 

Human Rights Commission

The Commission works for a free, fair, safe and just New Zealand, where diversity is valued and human dignity and rights are respected.