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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] ISGD Intersex oppression is a human rights issue

Intersex oppression is a human rights issue

Humanrights_intersexIntersex activists need to shift their focus from medical issues and the perception there is something ‘wrong’ with them and instead fight for equality under the banner of human rights, writes Hida Viloria.

10 October 2010

Unlike most other minority groups, the most tangible discrimination which intersex people have faced has been medical. I feel that this is partly responsible for why some intersex organizations have remained focused on medical issues as opposed to human rights.

However, the deeper reason is that few organizations besides Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia have possessed members who were accepting enough of their own intersex to claim that intersex not being treated equally was a human rights issue.

The dynamic is very similar to me as what happened in the early gay rights movement in the US, where socially conservative gays tried to distance themselves from drag queens, butches, and other non-gender-conforming queers – despite the fact that these were the very queers bold enough to initiate the Stonewall riots which started the gay civil rights movement here.

These socially conservative gays tried to ban drag queens and others from Pride parades and other visible events in order to present a ‘respectable’ – i.e. straight – image of homosexuality to the homophobic opposition.

Despite their activism, they still felt that there was something wrong with gays that challenged the mainstream more than they did, and did not fight to protect their human right to expression.

I have seen this a lot within certain intersex organizations that claim to want to help intersex people. They do it with the assumption that there is something wrong with us. One group even talks about “finding the cure.”

Similarly to the conservative gays who would say, “I’m not a sissy, I just sleep with men,” they say things like “This is not about gender, we just have this or that medical condition” (or even worse, disorder of sex development).

This approach is not only prejudiced but bound to fail because it fails to address the fact that you cannot escape discrimination/social inequality by trying to fit yourself into your oppressors’ ideals.

As anyone who studies or contemplates civil rights advancements knows, this does not work.

There are all sorts of examples of people who have tried this approach – for example women in the early women’s movement who, in order to gain access to male jobs/economic power, tried to join the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ by distancing themselves from other women in the workplace and never promoting them, much less supporting their issues – maternity leave, equal pay and so on.

These types were also found within the black community in the US and were called ‘Uncle Toms.’ You can only gain equal rights as a community when you are valued equally with your differences and unique qualities intact.

Some intersex people and organizations have and still are attempting to fit into the norm by distancing themselves from the fact that the discrimination we face is – similarly to the LGBT community’s – a human rights issue predicated mainly by homophobia and non-traditional genderphobia.

They forget that whether or not they consider there to be anything different about their gender, most people who find out they are intersex (or whatever they want to call themselves) will assume there is something different about their gender.

So why waste time avoiding that? I’ve always thought it’s more effective to confront prejudice head on, and this has been shown to be true in other communities.

Today, I feel that the movement for intersex civil rights is gaining momentum, and I find it very exciting.

I think enough of us have been coming out, and enough has subsequently been written and filmed about us with our own perspectives taken into account, that people are starting to not only know that we exist, but also to question why we have been treated the way we have.

I think many believe that the way the medical establishment and others have treated us is unethical and also absurd in its denial of the simple truth that biological sex is not simply ‘male’ or ‘female.’

As more and more people become aware of this, it becomes clearer and clearer that our right to self-determination is a human rights issue. As one heterosexual non-intersex male friend whom I sent the International Olympic Committee (IOC) petition to recently said about signing it, “It’s a no-brainer.”

I believe that within five years the entire world will be aware of the intersex population, and that we will be openly regarded as just another of the many minorities within the human species.

Like other minorities, we will most likely still face prejudice from some, but I know that acceptance of our community will have increased, and will continue to be increasing, as it is right now.

Hida (pronounced ‘Heeda’) Viloria is an intersex activist and writer committed to educating the public about intersexuality. She has written about the topic for CNN.com, and spoken extensively in the media, including appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

She has also lectured on intersexuality at numerous institutions such as U.C. Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State University. In May, 2004, Hida spoke before the San Francisco Human Rights Commission urging them to pass legislation to ban surgical alteration of intersex infants. It was the first public hearing held on intersex issues in the United States.

She holds a B.A. in Gender and Sexuality from the University of California at Berkeley, and, after attending U.C. Hastings College of the Law, turned her attention to writing. She has performed her work at events including the ForWord Girls Spoken Word Festival, the National Queer Arts Festival, and the Spring Scream Music Festival.

For more information on Hida, visit her website. Hida is a member of Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia where this article was first published.

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