A few days ago, BBC aired one of the best documentaries on intersex or DSD (Disorders of Sexual Development) I’ve seen. Though not intersex myself, I’m invested in the cause for awareness and changing legislation after researching different aspects of DSDs for my novel.
Sex, like gender identity, is not a false dichotomy. It’s not XX or XY. A person can be X or XXY. Someone you would look at and swear is female and would identify as such might actually be genetically XY, and vice versa. There are a variety of DSDs that are a lot more common than one would think. As stated in the documentary, in a city the size of New York City, as many as 100,000 people could have DSD, ranging from minor hypospadias to 5-alpha reductase deficiency or androgen insensitivity syndrome.
Yet even though it’s more common that one would think, few people appear to know about it. Can you name an openly intersex celebrity, for instance?
The documentary was very well made and touching. I found myself tearing up several times while watching it. For many people born in the 1960s with DSD, surgery was the most common solution, even if the ambiguous genitalia functioned just fine. Parents were told that this surgery–which sometimes, due to complications, could become as many as twenty surgeries–was the best hope for their child to have a normal future. And so many parents agreed. Some call this gender mutilation, and several children were left essentially castrated, numbed and with health complications. Infant surgeries still happen today, though on the whole on a lesser basis, and I am against it unless there is a pressing medical need. It is not the parents’ body. It is not the doctor’s body. It’s the baby’s body, and the baby’s choice once he or she can make it.
Though the documentary did not shy away from the difficulties those with DSDs, overall it was hopeful. Their DSDs do not rule their lives; rather, it is a facet of who they are. It was wonderful for them to bravely share their different stories.
I could go on and on about this for ages. Please watch the documentary. It’s a good one.
If you’d like to learn more:
Intersex Society of North America (sadly defunct)
Youtube also has some diaries of intersex people and snippets of other documentaries.