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Student speaks out about intersexuality

By Shannon O'Brien '15

January 30, 2014

Students filled the Days-Massolo Center on Friday, Jan. 24 to learn about intersexuality and hear one Hamilton student’s story of coming to terms with and understanding her intersex identity. The talk focused on explaining what it means to be intersex as well as the social implications of living under the gender binary present in our society.

The speaker began by defining the term “intersex” and debunking incorrect connotations of intersexuality. She explained that the term “hermaphrodite” actually describes a mythical creature and should not be used to describe human beings. Intersex indicates that a person has sex characteristics which do not identify that person as singularly male (xy) or female (xx). Sex characteristics for determining biological sex include the number of sex chromosomes, the type of gonads (ovaries or testicles), the type of sex hormones (androgens or estrogens) and the internal and external sexual organs. A person is defined as intersex when their sex characteristics do not fall entirely into either the “male” or “female” category.

However, the line that divides objectively determined categories of sex is becoming blurred. While gender is increasingly being viewed as a spectrum rather than a binary, sex is also beginning to be seen as something that transcends men and women. The speaker noted that a combination or variation of xx or xy chromosomes occurs every one in one hundred births. Intersexuality seems rare only because intersex people usually do not feel comfortable talking about their intersex identity. Furthermore, many intersex people have had operations performed on them as infants which remove certain organs, keeping them unaware of their intersexuality.

After giving an overview of intersexuality, the speaker gave an account of her own personal experiences. “My story begins at birth, like everyone’s does,” she explained. The speaker covered the journey of her nebulous perspective of intersexuality, from her confused childhood to her growing understanding of and comfortwith her intersex identity as a college student.

The honesty and openness of the speaker’s talk certainly resonated with the audience. One woman said to the speaker, “You are a beautiful person—inside and out,” and expressed how impressive and brave it was for her to speak. A round of applause followed the comment, and another person in the audience echoed her sentiment, asking, “What can we do to help support you?” The speaker said that spreading awareness is extremely important, as the discourse on intersexuality seems limited to the intersex community. Part of the public’s ignorance about intersexuality stems from the medical community’s stigmatization of intersex people.

The speaker encouraged audience members to take what they had learned through her speech and educate others. “Say something that you know about [being intersex] that you didn’t know before,” she told the audience. To learn more about intersexuality, look into the following resources and advocacy groups, as suggested by Friday’s speaker: Accord Alliance (http://www.accordalliance.org/), Advocates for Informed Choice (http://aiclegal.org), AIS/DSD Support Group (http://www.aisdsd.org/), Interface Project (http://www.interfaceproject.org/) and Inter/Act (http://inter-actyouth.tumblr.com/).

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