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With October serving as a month of reflection on queer history, it’s fitting there are multiple occasions to reflect on intersex history, people and struggles. Intersex Day of Awareness is today, Oct. 26, followed by Intersex Day of Solidarity (also known as Intersex Day of Remembrance) on Nov. 8. But what are these holidays, and why do we observe them now?
Intersex Day of Awareness Speaks Out Against Abuse
Intersex Day of Awareness seems to have been the first commemoration of intersex people — that is, individuals born with physical sexual characteristics that are between the usual male or female traits. Previously called “hermaphrodites,” intersex folks face stigma, discrimination and even abuse and death around the world, so the Day of Awareness was an effort to educate people about the realities of their lives.
The first day of awareness coincided with a political action alongside a meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Activists wished to participate in the conference, since intersex infants are often subjected to surgical interventions that as adults they would not have wanted forced on them.
The activists, however, were made to leave the conference by security guards. As a result, their only recourse was a move visible form of protest.
Intersex Day of Awareness Has Become an International Movement
Over the years, the observance has grown in international visibility and impact. In 2013, the Australian Senate recognized just prior to the event that forced sterilization of intersex people is an unethical practice. In 2014, Berlin Senators called for more civil rights for intersex people. And in 2016, the United Nations spoke out against medically abuse practices, such as doctors forcing patients to choose a physical gender.
“Because their bodies don’t comply with typical definitions of male or female, intersex children and adults are frequently subjected to forced sterilisation and irreversible surgery, and suffer discrimination in schools, workplaces and other settings,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
At the same time that Intersex Day of Awareness was growing in prominence, a Day of Remembrance was emerging as well. Starting around 2005, the Nov. 8 observance marks the birthday of an early pioneer, Herculine Barbin. Her memoirs from the 1800s shed light on the experience of intersex people long before the term even existed.
The latter holiday is more widely observed outside of the United States, though the two weeks between them are often referred to as the “14 days of intersex.”
Despite the advances in civil rights for many queer people, intersex individuals still face struggles around the world. Many countries offer few protections or do not allow intersex citizens the physical freedom to choose their gender; and many countries allow intersex people to forced into medically unnecessary treatment.
It’s difficult to say what path lies ahead for the intersex movement. In the past, intersex individuals have found a strong ally in the United States State Department. But with new leadership that is openly hostile to queer people, it’s likely that American governmental institutions will turn their backs on those who need help — or worse, attack them outright.
Let that be a reminder: The hostility still exhibited toward intersex individuals is itself evidence of why these days of awareness and solidarity are so important.
Photo by Jim Feng via iStock