Being intersex isn’t the problem, but being persecuted is.
That was the sentiment expressed by the intersex individuals in the documentary “Intersexion,” which the UNC LGBTQ Center screened on Nov. 27.
The documentary, which was directed by Grant Lahood and presented by Mani Bruce Mitchell, was followed by a discussion session led by assistant director of the LGBTQ Center, April Callis.
The documentary screening was part of the UNC LGBTQ Center’s recognition of Intersex Awareness Day. Because Homecoming Week fell on Oct. 26, the internationally recognized Intersex Awareness Day, the UNC LGBTQ Center honored Intersex Awareness Day on Nov. 27.
Mariel Eaves, administrative support specialist at the UNC LGBTQ center, said the choice to honor Intersex Awareness Day on a different date was well-received and allowed intersex awareness to get the attention it deserves.
“The decision was made because there were no spots in the Pit available during Homecoming Week and we wanted to be as visible with intersex awareness as we were with other identities this year,” Eaves said.
So far this semester, the UNC LGBTQ Center has held events in the Pit for Bi Visibility Day, National Coming Out Day, Asexual Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience.
For Intersex Awareness Day, representatives from the LGBTQ Center set up a table draped with a rainbow flag in the Pit where they advertised the documentary event as well as passing out intersex pride buttons. According to Callis, 66 people visited the table to learn about intersex human rights.
“We want to make sure that we are very visible for this identity that sometimes gets overlooked,” Callis said.
In the Pit, people could take pictures with the intersex flag or color in intersex pride coloring pages. There was also a wheel of intersex trivia that allies could spin for a chance to win candy if they correctly answered a question.
One trivia question asked if intersex people were ever marked so on their birth certificates. The answer used to be no, but between last year’s Intersex Awareness Day and this year’s, a huge change occurred — now, “intersex” is a choice on birth certificates in California. Before, parents of intersex children often chose between male and female and were told to raise their child accordingly, as described in the documentary.
The discussion session that followed the screening touched on media representation for intersex people, which has largely been medicalized as in episodes of medical dramas where intersex individuals’ identities were treated like disorders.
The conversation turned to the legalities of performing surgery on intersex children. Malta banned surgery on intersex children in 2015, and Portugal followed suit this year. The UN has declared the surgery an act of torture. In the U.S., the practice is still legal and covered by insurance. Intersex people in the documentary described the constant medical attention, pain and shame they encountered as a result of these surgeries.
“I learned a lot more about that process of surgically assigning the sex of the baby,” said Larson Carter, a sophomore linguistics major who participated in the event. “I learned about how many different experiences there were.”
The documentary includes the story of one intersex person publishing an article in a science journal in order to connect with others and organize the first worldwide meeting of intersex people. They were able to share stories and find closure on their similar traumas as they faced a world convinced they should not exist.
Today, the internet provides much more access to people who feel alone and isolated. It has aided intersex people in connecting with each other and forming a community.
“You’re not going to necessarily go look for a community if you don’t know that there’s a community out there,” Callis said.
There is in fact a community out there for intersex people, and events like Intersex Awareness Day help them to find it.
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