26th October is the Intersex Awareness Day; this is an internationally observed awareness day designed to highlight human rights issues faced by intersex people. This year the day was marked with the message of #FreeToBeMe.
The Day is an international day of grass-roots action to end shame, secrecy and unwanted genital cosmetic surgeries on intersex children. The day also provides an opportunity for reflection and political action. Between October 26th and November 8th, organizations bring attention to the challenges intersex individuals face, culminating in the Intersex Day of Remembrance on the birthday of Herculine Barbin, also sometimes known as Intersex Solidarity Day.
A person who is intersex is someone who is neither 100% male or female; it is time we stop normalizing genital surgery on intersex infants or children since humans are not only XY and XX we are also XYY,XXYY, XX/YY,XXXY…
Interesting Facts about intersex persons:
Fact 1: Intersex is not new it has been around since the beginning of human existence.
Fact 2: Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics, and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fact 3: Intersex persons are often subjected to discrimination and abuse if it becomes known that they are intersex, or if they are perceived not to conform to gender norms.
Myths about intersex persons:
- Intersexuality is as a result of witchcraft or a curse.
- Navaho – a Native American people of the Southwestern United States believed intersexual to be the supernaturally designated custodians of wealth, and any family with an intersex child born to it has its future wealth and success assured.
It’s time we talk about it.
It’s neither a boy nor a girl; 9months of pregnancy, 12 hours of labor later, the mother wants to hold their bundle of joy, she wants to name them after their favorite celebrity icon (whose name half her relatives will pronounce wrong), and she is dying to hear the doctor announce their sex. The doctor looks puzzled he stammers and says “its fine we can fix this.”
Intersex persons could have one of the following conditions; External genitals that cannot be easily classified as male or female, Incomplete or unusual development of the internal reproductive organs, Inconsistency between the external genitals and the internal reproductive organs, abnormalities of the sex chromosomes, abnormal development of the testes or ovaries, Over- or underproduction of sex-related hormones Inability of the body to respond normally to sex-related hormones.
Non-binary in this article will be implying a person whose sex organs are not solely identified to be male or female.
When an intersex baby is born, abnormality, disorder, curse, problem, fix it! Are all words that are thrown around from the outset of their life. In the case of Alex Omondi, (not the real name) the parents could not afford to “fix” the situation at birth, they therefore chose to raise and socialize him to be male since a son is culturally the preferred sex.
Alex hit puberty and began experiencing misplaced features, far from what learned in science class; Alex’s voice was sharp, hips were broad, and had what appeared to be breasts. This caused a lot of ridicule and bullying. The parents were desperate to ease Alex’s embarrassment and decided visit a herbalist to help “cure” the condition. Inevitably the treatments failed. A boy’s name was as close as to being male as Alex ever got.
At 25 Alex attempted to marry, but the law did not recognize the marriage. Basically the law does not prohibit an intersex person to marry but it only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. Alex’s physiology would not permit them to consummate the marriage as a male. Otherwise if Alex had corrective surgery and was now male then legally the marriage would have been recognized.
As a result of not having a birth certificate or national identity card, he could not enjoy citizenship rights, including the ability to register as a voter, obtain travel documents, acquire property and get employment. Alex felt alone, disillusioned and helpless and even became secluded. To get back at life for all the lemons thrown his way, Alex joined Gaza a notorious teenage gang in Nairobi with a record of criminal activities. 1 year later a robbery went wrong. Alex was arrested and charged with the offence of robbery with violence. Alex was tried, convicted and sentenced to death .later Alex was committed to a maximum prison alongside male death row convicts, whom he shared cells and facilities with. Alex reported to have been was exposed to abuse, mockery, ridicule, and inhuman treatment, as well as sexual molestation by the other inmates.
As a result Alex sued the government for being discriminated against and disadvantaged socially as a consequence of the failure of his legal recognition as an intersex person. Hon. H.M Okwengu J , Hon. G. Dulu J and Hon. R. N Sitati J, sitting at a High Court in Milimani where the petition was heard dismissed the petition and granted the petitioner Kshs. 500,000/- for violation of the petitioners right to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment they further ordered that in view of the ambiguity surrounding the sex of the petitioner the order for the petitioner to be held in separate and exclusive accommodation from other male convicts would remain in force. This ruling indicated that the society was not ready for a third gender. The high court suggested corrective surgery to conform to either male or female.
We all have an emotional need be to accepted by a group whether it is family, friends, co-workers, a religion, or gender, people tend to have an ‘inherent’ desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. When one walks into a room it’s not their religion, race or tribe that we first notice but whether they are male or female. Sex and gender issues are that basic in our lives. The case of Alex may be unique to him and most of us may not relate after all we consider ourselves normal.
The society is basically you and I and a majority people who in this case are “normal” and belong to the sex male or female. We are too uncomfortable to accept those that do not belong. We often throw around words like abnormal which fuels stigma and shame about an individual’s ‘body. Our laws blind to protect and even suggest surgery to make fix “them”.
About corrective surgery, this should be discussed in length. But if you cringe each time you hear the word FGM. Then you will need to brace yourself for what is coming up!
On Intersex Awareness Day, Kituo reaffirms our strong commitment to promoting a society where all persons can freely and equally express themselves with dignity, regardless of sex characteristics. When those most marginalized in society are afforded equal protection and opportunity, global security and stability are strengthened.
Increased recognition, understanding and awareness of intersex persons and their human rights strengthens democracy for all.
FMP- Kituo Cha Sheria.