Before you were ever a boy or girl you were an “it.” “What is it,” was the first question women asked their obstetrician upon delivery, until, in 1956 after the advent of the Obstetric Ultrasound, they could see for themselves. While parents portend that a baby’s health is their primary concern, it is staggeringly only the second question they ask at a sonogram. Indeed, your sex was and remains the single most important factor of your identity.
One in every 1500 infants are born with ambiguous genitalia. Called androgynous, “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a newborn has reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male or female. For example, an infant might be born with the external genitalia of one sex, while having the reproductive anatomy of the other. Or, an infant may be born with genitals that are in-between the usual male and female types. A girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris or lack a vaginal opening, while a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or a scrotum that is divided like labia. In each and every case, the infant is born with Mosaic Genetics: where XX and XY chromosomes coexist in the same person.
Nature doesn’t prescribe sex. Humans do. Physicians, typically, take it upon themselves to decide how large a penis should be, or how small a clitoris is considered appropriate, and describe anything away from the norm as Intersex. Long and painful reconstructive surgeries are recommended for the infant that doesn’t fit neatly into one of the two socially acceptable categories leaving the child, adolescent, teenager and adult to wrestle with and reconcile that decision throughout their lifetime.
Moreover, Intersex isn’t just the plight of the newborn. More often it shows up in the teenager who fails to reach puberty, the adult seeking infertility treatment, and most commonly in the postmortem; where an autopsy reveals the characteristics of two sexes. Indeed, most people live and die with Intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing it.
Intersex may be the new frontier and next battle of civil rights, though an individual’s sexual identity should not be decided by a parent or physician alone. Its a realization that should be reached through self examination, the questioning of societal norms, and by debunking the myth that their are merely two genders when a kaleidoscope of variations actually exist. Perhaps one day we will no longer ask “what is it” but rather look for, honor, and celebrate “Who it is ...”