A message of healing and hope: a holistic, person-centered approach to intersex health
Curtis E. Hinkle, Founder of OII
27 April 2008
Medical treatment of intersex people has a long history of pathologizing, stigmatizing and mutilating anyone who does not have a body which is totally “female” or totally “male” according to the definitions currently in effect for those two categories. Medical approaches to intersex variations are based on a false dichotomy, the assumption that everyone “should” be either male or female even though nature has not created such a world. The treatments are based on other false assumptions:
That heterosexual intercourse and reproduction are the most important contributions of an individual, despite the fact that intelligence, compassion and ability to care for others are equally, if not more, important for the evolution of humankind
That the sex of an intersex child is a disorder itself which MUST be treated without any input from the child at all.
That concealment, shame and manipulation of body parts of an intersex person will benefit the child when in fact this approach leads to trauma, a shattered sense of self and further marginalization and stigma.
The medical approach focuses on parts of a person and defines the intersex child as a disparate combination of chromosomes, genitalia, hormones, gonads and internal reproductive anatomy. This is dehumanizing. The child is not welcomed into the world as a complete, totally intact, part of the whole tapestry of nature which is constantly evolving and moving towards diversity which promotes the continued development of human potential. Welcoming diversity and respecting the wholeness of both the individual and the natural world in which we live, breathe and have our being opens human consciousness to hope, respect and finding solutions to many problems which currently face humanity, not just intersex people, but all of us.
Instead of a dehumanizing approach which focuses on body parts, we could choose to focus on the wholeness of intersex children and see this as part of their potential for development (not a disorder of sex development) and future contributions to society. This would be a radical shift from the current medicalization of sex variations but the benefits to both the intersex child and humanity itself would be enormous. This would not only promote the health of intersex children. It would promote the healing of humankind in general.
The current medical protocols based on a false dichotomy and dehumanization of intersex children are part of a wider social problem – sexism. OII has been concerned about this issue from its beginning and several years ago OII published our declaration of fundamental principles:
Intersex is not a medical condition: intersex refers to those individuals born of “intermediate” sex between what is considered standard for male or female in our societies.
Contrary to what is often asserted, the various degrees of intersex are not innately an illness or deformity. They are simply variations of the human body similar to the length of the nose, the colour of eyes, etc.
We reject medical categories for the various degrees of intersex, which are in fact only different reference points on a natural continuum of anatomical and genetic variations.
We stress the whole person from infancy through adulthood and choose not to focus on an individual's genitalia. We are people, not genitals. As people, we have a right to our own genitalia and our own identity without interference, forced treatment or other coercion from legal and/or medical authorities.
The basic problems faced by the intersexed are socio-cultural in nature and not medical and are a result of the dogmatic fundamentalism inherent in the current binary construct of sex and gender. Some intersexed individuals are subjected to genital mutilation in childhood as a result of this totalitarian, sexist oppression. For this reason, we denounce all forms of sexism prevalent in our societies, which is principally directed against women, the intersexed, and other communities which challenge sex and gender norms.
To promote visibility and the recognition of our existence as a normal and natural part of humanity will benefit not only the intersexed but all people oppressed by the sexism which prevails in our societies.
OII chooses to focus on healing, not managing body parts and defining children as disordered or sick when they are in fact not sick. The word “healing” is derived from the Old English word “whole”. Society can choose to welcome the wholeness of each intersex child and open up a place for them by making it possible for each one to affirm their own true sex and sense of self. This is a person-centered approach to healing and wholeness, one that would be of benefit to society as a whole.
The two central concepts of OII’s person-centered approach to healing are
We can choose to welcome children as a gift which has been entrusted to our care, as an integral part of the potential for human development as a whole, not incomplete, undeveloped beings that we control and manipulate into images and abstractions that we feel they “should” be. We can choose to accept the wholeness and oneness of life as a constantly evolving and developmental process which is to be honored and work towards harmony and mutual cooperation, not domination and manipulation. Welcoming intersex children offers hope and healing to human understanding and development towards a model based on human rights and respect for the natural world we all share as one.
The choice is ours.