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Searching for answers: What is intersex?

25 November 2014, 09:38 Jude Knowles

Nairobi - People only see two genders. Mostly, because that was we've all been taught since we were little.

So whenever we discuss topics such as transgenderism and intersex, people immediately become defensive. How can someone be born in the wrong body?

I have had to fight many of those battles personally.

Sometimes, however, we don’t need science to prove the existence of trans-women and men. Sometimes the answers can be found in the bodies of everyday men and women.

Countries such as Australia, Germany and India these days acknowledge the existence of a third gender or unknown gender.

"Intersex" is the medical term used to describe these people and it includes people commonly born with ambiguous genitalia.

Sometimes, however, the intersex condition is not externally visible, and people often find out late in life that they were born intersex – just like Rudy Alaniz.

Rudy was a US marine who fought in the Iraq war. His tour of duty was cut short due to a roadside bomb explosion injury. He was flown to Germany to receive emergency medical care and that was when Rudy received the shocking news. Although he appeared to be a male externally, he had underdeveloped ovaries. Rudy was intersex.

Steve Crecelius is another example. He was getting treatment for a kidney stone when tests revealed "his" female interior. Only for Steve this was a wonderful revelation since "he" had struggles with "his" gender identity since childhood. Steve became Stevie and today she is extremely happy that she was given an opportunity to live fully as her authentic self.

I can identify with Stevie's story. The only difference is that I decided to pursue gender reassignment after years of battling gender dysphoria.

The test performed on me also revealed that I was born intersex. The news made me ecstatic, because for the first time ever, in a world and society that did not accept me, I had a "valid reason" for wanting to change my gender.

Not all intersex conditions manifest physically like the examples above; sometimes it can actually be found in the human genes. One of the most extreme intersex conditions is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

Women with AIS also only find out at a later stage of their lives that they are intersex. Usually when seeking help because they don’t ovulate.

These women in fact have XY male chromosomes. The cells in the body of these women remain unresponsive to the male hormone, testosterone, and therefore they develop and look like normal women despite their genes.

Are these women now men because of their chromosomes? Certainly not! This is yet another example of how gender is not as simple to describe and understand as we used to think.

The cause of intersex conditions remains a mystery the modern medical profession.

Modern day psychiatry and medicine is far more adapt to deal with people with intersex conditions compared to a few years ago.

Many intersex people, just like me, received what was called "corrective surgery". Historically, doctors used various crude tests to decide to "make" an infant male or female. This, however, did result in some young children growing up with gender dysphoria.

Luckily doctors learned from the mistakes of the past and many of these children are allowed to grow up and develop their own unique identities these days. Some might opt for surgeries, but some embrace the fact that they are intersex and they are happy to live their lives just as they are.

For me, personally, the wrong decisions were made about my gender.  I had an internal battle and hatred of myself for more than thirty years. I've only discovered happiness in the last few years when I finally decided to embrace who I am and to go through my transition.

Finding out I was intersex, was the final piece to the puzzle I needed to understand who and what I was. When I wake up every morning, I smile and I feel positive, because I know who I am and I am pleased with the woman I have grown into.

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- Women24


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