The Intersex Day of Remembrance, also known as Intersex Solidarity Day, is observed on November 8th, the birthday of Herculine Barbin. As the observance’s founder Gina Wilson, former president and founder of OII Australia and pioneering crusader for intersex human rights, elaborated in the Star Observer in 2011, Barbin is the earliest recorded intersex person to have been subjected to the ongoing, “plague on intersex — the process of normalisation and binary assignments according to external appearances irrespective of internal self-knowledge and factual certainty that there is more to sex than a simple binary.”
As outlined by Herculine herself in the first known intersex biography (published, post-mortem, by Michel Foucault in Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite), Barbin was assigned and raised female, and identified as such. She grew up in a convent where she fell in love with her best friend, and during their teen years their friendship blossomed–secretly, because of the severely homophobic era and environment they were living in– into a beautiful, loving romantic and sexual relationship. Tragically, however, Herculine was discovered to be intersex during a doctor’s visit, and was subsequently subjected to numerous invasive medical exams, tried for gender fraud, and ultimately reassigned male by the court, the psychological impact of which led to her early death months later.
Sadly, today, one need only google the names Caster Semenya, Pinki Pramanik, Dutee Chand, or Santhi Soundjarden to read about current day abuses similar to Barbin’s. Intersex people–particularly intersex women of color–are currently still being accused of gender fraud, put on trial, publicly questioned and humiliated, and/or pressured to endure “gender normalizing” medically unnecessary medical procedures. In addition, intersex adults are also vulnerable to violence and even murder, as witnessed in a 2015 case in Kenya.
Negative attitudes against intersex people, aka Inter phobia, is still so pervasive that even intersex babies sometimes experience extreme violence. As Julius Kaggwa, executive director of SIPD Uganda, an organisation that advocates for intersex rights, has shared, “Our work starts in the delivery ward where children are mutilated or their lives are terminated.” The mother may be reviled by the community: “So the mother will kill that child to avoid the stigma.”
Just earlier this year, the case of a father who was imprisoned after attempting to kill his intersex baby three times made headlines. The father was reported to have told his wife, “He is neither a true man nor a true woman and is infertile. What is the use of keeping him alive?”
He added that he felt desperate as he had no money to “treat” the child, referring to the practice of nonconsensual, medically unnecessary “gender normalizing” surgeries that intersex infants and minors are routinely subjected to in first world nations such as the U.S. The practice has been likened to Female Genital Mutilation, poses the additional, irreversible dangers of incorrect sex reassignment and involuntary sterilization, and has been found to be so harmful that the UN and other bodies have called on all nations to outlaw it. Currently, however, only two nations, Malta and Chile, have done so, and medical practitioners in the US and elsewhere continue to recommend it to parents.
Today, the intersex community memorializes Barbin and all those who have been maimed, murdered or forced to take their own lives as a result of inter phobia, and we bring attention to the continued violence, obfuscation and human rights abuses endured by the intersex community. As our comrades in the LGBTQIA community and the fight against AIDS aptly stated decades ago, “Silence = Death”, and we acknowledge this to be so. Thus, we call on all intersex people and our allies to shed light on this situation in some way today, perhaps by sharing this post, and we thank you, in advance, for doing so.
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