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This is why intersex people are fighting for their rights in the UK

This is why intersex people are fighting for their rights in the UK

Fee, Ela Xora, Lady C, Suz Temko, Julia Farmer and Joe Holliday fight against genital mutilation

The UK medical establishment routinely treats intersex people with cruelty and disrespect: yet public and politicians remain woefully unaware of this.

That was the key message put forward in the course of a public seminar at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge on Saturday night, intended to kick off a week of action on intersex rights.

Speakers, including socialite and I’m a Celebrity star, Lady Colin Campbell (better known as Lady C), and best-selling author Joe Holliday, gave accounts, often harrowing, of their treatment at the hands of so-called medical experts.

Lady C told how Doctors wrongly assigned her as male when she was born. When this mistake came to light in her early teens, her father preferred to rely on specialists – including the infamous John Money – who claimed that she could be forcibly socialized into masculinity, rather than endure the ‘scandal’ of publically admitting the earlier error.

She was entrusted to the care of psychologists who forcibly injected her with testosterone in an attempt to erase her ‘feminine feelings’. According to Lady C: ‘cruelty was a feature of their treatment’.

At 18, her father wrongly informed her that she had no right to assent to surgery: so she waited until she was 21 when, with help from her grandmother, she paid for the relatively minor surgery that would correct her genitals, and from that point onward has lived her life to the full, as a woman.

While reluctant to put herself forward as a spokesperson for intersex people – she describes herself as a ‘flag-carrier by default’ – she is adamant that no-one under the age of 18 should ever be forced to undergo surgery or take hormones against their will – and where there is any doubt, then non-urgent treatment should wait until they are of an age to give full and informed consent.


Suz Temko, also known as XYSuz, spoke of problems she had had with the medical establishment. She was unaware of her own intersex biology until the age of 15 when tests following successful treatment of a rare early-onset cancer revealed her chromosomes to be XY.

According to the binary model of sex, XX chromosomes give an individual a female body: XY chromosomes makes them male.

This was not, initially, an issue for her. However, she told how a six-year nightmare of depression was kicked off when she claimed on her health insurance after a bout of malaria. On learning that her chromosomes were XY, the medical adviser she spoke with was rude, intrusive, and informed her that she was simply wrong about being a woman.

From that point on, she said: ‘almost every medical person I dealt with sought to pathologize me. There was no consistent line. No consistent explanation.;

She went on: ‘for me, the issue was not the fact that I was intersex, but the response to that fact. It was the attitude of the medical establishment that did harm – and had I not discovered the existence of other intersex activists who were beginning to stand up for themselves and make an impact, I don’t know what would have become of me.’

An even more harrowing story was told by Joe Holliday, the first intersex activist to challenge the UK government legally over his gender status. Joe was initially registered as male, re-categorised as female and then, later, returned to male after the failure of long-term attempts to push him to the female side, including therapy, hormones and non-consensual castration.

For much of his life, Joe explained, he had had difficulties with gender: yet medical specialists appeared unable to provide the answers. It was only after he obtained accidental access to his medical records that he discovered that surgeons had decided, shortly after his birth, to ‘rectify; his intersex status by re-assigning him to female.

This they did by operating to remove male gonads without informing Joe’s parents – and without their consent: and for many years after, this information was deliberately withheld from Joe and his family.

Joe, too, spoke about the depression and suicidal feelings he had experienced not because he was intersex, but because of the way he had been treated by society.

Another activist, Fee, said she had ‘botched’ surgery in 1998 and was left without reproductive organs. Other scans showed they did damage to her groin.

Ela Xora spoke briefly about her own decision to wear a mask in public to highlight the way that intersex people had historically been hidden from society, and of initiatives designed to raise the profile of their cause.

This included a collaboration with Cambridge academics to highlight how intersex had deep roots throughout history. and a work of art she intends to produce, for the museum of Classical Archaeology, based on the myth of Cybele, a feminised intersex deity once identified as a significant mother Goddess, based on images of Lady C.

Xora and Joe Holliday are also organising a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament to take place at 6 pm on Monday 7 March.

She said: ‘The days of hiding in the shadows are over. Tomorrow I will begin a hunger strike – and I intend to continue until the Government announce an intersex equality inquiry.’

Individuals interested in attending the demo can obtain further details on Facebook.