Sara Kelly Keenan is the first person in the United States to have an ‘intersex’ birth certificate.
The 55-year-old who was born genetically male with female genitalia and a mixed reproductive anatomy only found out about the truth about herself in 2009, at age 48.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Keenan said that she hopes that her coming out would help dispel the public’s misconceptions of intersex people, adding that misundestandings about intersexuality can lead to ‘life-altering and sometimes fatal consequences.’
For herself, growing up, Keenan was repeatedly told that she’s ‘100% girl’ by her doctors and her adoptive parents.
But at 16, she failed to hit puberty and grew much taller than the other girls. She was advised by her doctors to go on hormone replacement therapy, as well as a surgery to remove what were described to her as ‘ovaries that could become cancerous.’
It was only in 2009 when she discovered that the ‘cancerous ovaries’ were actually testicular tissue that could never develop.
Keenan’s father later confessed to her that the doctors had told him of the option of her ‘masculinising’ with hormones and a constructed penis when she was younger.
‘It never occurred to me that I was going to uncover a 30-year lie,’ Keenan told The Guardian. ‘It was really shocking to learn that I had been duped about my own body.’
She added: ‘It was a “duh” moment for me. I’ve always felt as masculine as I do feminine. I can’t really choose a gender. The world doesn’t know what gender I am.’
Last September, Keenan managed to change her formal gender from female to non-binary, and subsequently used the state court order to ask for a change on her birth certificate.
In December, New York City officials mailed her a new certificate with ‘intersex’ written under the ‘sex’ column.
This is believed to be the first case in the U.S.
Activists describe that Keenan’s story presents a rare opportunity to educate public officials, doctors and parents about the rights of intersex people, as well as babies.
‘Doctors have taken it upon themselves to literally carve bodies so they fit neatly into male and female body types,’ said David Strachan, a 69-year-old San Francisco resident who is intersex. ‘We’re not stereotypically male or female. There’s a whole spectrum in between.’
It is no secret that some physicians would encourage parents to opt for cosmetic procedures to ‘normalise’ their intersex babies, even though there’s no immediate medical need.
To force gender assignment surgery, which may include genital mutilation, on intersex babies is unethical, as those who are born intersex should have the right to make decisions concerning their own body and identity when they are older.
‘There’s nothing about intersex that needs to be shameful or hidden or surgically altered to fit into a gender binary world,’ Keenan said. ‘This is just another way human beings are created.’
Her husband and partner of over 30 years, David, said, ‘She doesn’t feel she’s supposed to be something she’s not. There’s a power in knowing who you really are.’