Intersex people are very diverse. Like the rest of society, some of us are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or trans. But most of us are straight.
Most of us never experienced any gender confusion and are happy in the sex we’re raised. But many intersex people don’t learn they’re intersex until they reach adolescence. Only a small portion of intersex people are born with any obvious genital variations.
In my case I was born with a mostly female body but with internal testes and the typical male chromosome pattern. I was raised as a girl which I was mostly ok with.
Unfortunately, the doctors treating me at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne decided to reinforce the sex I was being raised through any surgical and hormonal means possible. This meant removing my healthy testes – and any chance of being a biological parent – when I was seven.
They also subjected me to many repeated genital examinations treating me like a freak.
This mistreatment had a huge negative impact on me that still impacts me today.
‘I felt like a freak’
Like many other intersex people, these repeated unnecessary examinations (often witnessed by many other doctors and students) made me feel ashamed of my body to the point of feeling like a freak and not worthy of relationships.
I felt very alone in the world.
The doctors controlled every aspect of my life in order to make me as stereotypically female as possible.
In addition to castration, they started me on female hormones when I was 11.
The commencement of the hormone treatment was calculated so that I would be as tall as my mother; an acceptable height for a woman. They calculated my natural height as an adult would be too tall for a woman, so my body was made to be only 5’2” tall instead of the 5’10” predicted.
Despite feeling so negatively about my body and self-worth, I have managed to have great relationships with wonderful people and a satisfying career.
I was previously in a long-term relationship with an awesome man with whom I fostered and raised several children, and am now married to a woman although my marriage to her is not yet legally recognised in Australia.
My career has been varied, exciting and humbling.
I have held positions with the Department of Defence and Australian Federal Police, have worked for an airline, and am now working in a company that does lots of work for airlines across the globe.
Work has resulted in me working in many disadvantaged countries and experiencing a variety of cultures. This has helped form who I am.
‘I am the world’s first openly intersex person elected to public office’
I was elected to the Hobsons Bay City Council in 2008, 2012 and 2016 as a Councillor, elected as Deputy Mayor in 2009 and 2010 and elected as Mayor in 2011.
Being openly intersex as a public official has some challenges but for the most part, the community are very accepting of me. Even if they don’t understand it fully and perhaps wonder whether I am female or male.
In my case, they are right either way.
Being openly intersex also impacts on my career but thankfully all my work colleagues have been very supportive and inclusive.
I am now 47 years old and am in a comfortable place in my life. I have a better appreciation of the way I was born, what was done to me without my consent, and who I am as a person.
Nature made me biologically mostly female but with male sex characteristics too. There is nothing wrong with that or anything to be ashamed of.
That is who and what I am.
Most intersex people are female or male. For me, I accept my sex is mostly female but with a twist of male as well.
If anyone should feel ashamed it’s the doctors that mistreated and abused me as a child, and those that still mistreat and abuse intersex children today.
Even today the Royal Children’s Hospital reduce the size of intersex girls’ clitorises without their consent and without any medical need.
Sex and gender are different
Sex is about biology and gender is about identity. Like most people, my gender is consistent with my sex.
I am very comfortable in women only places, and am also comfortable in men only spaces. Thankfully society is gradually getting more accustomed to people who do not fit old-fashioned stereotypes of what women and men should look like and how they should behave!
Hopefully in the near future, society will be more aware of intersex variations and people born with them. It’s wrong for doctors to medicalize us and conduct normalizing intervention without our consent.
Our bodies will be as accepted as beautiful natural variations of human kind.
Tony Briffa is a Co-executive Director of Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia and Vice-President of the AIS Support Group Australia