Australia may be the world leader in Tobacco Control, however they've done one thing that serves as an example for the rest of the world, they've recognized hermaphrodites as a distinct entity.
Now it's no longer necessary to force parents to state male or female on birth certificates; now they can say it like it is... unknown. This removes the pressure from parents and doctors to force their infant through a series of tests that invariably leads to "corrective surgery", frequently before the child has reached its second birthday.
When I was young I knew an intersex child. I shall simply call him Bee. I knew how to swim and thoroughly enjoyed an hour or so at the public swimming baths in Edinburgh. Bee never wanted to join us because the showers and changing rooms offered no privacy. Bee didn't go the same school as the local boys, his parents paid for him to go to a private school and they arranged with the headmaster for Bee to be exempt from all forms of team sports, indeed anything that might let out his secret.
However Bee had another aspect to his life. He had to see doctors on a regular basis and there they had him strip and they looked at his privates and they made lots of decisions that Bee didn't understand. And they shot him full of injections and seemingly gave him pills, all designed to make his pecker grow the same as other boys.
They didn't do that, what they did was ram home to Bee that he was different, abnormal and needed "treatment" to make him well. Of course Bee wasn't any of those things, he was a perfectly healthy kid. But the side effects of all the rubbish they pumped into him was very weird, he seemed to revert into his own world, was hyper sensitive for days after each hospital visit and would burst into tears for no good reason. Then he went back to his normal self for a couple of weeks before it all started again.
Even at our very young age that's a tough one to handle. I was used to kids with different colour schemes, different religions and different rituals, and instinct told me that there was naff all I could do, so best avoid adding to his problems.
All this left Bee in a form of isolation that was pitiful. He had no friends and they were actively discouraged by his Mum. But I was different, I came from another country and was staying in the flat downstairs from Bee with my Mum and Granny in her tenement in Edinburgh. And my Dad would join us when he got home leave and we'd do that boring ritual of visiting all the relatives, then we'd all sod off for another three years. So it was okay for Bee to come round to our flat and hang out with me, providing he didn't tell anyone about his little secret.
But he did because beneath it all he was your standard issue curious kid. He wanted to compare peckers - and that was fine with me. I was quite used to being buck naked in changing rooms and this didn't faze me one bit. I'd never seen such an odd collection of body parts in one place, but he was Bee and the fact he had girl bits and tiny little boy bits down there was something I simply accepted. Where my father worked I knew a man with two thumbs, and a schoolmate had two pinkies. Those were far more interesting to me than what Bee had. He was just another one of my chums and that was that.
Of course I did ask my Mum why Bee was so underdeveloped and that was the first time I heard the word hermaphrodite. Some years later we got to talking about Bee and the way she saw it, his mother really didn't have much say in what happened to her child. She deferred to the medics and accepted their opinion that he was more boy than girl. The reason for all this pressure was because he had to be classified as one or the other on his birth certificate - and once that had been committed to paper, that was it.
For sure there was concern, bewilderment and much checking of family backgrounds. They found it ran in her side of the family, so they had to deal with that, plus the feelings of guilt that they'd passed it on to their child. They wanted several children, however Bee put a stop to that notion. No more, just in case they "had another one like Bee". Chances were they wouldn't, but that was a risk she would not take.
His "treatment" started when he was little more than an infant - she didn't have the opportunity to see what his preferences were. She christened him using a boy name, bought him boy clothes, got his hair cut like a boy, treated him like a boy, and bought him boy toys. And if he showed a preference for girl things (which he sometimes did) she'd nip that in the bud.
Interestingly it almost broke their marriage because Bee's dad was very relaxed indeed about his child and - correctly - highly skeptical of all those people in white coats. Seems my mother and most of the people in the know were equally laid back about Bee, leaving it down to his mother to carry all the responsibility, which she resented.
I met him many years later and it was the same androgynous face, except he had grown a beard. Bee would look something like this had he left alone, however they surgically removed his vagina.
Because of my experiences with Bee (and one other) I've always been aware of the possibility of hermaphroditism when dealing with some folk. It's a gut feeling rather than something tangible. Certainly they seem to be able to see things from a male and female perspective, though many normal people can do so as well. The difference is subtle; one does it instinctively, the rest of us do it because we can think outside ourselves.
Hermaphrodite with under-developed penis, scrotum and vagina
I've noticed a worrying parallel between the way some people in the medical profession justify their actions with hermaphrodites and the way they deal with smokers. It seems many would like to continue doing to intersex children as they have in the past. Define the sex as soon as possible, operate if needs be as soon as possible and force the parents to condition the child to be a boy or girl. They claim parents who do not agree to this are guilty of child abuse!
There are numerous examples of the failings of this approach and I am dismayed to see so called professionals constantly referring to the work of Dr John Money. He's the guy who stepped in when an operation was botched on a very young boy. They severed his penis, so Doc Money decided to correct the error by castrating the child, then creating a vagina. He then told the parents to treat him as a girl, which they did. The results were an unmitigated disaster that ruined his life to the point he committed suicide (1). Reading into what the medics do when left unaccountable is scandalous especially as many, Doc Money amongst them, operate without parental consent!
The problem with this approach is they make frequent mistakes in their early diagnosis - and there are hundreds who can bear testament to their botches. It's bad enough in the UK but way worse in the poorer parts of the world. In some areas the need is for a boy, because they're the pension plan. So boy it is. In other parts of the world it's far less expensive to simply remove an underdeveloped penis and treat them as girls.
In all cases it places a heavy burden on the parents, because they're forced into this conditioning business. They have no choice but to lie to their kids and they have to force them to behave like little girls or little boys when in reality the child is a hermaphrodite and is quite at ease with both sexes. It destroys the most crucial aspect of child/parent relationships - trust. And invariably the child will discover the truth, frequently when unwanted things happen, like body hair, lack of mammary development, or superfluous breasts and - worst of all - an attraction to the "same sex". That's when real anger can develop, a deep and abiding anger that in the very best case will be focused on the doctors responsible for their condition. Unfortunately, with others, it can be directed at their parents for allowing it to happen, for not protecting them, for lying to them and for denying them their birthright.
And this in turn has led to an Internet phenomenon where real hermaphrodites have taken to the web to state their case, which is emphatic. If the child has no difficulty urinating, then leave the decision to have or not have surgery until the child is able to make its own decision. In many cases - probably most - they'll chose to live with what nature gave them.
Ironically it's those hermaphrodites who have been mutilated by the medical profession who claim it's the doctors who are guilty of child abuse. Something I agree with 100%.
What may seen odd and vaguely erotic to the rest of us is perfectly normal to intersex people. A whole heap of utter garbage has been written about them, notably the possibility they can self inseminate! In reality many conditions carry a heightened risk of cancer and many are subjected to sexual abuse, frequently within their family group, as well as humiliation and ridicule by others if their secret is revealed.
We have had hermaphrodites in our midst since time began. It is not unique to humans, it can happen in any species and for the most part the individual is sterile or, as is the case with Bee, unable to achieve natural penetration. He can of course use a syringe and father a child, but your average monkey or chimpanzee finds the going pretty tough.
At the other extreme we have hermaphrodites who are non-developed males. The condition has a name - Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) - that's explained in great detail by Phoebe Hart who has the condition and also learned that agreeing to have surgery to remove her testes; a decision made at age 18 when not fully informed, can have profound side effects (2).
This may well be an issue with Caster Semenya - a South African runner (3) as well as Park Eun-seon, a female footballer in Korea (4). On the other hand Lady Gaga would seem to have an extremely rare condition that affects less than 1 in 100,000 children of Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (shown in the 2nd photo) (5).
The web is packed with very moving personal accounts and I've read many over the years, however I found that of Lynn Harris, with his mood swings and his inability to talk to his mother about his condition, to be very similar to what I observed with Bee (6).
The Intersex Society of North America (who admit their figures are likely to understate as many cases are not reported) estimates that intersex infants account for one in every 1,500 to 2,000 births, i.e about 2,600 a year in the USA alone (7). Some statistics:
In the UK they estimate about 450 babies are born with an intersex condition every year and as most of them will be operated on before they reach puberty, the number who reach adulthood is very small indeed.
Because there are so few of them and they don't have access to vast funding, it's been left to four AIS women to carry the torch on their behalf (8). It's an uphill struggle as the British establishment seems intent on retaining the either or M/F birth certificate which once completed is set in stone, even if the doctors admit they made an error. Big problem for people who want to marry, change their name, or adopt children.
So while the House of Lords can successfully reverse the democratic process and cross the Rubicon into private property by engineering a ban on smoking in cars with kids to "protect" children from their parents; when it comes to protecting intersex children from vested interests in the medical profession there's a virtual silence. And as there's no money, career progression or fame in it for an individual MP who might try for a private members bill, apathy prevails.
Fortunately events elsewhere in Europe may force change. The German Ethics Council conducted an impartial review of medical practice in Germany (9) and concluded that:
Many people who were subjected to a 'normalizing' operation in their childhood have later felt it to have been a mutilation and would never have agreed to it as adults.
They described the necessity of being entered in the registry as 'female' or 'male' as being an unwarranted intrusion upon personal rights and the right to equal treatment.
They recommended that the rules on birth certificates be changed to allow parents of intersex children to leave the gender blank. These were accepted and the law came into effect on 1 November 2013.
Of greater importance to intersex children elsewhere in Europe, is the child can opt to remain classified as intersex for life. German identity papers and passports will soon have an 'X' in the gender field.
Like it or not, Britain has been forced to accept the validity of Australian passports, where an X gender can include transgender individuals who no longer need to change their birth certificate. In time they'll have to do so with German passport holders and - hopefully - the whole issue can be brought up at an EU level and change forced upon our legislators to get out from under the current medieval system of misplaced deference to a loud, but largely self-preserving medical profession.
The greatest drawback of the British system is it's about removing rights and dumbing down children as well as their parents. It's never about empowerment. While we continue with this repugnant process in the UK, the Belgians have taken a completely different approach with their children. Certainly those who are terminally ill. There the children, their parents and those at the grass roots level won the argument. Even very young children are perfectly capable of making their own life or death decision based on best advice. Now there is no age limit to those who can request euthanasia in Belgium (10) and one reason for this is the willingness of their politicians to respond to overwhelming public support.
Again it's the British way to dumb that down by generalizing. It's not about all children, it's only about those who are terminally ill. Having spent time with several terminally ill children in recent years, they're far more mature than their normal counterparts and light years ahead of the pompous prats who claim to speak for them.
It's the same with intersex children. There's no fault whatsoever attributable to the child or its parents. Some intersex conditions are relatively minor, are not reported and can be lived with, or rectified with minimal surgical intervention. It's insulting to compare intersex children to a what a normal kid might understand at a given age. Again it's not about all children, or even all intersex children; only a very small percentage need time to decide what gender role best suits them and their body. That decision should be theirs and theirs alone.
That takes time and, as they discovered in Germany, some will elect to remain intersex for life. They have the absolute right to equal treatment and if all it takes is a change in legislation to allow for a box on the birth certificate to be left empty, then so be it. Either our lot get off their backsides and make it happen, or wait until the EU or the UN force them to do it. And the sooner the better.
(Parents must complete and register a birth certificate within 42 days of the birth of their child (11). It is an offense to make a false declaration on a birth certificate. There is no obligation to complete a birth certificate before the six week grace period and parents should not feel any pressure to do so. Do not declare a gender until you have seen at least two specialists and sought their advice. Do not allow anyone else to "pop in" a gender on your behalf. It is very difficult to rectify later. Openly record all conversations and note all names. Never agree to anything you do not fully understand. This is the most comprehensive list of support groups available to parents of intersex children (12)).