Intersex & Ignorance

baby-meme03Today, October 26th, is Intersex Awareness Day. The UN has launched its Intersex Awareness Campaign. But on ABC TVs Q & A this week an American ‘expert’ displayed total Intersex Ignorance.

Christine Dolan is described as a broadcast and print investigative journalist, photographer, author, and recognized as one of the most seasoned investigators of human trafficking in the world.

A trawl of the internet yields little. She has written a book, out of which she has parlayed an international speaking career. She was once Political Director at CNN, when it was a tiny cable news show and before it became an international satellite news service. She founded something called “Children in Slavery – The 21st Century Global Campaign”, but the entry on the UN ECOSOC Civil Society Network database shows the organisation has contributed no content, participated in no conferences, organised no conferences or meetings, made no statements, and submitted no quadrennial reports.

On Q&A Dolan was talking about people who do not believe in or recognise national borders, when she suddenly segued into this bizarre outburst:

I saw one of your shows here and they were talking about same-sex marriage in Australia. Well, we have same-sex marriage – it went up to the Supreme Court, as everybody knows – but now we have morphed into a conversation in the States about no gender.

I am neither a female nor am I a male, OK? That’s a conversation you have to have. Is that where we’re going? Our Tsar of the LGBT is now LGBTI. Now, that’s not speculation. He was appointed by Obama at State Department and it changed from LGBT to LGBTI.

I had to literally ask somebody, “What does ‘I’ stand for?” And then when they told me, I said, “How does that work?” How does that work? How does that confusion work? OK?

A startled Tony Jones immediately changed the subject, moving on to another question. Not a single person on the panel pulled said anything. OK it was only a passing out-of-context remark, but it deserved to be corrected.

“Their bodies don’t comply with typical definitions of male or female.” They are born intersex. There is no question that intersex could possibly be a matter of choice, or feelings, or beliefs, or any of the other objections people raise when people talk about being born lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. They are born as they are. That is “how that works.” For more information, check out Organisation Intersex International.

America seems to be particularly ignorant on intersex matters: it is routine for US doctors to pressure parents of intersex newborns into “corrective” surgery, which can be disastrous for that child later in life. Their genitals may have been ‘corrected’ to approximate to those of one gender, but they grow up to identify with the other, for example. This happens in Australia too.

The otherwise excellent US petition and campaign organisation, AllOut refuses to add the I to the common acronym, on the grounds that their “corporate style” is “LGBT”.

Part of the argument is that intersex are such a tiny minority they are somehow less important. Even if that were a defensible attitude, it’s not exactly true:


This omission has serious consequences. Because, for example, since John Howard amended the marriage act to limit marriage to a man and a woman, intersex people cannot marry, and any marriages they do contract may be annulled, even if they identify as “man’ or “woman” and have undergone surgery to confirm their choice. We wrote about this here, and there is more on the OII website here.

Intersex was not included in the 2012 Anti-Discrimination Consolidation Bill, and George Brandis’s initial draft for an equal marriage bill referred only to same-sex couples, omitting those who belong to both sexes and neither.

We need to stop leaving intersex people behind: and we need to educate our American cousins, too. Not to mention our national broadcaster.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)