For intersex advocate CJ, it’s time for the I in LGBTQI+ to become visible.
CJ is 69 years old, she’s proudly intersex and is the South Australian and Northern Territory representative for Intersex Peer Support Australia (IPSA). CJ is passionate about increasing awareness and providing a voice for the Intersex community.
Intersex people, according to Intersex Human Rights Australia, are born with physical sex characteristics that don’t fit the medical norms for female or male bodies.
CJ was born with XY chromosomes – a genetic characteristic of the male sex – but her body was unable to respond to androgen male sex hormones. This is called Complete Androgen Sensitivity Syndrome, and is one of around 40 intersex variations.
“A lot of people don't really understand what intersex means. But we make up about 2% of the population, we’re as common as people with red hair.”
“Being an intersex person can be lonely because we are a spread-out, sparse mob. We don't stick our heads up often because we are taught to have shame about who we are.”
“I feel it’s part of my legacy as an intersex elder, to try and contribute and pass on what I've learned and talk to people.”
“Telling the world about your pink squishy bits is not easy, but if we don't talk about it things won't change, attitudes won't change.”
CJ discovered she was intersex by pure accident, and after doctors had already medically intervened without her knowledge.
“I had joined an amateur Athletic Club because I was a fast runner, I wanted to be Australia’s next Betty Cuthbert. With all the training I developed a double inguinal hernia.”
What she didn’t know at the time was she had an intersex variation where she had undescended testes. It was when she went to the hospital to get the hernia fixed, that doctors discovered this and removed them in secret.
“My sex organs, that I owned, were taken away. I'll never forget, the surgeon came in and he tapped me on the hand and said, ‘we found that your ovaries were diseased and so we removed them and sadly you won't be able to have children.’ And then they sent me on my way.”
It wasn’t until years later that CJ discovered the truth. After becoming engaged she was told she would need to visit a plastic surgeon as they may need to alter her vagina to prepare her for marriage.
“So I went to the plastic surgeon and the report from three years prior is on the table upside down. The plastic surgeon left the room at one point and I’m sitting there, reading upside down, finding out exactly what happened to me.”
Back then, in the ‘70s, the term intersex wasn’t used let alone discussed. There was no education or understanding which left CJ feeling alone and isolated.
“We were told to be quiet about it, parents were told not to tell their children about it so it was shoved away and that's where all the shame comes from.”
“I didn't meet another intersex person until I was in my mid 40s. So I wandered the universe for 30 years thinking I was the only person like me.”
As time has moved on, visibility for intersex people has grown, leading to more education and awareness.
“The Internet and certainly social media has changed a lot of things for intersex people. Young people today who are intersex, and their parents in particular, do have access to more information. They can be better advised, be better equipped and access support groups like IPSA.”
“The intersex community experience is similar to other aspects of the LGBTQ+ rainbow. We strive for an acceptance of the difference, of not assuming just because somebody looks a particular way, that they are what they appear to be.”
“It's time for intersex people to stand up, be counted, be recognised and be proud, not ashamed, to be intersex.”
It’s this drive for visibility that led CJ, along with organisations and independent advocates from across Australia and New Zealand, to draft the Darlington Statement.
“The Darlington Statement is a joint consensus statement that spells out how intersex people want to be viewed, treated and considered.”
“Even today, non-consentual surgeries like mine are still performed on newborns, infants and young adults. That's something that we want to change. We have to stop thinking that intersex people are somehow abnormal.”
“If a baby or child can eat, breathe and poo but they've got some differences, leave them alone until they are of an age where they and their parents can be better informed and are better able to make life changing decisions.”
“We'd also like to see a bigger share of the funding that's available within the rainbow community so that we can get more active. Much more needs to happen to change things.”
CJ is passionate about being intersex and changing things for intersex people in the future.
“If there is anybody out there that knows that they are intersex or is a parent of an intersex person, please reach out to Intersex Peer Support Australia. We’re here, we’re the people who have done the hard yards and are here to help and support.”
“Don't be afraid. I was very afraid 30 years ago when I went along to my first get-together but I found another whole family, my intersex family, and my life changed.”
“This Mardi Gras’ theme is rise, and I rise for intersex rights and the Darlington Statement."