When Sandrao was 5 years old living in Germany, they underwent a surgery that was meant to “normalize” their body. Sandrao described life after the surgery:
“I knew I was different, I thought I was some kind of monster. I was unable to develop a gender identity. I was pressed into the female role, I had to wear skirts, I had to have long hair. It was painful to have sex with men and I thought this was normal.”
Sandrao was born intersex, meaning they were born with sex characteristics that didn’t quite fit into society’s typical expectations of what makes a “girl” or a “boy.” Such definitions are strongly held across societies and they can have devastating consequences for those people whose bodies don’t quite fit in the sex or gender binary boxes.
Sandrao’s experience is not uncommon for intersex people; as both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented, intersex children are routinely subjected to invasive surgeries based not on medical necessity, but on harmful gender stereotypes. And for many intersex people, these surgeries not only violate their rights but also have lasting negative impacts on their health, sexual lives, psychological well-being, and gender identity.
What does it mean to be intersex?