US: Desirability politics: sex and the intersex body

In the 5th grade, when I was aged 11 or 12, there was a moment where all the girls went into one room to watch a puberty film about periods and all the boys went into one room to watch a puberty film about erections. I’m sure that was incredibly awkward for everyone, so maybe I was lucky that I got to sit in the library and watch “Bill Nye the Science Guy” because my adoptive parents wouldn’t sign a waiver for me to see a puberty film. It wasn’t because they were very old fashioned (they were). It wasn’t because the films were probably outdated (they were). It wasn’t even because they wanted to teach me about ‘the birds and the bees’ themselves (they didn’t). No, it was because I was born with an intersex body.


Nobody was really sure what natural puberty would be like for me at that point. They also weren’t sure what kind of hormone replacement therapy and surgical procedures would be pressured upon me in future. The real reason my adoptive parents opted to exclude me from the puberty film was because they were (and still are) convinced that as an intersex-bodied person I didn’t need to learn about sex because… I would never be experiencing it.

We never discussed my uniquely intersex genitals beyond reminders to tell no-one about it. My body’s natural state was a shameful secret. It was understood that I would never date or be married. While it was never said aloud, I heard the message clearly: My body would not be desired by others. That could not be further from the truth.

My body was indeed desired, but not in ways that I desired. Throughout childhood, my body was desired by the medical community. I had no say about who saw my naked body, who touched or probed my genitals, or who took photos of me. Doctors were in a position of power and control over my body. Many intersex people have similar experiences with the medical community, as well as other abuses. That kind of shame, secrecy, and trauma is pervasive and can negatively impact people’s relationships with their body, their relationships with others, and their ability to use their body for intimacy with others.

I found healing and empowerment in my sexuality; which enabled me to reclaim power over my body.  Read more via Intersex Day