The intersex rights movement may still be in its beginnings compared to other movements but it is important Australia takes notice of body integrity and diversity, intersex activist and researcher Morgan Carpenter said at Swinburne’s Pride march this week.
Speaking at Swinburne’s Hawthorn Campus, the Intersex Human Rights Australia co-executive director and Justice of the Peace in NSW, defined intersex for the audience while touching on his own journey to understand his body and how it had been treated.
“We’re defined as being born with sex characteristics that do not fit medical, or often social, norms for male or female bodies,” he said.
Morgan was diagnosed in his 30s and after several interventions and surgeries, he says he was 'given the word intersex' which allowed him access to his peers. He says this journey is not uncommon, but these days intersex traits are more commonly found at birth or even prenatally.
“Often it is our families who know first, so it is our families that have to navigate a medical system that can be hostile to intersex bodies and in many ways we have as much in common with the disability movement as we do with the LGBT movement,” he said.
“Intersex people share with LGBT people an experience of stigmatisation due to our failure to meet traditional or conventional sex and gender norms. This could be due to our behaviours, our identities, or in the case of intersex people, due to our bodies.”
Fighting for recognition
Even now, many intersex children are subjected to human rights violations in early childhood, said Mr Carpenter.
He cited an example from a 2017 family court case in which an intersex and transgender child was put on testosterone to start puberty even though she had always identified as a girl.
“We’re still in this difficult place where medicine constructs intersex bodies as either female or male, where medicalisation is posed as a solution to discrimination and othering, and where society and the law identifies us as neither female nor male,” said Mr Carpenter.
“Neither the medical nor the legal model allow us to self-determine who we are and make decisions about who we are and how our lives should be lived.”
Mr Carpenter outlined how the intersex movement has been inspired by other human rights movements of the past decades, having learned ‘our bodies ourselves’ from the women’s movement, ‘nothing about us without us’ from the disability movement and the power of pride in the face of stigma from the LGBT movement.
He said the intersex movement is now campaigning to promote bodily integrity and recognition of diversity of identities.
“We are campaigning to promote bodily integrity, to promote recognition of the diversity of our identities and that action has barely begun because there is such limited recognition of who we are and the issues we face. “
Swinburne supports LGBTI community
Speaking at the Pride march, Swinburne Vice-Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson AO reinforced Swinburne’s commitment to the LGBTI community.
“At Swinburne, we respect the strength that difference creates. We are a diverse, inclusive and supportive community. Our Pride march is a true representation of our university’s values,” she said.
“We are here for our LGBTI students and staff. Through our policies, our principles and, most importantly, through our actions.”