Every October 26 marks Intersex Awareness Day, a day which brings attention to intersex people and the specific disparities that they face.
The Term Intersex
According to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), intersex is a broad term for “a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Some conditions are present at birth, while others may not arise until puberty.
In the medical community, these conditions are often called disorders or differences of sexual development (DSD), and have replaced the pejorative terms “berdache” and “hermaphrodite.”
Concealment-Centered Model vs. Patient-Centered Model
Before intersex activist groups like ISNA and interACT banded together to speak up, families and medical providers of intersex youth often followed what historian Alice Dreger calls the concealment-centered model, in which the genitalia were surgically or hormonally altered to look more traditionally male or female, and the patient was never told that the alteration happened.
Now, these groups advocate for a patient-centered model, which involves counseling parents to ease their concerns and only resorting to surgical procedures when it is absolutely medically necessary.
In the past years, UC Davis Health has incorporated education and awareness through our Improving OUTcomes conference and grand rounds. In 2016, we hosted pediatric surgeon Ilene Wong, MD and intersex advocate Emily Quinn for the Department of Urology Grand Rounds. You may know Wong as I.W. Gregorio, a self-described “practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night.” During her residency at Stanford, Wong met an intersex patient who would inspire her young adult novel, None of the Above. Quinn is a production coordinator for the Emmy Award-winning cartoon Adventure Time, has produced content for MTV and Vice, and is an advocated for the Intersex Community.
Check out our links below to learn more information on how you can advocate and improve patient care for intersex people:
- Your Beautiful Child: Information for Parents – Organisation Intersex International (OII)
- DSD Guidelines for Clinicians and Parents – Consortium on Disorders of Sexual Development
- Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis – Georgiann Davis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Nevada at Las Vegas
Shea Hazarian (pronouns: she/her/hers) is a Junior Specialist at the UC Davis School of Medicine and the Improving OUTcomes coordinator. She earned a BA in Sociology from the University of San Francisco and currently works to develop cultural competency initiatives at the UC Davis Health System.