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On Intersex People and the Right to Bodily Autonomy

Intersex people deserve bodily autonomy. Therefore, intersex people should have bodily autonomy.

Bodily autonomy is the “right of each human being, including children, to the right and self-determination over their own body. It considers an unconsented physical intrusion as a human rights violation.” It applies to several human rights movements such as disability rights, sexual and reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, etc. (Child Rights International Network). Intersex people have a right to bodily autonomy.

2021, the 2020 Olympic Games witnessed the unprecedented, racialized exclusion of intersex athletes, Caster Semenya, Aminatou Seyni, Francine Niyonsaba, Margaret Wambui, Christine Mboma, and Beatrice Masilingi. Of important note, most of these athletes do not refer to themselves as “intersex.” So why write about it then? Because, as with most dog-whistle political items, the whistle’s pitch is heard at higher levels than where the most are felt. While the exclusion of Black, African, women, intersex athletes is appalling for any number of reasons, the forces exacted against them on the world stage, racism, anti-blackness, sexism, cisnormativity, and ableism have teeth that regularly gnaw on those that have little to no access to that kind of publicity.

Our global consciousness of gender, sex, and sexuality is shifting daily, shifting like tectonic plates sliding in opposite directions. On the one hand, bodily autonomy is a conversation that is being had on a massive scale. On the other, nearly half of all women from 57 developing countries do not have bodily autonomy. Here in the U.S., we are imprisoning a Native woman in Oklahoma for having a miscarriage (GlobeNewswire).

From The Trevor Project Twitter. Art by grumpy.lemon

We know that women and girls have been constructed (via dominant power) as marginal beings on this planet. Believe the statistics if not me: only 55% of women worldwide have bodily autonomy regarding who they have sex with, saying yes or no to sex, reproductive choices, and healthcare choices (United Nations: We also know that intersex people are a marginalized population within marginalized populations, e.g., women, LGBT, communities of color, etc.

OK, OK, where am I going with this? Right here: watching the Olympic Games (on YouTube), I felt enraged, afraid, helpless, hurt, sad, and trounced upon when I saw who was excluded from the games. These were folks with whom I could identify, elite athletes working toward a goal of the Olympics. It made me curious about all the other intersex people worldwide who watched, or heard, or never even heard about these athletes but felt the impacts of these exclusions as they came down upon their lives. My guess is that is where being a co-conspirator could be most needed.

How are different cultures, governments, sets of knowledge defining what it means to be a “woman” and what it means to be a “man,” and how are all these entities speaking with or back to a generation that is pushing the boundaries on sex, gender, sexuality, and all the many varying identities therein? And you thought getting someone’s pronouns was tricky! More work for all of us to support and align with this fundamental human right that everyone should have, but today on Intersex Awareness Day, bodily autonomy for Intersex People.

written by Jen Self

This story is also published on Medium.

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