I-Team: What it means to be 'intersex'

LAS VEGAS - Born like a boy and a girl - the term used to be hermaphrodite but advocates say some in their community are uncomfortable with the word.

They prefer intersex.

Advocates say chances are you know someone who is intersex. That's how common it is, but it just might not be obvious.

Also, some people who are intersex may not even know it. There is increasing awareness about the topic and some even consider it a third sex.

"When I told my friends I was making a YouTube channel about intersex issues, they were like, 'wow, that takes a lot of balls,' and I was like, thanks, good thing I got 'em," said Emily Quinn, Emilord, YouTube video.

Born like both a boy and a girl. It's called intersex and a movement is gaining a voice on social media.

"I'm excited to let the world know I'm intersex. Intersex people are born with sex traits that don't really fit the typical definition of male or female," Odiele explains in the video.

Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele made the revelation earlier this year. It's estimated nearly 2 percent of the population is intersex; that's as common as being a redhead.

But trying to understand or explain the topic and the many variations of it can be challenging.

"I'm Pidgeon. I was born with an intersex condition known as androgen insensitivity syndrome," said Pidgeon Pagonis, YouTube video. "Androgen insentivity syndrome or AIS for short. This means the cells in my body aren't able to really hear testosterone when it's calling out. It says hello testosterone. I'm gonna make you into estrogen."

And that's how a baby may look like a boy or girl on the outside while inside may reveal the opposite.

"It doesn't change who I am, right? said Georgiann Davis, an intersex advocate who is a professor at UNLV and wrote Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis.  She is also the president of InterACT, an advocacy group for intersex youth.

As a child she appeared to be a girl she says until a stomach ache landed her in a medical clinic at 13 years old.

"That's when they discovered the secrets that my body held," she said.

She says an ultrasound revealed testes inside her body but no cervix, uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. Then testing revealed she had XY chromosomes - normally found in a man, but no one told her the truth.

"They told me I had pre-malignant ovaries and I had cancer that was forming and that I would need to have those cancerous ovaries out before I was 18," Davis said.

At 17, she remembers being wheeled into an operating room and told she'd never be able to have children.

"I had no way of knowing that really what they were removing were my testes.

Davis uncovered the truth years later and has become an intersex advocate. She's now 36 years old, divorced and identifies herself as gender queer, open to dating men but preferring women.

She says as a result of that surgery as a teen, she has to take hormones for the rest of her life and she is sterlized, disappointing she says since she would have liked to have had kids.

Today, she speaks out against gender reassignment surgeries performed on children. Her cause, she says, to protect intersex youth and when parents of children who are intersex connect with Davis, she says, mission accomplished.

"I felt like a boy in my head and in my heart and my family respected and supported me living as my true self," said one boy who asked not to be identified.

Some Nevada lawmakers are trying to ban gender reassignment surgeries performed on children. The bill has moved forward during the current legislative session, but it has not passed yet.

 


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