Many people around the world still do not know what being intersex means. Based on your personal experience, how would you describe it?
Hmm this is such a good question and its one that’s really hard to answer, for most of my life I did not even know I was an intersex person. I found out after my mother died and I was looking through some childhood documents she had kept. Finding out was both a shock as well as exciting. A shock because I had no idea that something so big and so important would have been hidden from me by my parents, two people I loved and trusted. It was also exciting because I thought finally! I am going to make sense of this nightmare! It took a long time, I can say, now, 20 years on I am okay with it, at peace with myself. Yes I was born with this different body, that everyone else was confused about and ashamed of? It’s my body, the one I was born with and for me the place I have come to it’s a body that’s not particularly male or female and yet it is also both of these normally ‘opposite’ things. In so many ways the actual physical body (it is different even after all the surgery) my brain its certainly a little bit ‘boy and a little bit girl’ I like that and enjoy the dance with all of who I am. I see myself as intersex as not being a man or a woman and today I like that. Getting to this place however has not been easy, I had swallowed all those childhood messages, I used to be ashamed, and scared I thought I was a freak. As my friend Jim Ambrose so wonderfully says NO BODY IS SHAMEFUL! Meeting other intersex people, sharing my story, laughing and crying with them has been the biggest factor in finding this new place of peace.
You are not only an intersex activist, but also a therapist. In both roles you meet and work with intersex people. In your experience, do intersex people face poverty? Why?
Again this is not a simple question to answer. I think intersex people all around the world have this huge issue to overcome and that is the fact that either explicitly or in more subtle ways that we are not okay. This then compounds with all kinds of things: family attitudes, social isolation, victimisation, and bullying, which can contribute to creating situations of poverty. There may be physical health issues, sometimes mental issues related to trauma caused by the medical treatment that is supposed to ‘fix’ us. Not all intersex people experience these things and I have worked with people who have experienced worse. Each person’s situation can be different. We share the common experiences of isolation and marginalisation, which often impact on one’s ability to earn an income, access healthcare and etc. Some people despite all these obstacles manage to thrive as only humans can sometimes, but my sense is that a greater number of people do not thrive, they struggle and do so with all the difficulties of people who are not fully part of the society they are living in.
Do you think poverty is a common issue amongst intersex people? Why?
When you are not part of society it is hard to thrive. Simple things like access to paid work, a safe place to live, appropriate medical care, are all compounded. We have so little data about how many people just exist in a very basic joyless way, how many young people simply give up, how many others are lost to mental un-wellness, drug and alcohol abuse…
In your opinion, what are the main challenges that intersex people living in poverty face?
They face the same things all poor people face with often the added stigma of being a person whom society has ‘rejected’.
How do you think intersex people could overcome such challenges? What kind of support do you think intersex people may need to step out of poverty?
Access to information! Knowing they are not alone and learning that they are not a ‘monster’. That they have, we have as much right as anyone else to live in this world with dignity and pride. Access to people who care, who have information and can work in a respectful way. Possibly access to safe medical care, people who can help assist the individual in a way that works for them. Any of us need that sense that we matter, we are important that we deserve everyone of us to be loved to be respected.
In your opinion, what is the highest priority in supporting of intersex people?
First we have to address the HUGE ignorance that exists about intersex people all over the world. I am sure intersex people are currently not even on most peoples radar as an at risk group!
Mani is an intersex human rights activist who founded ITANZ (Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand) in 1996. Mani is also a counsellor, a clinical supervisor, an educator, and a change agent. For more information on the life and work of Mani
Micro Rainbow is very grateful to Mani for having contributed to a conversation that we need to have so desperately, which is about educating and raising awareness of what being intersex means, the multiple levels of discrimination that intersex people often face and the impact of such ignorance and discrimination on their situations of poverty. We are committed to continue contributing to this conversation and to understand better how Micro Rainbow could support those intersex people living in poverty.
Help us in raising awareness of the challenges that intersex people face by liking and sharing this blog with your connections. Together we can support the work of many intersex activists like Mani, and make the world a better place for all of us, regardless of how our body looks like.