Here is a story from Mani Bruce Mitchell, the Executive Director of ITANZ, sharing some thoughts on the significance of Intersex Awareness Day 2015.
Intersex Awareness day this year is significant. As I sit writing these words my thoughts tumble backwards over the last 25 years. Back to when, I first tried to make sense of my own realty and discovered for the first time, the word intersex; because up until my doctor gave me a medical text book called ‘Intersex’ I had only the word my mother had used, ‘hermaphrodite”. Yes, that word exposes my age! An outmoded, anachronistic, term that is now considered offensive as well as inaccurate.
So that’s how I found out about me, a medical text book, highly pathological text, with many images of naked people standing, often against grids, eyes blacked out and ‘deformities’ described in great detail. Not a very healthy way to start the journey, yet it was profound because there were other people like me! All those shadowy, fear filled memories of my childhood started slowly to make sense.
Role forward some 8 years. I had come ‘out’ as an intersex person, I had started ITANZ. I was doing lots of media interviews. I was contacted by Rebecca Swan, an accomplished photographer in the last year of her fine arts degree. Rebecca was creating a series of photographs exploring gender; outside the traditional binary limits.
We entered into a journey that for me was to become transformative, an owning and a reclaiming of my stolen self/body. As we talked Rebecca was reminded of images by a French photographer, Ernest J. Bellocq. These photograph’s negatives had been scratched violating the image underneath. I could see the parallel with my violated and scratched self in Bellocq’s photographs. Rebecca and I worked all day. The experience of being photographed took me back to my birth, and I felt a reclaiming, a renaming, an owning of the body I had ‘lost’ to one that is mine today. Yes my body is scratched and violated. All that was done to me. I do not claim the violation or scratching as ‘mine’. Out of over 50 pictures we selected three. I got given the negatives and ‘scratched’ them myself.
The photographs are in a stunning book, ‘Assume Nothing’, which went on to be part of a nationally toured exhibition with an associated workshop delivered by the Human Rights Commission of NZ. This process was also documented by Kirsty McDonald in the film ‘Black and White’ which describes in detail the working collaboration between Rebecca and myself.
As Pidge so beautifully says:
“Intersex children are not things to be fixed, we are radiance to be revered.”
I found a place to stand with the body I was born with and the scratched body it became. Beneath the scratches there is a radiance that is pure, that is not damaged that is all of me.
I publically thank Rebecca for that extraordinary gift. I am sorry that the image used recently in the Intersex Awareness Day publicity, which was one part of a triptych from the ‘Assume Nothing’ publication, upset so many. Its meaning is so easily lost and will be triggering for many.
It is my wish that on this year’s Intersex Awareness Day we celebrate being intersex in all the glorious diversity that it is. That we say to the world that this barbaric concept of ‘fixing/normalizing’ needs to stop. That parents be supported to love their intersex children and consider what Dr Arlene Baratz so beautifully suggests:
“If there is a secret to raising healthy children, it is to accept and focus on what they are, instead of what they’re not. Changes happening everywhere challenge us. Reimagine intersex, not as disease, but as a way of living in the world. It is time for clinicians and families to develop a mutual understanding that “our diversity – the differences between our experiences and perspectives, as well as the shapes of our bodies – is something that we should celebrate and protect, in all its forms.”
Thank you, the International intersex family. All the intersex activists now and in the past who have worked so hard, including:
ILGA, John Keir, Grant Lahood, Rebecca Swan, Kirsty McDonald, NZ Human Rights Commission, all allies, Funders and Supporters, the ITANZ board (past and present), all my friends, and my ‘blood’ family – my parents Ruth and Douglas Laird (you two got a very rough hand, and I wish you had lived long enough to know there was a different ‘love’ visible, a new way).
With much hermish love,
Mani Bruce Mitchell.