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UN 2004 - NGO statement: intersexuality

in ARGENTINA, 27/05/2004

For intersex persons, mutilation creates a permanent status of human rights violation and inhumanity

Speech given by Mauro Cabral / Argentina.

Intersexuality and Human Rights (Item 10, Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights).

This Commission will hear a great deal about discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I want to tell you a story of how prejudices about how bodies should be sexed or gendered can lead to the surgical mutilation of children.

The purpose of my speech is to introduce the issue of intersexuality in the context of the right to health. Intersexuality is an umbrella term, describing a wide variety of situations in which a person’s genitals do not correspond with current social, cultural and political stereotypes. For Western medicine, we are
persons with ambiguous, indefinite, deformed or pathological genitalia. For the international intersex people’s movement and its allies in the fields of theory and human rights, intersex people are those whose genitals differ from masculine or feminine stereotypes, without such variance in genital appearance meaning an inherit deformation or pathology.

Different studies carried by experts around the world establish that at least one every 2,000 or 2,500 people is born with genitalia that differs from the stereotypes either by their appearance or functionality. Many of those people will be subjected to surgery aimed at cosmetically normalizing and correcting their genitalia, very soon after they are born, during childhood and even during adolescence. It is needed to say, from the very beginning, that those surgical interventions are medically superfluous and bodily mutilating.

According to current medical standards for treatment, girls born with clitoris that are larger than the feminine genital stereotype are subjected to normalizing clithoridectomies. Boys whose penis are smaller than the masculine genital stereotype are subjected to surgery, too often to turn them into girls, because their bodies contradict stereotypes
about masculine genitalia.

In general, intersex people are not told about the surgeries performed on us during our early childhood, or we receive misleading information about it. We do not often have access to our medical records: they are hidden or destroyed. These mutilating surgeries, aimed at transforming intersex bodies into culturally acceptable ones, violate our autonomy of decision as well as our bodily integrity. Intersex people have no access to informed consent before interventions that
decide not only about our legal gender but also about the shape of our bodies and the sensitivity of our flesh. Medical secrecy also violates our right to identity, to our personal history and to our status as subjects entitled to all human rights, protagonists and not victims of our own history. Genital mutilation
of intersex children damages genital sensitivity in irreversible ways; it causes post-surgical trauma, and the internalization of brutal prejudices denying or stigmatizing the diversity that in reality human bodies show.

In the current medical “treatment” for intersexuality, discrimination based on gender identity and expression meets discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Sexism meets homophobia.
The difference in genitalia cannot justify, under any pretext whatsoever, ethical and political hierarchies: cannot justify mutilation, because it never normalizes but does the opposite. For us, mutilation creates a permanent status of human rights violation and inhumanity.

In the light of what the right to health means, we advocate a review of medical practices around intersexuality and the adoption of concrete measures to eliminate genital mutilation of intersex children.

Mauro Cabral / Argentina
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