Intersex: celebrating the beauty in difference




    Some children are born with gender variations that have previously been met with silence and stigma and often unnecessary surgery. Now there is growing awareness among medical professionals so that people can grow up in a way they want to, rather than conforming to gender stereotypes.
    At 13-years-old, Sean Saifa Wall was admitted to hospital with pain in his groin. He says that he was given very little information about what might be causing it, and doctors didn’t discuss different options for treatment with him. He was told that his testes had to be removed immediately.
    “I remember before surgery… I asked the nurse what was going on, and [she] was saying that I have these gonads that need to be removed. I’m 13 – I don’t know what gonads are.” The nurse told Saifa that it was because “they’re not good”. To Saifa it sounded logical: “If it’s not good and it’s in my body, it probably should be taken out.”
    But today he still doesn’t know what, if anything, was dangerous about keeping his testes or what was causing the pain. Not too long after the surgery, he remembers one conversation in particular: “The surgeon was talking about how he wanted to create a vagina. The way he described it… it sounded barbaric.” Saifa says, recalling that he was sat in the surgeon’s room in horror. “My mum was to my right… and I was probably turning green, and [she] looked at me and said, ‘Do you want to go through with this?’ ”
    Saifa immediately said no. “I remember the surgeon was saying, ‘We’re going to shave down the clitoris.’ And I was like, this all sounds painful and horrible. I think, in that second, that one moment, that was what spared me from genital surgery.”
    As a child growing up between New York and North Carolina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Saifa was at the cusp of a change in thinking about the medical management of intersex conditions in the US. He is one of seven living relatives with the same intersex condition. Three of these relatives identify as female, having undergone surgeries in childhood to remove their testes.
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