On October 26, 1996, intersex activists from around the world gathered in Boston, Massachusetts, outside the annual American Academy of Pediatrics conference for the first public demonstration by intersex people in North America. Since then, this day has been observed annually to raise awareness of the issues intersex individuals face, promote understanding and acceptance, and advocate for their rights and access to respectful and supportive healthcare practices.
Intersex people are born with natural variations in their biological sex characteristics — simply put, their bodies fit outside the strict male/female binary. It’s important to recognize that intersex is a natural part of human diversity — not a medical condition to be changed or fixed. Medical practitioners’ failure to comprehend and recognize this has led to traumatizing situations for intersex individuals, especially minors who undergo surgeries without proper explanation of their characteristics. Over the years, the internet and social media helped break the silence surrounding intersex issues, allowing intersex individuals to connect, share their stories, and ultimately find solidarity.
Between 2021 and 2022, Rainbow Railroad saw a 78% increase in requests for help from intersex individuals. So far in 2023, more than 400 intersex individuals have reached out for assistance.
Intersex activist, psychotherapist, American jazz singer and actress, Eden Atwood, recounts her journey as an intersex individual: “I didn’t feel the same as everybody else. I was never told as a child and teenager why I didn’t get my period. When the results of my blood test arrived, it was met with silence by my mother and the medical practitioner at Mayo Clinic in the late 80’s.”
“Growing up intersex was isolating and painful because of how I was treated by the medical community. It damaged my view of myself. I already had a very difficult relationship with my mother and used to fake a variety of illnesses to get her attention. When I was told I had “precancerous twisted ovaries” I thought, oh god, I did this to myself. I faked so many illnesses I made myself deathly ill. Of course none of that was true. I was not deathly ill nor had I done anything to myself. Being intersex today is still isolating, but I no longer have shame about myself or my body. Nothing in my life has ever been so painful as carrying deep shame. Unraveling that shame has been profoundly difficult. Living my life without a secure attachment to either of my parents made my life very lonely and often very painful.”
Eden transformed her pain into purpose and started to support others in their own journey of embracing the whole of who they are which she describes as the source of their joy. Atwood and their former partner founded The Interface Project to share the lived experiences of intersex people as an act of love for themselves and their community.
Music is their outlet and singing their story empowers them to be present and show up as the forgiving and compassionate self that aspires to artivism: “I always believe in art and its power to educate, heal, incite and inspire. Music is always true north for me. It reminds me of who I am, where I have been, and keeps me moving in the direction of love.”
Eden continues to advocate for intersex rights and is currently part of a lawsuit in Montana, USA opposing Senate Bill 458 that seeks to legally define binary biological sex.
By observing Intersex Awareness Day, we continue to foster understanding, challenge harmful stereotypes, and promote respect for the diverse experiences and identities within the intersex community. It also celebrates the strength and resilience of intersex individuals and helps create a world that respects and values everyone’s unique journey.