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Activist Pidgeon Pagonis opens up about their fight to end intersex surgery

“Intersex is a natural and normal way of existing. What’s not normal is all the f***ed-up s*** doctors do to our bodies.”

By Thomas Stichbury

Intersex people are born with genitals or internal sex organs that fall outside the more common male/female binary.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people undergo surgery as babies or children to “correct” their gender, with the choice determined by a doctor, with little advice offered to parents about the wider implications.

Image: Isabella Giancarlo

In the Attitude summer issue – out now to download and to order globally – we spoke to American activist Pidgeon Pagonis about their campaign to #EndIntersexSurgery.

“Many of us know about the harm caused by LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy’. But most don’t know about the physical, surgical harm faced by intersex youth. Some doctors still believe it’s OK to permanently change the genitalia and other sex traits of intersex minors by recommending unnecessary surgeries to parents.

“Increasingly, evidence shows the harm done by surgeries performed without informed consent, which include pain, loss of sensitivity, scarring, and even sterilisation, as well as psychological consequences such as PTSD and the risk that the sex assigned will not match one’s gender identity,” they explain.

“Intersex genital surgeries are now considered abuse by every major human rights organisation that has looked at the issue,” Pidgeon adds.

Image: Isabella Giancarlo

Comparing the surgeries to mutilation, the campaigner reflects on the trauma they experienced after undergoing the intrusive procedure.

“Like most people who’ve experienced trauma, especially sexual trauma, I’ve struggled to reclaim autonomy over my body. It has had severe effects on me, both physically and mentally,” Pidgeon begins.

“For instance, right after my last surgery to create a vagina that could ‘receive my future husband’ when I was 10 years old, I started picking the wound, which prevented it from ever healing properly,” they continue. “I’m currently working with my therapist and psychiatrist to treat this and my anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

Image: Collier Schorr

Pidgeon stresses that society needs to be educated about what it means to be intersex and why surgery is such a violation.

“We need the world to know that there is nothing wrong with us, we don’t need to be changed. Intersex is a natural and normal way of existing,” they urge. “What’s not normal is all the f***ed-up s*** doctors do to our bodies, including forced sex changes, forced hormonal treatments and lying to us. We don’t need to “fix” intersex kids, we need to fix the binary.”

Pidgeon’s organisation Intersex Justice Project – co-founded with Sean Safia Wall – has three demands: a public apology from the institutions that have harmed intersex people; an immediate end to surgeries; and reparations for intersex survivors.

Donate to the Intersex Justice Project and support the #EndIntersexSurgery campaign

The Attitude summer issue is out now to download and to order globally.

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