The Hidden Sex: Generation I
We are all born into this world with chance allotting us a sex, but in this lottery what if someone chose your sex for you? Dr Jay Hayes-Light found himself being born a healthy baby boy, but with the intervention of doctors, he was raised in pink outfits instead of blue.
When doctors were inspecting this new born, they thought his genitalia didn’t look right. He did not fit the typical look of a female or male, but he was completely normal as an intersex baby.
With his ambiguous genitalia causing uncertainty a karyotype test was carried out, deeming Dr Jay as male. His grandparents were told that he would be bullied and forever unhappy, due to the state of his genitalia.
“The kindest thing would be to bring me up as a girl and in order to do so, they’d do some surgery.”
The term intersex is not often heard; 51-year-old, Dr Jay, director of UKIA and an expert in child mental health, believes this is because ‘intersex has been kept hidden’.
Intersex is a general term for a variety of conditions, where a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy, that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of male or female. According to experts 1.7% of the population is born intersex, this means intersex people are as common as being born with red hair. In the UK, that number is estimated to be 1 in 700.
Dr Jay has 5- alpha reductase deficiency, many with this condition are born with genitalia that
appears female, or that is ambiguous, which means it is hard to identify them as either sex.
“My grandparents and their generation did not understand what the hell this was all about. All that
stuck in their minds was that I would never be happy.”
Dr Jay grew up with a female name and female pronouns, in the hope that he would get used to it.
He didn’t. As a school aged child, Dr Jay was in and out of hospital, which had a huge impact on him.
Dr Jay was 20 years old when he started to transition from female back to male, with surgery to repair his damaged genitalia, he also changed his birth certificate.
“I was so pleased that something as simple as changing a letter from ‘F’ to ‘M’ confirmed who I was.”
There is no process for intersex people to change their birth certificates, if they want to do so, they will have to travel the same path as someone who is transgender. This involves seeing a psychiatrist and doing ‘the real-life test’. It is argued that this is unnecessary as transgender and intersex people are completely different. Luckily for Dr Jay he knew a psychiatrist, who helped him out.
Dawn Vago, 37-year-old co-director of Intersex UK, faced her own struggles as an intersex person.
“I had no idea who that made me, what that made me. I walked a very confused path for quite a while, until I realised it was okay to be who I was and not try to conform.”
Dawn has complete Androgen insensitive syndrome, meaning she was born with internal testes, but presented as a female on the outside. Like most intersex people, Dawn didn’t know she was intersex until later in life, in her case 22.
Similarly, to Dr Jays case, Dawn’s parents weren’t fully informed about her condition and the side-effects of surgery and treatment.
An 8-year-old Dawn was not aware that the surgery she was going in for was a full gonadectomy. They had removed the testes and started to give her female hormone therapy, which caused Dawns osteoporosis, a disease of the bones.
“I was on the wrong hormone medication for 20 years, because the doctor decided that I had to be on female medication, in my genetically male body. I think I’ve broken 15 bones so far, I had to learn how to walk again before my wedding.”
With this sex variation you have a shallow vagina, so the doctors also put Dawn on medical dilators from 14-years-old.
“I was given glass objects to shove inside myself to push and push to stretch the inside of my vagina, I had to do that for 2 years.”
When Dawn said she didn’t want to do it anymore, the doctors said: “You could be walking down a dark alley one night, and get raped and it would cut you that badly inside, you would bleed to death.”
Dawn spoke about another incident that happened, when she went in for the dilators. The doctors held her down on a bed, asked her to open her legs, then thrusted a dilator inside of her.
“I started crying and calling out for my mum.”
In a world where LGBT rights have now been enforced in law, one member has been left out. In England, the 2010 Equality Act doesn’t specifically mention intersex, meaning intersex people are not protected from discrimination, or Genital Mutilation surgeries like those experienced by Dr Jay.
In a previous job, Dawn ended up leaving after opening-up to a colleague about discovering the truth of her surgeries. The private conversation made the rounds at work. Dawn soon discovered her co-workers were laughing at her, using names such as ‘she-man’. Dawn feels the situation was not handled appropriately by her employers, when she was named in a staff meeting on discrimination.
Dawn is proud to speak of who she is but understands that intersex is a ‘dirty little secret’.
“Education is massively lacking for Intersex people, we’ve been around forever but because it’s such a taboo, because it’s not normal, a lot of people are shamed into not speaking.”
Now in her 30’s Dawn has adopted a baby boy, who too has an intersex condition. When being faced with the same proposition of performing surgery on her child, as her parents were, she rejected.
“The doctor actually berated me for deciding not to operate, there’s no need for the operation it’s only cosmetic. The doctor was quite bullying and forceful in his approach with me, basically calling me an unfit mother.”
Dawn is trying to save her baby from suffering the same fate. Even now the first-time mother continues to seek the right hormone treatment for her body, to help her osteoporosis. All this trauma has impacted Dawn mentally, which she has never received help for, this is ‘a massive issue within the community’.
Trying on a dress for the first time was an experience Amanda will never forget. Loving her new look but feeling confused, all kinds of thoughts flickered through her head. After much research, she finally realised.
“Society has this thing where you have to be one or the other, there’s no grey area, unfortunately I’m way in the grey area.”
Amanda Janes was born without a uterus and has both sex’s genitalia. Now 60-years-old, it was only 3 years ago that Amanda discovered she was intersex, up until that point she was living as male.
The commercial director discovered she had surgery at three months old. When trying to look into these records further, nothing had been recorded.
According to Dr Jay this is not unusual for intersex people: “There is an awful lot of missing pages in your medical history. For some people their medical records have disappeared completely, which is against the law.”
Finding information was difficult, even when Amanda visited her GP after a Gender Clinic doctor, suggested that she may be intersex. The GP had to google the word ‘intersex’. This is common; Dr Jay receives multiple emails from GPs who have no clue what intersex is.
At the age of 13 she was given a mastectomy, just one of the ways she kept her male appearance. Amanda had a lot of female mannerisms which her mother tried to hide.
“They kept on telling me not to walk like a girl and talk like a girl.
“I’m not saying I was brainwashed but yeah, I probably was. I had to accept that I was male.”
Amanda or Michael Evans, as she was known back then, was given male hormone injections for 10 years. An overdose in hormones caused her height of 6 foot and resulted in periods of anger.
“I was always told by my parents I was a sickly child, and there are certain things you’re gonna have to do but not to tell anybody. If your 7 or 8 years old, you don’t question that.”
During the time of this photo Amanda had attempted suicide multiple times, she says she hated herself.
“Which I would imagine happens to an awful lot of intersex people, because when you look in that mirror you don’t see yourself, you see something that you don’t particularly like. It’s disturbing.”
When asked, all three interviewees named; education, acceptance, and support for mental health, as the biggest challenges faced by the intersex community. Even now intersex people are fighting for their voices to be heard.