Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 44: Jonathan Leggette

Did you know that approximately 1.7 percent of babies are born with atypical genitalia? And many others are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life. That means that more babies are born with intersex characteristics than cystic fibrosis, Jewish, or red hair. “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Intersex is the "I" in LGBTQIA. But many people are unaware that intersexed people exist.

The first time I became aware of this issue, beyond reading about the marginalized Hijras (third sex) in India, was when a friend's sister's baby was born without specific male or female genitalia in the 1990s. Historically and still in this day and age, doctors have advised parents of intersexed babies to choose a gender and elect gender reassignment surgery for the baby. But of course, choosing a gender randomly often results in gender dysphoria later on if the parents choose incorrectly. Now as more doctors learn about intersex, and more of the public become aware, more wise parents are waiting to allow the child to discover their own gender identity (as my friend's sister decided to do). Often people do not find out they are intersex until they are children, and many are encouraged to have gender assignment surgery without being given the option of waiting or declining the surgery.

Jonathan Leggette, from Seattle, WA, defines himself as black, queer, and intersex, using the pronouns he/him/his. He attends Evergreen State College in Washington and has become an advocate for intersex rights and awareness. In Jonathan's words, from an interview he gave to the college's Cooper Point Journal:
I am an InterAct Youth Member. InterAct Youth is a group of intersex advocates in their teens and twenties working to raise intersex awareness and create change...The organization allows for youth to get together and discuss topics ranging from intersex rights to everyday experiences.
Jonathan recently attended the Creating Change Conference and was on an Intersex Youth Panel with four other intersex people.
This experience was truly life changing and empowering for me to become a more outward intersex advocate and truly started to accept the intersex piece of my identity. I finally found a group of people that understand pieces of my story without me having to explain myself every sentence.
When asked what he would like the general population to understand about what it means to be intersex, he responded:
"Being intersex and trans happens, yet they are not synonyms for each other! Being trans is a gender identity and intersex has to do with biological sex.
...The most basic question is what is intersex. And that is something I am always willing to define. For example a good that intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads, and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations.
There is just no visibility around the intersex topic at all. It is crazy even many people in the LGBTQIA community don’t know what the definition of intersex is or how frequent it is."
In 2016, Buzzfeed announced results of a comprehensive survey conducted with intersex Australians, which found high rates of suicide and poverty, along with a lack of information around invasive surgeries intended to “fix” ambiguous sex characteristics. Nineteen percent of the survey respondents said they'd considered suicide, and they have a much higher likelihood of dropping out of school. The survey also found that peer support is critical.

That's why what Jonathan is doing is so critical. Not only is he seeking and receiving peer support from his community, but he is also being an inspiration and lifeline for others. Let's educate ourselves about what intersex people face, battle the stigmas, and celebrate their resiliency and uniqueness. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @johnny_boy24.

Read all my Lenten challenge posts here

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