Intersex: Stories, Not Surgeries

Intersex: Stories, Not Surgeries

Photographs courtesy of From

An ECCE Speakers Series event on intersex people was the opening event of Queertober at UIS on Oct. 2.  This event was hosted by Pidgeon Pagonis, an intersex person who became an activist against the use of sex assignment surgeries for people who are too young to make the decision themselves. These surgeries are often medically unnecessary and provide no medical benefit to those who receive them.

    An intersex person is simply a person who is born with a biology or anatomy that does not fit completely into the definition of “male” or “female.” There are many people who may have some development of sex organs of both sexes. The number of intersex people in America is somewhere between 0.5% and 1.7% of the population. Although this sounds like a small number, if extrapolated, that means there are between 1.6 million and 5.5 million intersex people in America. Using the lower number, there are more intersex people in America than there are all people in the states of Wyoming and Vermont combined.  With an enrollment of 2800 undergrad students, there would hypothetically be between 14 and 48 intersex undergrads at UIS.

    The most common method of action for intersex individuals is sex assignment surgeries. The vast majority of these are done long before the child has any ability to make the decision themselves. Often they are done while the child is still an infant. These surgeries can be described as genital mutilation, and many of them lead to a life of discomfort and constant medical care for the intersex person.

    Many hospitals still hold on to these practices of sex assignment procedures, despite there being no medical evidence that they prevent any major complications in the future. Most of them are cosmetic. Pidgeon has decided that their fight is to be a fight to end the use of these surgeries used on people who cannot make the decisions for themselves. In cases where the individual chooses to have the surgery and in cases where there is a legitimate medical emergency, Pidgeon says the surgery should be performed. However, in all other cases, the surgery should not be performed. In fact, it should be illegal. 

    Medical and political organizations are slowly changing their stance on these procedures. Little more than a month ago, California passed a resolution condemning cosmetic intersex surgeries that serve no purpose other than “normalizing” the child. Although it is only one resolution in one state, it is the first time a U.S. legislative body has recognized these practices as wrong. For more information on intersex people and ways to advocate for intersex rights, visit