Lately, my feelings on hearing how the world (still largely) views intersex people are more acute. I’m slightly more indignant, I have the urge to roll my eyes a little harder, a little longer. I’m sick of hearing the errant, “I dunno, what is that, like…a hermaphrodite? That’s people that have like…both, right?” The inevitable giggles and even guffaws, that someone that doesn’t fit into our binary sex categories could actually exist in the world. That our biology is so misunderstood, thought about and talked about (when it is) in the most reductive of ways.
I’m really tired of it.
I’m thinking about this a lot more because there have been multiple times on my international work trip that I’ve heard mention of these supposedly mythical, somehow embarrassing “hermaphrodites,” while I’ve been sitting right next to them. I watch their eyes brighten, processing these – what? two or three, at most? – people that exist, watch their eyes crinkle and mouths stretch wide as they smile and laugh. I always consider saying something. So far, I haven’t, simply because I don’t feel like having the hour(s)-long conversation explaining what intersex really is. Because I don’t want to present myself as a curiosity to strangers. Because I don’t want to offer myself up as their own personal Google – press the button, here’s your answer.
But I’m really tired of it. I hate it.
I’ve heard innumerable conversations about all manner of seemingly high-falutin, culturally competent topics, such as customs in particular areas, historical overviews of why so and so buildings exist or how a culinary tradition came to be, etymological explanations of phrases used and how they differ in regions x, y, and z. It’s confusing and it hurts to hear these same worldly, intelligent travelers so easily and casually dismiss the existence of people like me.
Because one of the implicit messages in these situations I keep finding myself in is that I’m not worth knowing about.
It is worth understanding a specific word whose meaning cannot be translated into other languages. It is worth dissecting the themes and intentions of famous artists in renowned museums. It is worth comparing and contrasting the price and quality of well-made espresso at the many surrounding local bars and cafes to enjoy with a fresh-baked pastry specific to the region each morning.
It is apparently not worth knowing about a group of people that live across the world, to recognize their existence. Or, if you know intersex people exist already, to acknowledge that we’re fighting for basic human rights, and our fighting for them is vital and important.
I am not less important than a painting in a museum.
And I want my worth and agency to be recognized.
Dear travelers and people of the world: I gently remind you to think about who you are talking about when you are having big, cross-cultural conversations with each other. You do not know who’s listening. You do not know that the people you’ve named – and maybe consider more theoretical than actual, bodily, real – may literally be sitting right next to you.
Make your worldview just a little bit bigger than it already is. The “hermaphrodite” at the next table over will silently thank you for it.