Gina Wilson’s speech to the Equal Love Rally, Canberra, 7 November 2009

Equal Love


I am here today to support marriage equality.

Let me tell you how that seems from an intersex perspective.

First, a quick explanation of intersex.

Intersex people are individuals who do not fit common perceptions of maleness and femaleness.

Intersex people are individuals who have genetic, hormonal, congenital and other differences that might be seen as being both male and female at once, not entirely male or female or neither male or female.

Intersex is physical differences of sex.

Intersex puts the lie to sex binary paradigms.

There have been intersex differences so long as there have been humans. Intersex has always shown that in nature human beings exist on a continuum, each of us existing as a point somewhere between perfectly male and perfectly female.

Very few of us know exactly where we are on that continuum and very few of us here today can say with any certainty whether they are or are not intersex.

Intersex is thought to make up between one and four percent of the population depending on just what differences are considered intersex.

Now the Howard government amended the marriage act some time ago so that the definition of a marriage was between a man and a woman.

I, as an intersex person, wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Were they referring to gender roles or did they mean sex embodiment? If the reference was to gender roles, well most intersex can play the part of a man or a woman well enough to qualify.

If they were referring to sex embodiment then intersex do not qualify. We do not qualify under the current act and we would not qualify under a same sex act. That is why OII Australia supports marriage equality. We support the right of all human beings to marry, not only males and females… but everyone!

The need to enforce sex binaries so that married relationships are between males and females, to the exclusion of all others, has led to a nearly complete denial that there are people who are neither. That denial has made for a kind of war that is fought out on the bodies of intersex people.

That sex binary enforcement is prepared to allow surgeries to be carried out on infants in the first months of their lives so that they will, in time, be marriage ready. That is to say to be able to be penetrated or to penetrate in the heteronormative ideal of the current marriage act.

Sex binary enforcement is a kind of torture enacted on us that includes:

  • A life of shame, secrecy and denial.
  • Social exclusion for the noncompliant.
  • Gender role reinforcement where the reward for compliance is to be left alone.
  • Punishments for noncompliance such as a diagnosis of a mental illness, inflexible medical protocols with requirements to take medications that might be life-limiting or life-threatening, lack of human rights or protection at law.

Human rights and the law are, of course, reserved for “acceptable” men and women.

Just like marriage!

Today I will ask a favour of you. Tomorrow is the Intersex Day of Solidarity and I would like you to observe one minute’s silence as a mark of respect for those intersex who have suffered and died as casualties of the binary war.

Tomorrow is Herculine Barbin’s birthday. Herculine was born in Saint-Jean d’Angély on November the 8th 1838.

Herculine Barbin was French and intersex. Herculine was made famous when Michel Foucault found and published Herculine’s autobiography.

Herculine lived a relatively happy life qualifying as a teacher and she fell in love with a young woman. This apparently lesbian relationship caused a sensation and in the course of that sensation it was discovered that Herculine had sex differences.

A doctor, by feeling Herculine’s genitals beneath a blanket, decided Herculine was male.

A French court later ruled that Herculine should adopt a male name and live as a male.

Herculine, like most non-compliant intersex, was subjected to intense scrutiny by the psychobabblers of the time. It was during the course of that scrutiny that Herculine was encouraged to write an autobiography.

About eighteen months after that court-enforced ‘gender’ change Herculine, like many intersex in similar circumstances today, committed suicide.

Please, one minute’s silence. …

Thank you all for your support for intersex, for intersex rights and especially for intersex rights to marriage as ourselves.

Thank you for your support for marriage equality.