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Intersex for Families

Parents of a new born intersex child report that a significant source of anxiety comes from worrying how other family members might react, particularly when there is a delay on visitation or announcements about the child. Therefore one of the most valuable things that can be done for the parents’ of an intersex child is to allow them some space right after the birth. This gives the parents an opportunity to calmly make decisions about what might need to happen and how best to inform their loved ones in due course. Sometimes families can feel very eager for news about their newborn relative but this can add to the sense of worry parents face. Sending well wishes for the child and parents whilst letting them decide when and how to share information can be the best form of support.

It is important to understand that there are many difficult decisions that the parents of intersex children need to work through. The family can be wonderful support to parents who need to be supported in these decisions, so the rights of the child are not overlooked. When faced with  intense social and/or medical pressures to raise a “normal” child, the anxiety and a lack of appropriate resources can minimise best outcome options for the child. There are many ways families can help support parents through this process such as helping with research, providing emotional support and putting families in touch with crisis services or intersex support groups.

Shame and stigma often comes from a place of secrecy and this secrecy can be driven by the family dynamics as well as pressures from outside the family system. For example, this could occur if only some family members are informed about a person’s intersex status and others are not. Such examples could create feelings of alienation within the family system creating a breakdown of relationships. Sadly however this could also result in reduced support for the parents and the intersex child. Encouraging open and positive discussions can be a good way forward. However it is important to respect the wishes of the intersex person or the parents of a young intersex child, who might want to keep their status private.

Ultimately when families are supported and resourced, they begin to realise they do not have to feel shame. This feeling is likely to extend to the intersex family member feeling comfortable and confident about who they are and to not feel shame about themselves. Often the best thing a family can do is stay informed and stay positive, ensuring that intersex people feel supported in the family environment regardless of whether or not the topic is a freely or regularly discussed.

Supporting your intersex relative one can be demonstrated directly or indirectly, for example shutting down any derogatory or misinformed conversations at a family gathering or supporting intersex visibility on social media. There are many  things you can do to demonstrate support for the intersex members in your family. One of the best things you can do to show support is to educate yourself and attend intersex community events and support groups, like the ones run at AGA.

Key Points

  • Even if you do not necessarily agree with the decisions parents might make for their intersex child, it is important to let them know you are there and to keep supporting them.
  • Supporting  parents can including helping with research, providing emotional support, or encouraging parents to seek support for themselves. Being positive and helping to reduce shame and stigma in the family (and wider community) is crucial.
  • Where possible, open and honest dialogue between everyone in the family can be the best way to reduce shame and stigma, but ultimately respecting the wishes of the intersex person is paramount.
  • Another way to show support for the intersex people in your family is to be a visible intersex ally. This can involve supporting an intersex organisation, organising a fundraiser, or sharing resources with your peers. Visibly attending community events and having a positive social media presence can let the intersex person and their parents know you are an ally.