The world needs to learn the truth about biological sex characteristics, says intersex person and advocate Esan Regmi. And this necessity has grown since Esan launched Nepal’s first intersex-led organisation three years ago.
“After registering our organisation, we are raising awareness and supporting intersex people,” Esan said. “And many parents of intersex children, they don’t know about their child’s issues.
“They are pretty confused because in Nepal we don’t educate people about intersex terminology and their human rights.”
Esan believes the first step in changing society is with education. But that is hard because Nepalese language doesn’t have a term that defines intersex.
“We don’t have a local definition of intersex,” he said “We have a diverse community, religiously and linguistically. And some cultures use different terms.”
Many of those terms translate to “hermaphrodite”, which is derogatory and misleading. A hermaphrodite refers to biological animals that are both fully male and fully female, like the seahorse. An intersex person, however, is born with a mixed variation of sex characteristics – whether hormonal, chromosomal, physical genitalia etc – which means they are not born wholly male or wholly female, but somewhere in between.
This lack of knowledge about intersex is why Esan is a proud advocate of intersex issues in Nepal, most especially around the issues surrounding family.
“Many parents of intersex children don’t know about their child’s issues,” Esan said, “because in Nepal we don’t educate people about intersex terminology and their human rights.
“So they’re contacting us and learning the terminologies and the human rights issues of intersex people through us.”
Intersex children don’t need “fixing”
“When an intersex baby is born with mixed genitalia, the parents think they should be treated,” Esan said. “Because having an intersex baby means their social status will go down.”
But intersex people don’t need fixing, according to the Human Rights Watch. They don’t have a disorder or a disease. They were just born differently.
Unfortunately, it’s treated as a medical problem in Nepal.
“Too many doctors in Nepal treat it as a disease, like a syndrome,” Esan said. “It is not a syndrome!”
One awful means of fixing it is via intersex genital mutilation, where doctors – usually with consent from parents – operate on the intersex baby to make them either male or female. But Esan says that parents should leave their intersex baby the way they are.
“That’s why parents need to know about the different sex characteristics,” Esan said. “There is male and female, and there are also other sex characteristics.
Another means of fixing intersex people happens later in life, where parents notice their child is developing differently to the standard male or female. This is usually with hormone replacement therapy. But Esan implores parents to respect their child and give them the resources to learn about who they are. If they want to change it, then at least they can make the decision.
But ultimately, Esan says everyone should learn the truth about biological sex characteristics.
“People should accept intersex people as they are,” Esan said. “As humans.”