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  • Writer's pictureToni Vonk

A DSD Discourse – On Intersex Day of Remembrance

Updated: Mar 4

"Not a sexuality. Not a feeling. We are just humans who have developmental issues."

A DSD Discourse – On Intersex Day of Remembrance

By Toni Vonk


On September 9, 2023, a group of women and their allies gathered in a suburban park south of Ottawa for Canada's inaugural speaker’s corner for women. Taking their cues from Kellie-Jay Keen’s now world-famous model, women spoke, under protection, about their experiences and their fears of now living in a country in which their sex-based Charter rights are no longer guaranteed through law or policy.

Common to all who participated that day is the understanding that a major rights conflict has been raging in our country since 2016. Examples of the conflict – illustrated via numerous examples of abuse and attack on women and girls – are directly attributable to the Liberal government’s amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code that made gender identity and gender expression protected characteristics under the law.

A DSD Discourse - Women gather to speak at Canada's inaugural women's speakers corner, September 2023
Catherine speaks at Canada's inaugural women's speaker corner, Sept. 9, 2023

Among the determined women who came from in town and out to speak that day, was Catherine (last name withheld).

Introducing herself as intersex (the “I” in 2SLGBTQIA+), Catherine opened her speech with a commentary on the latest version of the Pride flag, into which the intersex symbol (a purple circle on a yellow background) was incorporated in 2021.

So, they have me on their little Pride flag, and all that happiness … I am tired of their arguments and I'm tired of them speaking for us and putting us on their flag and using us. Intersex people are the complete antithesis to what trans is. Trans doesn't exist, gender doesn't exist … The only thing that does is “sexual dysphoria.” I'm tired of people playing this masquerade, it’s absolutely ludicrous. I want to arm parents with the ability to say — when they try to use [intersex] and say sex is on a spectrum — it absolutely is not on a spectrum and as an intersex person, I can 100 percent tell you we are either X or Y, we are men or women, and to say that we are some kind of thing outside of humanity is absolutely disgusting. – Catherine

A DSD Discourse - Valentino Vecchietti, founder of Intersex Equality Rights UK incorporated the intersex symbol into the Progress Pride flag in 2021
Valentino Vecchietti, founder of Intersex Equality Rights UK incorporated the intersex symbol into the Progress Pride flag in 2021

In spite of the capture of the “I” in the flag, and its addition in 2022 to Canada’s official initialism for inclusivity and sexual diversity, advocates and educators explain that to “be” intersex is not an identity or a predilection or a skin tone. Rather, it is to be born male or female with one of over 40 medical conditions that cause chromosomal, hormonal or genital differences in sex development (DSDs). Also referred to as disorders of sexual differentiation (DSDs), and variations in sex development (VSDs), intersex conditions are reported to affect up to 1.7 percent of the population (as common as the prevalence of red hair, they say) depending on the types of DSDs included in the calculation.

Some background

November 8, the day of publication of this story, is Intersex Day of Remembrance – an annual observance "recognizing the struggles experienced by many intersex individuals around the world while also celebrating progress made towards achieving greater acceptance and inclusion for all people.”

Which is all fair and good, until one understands that, as speaker Catherine suggests, some people who do not have a medically diagnosed DSD condition choose to "self-identify" as intersex – as being something in-between, or a mystical mix of male and female – thus enabling them to stake a claim for legitimacy under the ever-expanding 2SLGBTQI+ banner.

A DSD Discourse - The evolution of the LGBTQ-Plus initialism at Canada's Ministry for Women and Gender Equaltity Canada

Women who have been decrying the now-lawful practice of men and boys declaring themselves to be women and girls understand the absurdity and the danger of the self-identification insult all too well. Without enduring the medical, anatomical, psychological and social challenges inherent with having a sex development disorder, some activists, who might be better identified by a different letter(s), adorn themselves with an intersex “identity.” Some even refer to intersex as their “gender.”

However expressed, the ruse confounds society and diverts research and resources that should be directed towards improving the lives of persons with DSDs away from them.

In a 2021 interview with Gender: A Winder Lens, Claire Graham, a well-known intersex advocate with dsdfamilies in the UK, explains why the inclusion of DSDs in the transgender debate is erroneous:

Because it's no more common amongst trans people than it is amongst non-trans people. It's not the reason that they're trans. We're a completely different demographic. We're not people with psychological issues or issues around culture and society and gender. We’re people with physical differences in our body. And the more we're used and co-opted for the gender narrative the less our needs are met because people begin to believe that by doing LGBTI work they're doing intersex work.
They did a study a few years ago where they worked out that one percent of global LGBTI funding is allocated to intersex. What happens is, a lot of LGBTI groups will claim that funding and channel it into “third gender” and “sex is a spectrum” and those kinds of things. We need better psychological support for people with this diagnosis. The funding isn't there to do that because the money is going to other issues instead. - Claire Graham

Confirming Graham’s statement, a search of the Government of Canada’s website for awarded grants and contributions discloses just one grant for $85,000 provided in 2020 for “a study exploring healthcare for Canadians experiencing intersex variations.” Compare this to the government’s $100 million Federal 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan, through which hefty sums have been delivered to numerous 2SLGBTQI+ activists and organizations nationwide to “continue building a more inclusive future, with pride.”

A key issue put forth by intersex advocates is that infants who are born with “ambiguous genitalia” but who are otherwise thriving, should not be surgically modified before they are old enough to understand their condition and make their own decisions about their bodies.

Intersex Awareness Day, (observed annually on October 26th since 1996), was created “in response to the high rates of medical interventions that were being performed on intersex infants and children without the consent or knowledge of the individual.”

A DSD Discourse - Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory all lit up for Intersex Awareness Day, 2023.
Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory all lit up for Intersex Awareness Day, 2023.

Mauro Cabral Grinspan, an Argentinian intersex trans activist and signatory to the Yogyakarta Principles, says that “homophobia is a driving force behind the common urge to ‘normalize’ intersex children into traditional male or female categories,” and that surgeries for intersex persons send a message to children that their bodies have to be changed to be acceptable.

Consider these sentiments against the transgender lobby's insistence that “gender affirmation healthcare” should be freely available and readily administered to transgender-identifying children to help them become their “authentic” selves. In this case, it’s argued that the gender-questioning child must be provided medicalized puberty delay, lifelong prescriptions to pharmaceutical sex hormones, and eventual desensitizing and de-sexing surgeries, all covered through the Canadian health care system.

And so it was, amidst the public confusion about what intersex actually is, the debate about what should or should not be done about it, and who is qualified to talk about it, that Catherine stepped up to the speaker’s corner podium to share some of her real-life experience and perspective as a woman with a DSD.

The interviews

Following the speaker’s corner, Catherine agreed to meet with Gender Dissent. We wanted learn more about her life as an intersex woman. We wanted to know why she resents her condition being co-opted under the 2SLGBTQI+ banner and what she thinks a more meaningful approach for supporting persons with DSDs could be.

Catherine is an artist and an animator and for several years was an adult leader at LGBTQ youth organizations and camps.

Catherine led the conversation by providing an overview of her childhood and teen years during which she suffered numerous medical issues including being born blind (which was surgically corrected when she was three years old), many broken bones, early onset diabetes and delayed menarche.

“I was totally ‘nerfed’,” she says, meaning to handicap someone.

Catherine also shared personal information about her tumultuous childhood and family background, including a sustained absence of maternal attention and guidance during her adolescence, which, perhaps, partially explains how it was that Catherine was not diagnosed with a DSD until her late teens.

GD: When and how did you discover that you are intersex?

C: I became aware that something was wrong when I was 17. My girlfriends were talking about their “lady times” and how it affected them. When they found out I didn’t have my period yet, they encouraged me to go to a doctor as soon as possible. My family doctor referred me to two specialists and it did not take long for me to have a clinical diagnosis of congenital adrenal hyperplasia and a psychological diagnosis of sexual dysphoria.

It was only through those referrals that I learned what my condition was and how things were messing up inside me. Until that point, I didn't know why I was so tired all the time.

I had a lot of brain fog. When I remember it, it feels “milky.” I was very childish.

I guess my brain wasn’t developing at all.

A DSD Discourse - An animated diagram of congenital adrenal hyperplasia by 'Artibiotics'
An animated diagram of congenital adrenal hyperplasia by 'Artibiotics'

Johns Hopkins Medicine describes Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) as a group of genetic disorders involving the adrenal glands. CAH causes a lack of an enzyme needed to produce hormones such as cortisone, aldosterone, adrenaline and sex hormones needed for growth and development, including DHEA-S, testosterone and androgens. To compensate for low cortisol levels, the body stimulates the adrenal glands which leads to increased production of androgens (male hormones). Females with CAH may have genitalia that appear different from what is expected for girls, such as an enlarged clitoris, early puberty, deepening voice, short height, acne, excessive facial or body hair, or menstrual irregularities. Both males and females with CAH may have infertility or experience adrenal crisis.

I was diagnosed with a learning disability, high functioning, when I was 12. And I was breaking bones throughout my entire life. Greenstick breaks in both my legs (at once) when I was four, broken bones in my feet (when walking in a library), I broke my wrists (both again), cracked my head – I’ve broken so many things it’s not even funny. It wasn't until after I had my puberty induced that things started to be corrected.

I think people don’t realize how important your hormones are, not only for your physical development, but your neurological development. I think it's very weird that people want to put children on puberty blockers because that is literally putting them in developmental distress, and that is really bad.

Not only are you putting them in a place where they have no cognitive ability, no way of discerning anything – they haven’t actually reached puberty. They have no idea what their sexuality will be in the future. It hasn’t been formed, it’s not concrete. It’s absolute abuse.

Even to give cross-sex hormones to a healthy person is astronomically insidious. I don’t understand why people are advocating for this, other than it makes a lot of money.

GD: Once diagnosed, did you start to refer to yourself as intersex?

C: No. I was told I have a DSD – a disorder of sexual development. I say I have congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

Saying “intersex” doesn't say much of anything. It’s very PC. I'm not too fond of PC words or language because I understand the danger of using them. It is the same as the word “neurodivergent.” Both make zero sense and are designed to be vague as all hell. I dont think it’s beneficial in any way.

I think using clean language helps dispel a lot of the “boogeymen.” I think the aim of having this politically correct term is to create these boogeymen intentionally. And with these boogeymen, people can then believe that there’s this “spectrum” or that there’s this “ambiguity.” But it’s like, no. We are only male or female, there is no third sex.

Members of the alphabet cult refuse to use “DSD” because they know when you use precise language it is easier to debunk all of their fictional claims, slogans and chants.

I am tired of people thinking that we can somehow breed with ourselves. We either have male gametes or we have female gametes, we have sperm or we have ova, there's no wishy-washy in-between.

GD: Did you always identify as a girl/woman?

C: I don’t “identify” as anything. Women and men are not things you can identify as being. You are a woman, or you are a man. I always knew I was a woman. I just did not know or understand how broken I was.

When I was little, I liked a lot of male activities, hobbies, and interests. But I knew I was female.

I have a male temperament. I'm very competitive, very analytical, very object-driven. But that does not make me male.

I was [also] diagnosed with “sexual dysphoria.” It’s a symptom of a biological problem.

When it comes to intimate thoughts, my dreams and sensual stimulation, my mind reacts and views me as male. It is confusing and was very hard to cope with at times. Being intimate with females kicks my paternal drive into overdrive. I want to be a father but I don’t have the “equipment.” It’s a harrowing feeling. When I am with men, I get a sense of feeling gay, not always, but it is there.

It's hard to translate – this brain-to-body malfunction or disconnect. It really is “sexual” dysphoria. Children can’t have sexual dysphoria because they aren’t developed enough.

Having a precise diagnosis helped me understand why I had had all these problems with my bones, my lady times, my vision, immaturity and other problems. And then I was able to learn how to help myself and reduce the damage due to my lack of a normal puberty. Having the right balance of medication helps with my sexual dysphoria and limits how strongly my mind misfires.

A DSD Discourse - Eight years of self-administered testosterone injections
Eight years of self-administered testosterone injections

For more than eight years, Catherine's medical routine included self-administered testosterone injections with a needle the length of her finger (shown). "Yup, the whole length, and if you see blood come into the needle, you need to pull it out and go into another spot. You cannot inject into a vein." Interestingly, the testosterone was used "So I could have a puberty," says Catherine. "It calmed me, cleared my head and I could focus. Now if my blood work is off, it's easy to micro regulate." Photos: Catherine

GD: Why do you think intersex should not be included under the 2SLGBTQI+ umbrella?

C: Simply put, we are not a sexuality or a feeling. We are just humans who have developmental issues. It does not make us a part of their club.

Gender does not exist. We have words for what they are attempting to say already, and those are temperament, personality, likes and interests. It's why you can have "cake," "cat," and "cupid" as genders. None of those change or stop you from being your natal sex.

To transition really means to get a new hobby, or a desire to do other things in life because you're uneasy with your current status. How people think that calling yourself a different gender makes you into something else is just beyond me.

The difference between people with DSDs and transgender is that people with DSDs have the doctor's records. We go through an intense amount of testing to find out why our brains are lying to us when it comes to sexual function and response to stimulation. Our dysphoria can be fixed without destroying our bodies and sexual function.

GD: Have you encountered differing opinions or criticisms regarding your viewpoint?

C: Always, but I don't care what they say.

I get pushback from the people that believe in “Gender.”

They do not want to be seen as having a mental disorder or having a perverted philia.

They refuse to hear that people with DSDs are not a third sex. They refuse to hear that there is a cure and ways to cope with the dysphoria. They want what they want and do not seem to care about the rights and boundaries of others.

GD: What are your aspirations in terms of your advocacy?

C: I want to hear more people with DSDs speak up about how this is impacting us, how these lies about gender and intersex are spreading and how this new cult is forming.

We’re being used as political footballs. They are blocking information that should be getting through that could help improve our lives.

I want our health care to be better because we have the resources and the technology to assist in reducing the damage anyone with a DSD experiences. I want a world where we are DNA-tested at birth, where they make sure that all the sex organs are set up properly, that we have follow-up appointments, that we get the care and attention we need to function as best as we can.

I want to arm parents, students and children through educational cartoons and conversations about what a DSD is, what all these terms are, and what the history is.

I am willing to speak out at schools, give presentations, and, if they can, when my animations are up, give them out to people who need them.

GD: Thank you very much for speaking with us and for sharing your personal story and real-life perspective, Catherine.

A DSD Discourse: The Intersex Pride flag was created in 2013 by Morgan Carpenter of Intersex Human Rights Australia.
The Intersex Pride flag was created in 2013 by Morgan Carpenter of Intersex Human Rights Australia.



A DSD Discourse -

Intersex Canada The goal of Intersex Canada is to create an inclusive platform to connect, educate, raise awareness, and facilitate communication about topics related to the intersex experience for the general public, care providers, educators, our families, and ourselves.

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