Saturday, 4 March 2006

Intersex Recognised - But Not Counted

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
The right of intersex or androgynous people to declare their identity in the August 8 national census has been recognised by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Ticking one of the census's two boxes in response to the male/female question has previously presented a challenge for intersex people and androgynes, who have both male and female sexual characteristics.

As with all citizens, it is compulsory for them to fill in the census.

After lobbying from intersex groups, the ABS has said intersex or androgynous people don't have to tick either box.

"The ABS has no intention to force or coerce respondents to lie about their sex," said Dave Nauenburg, ABS director of Population Census Development and Field Organisation.

"My advice to intersex people is that they can complete the sex question correctly by ticking none of the boxes provided for the question, and writing in the word "intersex", or "androgynous".

However, the ABS is not keeping statistics on intersex people this year.

ABS spokesman Paul Williams said a computer program will assign a sex to the small number of people who fail to answer that question.

Unfortunately, it looks like they won't be told which sex they've been arbitrarily assigned. Pity. That would be useful the next time they apply for a Passport, or an Insurance Policy, or any of a number of other things where "All questions must be completed" and "the penalty for supplying false or misleading information are severe".

And of course, while such people count, they won't be counted. Because if they were, the extent of the syndrome might be revealed, and that would be terribly inconvenient for everybody. While they are viewed as a "tiny minority", only a handful in the country, everyone can get away with pretending that the strict M/F binary divide is not just a good approximation, but set in stone.

Imagine though if it was revealed that there were not just tens, but thousanda of people in this situation in the country? After all overseas figures show approximately 1% of people have some degree of Intersex.

Not XX and not XYone in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (XXY)one in 1,000 births
Androgen insensitivity syndromeone in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndromeone in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasiaone in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasiaone in 66 individuals
Vaginal agenesisone in 6,000 births
Ovotestesone in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause)one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother)no estimate
5 alpha reductase deficiencyno estimate

Mixed gonadal dysgenesis
no estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesisone in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft)one in 2,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis)one in 770 births
Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or femaleone in 100 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearanceone or two in 1,000 births

Why, if the Government knew that there are about 200,000 Australians who aren't "normally" male nor female, and tens of thousands of those who are severely affected, then they might have to do something about giving such people some human rights, allowing them to marry, change the Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme (which allows some treatment only for males, other treatment only for females), and a host of other inconveniences.

So best not to ask - and not to count them.

Besides which, despite all the assurances of confidentiality and so on, how many people whose condition isn't too obvious to conceal would admit it?

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