We are all born into this world with chance allotting us a sex, but in this lottery what if someone chose your sex for you? Dr Jay Hayes-Light found himself being born a healthy baby boy, but with the intervention of doctors, he was raised in pink outfits instead of blue.
When doctors were inspecting this new born, they thought his genitalia didn’t look right. He did not fit the typical look of a female or male, but he was completely normal as an intersex baby.
Even after tests revealed Dr Jay to be a boy, his grandparents were told that he would be bullied and forever unhappy, due to the state of his genitalia.
“The kindest thing would be to bring me up as a girl and in order to do so, they’d do some surgery.”
Intersex is a general term for a variety of conditions, where a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy, that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of male or female. According to experts 1.7% of the population is born intersex, this means intersex people are as common as being born with red hair. In the UK, that number is estimated to be 1 in 700.
Dr Jay, 51, director of The UK Intersex Association (UKIA) and expert in child mental health, has 5- alpha reductase deficiency, many with this condition are born with genitalia that appears female, or that is ambiguous.
As a school aged child, Dr Jay was in and out of hospital, this had a huge impact on him.
Dr Jay was 20 years old when he started to transition from female back to male, with surgery to repair his damaged genitalia, he also changed his birth certificate.
“I was so pleased that something as simple as changing a letter from ‘F’ to ‘M’ confirmed who I was.”
There is no process for intersex people to change their birth certificates, if they want to do so, they will have to travel the same path as someone who is transgender. This involves seeing a psychiatrist and doing ‘the real-life test’.
Dawn Vago, 37-year-old co-director of Intersex UK, faced her own struggles as an intersex person.
“I had no idea who that made me, what that made me. I walked a very confused path for quite a while, until I realised it was okay to be who I was and not try to conform.”
Dawn has complete Androgen insensitive syndrome, meaning she was born with internal testes, but presented as a female on the outside. Like most intersex people, Dawn didn’t know she was intersex until later in life, in her case 22.
At 8-years-old, doctors had Dawn’s testes removed and started to give her female hormone therapy, which would later cause Dawns osteoporosis.
“I was on the wrong hormone medication for 20 years, because the doctor decided that I had to be on female medication, in my genetically male body.”
With this sex variation you have a shallow vagina, so the doctors put Dawn on medical dilators at 14-years-old.
“I was given glass objects to shove inside myself to stretch the inside of my vagina, I had to do that for 2 years.”
In England, the 2010 Equality Act doesn’t specifically mention intersex, meaning intersex people are not protected from discrimination, or Genital Mutilation surgeries like those experienced by Dr Jay.
Due to bullying, Dawn left a previous job when the truth about her once having testes, made the rounds at work. She was referred to as ‘she-man’ by her colleagues.
Dawn is proud to speak of who she is but understands that intersex is a ‘dirty little secret’.
“Education is massively lacking for Intersex people, we’ve been around forever but because it’s such a taboo, a lot of people are shamed into not speaking.”
Now in her 30’s Dawn has adopted a baby boy, who too has an intersex condition. To save her child from suffering the same fate as a lot of intersex people, she refused to let doctors operate on him.
“The doctor actually berated me for deciding not to operate, there’s no need for the operation it’s only cosmetic.”
“Society has this thing where you have to be one or the other, there’s no grey area, unfortunately I’m way in the grey area.”
Amanda Janes was born without a uterus and has both sex’s genitalia. Now 60-years-old, it was only 3 years ago that Amanda discovered she was intersex, up until that point she was living as male.
The commercial director discovered she had surgery at three months old. When trying to look into these records further, nothing had been recorded.
According to Dr Jay this is not unusual for intersex people: “There is an awful lot of missing pages in your medical history. For some people their medical records have disappeared completely.”
Finding information was difficult, it didn’t help when Amanda’s GP couldn’t explain her condition. This is common; Dr Jay receives multiple emails from GPs who have no clue what intersex is.
At the age of 13 she was given a mastectomy, just one of the ways she kept her male appearance. Amanda had a lot of female mannerisms which her mother tried to hide.
“They kept on telling me not to walk like a girl and talk like a girl.”
Amanda was given male hormone injections for 10 years.
“I was always told by my parents I was a sickly child, and there are certain things you’re gonna have to do but not to tell anybody. If your 7 or 8 years old, you don’t question that.”
During the time this photo was taken, Amanda had attempted suicide multiple times, she says she hated herself.
“When you look in that mirror you don’t see yourself, you see something that you don’t particularly like. It’s disturbing.”
When asked, all three interviewees named; education, acceptance, and support for mental health, as the biggest challenges faced by the intersex community. Even now intersex people are fighting for their voices to be heard, Dr Jay is an example of just that.