￼I am Small Luk, an intersex activist from Hong Kong, and the founder of a project called BBKCI “Beyond the Boundary – Knowing and Concerns Intersex” (藩籬以外-認識及關愛雙性⼈) in 2011. I make my living as a registered social worker, Chinese medicine practitioner, and clinical hypnotherapist.
At BBKCI, we work in Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, Taiwan, and Asia. My job at a holistic treatment clinic supports my work in BBKCI. If I depended on external funding or donations this could prevent me from visiting intersex people facing difficulties in mainland China. China is enacting a new law in the coming year called the “Foreign NGO Management Law”. From the perspective of the Chinese government, Hong Kong and Taiwan are foreign under this law, so I haven’t registered BBKCI yet as an NGO or a registered organisation in Hong Kong. I think I will best be able to continue to work in mainland China as an individual activist. In the longer term, we must register as an NGO in Hong Kong and also register independently in mainland China.
I became public about my intersex status in February this year, and that has helped me to educate on intersex issues. I’m the first person to be public about being intersex in Hong Kong. I welcome interviews with media, and I connect with government departments.
I’m asking government to recognise our human rights as ordinary people, and change laws to end intrusive and irreversible treatments. These include forced genital normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, “reparative therapies” or “conversion therapies”, when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.
The traditional Chinese way is patriarchal. Amongst the majority of families and parents, sons are more welcome, to continue the family line. Parents, family systems, communities, doctors and even the government tend to force intersex children, even intersex teens, to have genitals “normalising” surgery or medical intervention, to be men.
In China, the “one child policy” has resulted in the abandonment and killing of baby girls, but also infants with intersex traits. Families in China have to pay the majority of medical expenses themselves, resulting in extreme poverty, or in rural areas, no treatment or surgery but a stronger likelihood of being killed or abandoned. In Hong Kong, surgeries in childhood are more common.
The medical system in China and Hong Kong has a strong “pathology” based concept of intersex. The medical community strongly believes that the emergence of intersex is a disease that needs treatment. Hong Kong and Chinese medical systems believe that sooner is better for medical intervention, with less negative impact, and an easier “cure”. These are assumptions that are not proven.
I connect with the medical system and doctors. I appreciate their love of intersex people, but they need to change their “treatments” to love intersex people better.
Many intersex people have childhoods filled with trauma surgery, but the fact is that most of the genital “normalising” surgery will not be successful, will result in multiple surgeries, and will cause long-term physical and psychological trauma. We see many cases of inappropriate medical treatment, difficulties getting appropriate treatment, and the effects of secrecy and shame and discrimination on mental health.
Many people face difficulties with self-acceptance, misunderstanding and discrimination. We see many cases of attempted suicide. I attempted suicide twice as a teen myself, raised as male with more than a dozen genital “normalising” surgeries for Partial Androgen Insensitivity.
In Guangdong, a young intersex woman can’t find a job because of her intersex variation. Although she has the technical ability to fulfil a job, and she has female documents, her gender-neutral appearance meant that she lost her job. She returned to her family but faces discrimination from family and neighbours. In another case, two people with CAH have endocrine issues and problems accessing treatment. In one region, a church is helping.
Before I founded BBKCI, there was no knowledge or information in Hong Kong about intersex but, since I founded BBKCI, people have started to learn about intersex. Many other human rights agencies and LGBT groups talk about intersex in their reports, but they lack our voices. There are many misunderstandings that need to be corrected.
Some hospitals advertise medical services providing gender reassignment surgeries for intersex people. Some LGBT groups have tried to include intersex under their umbrellas, but this seems to be funding-led. Some groups have said “intersex is a gender identity” and “trans-persons are also intersex when they have not fully finished the reconstructive surgery”. Over 70% of people think intersex is the same thing as transgender. Our own voices naming our own issues are important, for all of us.
Naming intersex itself has been difficult. The preferred term for intersex in Taiwan, “陰陽⼈” doesn’t work in Hong Kong or mainland China. No intersex people here like to be called 陰陽⼈ and this affects how we come together for peer support and advocacy work. Now we use “雙性⼈” to mean intersex in Hong Kong, Macau, China, and Taiwan, and so more intersex people and their families are coming to seek help and join together. The new UN fact sheet uses the same term, 雙性⼈.
￼We have to work harder to create a more positive view of intersex for society and intersex peers too.
This is why I show myself as an intersex person to the public. They can see that I can contribute to society, I can take care of people who have difficulty.
I provide information and counselling services to intersex people and families. Individuals and families need help, but they need to know that help is available so there is a special project, “love words”, that we are recording. “Love words” is a set of short videos in different languages, to place on youtube and the BBKCI website to encourage parents of intersex children.
I have also just finished a report to the United Nations Committee against Torture, to show the situations of intersex people with our own voices, in our area.
There are millions of people in China, and many, many intersex people. Mainland China needs its own intersex organisation to give intersex people more friendly support, and take care and encouragement of one another!
The movement in Hong Kong and China is just starting. We have a long long way to run. We need your support, praying and blessing!
– by Small Luk, founder of Beyond Boundaries – Knowing and Concerns Intersex (藩籬以外-認識及關愛雙性⼈)