The origins of Intersex Awareness Day

Betsy Driver

Betsy Driver. Photo: supplied.

Intersex Awareness Day takes place on October 26 each year. This year, 2015, marks the 11th anniversary of the first one, or the 12th if you count the very first time it was talked about, in 2003. When it was first started, it was suggested the entire month of October be devoted to talking about intersex; today many recognize it as the period between October 26 and November 8, which is noted as Intersex Solidarity Day.

Twelve years ago, the nascent intersex movement was still trying to find its way in a world where few people knew what intersex was, and fewer people were openly talking about their own intersex status. The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) was still going strong, and a few diagnosis-specific organizations were starting to turn up on the internet to provide support and information about specific types of intersex to those affected and their families. Two years earlier in 2002, Bodies Like Ours came on line in an effort to reach out to intersex people by providing an online forum and information about intersex that was not focused on specific traits but, rather, the experience and state of intersex – what it means to be born with a body that that doesn’t fit the standard definitions of what it means to be male or female.

For the first time, intersex people and those affected by intersex variations were talking about it, publicly and as a group. Sure, the forums encouraged the use of aliases but real people with real variations of intersex were talking about it, together, in real time. The forums were not hidden behind a wall – anyone with internet access could read the conversations. And read they did – and talk about it they did. Intersex was gradually coming out into the world.

Sometime in mid-2003, Emi Koyoma, who had worked at ISNA and was by then running a website of her own called The Portland Intersex Initiative, or IPDX, and I, Betsy Driver, co-founder of Bodies Like Ours, started to kick around some ideas on how to get more media attention about intersex, and how to get campus organizations to host a speaker or perhaps some other type of informational session about intersex. We decided that we needed to come up with a day to recognize intersex and some of those behind the movement.

It didn’t take us long to come up with October 26. I think it was Emi who came up with the date. It was the anniversary of a 1996 ISNA protest, under the banner of Hermaphrodites with Attitude, and in conjunction with allies from Transexual Menace, in Boston where the American Academy of Pediatrics was holding their annual meeting. We quickly agreed the demonstration would be the day we recognized and set forth to building a website and sending out some press releases.

We framed Intersex Awareness Day as a grassroots effort to raise awareness around intersex. We encouraged other organizations to join in with it. In short, we put it out there in the hopes that different groups and different people would somehow take up the banner and make it into something. That first year, 2003, nothing much came of it. We didn’t even launch the website until less than a month before October 26th.

We did, however, make it into the syndicated News Of The Weird that first year. While that may seem at first to have been an affront, they actually did us a huge favor by printing that little blurb trying to make light of our idea; it gave us incredible exposure since Weird News was a syndicated service and went out to thousands of print outlets. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to get publicity.

Once 2004 came along, word had spread about Intersex Awareness Day. Events were planned throughout the world by different advocates and were taking place in community forums, on campuses, and in community centers.

Here is a screenshot courtesy of the Wayback Machine internet archive of the original website just before Intersex Awareness Day 2004:

Intersex Awareness Day website, 2004

Intersex Awareness Day website in 2004

You can visit the Wayback Machine website and check out more of the first website if you want. It’s all there, frozen in time.

In the eleven years since the first official Intersex Awareness Day, it has grown into a major event.

National and international media outlets recognize the work intersex activists are doing and tie it into IAD. Affinity groups, large and small, throughout the world hold special events such as film screenings and panel discussions. Social gatherings take place – all because it is Intersex Awareness Day.

Little did I and Emi Koyama know back in 2003 and 2004 that Intersex Awareness Day would turn into something that actually makes a difference. Every October I see people talking about it on social media, and I see news items, and I see it trending on the internet, and I couldn’t be prouder of what a small, dedicated group of people can do to make the world a little smarter.

We started it to give what was then a very small community a sense of belonging and something to talk about or to use as an excuse to share their story with people who were interested in hearing about it. It is fitting that the original idea behind the day is still with it – recognizing the very earliest pioneers who were out on the front lines of the intersex movement, unafraid to be out and be seen and not ashamed of the body they were born in. That small group of brave individuals in 1996 opened many doors that today would be considered mere specks in the rear view mirror of a new generation of activists.

Next year in 2016, it will be 20 years since those brave souls, including Morgan Holmes and the late Max Beck, stood in the chilly October air in Boston putting doctors on notice that intersex people were finally coming out, that we knew what they had done and what they were continuing to do. It is only fitting that Intersex Awareness Day in 2016 be extra special; just like when it started, we have a year to get ready.

It really only takes two committed people and an email; it works much better when it’s a lot of people with a plan.

Happy Intersex Awareness Day 2015.

– by Betsy Driver, founder of Bodies Like Ours.

Read “When Max Beck and Morgan Holmes went to Boston”, a retrospective by Morgan Holmes