By EJ Tench
Jewish tradition is one that recognizes the reality of intersex bodies. Our sages categorized six sexes and grappled with how each individual could best observe halacha. Today, intersex Jews, such as myself, both appreciate the acknowledgement of our existence by our tradition and challenge the framework of our sages. We envision a Judaism where intersex people need not be sorted into a framework of male or female sex, but can be seen and honored in the fullness of our sacred identities. That’s why I choose to honor our sacred identities today on Intersex Day of Remembrance.
On this day we highlight the harm intersex people face, many of us literally from the day we are born. Despite being 2% of the world population, intersex people often undergo medical operations without consent or physical need, so that our bodies conform to gender and sex binaries. Our bodies are viewed as mistakes that need to be “corrected” through medical intervention, often as a child or infant, leading many of us to experience emotional, physical, and psychological harm.
These challenges don’t stop at medical procedures in childhood. Our bodies are legally discriminated against, making it difficult for intersex children to participate in gendered sports or even use the public restroom. In fact, intersex youth who were assigned female at birth are also pressured, when they hit puberty, to take hormonal birth control to negate any male secondary sex characteristics. This was my experience even into my early 20s.
While not all intersex people identify with the LGBTQ+ community, we still face much of the same discrimination that targets trans people, as they are denied the same medical procedures that are meant to “fix” intersex children. Trans youth also fight for inclusion on their sports teams, in their schools. The same people who refuse to recognize and honor trans identity also target intersex people with hateful legislation.
With all this in mind, I choose to see a bit of hope on this somber day of remembrance. While the world still caters to perisex (non-intersex) people, I find hope in Judaism for my intersex and trans community. My tradition recognizes the reality of our different bodies and sexual development. Today, we can create communities that value each person because we are all created in the Divine image, b’tzelem elohim. My body and my self are sacred and holy, along with my trans and LGBQ+ Jewish family.
This Intersex Day of Remembrance, I want those of us in the intersex community to know beyond all doubt that we are amazing and wonderful just as we are. I invite the perisex community to learn more about our identities, to listen when intersex folks are speaking up, and to see the sacredness in each person you encounter, so that we can create the world we wish to live in together.