Tory health minister Sajid Javid is playing into a ‘sick culture war’ at intersex people’s expense
Sajid Javid’s claim that only women have cervixes was harmful on many levels – not least because it totally ignores the lived reality of the intersex community.
His careless words inevitably placed trans people in the firing line as they were forced to explain, not for the first time, that many trans men and non-binary people do actually have cervixes.
But it wasn’t just trans people who were targeted by Sajid Javid’s tweet. His sweeping statement overlooked the intersex community who make up as much as 1.7 per cent of the population.
The fact that their existence wasn’t even considered – by the secretary of state for health and social care, no less – is a big part of the problem.
“For intersex people, Sajid Javid’s cheap Twitter trolling simply adds insult to injury,” Jules Gleeson, a leading intersex journalist, told PinkNews.
“Intersex people both have our health needs neglected by the NHS as it exists now, and are still too often actively harmed by it. Rather than taking any efforts to correct this, Javid is playing into some sick ‘culture war’. But intersex people have no choice whether we’re going to be part of this conflict, we’re seemingly being forcibly enlisted!
“The only upside is that these remarks clarify once and for all where his priorities lie: clearly not with improving the services offered by the NHS.”
She believes her community are deliberately being left out of the conversation as one side of the trans “debate” seeks to boil down the complexity of sex into M/F, or XX/XY.
The existence of intersex people, who can be born with any one of 40+ biological variances outside the gender binary, makes this position of gender absolutism hard to maintain.
“The fixation with trans people rife in the British media leaves no room for our voices being heard: we are dismissed as a rarity, who should be put to one side,” Gleeson says.
“This attitude is a large part of why intersex people face so much harm, especially common while still too young to advocate for ourselves.”
All too often, intersex babies are subjected to unnecessary cosmetic surgeries on their genitals which can have lifelong ramifications to their health.
While some surgeries are done to reduce the likelihood of future problems, surgical intervention is usually only necessary in the rare case that an infant is unable to urinate, and often it is the surgeries themselves that cause health issues.
Many adults are left with scarring, incontinence or loss of sexual feeling, while the removal of testes and ovaries results in involuntary sterilisation which may require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.
The intersex community has long called for an end to these harmful operations but they continue to this day. Many report medical neglect as they grow into adulthood, often due to poor understanding of human genital variations.
Inclusive language in reproductive healthcare – like acknowledging that not all women have cervixes, and not all who have cervixes are women – could make all the difference.
“Inclusive language in healthcare saves lives,” said Eloise Stonborough, associate director of policy and research at Stonewall.
“Too often trans, non-binary and intersex people’s needs are ignored by our healthcare system, for example when accessing crucial preventative care like cervical cancer screenings. According to a recent study, only 58 per cent of trans male and non-binary interviewees had received a cervical screening.
“Trans, non-binary and intersex people’s healthcare matters, and shouldn’t be used to score points in ‘culture wars’.
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“Inclusive – and accurate – language helps ensure that all of us get the care that we need and deserve, and that’s a goal that everyone in public office should be working towards.”
But as Gleeson points out, using the correct terminology is just the first step of many.
“Inclusive language is only a start,” she said. “What intersex people need is a totally different approach to intersex care. One which includes us fully and provides opportunities for us to offer informed consent in all circumstances besides a genuine emergency.
“Too often the medical profession has simply rebranded unacceptable practices, as the Black feminist philosopher Catherine Clune-Taylor has recently explored.
“The exact terms medical professionals are using don’t mean much, if the overall process of dehumanisation continues.”
PinkNews has contacted Sajid Javid for comment.