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Claudia Astorino
Claudia Astorino is an intersex activist and blogger. Photo by Ariel Min/Circa

It's important to understand what growing up intersex is like. Here's why.


It's important to understand what growing up intersex is like. Here's why.

WATCH  | Claudia Astorino was only 8 years old when a doctor told her that she was born without a uterus, which meant she would never get periods or get pregnant. She also learned that she was born with testicles that were removed when she was 1 year old and that her body was, as doctors put it, abnormal.

Claudia when she was 17 in 2001.

As a teenager, she discovered the word "intersex," a term used to describe someone like herself, who has XY chromosomes or is born with physical or hormonal features that do not fit the typical definition of male or female. 

'Normalizing' procedures

Since the day Claudia first saw an endocrinologist at 8, she would make annual visits to doctors throughout her teenage years. It wasn't because she was unhealthy -- it was to receive "normalizing" procedures, such as inserting dilators into a vagina so it would accommodate a penis.

"Essentially, they insert medical dildos into you on every visit to check the length of the vagina and encourage you to use plastic medical dildos at home," Claudia said. "I absolutely refused to use them."

These procedures need to end.
Claudia Astorino

This isn't the only form of elective procedure many intersex children go through without giving consent, according to Claudia. 

"Many intersex adults exposed to such surgery as children emphasize the shame and stigma linked to attempts to erase their intersex traits, as well as significant physical and mental suffering," according to a UN Free & Equal fact sheet

'Optimum gender of rearing'

The modern ideas of medicalizing intersex people mostly stem from an experiment initiated by Johns Hopkins psychologist Dr. John Money in the '50s, which advocated for surgical procedures on infants to assign a gender.  

Dr. Money's team eventually developed a model called "optimum gender of rearing," which argues that children are gender neutral until they are about 2 years old, and that their gender identity and role are shaped by the social and environmental cues. 

David Reimer's story

Even though Dr. Money claimed he successfully reassigned a little boy as a girl after the boy's penis was destroyed in a botched circumcision, reports later found that the boy was extremely unhappy and had started identifying as male as a teenager.

In 2004, David Reimer committed suicide.

Rights for intersex

In 2015, Malta became the first country to ban such surgery on intersex minors without their informed consent. Australia has adopted a law to prohibit discrimination of intersex people.

Now, as an activist and blogger, Claudia Astorino is connecting intersex communities and helping discourage the way intersex children have been treated in the United States.

Advice for parents of intersex children

"The way you can be supportive of your intersex child is honestly to just love them," Claudia said. "Read up on it, do your research, connect with intersex communities. 

"More importantly, let your child take the lead on wanting to talk about intersex issues or not talking about it."  

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