Not many people know what being intersex means – or that intersex people exist. Parents are often only exposed to it after giving birth to their intersex child and will be asked whether it should undergo surgery to be "turned into a boy or a girl". Those sex reassignment surgeries and other treatments are often irreversible, medically unnecessary and followed by a long list of physical and mental discomforts.
For my bachelor thesis, I developed the concept of inter°change: A service to educate, support and connect intersex people and their families. Through personalized information boxes, that parents shall receive with the diagnose, inter°change provides information about consequences and alternatives of sex reassignment and explains the child’s condition in a simple, non-medical language. It puts parents in touch with support groups and other families with intersex children.
The most important item in the box is a workbook in which the parents reflect their own opinion and emotions. They are asked to define what gender, health and illness mean to them and shall understand that their child is not ill and does not need to be fixed. They will be educated on the current legal situation and how different cultures handle it more reasonably. The book makes them question the two-sex model of modern society. It includes tips on how to explain the child’s sex to others as well as a guide on talking to medics. Parents shall learn that they are allowed to ask every question – until they understand the situation fully and won’t agree to something they are likely to regret later.
The book uses lightweight language and graphics to educate people on this sensitive topic. Words like "syndrome", "symptom" or "disorder" are being avoided. Some illustrations use yellow ink which is filtered out by parchment paper to show that gender is not always visible on the outside. Breaks in between chapters allow the readers to reflect on their newly gained knowledge.
Amongst the reading material, the box contains a diary for intimate thoughts and letter paper. Maybe the parents want to write a letter to their child – once it is old enough to read it, the letter could help understand the parents’ fears and how they made a decision.
On the website, more information boxes, that will discuss relevant topics for a later time, e.g. puberty, can be ordered. It also links to support groups, doctors, literature etc.
inter°change aims to normalize intersex, strengthen parent-child relationships and to build a network of people that seem to be invisible in most areas of life.
As a conversation starter and to increase the visibility of intersex, I also screen printed tote bags using my illustrations of Hermaphroditos and intersex genitalia.