Robert Wilson is not your average chicken farmer.
- Some members of Tasmania’s intersex community are frustrated at a lack of dedicated health services and support available in the state
- Advocates say operations should be delayed until children can consent to procedures, but some medical professionals say operations earlier in life are necessary
- Surgery on intersex children without their consent could be criminalised by the state government if it accepts a proposal by the Tasmania Law Reform Institute
Born intersex, he has a variation of both male and female genitalia.
Mr Wilson said he began to notice something different about his body when he was about eight years old.
“All the kids were in the bath together and my brother use to say to me, ‘you’re not like me, you’re like half Marg, our sister, and half me.'”
“The average person knows what a male looks like and what a female looks like, but to try and explain when you’ve got a mix of the two … people just can’t comprehend,” he said.
Intersex people are born with variations of sex characteristics, affecting about 1.7 per cent of all births.
In Australia, children with intersex variations may be given hormone treatment or have surgeries to ‘normalise’ their bodies.
Three days after he was born, Mr Wilson underwent surgery.
“The doctors decided, because I peed out of a penis, that I’d be made a boy.
“So, they just incised out the women’s uterus and stitched it up.”
Concerns around consent
Equality Tasmania and Intersex Peer Support Australia’s Tasmanian representative Simone-Lisa Anderson said everyone should be able to choose what happens to their bodies.
“Unfortunately, the harms that happen because of these normalisation surgeries are life-long,” Ms Anderson said.
But some medical professionals believe surgery is necessary despite concerns around child consent.
The Tasmanian president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Helen McArdle said only essential surgery should be performed on children.
“If surgery is required to enable appropriate functioning, as opposed to gender reassignment, then it may be that we shouldn’t wait until a child is 18 to undertake the consent, because that could cause a lot of health problems in the meantime,” Ms McArdle said.
“If say a boy can’t go to the toilet appropriately, then it may be that the surgery is necessary for medical reasons.”
Better support services needed
Mr Wilson said the surgery performed on him as a child has led to ongoing health problems, leaving him frustrated at the lack of health services and support available in Tasmania.
“The local doctor didn’t want to know about it,” he said.
“So, I went to another one at the surgery and she was a gynaecologist and she sent me to the [Launceston] General.
Mr Wilson said after spending 14 hours at the Launceston General Hospital he was sent home without help.
The AMA said assistance can be provided for intersex patients to access medical procedures interstate.
“It’s very difficult to develop the expertise locally to deal with that group,” Ms McArdle said.
“So, if we don’t have the service, either in a regional area or in Tasmania as a whole, then patients are supported to go and seek advice elsewhere, mostly that’s Melbourne.”
However, Ms Anderson said there needed to be more support for people who had undergone the surgeries.
“Especially psychological support and support to reduce some of these life-long issues that are physical,” she said.
Performing sex-assignment surgery on intersex children without their consent could be criminalised in Tasmania if the state government accepts a proposal put forward by the Tasmania Law Reform Institute.
The state government said it would consider the recommendations made by the institute.