The black swan…

Article en français : Le cygne noir

Round table of the 28.10.20 organized by the Intersex & Gender Luxembourg association:
“Intersexes: from medicine to human rights”.

With Thierry Bosman, Belgium (expert by experience, Intersex Belgium), Blaise Meyrat, Switzerland, (pediatric surgeon, former head of pediatric urology at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois – CHUV), Ursula Rosen, Germany (mother of an adult intersexed person, Intersex Menschen e.V.), Daniela Truffer and Markus Bauer, Switzerland (expert.e.xs by experience,, René Schlechter (Ombudsman fir Kanner a Jugendlecher – OKaJu), Alioune B. Touré (Vice-President of the Consultative Commission on Human Rights – CCDH). Moderator: Maryse Arendt, President of UNICEF-Luxembourg.

About this roundtable…

It was so enriching and moving to hear such a diverse and moving panel of speakers, representing such diverse experiences. Yet, looking back, I tell myself that there is still so much to question, to say, to understand and to do.

Let us recall the subject of the debate:
How can we move beyond a medical point of view that focuses on “sexual developmental disorders” to consider intersex as a human rights issue? What legislative measures are needed to effectively protect children with variations in gendered characteristics? 

Under the influence of the standard…

Questioned, Rene Schlechter, admitted that without being an expert on the subject, he had been able to note that the young people who were fully accepted, letting them be in their differences, were doing much better than those who were sought to transform, as man or woman, to normalize them.

I can’t help but draw a parallel with the learning process. 
Young people who are allowed to learn naturally learn much better, in a more authentic and fulfilling way, than those who are forced to learn according to a school standard. Those who are allowed to learn to read without imposing a rhythm or method, learn to read much better and 30 hours is enough[1]. The standard education system produces millions of functional illiterates[2].

Most swans are white, does this mean that black swans are sick and need to be bleached? 

However, intersex is still too often treated as a pathology. 
Its medicalization makes it a lot of pain, physically and mentally. 
A pathology that can make the designated patient truly ill in an irreversible way. Interventions that haunt the minds of prescribers, as soon as they become aware of the scope of their actions. 

Isn’t overmedication also applied to what is commonly known as “academic failure”? 

It is a relative failure, the simple fact of not conforming to the normative academic expectations of a dominant system. And what if instead of considering this non-conformity as a flaw, we learn to accept it and let it be expressed and developed outside the schoolnorm in all its potential ? [3]
Some have done so for decades and continue to do so, there is nothing more to prove, there is just to dare to let go, dare to do something different from the mainstream and learn to become a facilitator rather than an instructor[4].

It is illegal to impose a standard…

Grand Duchess CHARLOTTE, the Council of State and the Chamber of Deputies approved the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms so that the law of August 29, 1953[5]could be executed and observed by all those concerned.

Human rights aspire to nothing more than a misarchy, a regime in principle aiming at a maximum reduction of power and domination. 
These rights are recognized to all persons without distinction of age or gender (Art. 14). Thus it is sufficient for a person, regardless of age or sex, to feel humiliated in his or her own eyes to see that his or her dignity and integrity have been violated (Art. 3). Every person, regardless of age or sex, has the right to a fair hearing (Art. 6). Everyone, regardless of age or sex, has the right to freedom of thought and conscience (Art. 9). Everyone, regardless of age or sex, has the right to freedom of expression (Art. 10). Everyone, regardless of age or sex,  has the right to an effective remedy before a national authority if these rights and freedoms are violated (Sec. 13). Restrictions on these rights and freedoms may only be applied for the purpose for which they were intended (Art. 18), that is, when the dignity of the person is violated.

Human rights are nothing more than an injunction to share power equitably in equidignity. It is therefore not legitimate to impose a norm without the consent of the person and without first allowing that person, regardless of age or sex, to make an informed choice about a decision that affects him or her. In the same way, it is not legitimate to hold a person of any age or sexinservitude (Art. 4.1), to compel them to perform forced or compulsory labor (Art. 4.2), to deprive them of their liberty except in detention for an offence (Art. 5.1.d), and yet this is the norm imposed by the conventional school system.

Can we truly educate to the respect of human rights through educational practices that do not respect them? 
“Knowing how to say no cannot be improvised, it is an attitude that is acquired through previous experiences, a transmission.Not everyone has had the chance. No one is resistant from birth… But experience can be acquired very quickly”[6] but it still has to be made possible. 

As Hannah Arendt points out, it is impossible to demonstrate that equidignity is better than domination, it is a story of belief, of desire but not of proof. It is an ideological choice. It is the political choice made by Luxembourg after the atrocities of the Second World War. 

The respect of these rights is based solely on this common understanding. 

It is our duty to enable each person to discern the issues of domination and oppression from the perspective of the dominant and the dominated. 

Heading towards misarchy?

In Arcania[7], the imaginary land of Emmanuel Dockès’ novel, the biggest taboo is intolerance and everyone respects the fundamentals. His story, far from being utopian, shows us that we can envisage other ways and achieve more fundamental rights. Everywhere in the world voices are being raised in this sense. 

The Intersex & Gender Luxembourg association showed us that it is possible to give time and space in a high school for a real dialogue and exchange around the subject of intersex. 

Let us demand from our politicians that this kind of openness to the world around us, this kind of authentic societal debate on issues of concern to young people, become the norm in our education system. Let us allow young minds to deal with subjects that truly interest them, rather than imposing standardized learning on them, in a vertical and competitive system that does not respect human rights. 

The right to education is based on the premise that “an enlightened and active mind capable of wandering freely is one of the joys and rewards of existence. [8]
Without the full and effective realization of this right, it will be difficult to break free from obsolete norms, reduce intolerance and increase respect for fundamental rights.

Let’s take CHARLOTTE’s words seriously!

Katy Zago

ALLI asbl

[1] Conversation with Dr. Ramroop

[2] “Functional Adult Illiteracy in Rich Western Countries”
Electronic PLatform for Adult Learning in Europe

[3] What if we talked about dyslexia in a self-directed education context?



[6] Submission to the media authority

[7] Emmanuel Dockès ” Voyage en misarchie – Essai pour tout reconstruire ” Ed. Du Détour, Paris, 2019


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