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Talking to teachers, doctors and other professionals about your child being intersex
At various points in your child’s life, you will have to make decisions about which professionals need to know that your child is intersex and how you approach this with them.
It is important to involve your child in the decision-making process as soon as possible. Very young children can voice preferences and opinions, if they are asked in the right way. While your child will not be able to a handle all aspects of decision making at a very young age, it is important that they start handling the aspects they can as soon as they are able. This will empower them and give them a stronger feeling of control over their own life. In this chapter, you will find some pointers for planning and having discussions with teachers, doctors and other professionals/adults who will come into contact with your child.
Doctors and medical staff
The first professionals you and your child will be involved with are most likely to be doctors and medical staff. Making decisions about medical interventions has already been covered, so the following will focus on regular check-ups and other appointments.
- When choosing a doctor for your child, check if they are informed about intersex variations or at least open to learning. Make sure you feel comfortable with them before taking your child to register with and meet them. If your child is older, encourage them to be part of the screening/selection process, letting them decide if it’s the right doctor for them
- Make a list of questions in advance of the meeting and take notes during the meeting as a reminder. You might also want to record the conversation, with the permission of your doctor, so you can come back and listen to the conversation again for clarification of points you did not quite catch during the appointment. If this is not possible, ask the doctor to write down any words, terms or phrases you do not fully understand
- Always consult your child if they want you to be with them in the doctor’s office or not. Generally, parents are present unless asked explicitly by the child not to be. Make it clear that this is the child’s choice.
- Ask the doctors where you can find more information about your child’s particular biology. Provide the doctor with resources you have already found.
- Make sure to make copies of your child’s medical records: documents and results of medical tests.
- Be there with your child and do your best to prevent any unnecessary tests or visitations from doctors who don’t really need to examine your child.
If a medical professional recommends any type of surgery, then ask them to explain if it is important for the child’s physical health or if it is ‘cosmetic’ in nature. Do not settle for vague answers such as “it’s going to be better this way” and always ask for clear information. Record the information or take notes. Always seek a second opinion, try to reach out to intersex organizations or parents of intersex children.
Teachers and school staff
There may be no need to discuss anything with school staff at all. This depends on your child and your personal situation. If your child is open to talking about being intersex and is likely to mention it in school, then it is best to speak with their teacher and the head of the kindergarten, nursery or school in advance. You should check what they know about being intersex (or more likely be ready to refer them to information about it), discuss the possible scenarios that are likely to arise and agree on how they should be handled. If your child rarely gives being intersex a second thought and therefore seldom or never mentions it, there may be no need to inform school staff at this point.
If your child needs to take medication or needs any specific facilities for changing/using the bathroom, then plans to deal with this should be agreed with the necessary staff. Remind school staff that your child has a right to privacy and that any information disclosed should be treated confidentially, only being shared with those who need to know. Inform yourself on regulations and guidelines that are in place in your area.
Before starting high school or college, have a talk with your child about how they would like the situation to be managed. Encourage them to think about the pros and cons of different approaches and what some of the consequences may be, so they can make an informed decision. If they decide that a meeting with the school or institution before they start is the best plan, encourage them to be involved in the meeting and support them to take a lead in the discussions by planning what they want to say and preparing for any questions that are likely to be asked.
It’s good to ask the school if they have a bullying policy and to discuss how they deal with incidents. It’s also worth asking about pupil support and what services or groups are available to learners that might be helpful.
Other professionals who might be involved in your child’s life could include social workers, youth workers, sports trainers, religious leaders or psychologists. Disclosure of your child being intersex generally follows similar guidelines as disclosure to teachers. Take into consideration how much time your child spends with the person in question and in what context. There is generally no need to discuss your child being intersex with many of the above professionals unless your child is likely to initiate the discussion or wants to tell them. Apart from this, the only other reason it may need to be discussed is if there are any specific requirements for your child, such as a private changing facility.
If your child needs to see a psychologist or other mental health professional, then it is advisable to discuss this with them and your child before their first appointment. Not all mental health professionals will have knowledge about intersex variations, so they may require some information or guidance around dealing with the topic. When discussing it, watch the person’s reaction. Most professionals will be happy to learn something new, but if the person reacts in a way that makes you feel uncertain, you can either discuss this with them to get reassurance or seek an alternative practitioner. Also, listen closely to your child’s feelings about all professionals they come into contact with. Children are usually able to voice an opinion on if they want to see someone or not from a very young age.
If your child attends a place of worship, you may want to discuss it with relevant individuals. Again, this will depend on your personal situation and how you engage with your faith. You may personally want to seek out support from a leader within your congregation, or your child may have a trusted individual they want to inform.
Depending on the age and maturity of your child, you should aim to include your child in all of these conversations. Very young children may not be at the stage of participating fully in the conversations, but it is good to involve them from the beginning to give them the choice as to how much they want to contribute. If they are not interested in being part of the discussions or find it awkward or embarrassing, let them know what you will say and check if they are happy with how you plan to represent them. Also, don’t assume that because they didn’t want to be involved in one discussion that this won’t change over time. Always give them the option to participate without putting any pressure on them to do so.