Intersex artist and activist, Dani Coyle, joined us to sound off about intersex representation, stereotypes and the internal battles intersex people such as herself may have felt.
Photography by Stephanie Bonnefoy, @stephanirpenelope and Editing Dani Coyle, @inter_sexy.
What are the biggest misconceptions or stereotypes you feel are unprogressive and demonising as an intersex person?
The most dangerous misconception isn’t about us as a people, but rather that gender and sex is a binary. This fake truth completely disregards our existence and often results in policy makers overlooking our rights, while also underpinning the patriarchy and being one of the biggest enemies to inclusive feminism. We cannot truly be free as individuals when we are trying to live within a binary. There are as many gender expressions as there are people, so why limit ourselves to two when humanity is so much more diverse than that?
What is a change you desperately want to see in the world right now?
The acknowledgement and dismantlement of cis-supremacy. Widespread recognition that cis- heteronormativity is not the only valid way of living. The dissolution of the gender binary so that the patriarchy can crumble and feminism can progress.
Your platform 'Inter___face', how important is this to you?
Inter___face was just my way of meeting other intersex people and highlighting the wealth of diversity within our community, as with any other community. It’s important to try and dispel archaic stigmas widely thrust upon us and to regain control of our own narratives. Inter___face is a lifelong project which will expand and grow as I do. I would love to get some funding and focus on this project full time for a while, travelling to intersex people, photographing them and telling their stories. Unfortunately while it remains a side project it will have to grow slowly and naturally!
Do you feel intersex people are misrepresented or represented at all in the media?
No, I don’t think we are represented publicly at all, and in the few case when we are, we rarely have autonomy over our stories. There will be no real progress while most narratives we absorb daily in the media are white, cis, straight and able-bodied. Until society has diverse representation in all areas we cannot be free from of the structures that oppress and marginalise people. Things are moving in the right direction but these structures are still dominant, and do a disservice to humanity.
I feel it’s also important to point out that in fighting for representation and respect of non-cis-het existences, the intention is not to diminish cis-ness, nor to render it invalid. The reason I mention this is because I think it’s a common misconception interpreted by people – particularly in the media – who focus on conveying the idea of a ‘battle’ or ‘attack’ on their own identity, and thus take time and attention away from truly productive discussions. Our work as activists aims to highlight the valid existence of intersex, non-binary, and trans people, and that we are, unlike cis-people, still fighting for basic privileges like relevant healthcare, human rights and job opportunities.
What was it like growing up intersex and what has been the biggest challenge?
Growing up and trying to navigate a binary world in a non-binary body has been, and will continue to be, the hardest challenge about being intersex. Why is a cisgendered person’s education, sexual health and rights considered to be of greater importance than my own? Why was I left to figure out my body and my identity by myself? Where were my role models? Do we not deserve them? At least now I understand that I was born the way I am: that is a fact and is not up for discussion or debate. My body and identity are not chosen, made-up or wrong, yet what most people believe to be fact, is. I cannot change – it’s the toxic structures which must.
What does the word 'binary' mean to you?
To me, the word binary means cis-supremacy, white-supremacy, the patriarchy, oppression and marginalisation. It opposes self authorship, the freedom to choose and express yourself. It is in direct opposition to feminism. The binary forces and coerces you into a box, then shames you into staying there. It’s factually incorrect – it reduces us to nothing more than our reproductive parts and roles. Life is so much more complex and beautiful than that.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
My biggest inspirations are the people in the community where I have found home: The people that aren’t scared to live their truth, those who take up a lot of space. The ones who refuse to live quietly and those leading in a world that tried to exclude them. Those who don’t just live, but thrive in the liminal spaces. Those who know themselves and their worth, who don’t make themselves smaller in order to make the world more comfortable. Those who show up for others, who recognise the intersectionality of everything, and those who understand that none of us are free until we all are. Those with open minds and open hearts.
Have you ever had to fear for your safety?
Never physically, because I’m very cis-passing (which makes me significantly safer in a trans- phobic society), but when I was
younger I faced abuse for having a deeper voice than ‘normal’ girls’. The binary is so prominent, toxic, and ever-present, that even at a young age of 7 or 8 children are able to hone in on something that differs from the gender binary imposed upon them, detect it as abnormal and then ridicule. A problem many marginalised people face is that, unless you are someone who has experienced oppression and micro/macro-aggressions, the significance of these repetitive, hurtful instances can be difficult to comprehend. It incredibly easy for the systems in-place to go completely un-noticed if the system works so seamlessly for you.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
Coming out publicly. It took a lot emotional labour, and it still does, but making the decision to live truthfully, vulnerably, and visibly has given me the most rewarding things I have in my life. I’ve been able to grow personally, learn to love myself, manage my anger and turn it into productivity. While all of these things are very much a work-in-progress, I’m so thankful for how much these experiences have opened my mind.
Interview by Charlie Long
Follow Dani on her journey here - @inter_sexy