History was made on Tuesday as Sara Kelly Keenan became the first person in the United States to receive an intersex birth certificate.
Keenan, 55, who prefers to be addressed by female pronouns, was born in Brooklyn with male genes, female genitalia, and a combination of male and female reproductive organs, NBC News wrote. In the three weeks following her birth in New York City, she was classified as a boy, but was ultimately issued a female birth certificate. As she was born to an unwed mother who chose not to have her, she was transferred to the Angel Guardian Home orphanage at that point, spent five months in foster care afterwards, and was eventually adopted by a Long Island couple.
From then on, her parents and doctors agreed not to inform Sara about her condition, leaving her in the dark on the issue for most of her adult years.
Sara Kelly Keenan, who resides in Santa Cruz, Calif., and works as an addiction life coach, told CNN about how she felt upon finally receiving an accurate, actual intersex birth certificate. Her original female birth certificate was corrected almost two weeks prior, on December 15, by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“It was wonderful. It was the first time I saw ‘intersex’ in print related to my name. When I applied in court, I chose ‘non-binary,’ because that’s an umbrella term that would also include gender variant people.”
Following the issuance of the new birth certificate, Sara Kelly Keenan has two legal genders – per the courts, she is listed as non-binary, while birth records show her as intersex. She is currently negotiating with the California Department of Motor Vehicles in hopes of updating the gender on her driver’s license.
With Keenan’s intersex birth certificate marking a milestone for non-binary individuals, that essentially caps off what has been what NBC News calls “a historic year for gender politics.” In June, Jamie Shupe legally became non-binary, choosing not to identify as either male or female. Assigned male at birth but listed in U.S. Army discharge papers as female, Shupe prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they,” according to a report from The Guardian.
The NBC News report noted the conditions of Keenan’s youth, when intersex people were still known as “hermaphrodites” and advised to undergo surgery for them to become fully male or female. She had dealt with gender issues from a very young age, feeling like she “wanted to be a boy” at the age of 3 or 4 years old, refusing to wear dresses, and wanting to join the Boy Scouts.
“I felt comfortable at times in groups of boys but knew I was different. And I felt comfortable even less of the time in groups of girls but knew I was different from them. I never felt I belonged or fit in anywhere — but I looked like a little girl.”
That was still the case when she reached ninth grade, but had yet to experience puberty. As she was told that she was a “girl that can’t make hormones,” she went through surgery and began receiving hormone replacement therapy at the age of 16. But it was more than three decades later, when she was 50, when her father told her the truth – he had refused the doctors’ suggestion to construct a penis to match her male chromosomes. Sara also wasn’t aware that the operation she underwent before hormone therapy was actually to remove testicular tissue that had grown where ovaries are supposed to be located.
Going forward, Keenan is hopeful that her intersex birth certificate will set a precedent, with more gender-variant people getting birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and other forms of identification and documents that line up with their identity.
“Intersex people are treated differently and better now because of societal advancement in thinking,” she told CNN. “We’re trying to stop the surgical intervention on infants so that their genitals are not changed before they reach an age where they express a desire to have surgery or express a gender preference.”
Even with the recent breakthrough of her intersex birth certificate, as well as the “wonderful life” she’s had for the past three decades with her partner, Sara Kelly Keenan admitted that she still feels something is lacking.
“We’re very happy, and we’re considering retirement and what comes next in the next 30 years of our life. But I’m not content, because infant genital surgeries are still happening in America.”
[Featured Image by Stu49/iStock]