Intersex Experiences, hosted by HM Prison and Probation Service

Emma Dunn (Chair of A:Gender – Civil Service Trans, Intersex & Non-Binary network) shares her personal story 

About this Event

Emma Dunn (Chair of A:Gender – Civil Service Trans, Intersex & Non-Binary network) shares her personal story of discovering she was intersex and issues experienced by intersex individuals.

Blurb from Eventbrite

HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) held this event as part of LGBT History Month and was organised by Pride in Prison and Probation (PIPP).  A couple of days earlier they had held an event called ‘Let’s Talk LGBTI+ Inclusion in Sport’.  

The guest speaker was Emma Dunn, the Chair of the preposterously named a:gender* ( Dunn’s role as Chair is a full time job, and is funded 80% by Land Registry (a non-ministerial government department) and the other 20% comes from ‘the a:gender pot’ – likely the Home Office given their official email address.  An FOI to the Land Registry to ask what the pay scale of the role was, revealed that it is decided by wherever in the pay scale the current post holder is. The organisation is set up to provide support to trans and intersex civil service employees and their line managers.

*Note the thought given to making it specifically all lower case with a colon – a clear sign of flatulence.

The woman from PIPP told us that she had heard Dunn speak loads of times.  About 50 people watched the live broadcast which was being recorded to be shared on the HMPPS intranet.  

Dunn had spoken about 2-3 events every day over the last two weeks, including one for the Civil Service Race Forum which had attracted 400 attendees.  Apparently all 400 had wanted to sign up as allies at the end of the session and were saddened when the application form had not been emailed to them after the session.  Attendees also received a Genderbread Person leaflet – free to download – which states that people can be ‘assigned intersex at birth’.

The PIPP person explained that the + part of the LGBT+ acronym covered intersex people.

The talk

Dunn spoke about what a:gender’s role. She said it was to support trans and intersex civil service staff and that they also supported ‘parents, carers, and guardians of trans and intersex young people’ (why?) and supported the line managers managing trans and intersex staff by giving advice and guidance.  Dunn mentioned again that people could sign up to a:gender as allies.

Dunn told us she was going to talk about her own genitals and then she was going to talk about her line manager’s genitals.  Then she grinned inanely and did a big thumbs up in freeze frame.

Dunn explained to us what ‘intersex’ meant but did not refer to the myriad health conditions by the more correct terminology Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD).  Being intersex may mean the person might experience gender dysphoria. ‘If you’re literally not male or female, but you’ve been assigned to a male or female category at birth, you might not feel like that is a really good fit for you,’ said Dunn.  Which just isn’t true.  People with ‘intersex’ conditions are either male or female, just like the rest of us.  

Dunn also said that genitals were only ‘one aspect of sex’ and was infuriated when a supermarket app asked what her sex was.  

Dunn gave a very detailed account of her medical history, which I won’t repeat here, but suffice to say she has told it so many times, she has managed to work in various inappropriate and unprofessional jokes, and had a little hanky at the ready when she got to the sad bits to cry, which I instinctively disbelieved.  Undoubtedly she is a persuasive speaker.

Like all other intersex activists I have ever heard, a great deal was made of ‘genital mutilation’ (it is no longer policy in the NHS to perform clinically unnecessary genital surgery), claims that intersex bodies were ‘marginalised’ and that intersex people had no protection in legislation.  Many had post-traumatic stress disorder because of the treatment they had received in the NHS. We were told that the United Nations had deemed the treatment of intersex people in the UK as ‘fitting the definition of torture under the 1984 convention’. This is not true at all and it’s possible that Dunn may be parroting what she has learnt from other activists in the field. However the UN have written about intersex surgery in their intersex fact sheet:

… these [surgical] procedures may violate their rights to physical integrity, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, and to live free from harmful practices’.

Free and Equal, United Nation for LGBT Equality, Intersex Fact Sheet

The statement was achieved as a result of the campaign group Organisation Intersex International (OII). In turn, OII was formed as a result of the efforts of ILGA – a European LGBT advocacy group, partly funded by the EU.  The UN have recommended that medically unnecessary surgery should not carried out on intersex children.

See below for the actual UN definition of torture – which naturally enough describes it as a means for gaining information. I searched the document for the word ‘intersex’ and ‘surgery’ and there was nil return.

Definition of torture in the 1984 UN convention against torture.

I found it difficult to believe in Dunn when she strikes so many false notes, but perhaps it doesn’t matter, as the bottom line is that DSDs will be imperceptible to other people in the workplace. If an individual did have the ongoing need for regular hospital appointments then they would be covered by disability legislation and/or a hidden disability HR policy, which we all know the civil service is generous with.

There are a lot of intersex people you will never hear from, people of colour, you know, people with worse situations than me in terms of background, upbringing and privilege. You’ll never get to hear their voice. Be aware that what you’ve heard from me is the tip. Of. The. Iceberg. In terms of experiences. Some of those people are on social media, go and follow them, go and find them, you know, spread the word. Really important.

Emma Dunn, Civil Servant, urging civil servants to seek out people who have ‘no voice’ on their social media accounts. Yes, really.

Question and Answer

The audience was invited to ask questions and there was silence. ‘Has everyone gone really shy today?’ asked the host. ‘Stop making us talk about vagina, I can’t take anymore!’ screeched Dunn.

A young woman, who described herself as a ‘non-binary A level biologist’ (the webinar was open to the public too) said she had studied genetics and knew ‘how awful text books can be at characterising trans people’ and wanted to know how to make education materials more accessible and more inclusive and how doctors could receive a better education in this area.

I suspect Dunn didn’t really want to talk about the science and asked her instead ‘are you asking me how to be an ally?’  The enby was agreeable to this suggestion, sounding a bit confused nonetheless.

This allowed Dunn to tell us that as a civil servant she was not allowed to be critical of government policy and was not able to suggest places one might go to learn more about intersex activism.  One place she could suggest though (oops!) was the newly formed Intersex Equality Rights UK – IERUK (which is totally an activist organisation, and recently set up by intersex activist Valentino Vecchietti, who I have written about before, Vecchietti has links to Stonewall and is every inch a gender identity activist).  Most notably Dunn said that IERUK looked set to be the ‘Stonewall for intersex people’.

There’s this little thing called the Civil Service Code which means I’m not allowed to be critical of government policy or government legislation and unfortunately as a trans and intersex network we are watched, we are watched by the Cabinet Office, we are watched by Whitehall. You know, it can be very difficult to suggest where people might go because we then get accused of activism and we’re not allowed to be activists, we have to provide workplace support. Erm, yeah, we have to be really careful. And also just simply sometimes the organisations that we might like to point to, you know, they can go from being politically in favour, to being politically out of favour, so that again may be really difficult. One of the organisations I would say to keep an eye on is an organisation called IERUK. So, Intersex Equality Rights UK. They are a new organisation, they are only just getting started. You can find them on Twitter [spells handle]. They’re not very active at the moment, I don’t think they’ve got a social media officer yet, they’ve just got the presence, but they’re one to watch, I think they’re going to end up as the Stonewall equivalent for intersex people.

Emma Dunn, Civil Servant, providing workplace support

Dunn told us as allies we could help. For example, when we complete a monitoring form we should add a box for intersex people, as it was not fair that intersex people did not have their own box to tick on data gathering forms.  We could also include our pronouns on our email signatures because this helped trans and intersex people. We were reminded that we could also sign up to be allies of a:gender afterwards.

Dunn urged us to recognise that intersex people weren’t covered by equality legislation and had no legal recognition. Even in the NHS database people had to be male or female – sounding like the gender identity activist argument that is made for the inclusion of ‘non-binary’ people.

We can’t exist. We’re not recognised legally, we’re not recognised socially. There’s no intersex toilet is there? You know. We’re not recognised medically. Doctors don’t realise that we’re a thing. Even the NHS, I have to be male or female, even though that’s not the case. Even though my Y chromosome predisposes me to conditions that typically affect men, I won’t get screening for them, because I’ve got a big old F on my [record] – I have to know, I have to be my own specialist. So just recognise all of the ways we are completely ignored and overlooked and create space for us wherever you can. That’s the best thing you can do.

Emma ‘we just want to pee’ Dunn, Civil Servant

Dunn is affected by Swyer syndrome, first documented in 1955 by Dr Swyer. As a female affected by this condition she will have the exact same urinary anatomy as other females and would not require an ‘intersex toilet’ (whatever that is).

Another question from the floor was about the typical age of diagnosis.  Dunn said that there was no age typical for diagnosis (there is – puberty) and gave the example of Mullerian duct syndrome, where a 70 year old man, who had fathered 4 children, had abdominal surgery and a uterus was discovered (obviously this would be a rudimentary non-functioning organ but Dunn omitted to mention that).  Dunn said that many people would go to the grave without knowing, which rather undermined her argument about intersex bodies being marginalised.  

Another attendee spoke about their experience of parenting a child with a DSD and said the medical profession had been supportive over the last 8 years or so and they had good relationships with all the various consultants the child was seeing. It had been a positive experience.  Dunn said yes there were people with the type of DSD the child had in a:gender too.  Nice swerve.  

Follow up email

Following the session we were emailed an a:gender membership form, material from the intersex activist organisation OII and a list of intersex activists to follow on Twitter.   Here is the screenshot of the Twitter handles, many of these accounts are strongly linked to the politics of gender identity ideology and are political activists, not educators.


I suspect it is quite helpful to gender identity activists to persuade staff in the prison service that biological sex is a fallacy, since prisons are a key battleground. Many of the activists we were encouraged to seek out will likely be pro self-identification of gender and as such that men should be able to choose the prison which best matches their desire. Many also will be prison abolitionists as these things tend to go together.

Are we to believe that Dunn, whose job is to support intersex members of staff, is thoroughly ignorant of the science behind these disorders? Why does she believe people like her need an ‘intersex toilet’? I suspect she does really know that biological sex is binary and that there is no credible medical literature to support the idea of hermaphroditism in human beings, since sexual reproduction involves two gametes, there is no third gamete, and human beings can only produce large gametes or small gametes, never both.

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