Emily Quinn challenges the gender binary norm
by Anidhya Jamwal (’17)
Human society has dictated the gender-binary stereotype as the norm since the dawn of time. It essentially states that as a human being, you can only be born as a male or a female. However, human beings can be born with variations of sex characteristics that sometimes result in a combination of traits from both sexes, ranging from physical attributes to chromosomes. When people are born with the biological traits of both male and female, they are referred to as intersex.
In an effort to conform to the “normalized” anatomy, several intersex infants are subjected to risky surgical procedures each year. However, a lack of information can often result in catastrophic consequences as the children grow older and struggle to discover their self-identity.
A voice of the intersex community and an intersex person herself, Emily Quinn (MSC ’18) is anything but shy about who she is. Through experiences with her peers and self-discovery of the fact that her body did not conform to the gender-binary stereotype, Emily struggled to find information about being intersex as a young girl. “I knew I was intersex when I was 10, and I felt really alone and isolated. There wasn’t much information about being intersex or any positive stuff that would tell me that my body is fine the way it is. And that was not right,” she explains.
Understanding the need to generate awareness about being intersex, Emily had found her calling at a very young age. With a goal to create children’s educational entertainment, Emily completed her undergraduate degree in animation at Woodbury University in California and worked as an animator for Cartoon Network. Now a youth coordinator at interACT, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing discussion for the civil and human rights of children born with intersex traits, Emily has the role of helping young intersex children feel they are in charge of decisions about their bodies. At interACT she also works with members to raise awareness about the intersex community while helping them develop leadership and advocacy skills.
Emily’s activism for the intersex community took off in 2015, when a BuzzFeed video featuring her, called “What It’s Like to Be Intersex,” went viral. Until then, information about the intersex experience was largely unavailable, and the need to make people aware further fueled Emily’s activism. To generate awareness about subjecting intersex infants and individuals to unnecessary surgeries, her activism has also involved giving presentations to doctors and at medical conventions.
The lack of information surrounding the intersex community— combined with the urgency to generate awareness—prompted Emily to enroll in Westminster’s Master of Strategic Communication (MSC) program to become a voice through which the stories of many could be heard.
“The MSC program is really awesome at catering to individual needs, and you can tailor the program to what you are doing,” Emily says. “It really helped me learn more about communicating messages and sharing stories in a way that would make the most impact.”
Emily’s style of storytelling is unique as she combines her animation and social-advocacy chops with personable humor. “It is such a complex issue, so I have been able to help illustrate what is going on by using YouTube, social media channels, and my skills from animation and social activism. I also like to use humor when I talk about being intersex because it helps people see the normalcy in my body and my experiences—and allows people to relate by showing that it is not as scary or wrong as they may be thinking.”
Through Emily’s efforts, more individuals have begun to feel comfortable in coming out as being intersex. “It is really good to see people come out and talk to you and be able to answer questions that they have never really been able to ask anyone else before,” she says. Not only that, but Emily’s presentations about the harms of intersex surgeries have also seen success. “We have heard about cancellation of these surgeries due to these presentations. The ultimate goal is to stop these unnecessary surgeries and prevent harm from coming to intersex people,” Emily says.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.