Inter/Act’s Second Wave Interview Series, Vol. 2: Shana in conversation with Tony Briffa, Mayor of Hobsons Bay (Melbourne, Australia). Mr. Briffa is the world’s first openly intersex mayor.
Shana: You recently gained widespread notoriety for being the world’s first openly intersex mayor. What made you decide to first run for public office, and how did your intersex condition play a part in that decision? Did you expect that there would be as much international press about it as there has been? How has that experience been for you?
Mayor Briffa: I stood for public office because I know politics is a great way to make a difference and contribute to the community. I’ve always had an interest in history, politics and human rights, and being intersex - along with my experiences as a result of the clinical management of being intersex as a child - contributed to making me a strong advocate.
I didn’t expect the global media attention but I am glad my election as mayor has helped raise awareness of intersex issues. The experience has been humbling because I’ve received so much lovely emails of support from all over the world.
Shana: How do you experience your gender in relation to your intersex condition? Has this changed over your life? Do you ever get responses from the transgender community? …
Mayor Briffa: My gender identity is completely congruent with my physical sex. I celebrate being both male and female and am very open about that. I have had a lot of contact with the transgender community (as I have with the wider gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community) and it has been very positive, respectful and constructive. I can understand some aspects of the transgender experience even though I recognise intersex and transgender are completely separate. Likewise, I can relate with the lesbian community as I continue to be attracted to women and am intimate with them as a lesbian.
Shana: How do you think being intersex has affected your relationships?
Mayor Briffa: Absolutely, but mainly because of the inappropriate clinical management of being intersex as a child which reinforced heteronormativity and adversely affected my body self image and socialisation as a teenager.
Shana: How do you feel towards the people who made decisions about medical treatment when you were younger? One piece I read mentioned that you were involved in litigation against some of the doctors - what was the outcome of those actions?
Mayor Briffa: I have no ill feelings towards the medical community that were involved in my medical treatment when I was younger, and am pleased to say that I consider one of the doctors to be a friend. I am legally unable to comment about the legal action against my doctors but am glad we’ve all moved on.
Shana: Where do you see the intersex community’s place within the larger LGBT/queer movement? Should it be a part of that movement? What are the points of intersection and what are the points of separation in your eyes (in terms of goals, strategies, etc.)?
Mayor Briffa: I acknowledge that lots of intersex people are not gay, lesbian or bisexual, and that transgender is different to intersex, but I do see a commonality with the wider GLBTIQ community and a benefit in working within a larger group.
The GLBTIQ community contains many subgroups that are different. Gay is different to lesbian which is different to bisexual and transgender etc. Further, each of these groups have different subgroups such a “femme”, “butch”, and “just me” lesbians. Ultimately however, I see the GLBTIQ community as being about celebrating difference regarding sex, gender and gender expression together. Our commonality is difference and united we are a stronger voice.
Shana: When it comes to the intersex movement, what do you see as the “end” goal? Do you have any ideas as to how this can be achieved?
Mayor Briffa: I think the end goal for the intersex movement is widespread awareness, acceptance and celebration of intersex, combined with a human rights approach to the way we are treated by the law, society, medical profession, etc.
I believe education and sharing our personal stories (reinforced by strong, successful, public role models) is the best way to go about achieving these goals, but there will be times our campaigns must be more resolute and involve legal action and political lobbying. I’ve been involved in this movement for last 13 years through my role with the AIS Support Group Australia.
Shana: What would you say are the positive aspects of being intersex? Do you think your experiences have a positive effect on your role as a public servant and politician?
Mayor Briffa: Being intersex helps me as a politician because I can relate with my constituents irrespective of sex, and I am a strong human rights advocate.
Learn more about Mayor Briffa’s life and work via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube!