On Tuesday, Sara Kelly Keenan received the first New York state — and possibly United States — intersex birth certificate in the mail. According to a recent profile in NBC News, Keenan was born intersex — with male genes, female genitalia and mixed reproductive organs. Her new birth certificate now reads "intersex" rather than male or female.
"Intersex" refers to individuals whose reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn't necessarily fit with the definition of male or female.
Keenan, 55, called the first time she saw the birth certificate "empowering" and "shocking" in a phone interview with Mic. Though she had gotten an email in early December saying her request had been approved, she feared a last-minute snafu might cost her seeing her correct gender on paper. But, it did not.
"It felt incredibly wonderful to see that word plastered there as truth and reality, as nothing to be ashamed of," she said. "Just truth."
In 2012, Keenan's father told her about her intersex status and the doctor's confusion about her genitalia at birth, according to NBC News. Keenan often felt frustrated with her rigid gender-specific upbringing. For the first 10 years of her life, she was only allowed a birthday party if she wore a dress, which made her uncomfortable.
"I always knew I was something other than what the boys were and something other than what the girls were but I didn't know what that was," she said. "And I thought I was alone in the world with whatever it was."
In September, Keenan, who was born in New York, became the second U.S. citizen to be granted a "non-binary" gender status in her home state of California. But, according to Keenan, New York's birth certificate laws require that her gender marker be based in biology. They rejected "non-binary" and allowed "intersex." However, she says, she believes science will catch up and other people will soon be able to designate their identity on their birth certificates beyond just male, female and intersex.
"New York has opened the door and I don't think they'll be able to shut it again," she said.
Though there's no official count on how many intersex people are in the United States, the Intersex Society of North America says that 1 in 2,000 babies born are intersex. Keenan has already started advocating for more intersex people nationwide to change their birth certificates. She works with the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project as a paralegal and says they currently have 30 people nationwide on waiting lists to petition to change their gender. Though Keenan does not have any biological children of her own, she hopes that changes for future children who identify as intersex.
"In bringing this change, all the intersex children born now and yet to be born are my children because I can bring change for them," she said. "I don't have a biological piece of the future but I have a heart piece of the future through those children because I can help them and give them a better experience."