Intersex is a term for those born with physical sex characteristics that cannot be traditionally classified as wolffian (male) or müllerian (female). Variations may appear in a individual’s chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, gonads, secondary sex characteristics, or some combination of these things.
Intersex variations are observed in many animals including humans. According to the ISNA it is estimated that as many as 1.7% of individuals are born with intersex traits, however this may be an incorrect estimate, as many individuals are unknowingly intersex due to the fact that external genitalia is the only sex characteristic noticed at birth (in most cases).
Intersex does not describe a specific body type but rather is an umbrella term for a broad range of variations/traits. Some intersex individuals may closely resemble one of the binary sexes, while others are closer to in between. An intersex individual may have characteristics of both the wolffian and müllerian sexes, characteristics that fall somewhere in-between wolffian and müllerian, and/or characteristics that don't fall into either.
Intersex individuals may have any gender identity, including male, female, non-binary, etc. They may identify as cisgender or transgender, or possibly another gender modality such as ipsogender or ultergender. Intersex individuals can have any assigned gender at birth, some may be AMAB or AFAB because their variation of intersex was not noticed at birth. Others may be coercively assigned male/female at birth (CAMAB/CAFAB), meaning they had nonconsensual surgery preformed on them so their body more closely fits one of the binary sexes. In some rare cases they are AXAB. Each intersex individual has a unique relationship to their gender, assigned gender at birth, the gender they were raised as, and how that relates to their experience being intersex.
Intersex is included in the LGBT+ community, though not all intersex individuals consider themself to be LGBT+ on the basis on being intersex. This is largely a personal choice based on how one's status as intersex has (or hasn't) affected their experiences.
Someone who is not intersex is called dyadic, perisex, or endosex. Intersex is not an identity, but is something one is born as. Some intersex traits are identified at birth, while others may not be discovered until puberty or later in life (although, the variation was always present, just unnoticed). One cannot "transition to intersex". Dyadic individuals who desire mixed sex traits may identify as altersex.
Issues & Activism
Many individuals, including medical figures, try to justify non-consentual surgeries on intersex children with the excuse that being intersex is a disability or disorder. Although many intersex variations can be caused by medical disabilities, it does not mean they are medical disabilities in and of themselves. Similarly, although some intersex variations can cause medical issues, not all of them do.
Many intersex variations are natural traits that do not need to be altered unless it is causing harm, and the individual affected agrees to it. The binary sexes can also have health risks that are exclusive to or more likely for them, which doesn't make the sexes in of themselves to be a medical issue, and the same applies to being intersex.
Many intersex surgeries are unneeded and are purely made to push gender roles onto young children, and to satisfy the parents. Calling an intersex trait or intersex variation a disorder or disability can be considered offensive and discriminatory, especially when it does not cause any physical issues to the individual with these traits; it can also be considered misinforming towards actual disabilities/disorders.
Other issues faced by intersex individuals include, but are not limited to:
- Discrimination in sport.
- Discrimination in employment and the workplace.
- Discrimination and bullying from classmates.
- Being told their sex is harmful, a disorder, or a disability (when in reality there are just unfortunate symptoms that co-side their sex.)
- Discrimination in religion and religious practices.
- Fetishization, sexualization, or objectification of their body, sex, and genitalia.
- Comparison to animals that dehumanizes their sex.
- Being treated as "freaks of nature" (example: 'bearded women' within circuses.)
- Being called slurs due to their natural appearances, emotions, or confusion caused by their sex (example: being called the h-slur.)
Intersex activists address issues like these and more. In 1993, Cheryl Chase announced the founding of the Intersex Society of North America, initially a support group that developed into an advocacy group on intersex issues. Since then, other organizations have been founded such as InterACT, OII Europe, and IC4E.
- 45,X/46,XY Mosaicism
- 49,XXXXY Syndrome
- De La Chapelle Syndrome
- Klinefelter Syndrome
- Pentasomy X
- SERKAL Syndrome
- Tetrasomy X
- Triple X Syndrome
- Turner Syndrome
- XYY Syndrome
- XYYY Syndrome
- XYYYY Syndrome
- XXYYY Syndrome
- XXXYY Syndrome
- XXYY Syndrome
- XXXY Syndrome
- Swyer's Sydrome
- Aromatase Excess Syndrome
- Aromatase Deficiency
- Androgen insensitivity syndrome
- Cytochrome PORD
- Estrogen insensitivity syndrome
- Leydig Cell Hypoplasia
- Gonadal agenesis
- Gonadal dysgenesis
- Müllerian Agenesis
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Uterus didelphys
- Ambiguous Genitalia
- Penoscrotal Transposition
- 17-KSR Deficiency
- Ablepharon Macrostomia Syndrome
- Barber Say Syndrome
- Campomelic Dysplasia
- Denys-Drash Syndrome
- H Syndrome
- Kallman Syndrome
- MDP Syndrome
- SCARF Syndrome
- WNT4 Deficiency
- Aarskog-Scott Syndrome
- ATR-16 Syndrome
- CHARGE Syndrome
- Chromosome 18 Ring
- Opitz G/BBB Syndrome
- Poland Syndrome
- Prader–Willi Syndrome
- Seaver Cassidy Syndrome
- Secondary Sex Agenesis
Flags and Symbols
The most commonly used intersex flag was created by Morgan Carpenter in 2013. Yellow and purple were chosen for the design as alternatives to the strongly-gendered colors of blue and pink. The purple circle in the middle symbolizes "wholeness and completeness" as well as "the right to be who and how we want to be."
An earlier flag design was made by Natalie Phox in 2009, though is flag is less commonly used today. It was originally introduced as a bigender flag, but Phox later added the correction that it was an intersex flag, which caused confusion around the intention of the flag. It is likely that this flag was introduced as a bigender flag due to the distinction between gender and sex not being as common knowledge during the time of its creation, rather than initially being made to represent the identity known as "bigender" today, as its description when first posted referred to biological sex, but called it "gender" instead. Because it was posted under the name bigender, some individuals mistakenly claim it as a bigender flag, but Phox's design has always been intended to represent intersex individuals.
The Mercury symbol (☿) is a common intersex symbol, used as a compliment to the male and female symbols. It was originally used for hermaphroditism or to means hybrid. It depicts the staff of the Roman messenger god, based on the caduceus. The symbol is also sometimes used for non-binary individuals, androgyne individuals, genderfluid individuals, or gender non-conforming individuals.
Another intersex symbol is the astronomical symbol for Earth (ⴲ), once again chosen as a compliment to the male and female symbols, as Earth is in between Venus (female) and Mars (male). This symbol is sometimes preferable because it is only used to represent intersex individuals, and is not used for any other identities.
Intersex is sometimes also represented with a combination of the male and female symbols (⚥ or ⚨), though these symbols are also commonly used to represent bigender and androgyne respectively.
- InterACT: Intersex Definitions
- InterACT: Intersex 101 [pdf]
- IC4E: What Is Intersex?
- InterACT: Ethics of Surgery and Decision Making
- OII Europe: Intersex Issues - a short list
- InterACT: Discrimination in Sports
- InterACT: Workplace Discrimination and Intersex Employees
- What's the history behind the intersex rights movement?
- Intersex Human Rights Australia: An Intersex Flag
- Bigender flag