What Does “Intersex” Mean? 

According to InterACT, which is an organization that advocates for intersex youth, the term “intersex” is an umbrella term that refers to people born with one or more of a range of variations in sex characteristics that fall outside of traditional concepts of male or female bodies. Intersex people may have variations in their chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs like testes or ovaries. For example, a person with traditionally female genitalia could have XY chromosomes, which were previously assumed to only exist in men. Another example is a person having traditionally male genitalia but having traditionally female internal organs like ovaries. The main takeaway is that being intersex is a spectrum and that being intersex looks different for every intersex person.


How Common is it to Be Intersex?

According to Planned Parenthood, it is estimated that 1-2 people out of 100 people born in the U.S. are intersex. This means that being born intersex is even more likely than being born as an identical twin.


Intersex Terminology

Like any other human characteristic, there are terms that are favored in the intersex community and ones that are considered outdated or offensive. It’s important to learn which ones are acceptable and which ones are not in order to be a good ally for intersex people. According to Intersex Human Rights Australia, the terms intersex, intersex people, intersex variation, and intersex traits are all favored as they recognize that being intersex is something that occurs naturally. Terms that should be avoided include intersex condition, hermaphrodite, intersexual, and intersexuality. Referring to an intersex person as having an intersex condition leads to the false assumption that being intersex is something someone is afflicted by rather than something that they are biologically. A hermaphrodite refers to animals with both male and female sex organs but should not be used for intersex people as it dehumanizes them. Intersexual and intersexuality are generally not used because it may lead to intersex may be confused as a sexual orientation rather than a sex characteristic.


Are Intersex People Part of the LGBTQ+ Community?

There is a lot of controversy about whether or not intersex people should be considered part of the LGBTQ+ community. Sometimes the acronym LGBTQ+ is expanded to be LGBTQIA+, where the I is for intersex. However, many intersex people do not consider themselves to be part of the LGBTQ+ community because being intersex is not a gender identity or a sexual orientation, but rather a physical characteristic

In order for a person to have a specific gender identity and sexual orientation, they must be old enough to have the agency to express their personal identity. This applies to cisgender and heterosexual people as well as those that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. However, the term intersex can be used to describe infants and very young children as it is a term used for the physical or biological sex characteristics of an individual. Thus, categorizing them with the LGBTQ+ community is seen as inappropriate as they do not yet have the agency to express their identity.

On the other hand, being intersex is a minority as most people are endosex, or born with sex characteristics that match the male or female sex. Because the LGBTQ+ community is meant to empower and uplift the voices of minorities, intersex people are welcome in the community if they choose to align themselves with it. Also, many intersex people also have non-cisgender or non-heterosexual identities, so they already have a place in the LGBTQ+ community aside from the fact that they are also intersex.


Medical Interventions on Intersex People

One of the biggest problems within the intersex community is involuntary and non-consensual genital surgery and mutilation of infants and young children. People of these ages cannot consent to changes being made to their sexual organs and thus it is seen as inhumane to perform these surgeries. While some may argue that the child’s parents should have the authority to decide, the intersex community as a whole is united against these surgeries as they are not necessary for the child’s survival. Rather, the surgeries are performed to fit children into the binary categories of male and female and leave no room for people who do not fit neatly into these categories. Gender, sexuality, and sexual characteristics are not binary and attempting to change a child to fit into a box they do not belong in is wrong.


Important Takeaways

Being intersex is a naturally-occurring phenomenon and is not something that needs to be fixed. It is an umbrella term to describe a variety of sexual characteristics that deviate from the binary categories of male and female, so there is no one way to be intersex. Using the right terms for intersex people is just like using the correct terms or pronouns for people in the LGBTQ+ community, meaning it is all about the respect and acceptance of others. More people are intersex and/or LGBTQ+ than what may be realized, so remember to always treat people with kindness.

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