nter/Act has been working with MTV’s Faking It on building a (more) true-to-life intersex character, Lauren (played by Bailey Buntain DeYoung). After watching, are you wondering what exactly intersex is? The following intersex FAQ was compiled by the members of Inter/Act. It is intended to be a living document that we will continue to tweak, change, add-to and subtract from. Please feel free to reference it, re-blog it, and ask us questions (at inter.act@aiclegal.org)

What is intersex?

Intersex is an umbrella term describing people born with variations of internal and/or external sex anatomy resulting in bodies that can’t be classified as the typical male or female. We’re usually taught that sex is merely black and white, “male” or “female,” but that’s simply not true. There are a lot of awesome gray areas in the middle that could make someone intersex!

What are some intersex conditions?

There are many conditions that fall under the intersex umbrella including, but not limited to: Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Klinefelter Syndrome, Hypospadias, Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH), Swyer Syndrome, Partial Gonadal Dysgenesis, Ovo-Testes, Turner Syndrome, 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency. Please see the ISNA (Intersex Society of North America) website for more information on specific conditions.

How common are intersex people?

Intersex people are roughly 1 in every 2,000 people. That’s as common as natural born redheads! Well not as common as redheads, but pretty close! We’re not rare, just invisible.

So how come I’ve never heard of intersex before?

The intersex community has a long history of shame and secrecy, for so many reasons. For starters, many doctors have told patients that they’ll never meet anyone like themselves. Sometimes they’ll even tell them not to talk about their conditions to anyone! On top of that, doctors and parents often try to “fix” intersex kid’s bodies with unnecessary surgeries, trying to make them fit into their idea of “normal.” Not to mention every variation is different, so educating the general public is hard when there is so much information to talk about.

It sounds like intersex people can be hard to care for!

They can be, but they don’t have to be. Finding a good doctor that you can really connect with is so important for intersex people. Sometimes doctors don’t know the best way to handle each specific person. We all need to be informed about our bodies, our options, and the research that’s been done so we can make the best decisions possible. Making an informed decision is the most important thing an intersex person can do, so please don’t rush into anything.

How does gender fit into intersex?

Not quite as simply as you might think! Intersex relates to biological sex (a person’s genetic traits, internal and external reproductive organs, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics). Gender is more about the way somebody feels or identifies. This means intersex individuals will identify as female, male, man, woman, or a multitude of other identities, just as non-intersex individuals do. Some examples include genderqueer, agender, third gender, two-spirit, intergender, and the list doesn’t end there.  It’s important to remember that gender is fluid, not stagnant - possibly alternating its course during a person’s journey

How does intersex differ from transgender?

Intersex is often confused with transgender, but they are actually very different things. Intersex is when your biological sex doesn’t fit neatly into the male/female binary, but transgender is when you feel as if your assigned sex does not match your gender identity. Someone can be both intersex and transgender!

What terms can I use to talk about intersex people?

Intersex and DSD (difference of sex development) are the two current terms that most people use interchangeably. However, they both are controversial for different people.  Some of our youth feel more comfortable with DSD as it might be the only term they are familiar with, while others prefer intersex over DSD. All intersex folks have the right to self define themselves at any particular point in their journey. It’s better for people to come to their own conclusions about how they want to identify, rather than be told or pushed into identifying a certain way. If you don’t know how someone identifies, feel free to ask!

Can I use the word hermaphrodite?

No. Hermaphrodite is a harmful term that is widely considered a slur, please don’t use it. It’s a stigmatizing word that people associate with having both sets of working genetalia, which is rarely possible in humans, if at all. Some intersex folk have started reclaiming the term, but that is for them to decide and use, not for you.

What are some other terms I should know?

Ambiguous Genitalia - Genitalia that doesn’t look clearly “male” or “female.” However, no genitals look the same, and nobody’s genitalia is “ambiguous.” It’s all just genitals!

Binary - This is the idea that there are only two identities and only two sexes: male or female. Nothing in between. Does we think either of these binaries exist? Of course not!! Please see the term “spectrum.”

Dyadic - Some intersex people have started using dyadic to describe those who are not intersex (meaning, they fit the “male” or “female” binary)

Cisgender- When a person’s gender identity matches their assigned sex. For example, a person assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman is considered cisgender. This term can get confusing with intersex individuals - some use it, some don’t.

HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)  - This is an important tool in an intersex person’s tool box. HRT ensures that an intersex person’s physical and emotional health needs are properly maintained. If someone’s hormone needs (for things like development, body regulation, or bone growth) aren’t being met, they may go on HRT to figure out the best hormone levels for their bodies.

Informed Consent - This term gets thrown a lot, especially when talking about surgeries of intersex people. Basically, it means that nobody should be operated on without their full knowledge of circumstances, repercussions, reasoning, etc. For example, babies and children are too young to fully understand what having surgery might mean and can’t properly give informed consent.

Preferred Pronouns - Many people (intersex or otherwise) don’t identify as a binary gender, especially when their bodies don’t line up in a typical binary box. Ask someone what their preferred gender pronoun is. They’ll love you for it!

Spectrums - This is the idea that both sex AND gender exist on separate spectrums from male to female. People usually lie somewhere in the middle of each, rather than falling perfectly on the male or female ends.

What are some other intersex resources?

We have an ever-growing list of resources on our page. Please check there for more information on support groups or legal help.

What can you do as an ally?

Call out others when they say harmful things. Be our advocates where you can, but also give us a chance to educate. Don’t speak over an intersex person, as chances are we’re a lot more familiar with these issues than you are.  Check out other important intersex news…like about this important case involving a young child who was given “normalizing” surgery while he was in foster care. (The M.C. case is just one example of the ways intersex people and their families are hurt by a rush to secrecy and irreversible surgery.) Listen and try to understand our stories, as we’re pretty incredible people. :)

Looking for this FAQ in Portuguese?

Source: http://interactyouth.org/post/97343969730/inter-act-has-been-working-with-mtvs-faking-it-on


“I’ve heard about intersex people, and the internet says that they’re the same things as hermaphrodites. Is that true? And is "hermaphrodite” an offensive term?“ 

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hey, there Anonymous!  I am sure you won’t be shocked to learn that sometimes, THE INTERNET IS WRONG.  (*gasp, faint*) 

This is one of those cases.

But I’m glad you asked these questions, COSIMA, your name.  (I’ve been watching a lot of Orphan Black lately – queer lady scientists ftw!  #notbiased  #okfineimbiased)  There’s a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be intersex, and how intersex people differ from (non-human) hermaphrodites.

Hermaphrodites are living things that have fully functioning sets of “male” AND “female” reproductive anatomy – either at the same time, or at different times during their life cycles.  They include various species of plants, fish, mollusks, and other little beasties, but not humans.  It’s biologically impossible for humans to have full, functional sets of “M” and “F” reproductive anatomy, so we aren’t hermaphrodites.

Intersex people, on the other hand, are those that have a mix of traits traditionally considered “male” or “female” – and sometimes, traits that are atypical for males or females – in the same body.  For example, I have breasts and a vagina (“F” traits) and also have XY chromosomes and was born with testes (“M” traits).  Some intersex people may also have traits such as ovoteses (gonads with both testicular and ovarian tissue), chromosome types like XXY, or a phalloclitoris that is sometimes described as a large clitoris or a small penis. 

[FACT:  the penis and the clitoris derive from the same developmental tissue – hence, the term phalloclitoris. The term “ambiguous genitalia” is often used here, but like – that makes no sense.  People’s genitals don’t like, morph shape like those lava lamp bubbles, right?  Everyone’s genital form is just as real as everyone else’s – no one’s is “ambiguous.”  …You know, unless you only think typical M and F genitals are the only ones that aren’t ambiguous.  #notcool  #alsoincorrect]

There’s a ton of variation in what our bodies look like and how they function.  Think about the people you know and how different everyone’s body and build is, even though we all have bodies.  It’s the same thing for intersex people – there is a variety of ways our bodies can look in terms of what traits we do & don’t have, what our bodies do & don’t do.  Intersex is really an umbrella term for the many different, distinct ways bodies can be.  Even within a form of intersex, there can be a lot of variation!  Knowing someone is intersex doesn’t tell you any more about their body than anyone else’s.  No one would say, “Oh, well FELIX (my friend) is a dude, so you MUST know exactly what he looks like.”  Uh, nope!  There’s not just one way dudes look.

(But really?  He probs looks like this.)


So, why do folks sometimes confuse intersex people with hermaphrodites?  In short, because history.  Doctors applied this label to intersex people several centuries ago, and calling intersex folks “hermaphrodites” is really problematic for the following reasons:

1) It’s not biologically accurate (see above)

2) The term derives from Greek mythology where the kid of Hermes and Aphrodite – Hermaphroditus – basically gets attacked and fused together with this water nymph?  And together, they form a “half-male, half-female” being.  (Take a moment to process this if you need – yes, this myth is totally bonkers.  #validationtuesday)  THE POINT IS:  calling intersex people “hermaphrodites” implies that we’re not real, that we’re mythical creates that don’t exist.  That’s both inaccurate and offensive. 

3) Intersex people associate this term with the stigmatizing cosmetic procedures clincians performed (and sadly, routinely perform today) on intersex kids without their consent, with the idea that surgeries and other procedures will make us LOOK like “normal boys and girls,” so we’ll BE normal boys and girls.  I probably don’t need to tell you how totally messed up this is.  This is what intersex activists are working toward:  to end these unnecessary, harmful procedures and ensure our right to keep the healthy, beautiful bodies we’re born with.  Intersex isn’t a medical condition, and we DON’T need fixing.  <33

So, COSIMA – just to complicate things just a little bit more, let me say, though, that even though it’s widely considered offensive and not-okay to refer to intersex people as “hermaphrodites,” some intersex folks have reclaimed the term as a positive way to engage with other intersex people.  For example, I get “herm hugs” from some of my intersex friends, and one intersex activist I know, who’s a lesbian, has referred to herself as a “hermaphrodyke.”  Is that not the BEST WORD EVER?!  #bestwordever

I hope this clarifies things a bit!  If you want more information, check out my article on Autostraddle.com and the Brief Guide for Intersex Allies I co-wrote with my colleagues at Organization Intersex International, USA chapter (OII-USA).

And say hi your friend HELENA for me!



Click through to read more about Claudia and our other Second Opinions panelists!

 "The Hermaphrodite [detail]“ - Heinrich Khunrath’s "Amphitheater of Eternal Knowledge”

Here we get a sense of the bafflingly complex nature of these images. The figure of the hermaphrodite as a metaphor for the dualistic nature of the universe and the human body is a common one in alchemical imagery. Likewise, the sun and moon are frequently used to symbolize the male and female natures inherent in different elements (the sun is gold/male, the moon female/silver, etc.) The black peacock labelled “AZOTH” leads us deeper into Hermetic territory. Azoth was the hypothesized universal solvent, the “ultimate substance” which could transform all elements. Here it seems to be used to convey the union of male and female (and of all elements) which would allow the corporeal human form to transcend to a divine plane (note the symbol of the trinity above the peacock feathers, which resemble diagrams of the celestial spheres). To top it all off, the “O” in “Azoth” made out of John Dee’s “hieroglyphic monad”!

Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes and Aphrodite. Half woman, half man. Described in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book IV:

Grow nearer still, and nearer to her breast,
Till piercing each the other’s flesh, they run
Together, and incorporate in one:
Last in one face are both their faces join’d,
As when the stock and grafted twig combin’d
Shoot up the same, and wear a common rind:
Both bodies in a single body mix,
A single body with a double sex.