While really an Australian concept, it’s a good one, so I’m borrowing it! The OII has dedicated the 26th of October to be Intersex Awareness Day.
[Correction: It has been brought to my attention that this incorrect, and it is not Australian in origin. I have mostly seen it publicised by the OII-AU, and assumed this wrongly.]
[Correction to correction: I have also been informed that the previous correction’s link to Wikipedia may not be entirely accurate, and have removed it. In short, I have no idea where it came from or when, but it’s here and I’m rolling with it! :P]
Notes on this post: These are my personal opinions and views, and not those of any particular organisation or group. Despite these being my personal views, I have also done my best to write them with a level of emotional detachment, as well. Some of this content may be triggering, although I have done my best to only brush over these topics in a detached way.
So what does intersex mean to me? In short, it means I was not born physiologically, biologically or by any other definition a boy or a girl. I was raised as one, but I was not born one. There a variety of “conditions”* that lead to a person being intersex - this can be ambiguous genitals, certain (and specific) hormonal differences or atypical chromosomal differences. Like most things, not everyone is affected the same way, and trying to apply a specific set of standards to everyone is not recommended.
What being intersex is not, however, is a gender identity. Intersex people identify as any number of gender identities, and some may identify as trans as well. Some people may luck out, and identify with the gender they were assigned, while others may not, and may undertake some form of transition to express the gender they actually identify as. It is also not a sexual orientation; intersex people will identify all across the sexuality spectrum. Intersex is not an identity that can be transitioned to; a nonbinary person that transitions, even through surgical means, is not intersex.
If you are transitioning as an intersex person, it can certainly create some questions. Using myself as an example, if I identify as nonbinary, and was born intersex, but assigned male, and I am transitioning to my nonbinary identity through medical and other means, does that make me cisgender, since my gender identity matches my physiological sex? Or am I transgender, since I was assigned and raised male? Ultimately, these questions are to be answered by each person individually, there is no universal answer to this question.
There is some debate in the intersex community on a handful of issues, including the aforementioned one.
- * Some people feel that being intersex is certain medical disorders, while others feel that being intersex is not in itself a disorder, but rather comes from having one of a number of other disorders. In some cases, these disorders are referred to as DSDs or disorders of sexual development. Yet others feel that these are all natural variations on what we consider to be “normal” and should not be classed as disorders. Many of the large intersex activist organisations choose to represent the latter, and personally, I’m inclined to agree.
- A lot of the larger intersex organisations also feel that intersex issues are not a feminist issue, are not a part of LGBTQIA+/MOGII issues, and are not transgender issues. While, strictly speaking, this is true, there is a lot of overlap between these issues, and accepting this, and working together on these issues, can only benefit everyone. For example, gaining legal recognition of either nonbinary genders or intersex people would, in theory, have a knock-on effect that allows for better campaigning for the other. The issues surrounding forcible (surgical) assignment of sex in intersex children certainly is in tune with the feminist body autonomy, and especially genital autonomy issues - such as male and female circumcision. I personally think it’s important to recognise these overlaps, and use them to not only help people in other communities with similar issues, but also allow them to help us.
- There is a lot of debate as to whether binary non-surgical assignment of sex to intersex children is beneficial or not. Some people feel that assigning a child to a binary sex is necessary for them to be accepted and grow up socially happy, while others feel that it causes a lot of issues with gender identity later in life that are exacerbated by the discovery that you were assigned to that despite the fact that you were confirmably not. Again, personally, I feel that the latter is certainly true for me.
- There are others that I’ve probably neglected or forgotten to mention, or am simply unaware of.
However, while these issues can be divisive within the community, it’s no different from the issues that divide any other community that’s fighting for recognition. It’s very similar to the kinds of things you hear debated in the dyadic (non-intersex-affected) trans community, the asexual community, the nonbinary gender community and numerous others.
(The intersex flag - there are a few variations, and many with problems. See this post.)
One thing that is almost universally agreed on, though, is that surgical sex assignment of children needs to stop, where there is no medical indicator of necessity. Unfortunately, the attitude of the medical community at present is very strongly in favour of “normalisation”, and this is often done surreptitiously. There are times when this is done without the parents’ consent or knowledge, and no medical records are created; in these cases, it’s often done alongside another medical procedures that have been consented to. It’s generally agreed that this practice is a very important one to stop, and that intersex people should have the right to consent and have input into their medical care and support, which should be individual-focused.
What’s very important for intersex people is that our dyadic allies in other communities remember to include us - we’re often left out and forgotten about. But that doesn’t mean you should speak over us, either - we’re totally capable of speaking for ourselves, so don’t do that.
If you want to be a good intersex ally, or just learn more, please consider checking out some of these links. Bear in mind that I, and other intersex people, may not agree with all information put out by these organisations, but they have some pretty good resources, so as you read them, try to remember the part of this post where I talk about disagreement within the community!