Intersex is a term for those born with physical sex characteristics that cannot be traditionally classified as male or female. Variations may appear in a person’s chromosomes, natural hormones, genitalia, or gonads, secondary sex characteristics, or some combination of these things. Intersexuality is observed in many animals including humans. According to the ISNA it is estimated that as many as 1.7% of people are born with intersex traits.
Intersex does not describe a specific body type but rather is an umbrella term for a broad range of conditions. Some intersex individuals may closely resemble one of the binary sexes, while others are closer to in between. An intersex person may have characteristics of both the male and female sexes, characteristics that fall somewhere in between male or female, or characteristics that don't fall into either.
Intersex individuals may have any gender identity, including male, female, and non-binary. They may identify as cisgender or transgender, or possibly another gender modality such as ipsogender or ultergender. Intersex people can have any assigned gender at birth, some may be AMAB or AFAB because their condition of intersex was not noticed at birth. Others may be corrosively 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 person 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 people 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 or perisex. 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 people who desire mixed sex traits may identify as altersex.
Issues & Activism
Some issues faced by intersex people include:
- Nonconsensual surgery on intersex infants and children.
- Discrimination in sport.
- Discrimination in employment and the workplace.
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.
- Klinefelter Syndrome
- Triple X Syndrome
- Turner Syndrome
- XXYY Syndrome
- XYY Syndrome
- 45,X/46,XY Mosaicism
- Androgen insensitivity syndrome
- Estrogen insensitivity syndrome
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 alternate flag design was also made by Natalie Phox in 2009, though is flag is less commonly used. It was originally introduced as a bigender, but Phox later claimed that it was an intersex flag which caused confusion around the intention of the flag.
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 people, androgyne people, genderfluid people, or gender non-conforming people.
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 people, 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?
- OII Europe: Intersex Issues - a short list
- InterACT: Ethics of Surgery and Decision Making
- 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