You might know that the I in LGBTQIA2S+ stands for intersex, but you may not know very much about the experience of individuals who are intersex. You might not even be sure what the definition of the term intersex is, and while it is easy to explain, a lot of the language is medical and not the nicest way to describe someone.
What is intersex?
The definition of intersex is not as simple as some may think. Intersex, to explain it in as inclusive a way as possible, is an umbrella term used to describe a person born with different characteristics assigned to biological sex traits and reproductive organs i.e., the development of a vagina and the development of a penis. These characteristics can be anatomical ones identified at birth, such as a penis with ovaries, secondary characteristics that appear at puberty, like the development of breasts and facial hair, or genetic characteristics that are likely not to be noticed.
Medically, terms like “ambiguous” are often used to describe the genitals of a newborn person who is intersex. While the term “ambiguous genitalia” is less harmful than previously used words, it’s still not an inclusive way to label people with intersex traits. This is because terms like this one stem from the oversimplified idea that there are only two biological sexes and that gender classification is binary.
In truth, the actual science behind chromosome configuration is not entirely accurate when taught to people in schools. Oversimplifying the science behind sex chromosomes and chromosome patterns leads to reinforcing typical binary notions and, most importantly, to prejudice and discrimination against people with intersex conditions.
Most people think you can either be born XX or XY, which are the only possible options. However, nature proves us wrong… again! Because parents have two chromosomes each, a baby can theoretically end up with four chromosomes (or only one). If you were to follow the pure mathematics behind this theory, it is only natural to conclude that a healthy baby can be the result of more than two combinations of chromosomes.
What are the struggles of intersex individuals?
The problem is society finds it difficult to include people who don’t fit neatly into prescribed labels. So, instead of making room for individuals with atypical sex characteristics and intersex bodies, it forces them into boxes where they don’t fit nor have room to develop and reach their potential. Historically, many states in the U.S. and worldwide allowed health care providers to assign sex and perform unnecessary surgeries without informing the parents of any medical intervention performed.
One of the reasons I is included in LGBTQIA2S+ is because intersex people are discriminated against in society based on their physical anatomy and sexual characteristics. Some members of the intersex community don’t feel like they belong in the LGBTQIA2S+ community because they identify as straight, and that’s okay too.
One of the biggest obstacles facing the intersex community are the “corrective” surgical interventions made without the patient’s and/or parents’ consent. Many intersex children grow up not knowing they were intersex. Some have reported feeling like something was “off” about their assigned gender, especially when puberty sets in and their body starts to change in ways they weren’t prepared for. When others make decisions about someone’s personal bodily autonomy, they often make the wrong choice for the person being impacted.
How to become an intersex ally
Supporting the intersex community can consist of advocating for changes to policies around nonconsensual genital surgery and other medical procedures. Our support can also take the shape of allowing intersex infants to grow up and make decisions when they get older instead of trying to physically alter their bodies through guesswork.
We can help by trying harder to understand the concept of gender nonconformity. When we grasp the notion, we can start educating others and help them understand the complexity of gender, sex, and diverse communities to prevent injustice from spreading.
Intersex individuals are estimated to be born at a rate of 1 in every 2,000 births, which is equal to the number of natural redheads. This means you may not know it, but you have definitely met and likely interacted with someone who is intersex. By making space for intersex individuals, you can help reduce the harm they experience in society and stop the degrading treatment many are subjected to even before they can talk.
Our community wants to protect and advocate for all communities that experience discrimination, human rights violations, and violence based on their sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Standing together with intersex people means providing them with support and mental health access so they can avoid mental disorders like gender dysphoria, anxiety, and depression and find their path towards happiness just like the rest of us. And for this to happen, we have to let go of our concept of normality and start embracing nature as it is.
This post was written by Jamez Ahmad.
Jamez (they, them) is a proud member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. They have over fifteen years of experience educating groups on issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation. As a mixed-race individual, they are passionate about social justice and dismantling systems of oppression. They have an MA from USC and an MSW from Smith College. They are a Taurus who enjoys travel, fiction writing, and film.