WTF Is Intersex? Here’s All The Information You Need To Know

Recently, model Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as being intersex. We’re so used to hearing about coming out in terms of sexuality or gender, so “intersex” is a word most of us don’t know or understand. What exactly is intersex? Well it’s about a person’s biology, not gender or sexuality. You probably wouldn’t know if someone is intersex unless they told you they were, and it’s not about who they’re attracted to or how they identify, it’s about body parts.

The term might sound foreign, but it isn’t – intersex people are actually roughly as common as redheads. I’m sure most of you know someone with red hair, but do you know any intersex people? Whether it’s because they’re afraid of what people will think, they’ve chosen not to be out, they don’t know yet, or it’s been kept a secret from them, what you need to know about intersex people more than anything is that they deserve all of the love and support the rest of us do. They deal with their own set of ridicule and oppression and we need to not contribute to that. It’s time we finally understood what intersex is once and for all, so here’s everything you need to know about being intersex.

Okay, so what is intersex?

Intersex means that a person has non-binary sex characteristics, whether that means chromosomes, sex organs, or hormones, so there’s tons of different ways to be intersex. For example, an intersex person may identify as female, but have XY chromosomes, a vulva, and internal testes. Any combination of physical, chromosomal, and internal organs or hormones that deviates from what we perceive to be the typical male or female reproductive system counts as being intersex. Sometimes it’s visible at birth and other times your intersex condition won’t be revealed until puberty.

How do you know what gender you are then?

The same way the rest of us do: our gender is how we feel inside. Frequently, intersex people are given nonconsensual surgeries at birth for aesthetic or misleading medical reasons to make them “conform” to being one gender or another under the guise of making life easier for them. To date, there is no medical reason to perform these surgeries, just a lot of people who are afraid. This is why some people feel the need to use more non-binary gender inclusive terms like saying pansexual instead of bisexual to include intersex and gender non-conforming individuals.

How come I’ve never heard of this before?

Shame and secrecy, to put it simply. We live in a world and culture that loves the gender binary so hard that people who deviate from being strictly either male or female are treated as strange anomalies rather than people. The stigma around it – weirdly caused by keeping it a secret – prevents people fro m talking about being intersex more freely. Then, the cycle repeats itself over and over again.

Is this like being a hermaphrodite?

That’s a word people used to use to describe intersex, however now it’s considered outdated and incorrect. Hermaphrodite is defined as having a complete male and female reproductive system, which is impossible. Intersex have a little bit of both and should not be made to feel weird about it.

How would I know if I’m intersex?

A doctor would have told you or your parents at birth. If there are complications during puberty, it may come up later. However, medical records have been denied from minors about their intersex history all in the name of keeping the status quo of the gender binary. Most likely, if you’re intersex, you would know.

Is this different than being transgender? 

Transgender has to deal with gender whereas intersex has to do with a person’s biology. Intersex people frequently go through “corrective” surgeries, which are nonconsensual and medically unnecessary, which while similar to gender confirmation surgeries, are very different. Gender confirmation surgery is still not given as freely and people have to fight for their rights to these procedures.

Are you intersex? What do you wish people understood about it? Let us know in the comments!

You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.


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