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Intersex: The Basics

Intersex is an anatomical variation. People who are intersex are born with chromosomal sex other than XX (female) or XY (male). It also includes those who develop primary of secondary sex characteristics. Just as skin and hair color can vary along a wide spectrum, so can sexual anatomy.

Stop The Mutilation

When a child is born with an indeterminate sex, doctors attempt to create a definite sex by performing cosmetic genital surgery. If there is a Y chromosome and an adequate penis, the child will be “made” into a male. If the child has no Y chromosome, the child will be assigned a female gender and the doctors will surgically construct a vagina according to what they think looks like one. Some doctors define intersex as an anatomical abnormality that can lead to great distress for the family and rejection from society. Many times, the parents are not informed of their options such as allowing the child to make a decision later on in life regarding his/her sex. These surgeries violate the child’s right to self-determination where her/his genitals are concerned. Many times, the treatment is irreversible and may include hormone treatments. Adults who discover their past are forced to live with shame and secrecy about their past. Intersex genital mutilation (IGM) survivors often experience post-traumatic responses similar to those resulting from child sexual abuse. Five children are born intersex every day, this means doctors should stay away.

What can be done?

Education is the key to this problem. Parents should be educated and informed about their options regarding their intersex child. A trained psychologist who is familiar with the grief process should be present, as well as intersexed people and their parents.

The Intersex Society of North America educates medical professionals and doctors about the existence of Intersex persons and the patient-centered model for treatment of Intersex children. More importantly, the medical field needs to be informed about the right to self-determination regarding one’s anatomy.

What can I do?

  1. Assume that Intersex people are everywhere
  2. Do not treat Intersex issues simply as an extension to queer issues or trans issues
  3. Avoid language such as “hermaphrodite”, “ambiguous genitalia”, “herm, merm, ferm”, or “he-she”
  4. Donate to the Intersex Society of North America<
  5. Visit the UCSD LGBT Resource Office for more information

(Adapted from: Intersex Initiative Portland/Survivor Project, Teaching Intersex Issues: A guide for Teachers in Women’s, Gender & Queer Studies: June 2001 Edition, Notes on the Treatment of Intersex, Prepared by Alice Dreger. Intersex Society of North America Newsletter, May 2001.)