A person who identifies as transgender or transsexual are usually people who are born with a typical endosex male or endosex female anatomies but feel that their birth assignment was wrong. Some believe that they are born into the “wrong body”, and others feel they are of nonconforming in their body anatomy and come to peace with it. However, all feel they have a different gender assignment than the one given to them at birth. Some transgender and transsexual people want to conform completely to strictly male or female, while some have embraced they are non-binary, nonconforming, gender fluid, gender queer, androgynous and many other words to describe gender identity. For example, A person who identifies as being transgender or transexual may have typical female anatomy, but be of the male gender identity and may seek to appear as male by taking hormones or electing to have sex reassignment surgeries. At this point, a transgender person might also call their sex altersex. There are many ways a person may decide to alter their bodies if they identify as transgender. One note before we move onto explaining intersex. Not all non-conforming or non-binary gender identities consider themselves transgender. Last, the term transsexual has become more outdated and is only used by a few now. It is best to ask how a person labels themselves.
People who have intersex natural bodily variations have anatomy that is not considered typically male or female. In other words and an intersex person is not born endosex. It is now said that they were born biologically intersex and it is no longer proper to call intersex a disorder or medical condition. Most people with intersex variations come to medical attention because doctors or parents notice something unusual about their bodies. In contrast, people who are transgender have an internal experience of gender identity that is different from their birth assignment.
Ending the Confusion
Many people confuse transgender and transsexual people with people born with intersex natural bodily variations because they see two groups of people would like to choose their own gender identity and sometimes those choices require hormonal treatments and/or surgery. Like a transgender or transsexual person, any time a person born intersex is assigned wrong at birth and elects to do something about it to align their gender identity with their physical appearance. It is also true, that some people who have intersex natural bodily variations can also decide to change their gender at some point in their life, so some people born intersex might also identify themselves as transgender or transsexual. It is important to always ask how the person identifies themselves and to not assume. I like to share that when you have met one intersex person, you have met one intersex person.
Although there are many similarities, these two groups should not be and cannot be thought of as one. Nor should intersex people be put under the transgender umbrella. Statistics show that the vast majority of people with intersex natural bodily variations identify as cis-gender male or female and are not transgender or transsexual, due to simply agreeing to their birth assignment. Thus, where all people who identify as transgender are going against their birth assignment and may have problems with their gender identity. When a person born intersex goes against their birth assignment they too might have problems similar to a transgender person with their gender identity, but these problems are often sadly compounded with corrective surgeries they had as children that they did not elect for, that have left them unable to orgasm, have taken their fertility away, or worse.
It is also important to understand that the difference between these two groups is also due to many intersex people being surgically violated as children and coerced to comply to being forced into the male or female box, and not recognized as biologically born intersex. The United Nations’ Intersex Fact Sheet points out the many differences and how laws would have to be different to protect intersex born children, in order to protect their self-determination of their own gender and their genital integrity.
Bottom line, people who identify as transgender or transsexual also face discrimination, are also often coerced to conform to their body and hormones, and deserve equality. In many countries, it is still insisted that a person give up their fertility to own their true gender identity, which is now being looked upon as a human rights violation. The intersex community also believes that people with intersex natural bodily variations and people who identify as transgender or transsexual can and should continue to work together on human rights issues. However, it is crucial that the differences always be kept in mind so that both groups can work toward a better future in creating a more just world. To learn more about human sexuality here some helpful pages filled with terminology: Helpful LGBTQIA+ Definitions of Human Sexuality You can also read: The Difference Between Transgender and Intersex and the Harm the Wrong Language Can Bring.