By Jim Costich
September 22, 2019
It is not appropriate to use the term “intersex” to describe a gender identity. Intersex refers to a person’s sexual anatomy, hormones or chromosomes. The most important thing to remember about the definition of the term is that it describes a person’s body, not their identity.
The United Nations’ Intersex Fact Sheet educates:
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.
According to experts, between 0.05% and 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits – the upper estimate is similar to the number of red-haired people.
Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, and may identify as female, male, both or neither.
While it is true that the experience of living in our bodies helps us form our identities, we must keep our terms clear and specific or else we can’t understand what others are talking about. This is especially important for intersex people because knowledge of our existence was almost wiped out during the 20th century. We were erased from common understanding and speech.
If you don’t have a physical intersex trait please don’t use the term, “intersex” to describe your body and certainly don’t use it to describe your identity. There are wonderful terms available already for describing an identity that’s between man or woman, or that’s neither; Intergender, Altersex, Nonconforming Gender, NonBinaryGender, Gender Queer, Gender Fluid, Two-Spirit, Transexual, and Transgender, just to name a few.
While having so many terms exploding into use may seem chaotic right now it’s just because being able to use any describer that is not just the, “One size fits none” of masculine man OR feminine woman is helping people to actualize themselves. I’ve no doubt all will quiet down and become easier in the future. No matter what your sex, there are many ways to describe gender identity and gender expression. An intersex person, like a male or female person, can have any of these identities and fit in with others like them. Some people’s gender and sex align. For instance, some people are male/masculine/man, female/feminine/woman or intersex/androgynous/intergender but many of us don’t align. That’s why it is so important for everyone to be able to describe themselves and why so much confusion happens when we say things like, “I identify as male.” A male has an identity. Male is not an identity.
Because intersex children are still being surgically altered without their knowledge and their parents rushed, coerced and misinformed about the possible risks and outcomes of cosmetic genital surgery we must be vigilant to keep misuse of terms surrounding intersex at a minimum. Children are harmed daily. This is what we want to prevent and only by removing confusion and doubt can that happen. Intersex traits can and do cause health care problems and complications ordinary people do not face and because the emphasis was on our erasure instead of providing our health care needs our physicians often face a dearth of information needed to help us. This presents a challenge for all intersex people, our families, and physicians that makes it important that the public comes to understand that intersex is about the human body and its variations. If you don’t have an intersex trait, do not use the term for yourself and always use it with knowledge and understanding. Talking about identity is important. So is talking about it accurately and in a way that doesn’t take the focus off the health needs and abuses of intersex people. Thank you in advance for being the best ally you can be.
“Intersex” can not be an Endosex Person’s Gender Identity By Anunnaki Ray Marquez.
4 thoughts on “Intersex is Not a Gender Identity By Jim Costich”
except it is both a classification and identiy;
take PCOS for example faced by 15% of cis identiifed women
who dont identify as intersex
now take gender identity/orientation
the largest sex organ of the body is the central nervous unit
it is the main component of sex.
400 yrs befor the first female skeletal drawings were done after the first male
we didnt know what androgens or estrogens were, thus hormonal sex untile the 30s
eugenics would turn to genetics in the 50s
so then what do you use to define sex if not identity?
If we are to stop harming intersex babies, we have to stop conflating sex (anatomical, chromosomal, and hormonal) realities, with gender identity (how we feel as men/boy, women/girls, both or neither in our minds). The current definition of intersex, according to the United Nations and most all intersex organizations, does not include the brain as a sex organ or a part of being intersex. Please note, that intersex people can not even get science or the medical complex to acknowledge our physical bodily existence to work on making our physical lives better, if we deny this physical existence, and turn it into something simply in the brain, we will no doubt continue this tragedy. Right now on planet Earth, our physical intersex bodies are being denied their existence. This is leading to us being aborted as disordered fetuses and erased surgically after our births. Often times our fertility surgically taken from us if we were born with it. This is happening by all our variations being pathologized and reduced to a diagnosis that needs fixing; when this is now recognized as my legal sex in the state of Colorado. If a person has an ‘intersex’ gender identity (in their brain/mind), I strongly suggest that we start calling that identity “intergender”, or some other respectful term. Only in this way can we honor 1.7% of the population that is born physically intersex, as our sex. Please note, this is a statistic that is likely much higher. I will end this comment by repeating that an intersex born person can grow up to be any gender identity and we deserve this human right and to do so untouched by non-consenting, medically unnecessary, genital corrective surgeries as children. That with all human beings, I believe that our genitals, hormones, and chromosomes, do not, and will never determine that gender identity. That our gender identity has to be self-proclaimed, and self-determined. In my case, much like a transgender person, who has not had surgery, my sex: intersex, does not match my gender identity: man, and I am okay with it. It is the world that has a problem with my sex and gender identity not matching and I will call that cultural dysphoria. If a child grows up needing surgery to fix things, then this is their human right. However, society making children and people feel they are born in the wrong body is wrong.
I was diagnosed as xxy when i was 32. I was given testosterone with the assurance of medical authority that T would fix me right up. I didn’t know I was broken. Fast forward. Now I am 69. 10 yrs ago i stopped taking T because i didn’t like the person i was becoming. That made a huge difference in my life and in my on-going relationship of nearly 40 yrs.
Before eliminating T from my life, my gender identity was starting to become fluid and then i began spending much time imagining what it was like to be a women. When I first came across the term “intersex” i misunderstood its meaning and implications as well as and importantly as its differences from any sexual or gender identification. Slowly I have been coming to the conclusion Jim has come too – that ours is “Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, and may identify as female, male, both or neither.”
I continue to find your blog the most thoughtful and informative source about intersex and the intersectionality of our variations with sexuality and gender. I am a student of your insight – thank you
Robert, thank you back! Together we change this world to become a safe place for all people born with intersex variations. Much love to you!