Intersex is an umbrella term and describes variations in sex characteristics from the stereotypical ones medically and socially associated with “male” and “female”. Differences in sex characteristics are a normal and natural part of the human experience, and much of the oppression faced by those who are intersex is caused by society and the medical community’s insistence on placing us all into two distinct categories.
Variations can affect any sexual characteristic (e.g. genitals, gonads, chromosomes, etc.) and a diagnosis of intersex (sometimes called Disorders/Differences of Sexual Development by the medical community) can occur at birth, during puberty, later in life, or sometimes go unnoticed altogether. Whilst many think that being born intersex is very rare, estimates put the numbers at about 1.7% of the world population, just under the number of people born with red hair.
Intersex people can often face trauma from undergoing surgeries to “normalise” their sex characteristics before an age where they are capable of informed consent. A lot of these surgeries are for cosmetic purposes to more visually align them with the stereotypes of cisgender men and women, rather than for life-saving reasons. Many intersex people report feelings of shame and hiding their identity from those around them. Societal pressures around what our bodies look like can be very strong, and for those whose bodies don’t conform to the “norm” this can trigger mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
Intersex people may identify as male, female or neither, and it’s important to be conscious of the language we use so as not to further stigmatise people who are intersex. Some may associate themselves with the LGBT+ community due to their gender identity, sexuality or similarity in human rights activism, and others don’t. As with any oppressed identity it is best to ask questions respectfully, and to mirror the language used by that particular person.
For more information on the issues faced by people who are intersex, check out the following websites:
FIVE THINGS TO SHARE ON INTERSEX AWARENESS DAY — UKBP (ukblackpride.org.uk)
About The UK Intersex Association (UKIA)
Intersex rights in the United Kingdom – Wikipedia
Honoring the Intersex Day of Remembrance – Intersex Campaign for Equality (intersexequality.com)
Intersex UK – Home | Facebook
By Finn Dobson (they/them) at Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service (LMWS)