October 26th is Intersex Awareness Day. Intersex Awareness Day is the (inter)national day of grass-roots action to end shame, secrecy and unwanted genital cosmetic surgeries on intersex children.
Intersex is a term that refers to someone whose anatomy or genetics at birth—the X and Y chromosomes that are usually XX for women and XY for men—do not correspond to the typical expectations for either sex. Surgery on intersex babies is considered mutilation by many people including intersex people because they believe that they should have the right to decide when they reach adolescence. The chosen gender may also not match the “gender identity” that developed in the womb. Intersex is different from transgender. Transgender involves a mismatch between the gender that you feel like and your physical gender for any reason. An old word for intersex is hermaphrodite. The scientific word is DSD (disorders of sexual development or differences of sexual development).
There is no single “intersex body;” it encompasses a wide variety of conditions that do not have anything in common except that they are deemed “abnormal” by society. What makes intersex people similar is their experiences of medicalization, not biology. Intersex is not an identity. While some intersex people do reclaim it as part of their identity, it is not a freely chosen category of gender–it can only be reclaimed. Most intersex people identify as men or women, just like everybody else.
Here are two places where you can find out more about intersex and advocacy for intersex individuals:
The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) is devoted to systemic change to end secrecy, shame, and unwanted genital surgeries for people born with an anatomy that someone decided is not standard for male or female.
Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) is an independent support, education, and policy development organization, by and for people with intersex variations or traits. Their work focuses on human rights, bodily autonomy and self-determination, and on evidence-based, patient-directed health care.
The intersex flag (left) was created by Morgan Carpenter, who states: “The circle is unbroken and unornamented, symbolizing wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities. We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolizes the right to be who and how we want to be.”