Trans and nonbinary issues have been getting more attention in the press lately. While this is a step in the right direction, there is still much confusion around being intersex and intersexual even within the LGBTQ community.
First, let’s define what intersex is. Intersex is generally used to describe a person whose reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn’t fit within the “typical” definitions of male or female. This can mean a multitude of conditions, some of which are obvious at birth, while others are not apparent until puberty. Some intersex individuals aren’t made aware until they find themselves an infertile adult. It is possible for an intersex person to go their entire life without anyone (including themselves) knowing about their condition.
So, if intersex is something that’s not physically apparent to outsiders or even to the intersex individual, why are they being included in the LGBTQ community? Sexism and homophobia are at the heart of the mistreatment and ignorance surrounding people who are born with intersex traits. Just like other members of the queer community, intersex individuals want visibility and equality, especially in healthcare.
How common is it? That depends on your definition of what counts as an intersex condition. Doctors and pediatricians have debated over this for decades, but the Intersex Society of North America has these figures to shed some insight:
“The total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female—one in 100 births. The total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance—one or two in 1,000 births.”
Under the ‘concealment-centered care model,‘ doctors aim to “normalize” the abnormal genitals of intersex children using surgery, hormones, and other methods of correction. While these practices aim to diminish psychological distress, they can actually cause more harm than good. For more information on the damaging effects of “normalizing surgery,” a quick search of David Reimer will suffice.
Organizations such as InterACT are working hard to change law and policy regarding intersex youth. The organization also consults and trains medical professionals on how to improve care for the intersex population. In addition to their medical advocacy, InterACT promotes positive change within the legal system and is working on intersex visibility within media. Most notably, they’ve done work with the state of Califonia to pass SB-110, a bill that would delay intersex surgeries until the individual was of age to provide informed consent.