October 26 is Intersex Awareness Day! We wanted to take a moment to honor our entire intersex community.
While most intersex people aren’t trans, many of the issues that our communities face are the same, and our struggles have many of the same origins. Gender and body diversity have existed in the world throughout history, with multiple gender identities and body types recognized and honored in different cultures.
Many of the restrictive expectations about both gender and body configuration that we see today, most recently on display in last week’s HHS memo, are a relatively new development in the timeline of human history. In particular, the expansion of European settler-colonialism brought with it a massive attack on the cultural understandings of gender present in many Native Nations, often forcibly introducing patriarchy and binary views of gender.
Today, many people in the United States do not know that in all states, except (as of very recently) California, there are no laws opposing genital mutilation of intersex infants. The intersex community has waged a struggle against nonconsensual surgeries for decades. The surgeries are irreversible, invasive, and dangerous, and often have adverse effects on a person’s physical and mental health for the remainder of their life. interACT has been a leading organization in this struggle, especially in advocating for intersex youth. Recently, interACT and Lambda Legal co-authored a comprehensive guide for intersex-affirming hospital policies.
At Trans Lifeline, a large number of both our callers and our volunteers are intersex. Discrimination, abuse in medical settings, and lack of access to bodily and legal self-determination are issues that unite trans and intersex people. We have a vested interest in uniting to defend one another against backwards policies and cultural stereotypes.
Some terms to know!
- Intersex: Having traits not assignable as strictly “male” or “female” as a doctor might assess. Intersex refers to characteristics a person is born with. We’re the I in LGBTQIA!
TIP: Like ‘transgender’, ‘intersex’ is an adjective! We’re not ‘transgendered’ or ‘intersexed’, and we’re not ‘transgenders’ or ‘intersexes’. We’re trans and intersex people!
- Dyadic: Not intersex!
- IGM: Intersex genital mutilation, different types of harmful and invasive surgeries doctors perform to attempt to “normalize” intersex infants’ bodies
- Intergender: a term used by some intersex nonbinary people to describe their gender
- Intersex variation: a body characteristic that can be classified as “intersex”.
TIP: Try using this instead of “intersex condition”!
- There are at least 47 identifiable intersex variations!
- Intersex people are at least as common as redheads!
- The first country to outlaw IGM was Malta, in 2015.
- Being trans does not make you more likely to be intersex, or vice versa.
Some ways to support intersex people!
- Read up on intersex experiences, struggles and history. Learn from intersex people!
- Accept that trans and cis people, whether intersex or not, can have different bodies, and that bodies don’t determine gender.
- Read up on inclusive and safe resources to refer intersex people to.
- Make sure your language is inclusive of intersex people!
- Learn how you can advocate for intersex rights, including plugging into the fight against IGM!
- Educate others! Remind people that body characteristics don’t dictate gender.
- Gender body parts (call body parts “male” / “female”) without someone’s consent
- Ask people about their bodies or medical histories, or make assumptions about what their bodies are like
- Focus on medical diagnosis - not everyone has a medical diagnosis or wants to talk about theirs! Plus, body diversity is way broader than the current diagnoses that exist.
- Express pity for intersex people just because we’re intersex - there’s nothing sad about being intersex!
- Assume that being intersex might make it easier to transition
- Bring up IGM to an intersex person unless they’ve already brought it up to you and want to talk about it
To all of our intersex community members: we love you, this blog post was written by one of you, and please call us if you’d like a friendly ear. Happy Intersex Awareness Day!