Inter/Act has been working with MTV’s Faking It on building a (more) true-to-life intersex character, Lauren (played by Bailey Buntain). We anticipated a few new people to our page, wondering what exactly intersex is. The following intersex FAQ was compiled by the members of Inter/Act. It is intended to be a living document that we will continue to tweak, change, add-to and subtract from. Please feel free to reference it, re-blog it, and ask us questions (at firstname.lastname@example.org)
What is intersex?
Intersex is an umbrella term that describes people born with intersex conditions or DSD (Differences of Sex Development). There are over 30 different conditions that cause intersex people to have physical differences inside and/or outside their bodies, making their sex neither purely male or female. Biology class has always taught us that sex is merely black and white, “male” or “female,” but now we know that’s not true. There are a lot of awesome gray areas in the middle!
What are some intersex conditions?
There are over many conditions that fall under the intersex umbrella including, but not limited to: Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Klinefelter Syndrome, Hypospadias, Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH), Swyer Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency. Please see the ISNA (Intersex Society of North America) website for more information on specific conditions.
How common are intersex people?
Intersex people are roughly 1 in every 2,000 people. That’s as common as natural born redheads! We’re not rare, just invisible.
So how come I’ve never heard of intersex before?
The intersex community has a long history of shame and secrecy, for so many reasons. For starters, many doctors have told patients that they’ll never meet anyone like themselves. Sometimes they’ll even tell them not to talk about their conditions to anyone! On top of that, doctors and parents often try to “fix” intersex kid’s bodies with unnecessary surgeries, trying to make them fit into their idea of “normal.” Not to mention each condition is different, so educating the general public is hard when there is so much information to talk about.
It sounds like intersex conditions can be hard to care for!
They can be. Finding a good doctor that you can really connect with is so important for intersex people. Sometimes doctors don’t know the best way to handle each specific person. We all need to be informed about our bodies, our options, and the research that’s been done so we can make the best decisions possible. Making an informed decision is the most important thing an intersex person can do, so please don’t rush into anything.
How does gender fit into intersex?
Not quite as simply as you might think! Intersex relates to biological sex and a person’s genetic traits, internal and external reproductive organs, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. Gender is more about the way somebody feels or identifies. This means intersex individuals identify as female, male, man, woman, or a multitude of identities just as non-intersex individuals do. Some examples include genderqueer, agender, third gender, two-spirit, intergender, and the list doesn’t end there. It’s important to remember that gender is fluid, not stagnant, possibly alternating its course during a person’s journey
How does intersex differ from transgender?
Intersex is often confused with transgender, but they are actually very different things. Intersex is when your biological sex doesn’t neatly fit into the male/female binary, but transgender is when you feel as if your assigned sex does not match your gender identity. Someone can be both intersex and transgender!
What terms can I use to talk about intersex people?
Intersex and DSD are the two current terms that most people use interchangeably. However, they both are controversial for different people. Some of our youth feel more comfortable with DSD as it might be the only term they are familiar with, while others prefer intersex over DSD. All intersex folks have the right to self define themselves at any particular point in their journey. It’s better for people to come to their own conclusions about how they want to identify, rather than be toldorpushed into identifying a certain way. If you don’t know how someone identifies, feel free to ask!
Can I use the word hermaphrodite?
No. Hermaphrodite is a harmful term that is widely considered a slur, please don’t use it. It’s a stigmatizing word that people associate with having both sets of working genetalia, which is rarely possible in humans, if at all. Some intersex folk have started reclaiming the term, but that is for them to decide and use, not for you.
What are some other terms I should know?
Ambiguous Genitalia – Genitalia that doesn’t look clearly “male” or “female.” However, no genitals look the same, and nobody’s genitalia is “ambiguous.” It’s all just genitals!
Dyadic – Some intersex people have started using dyadic to describe those who are not intersex (meaning, they fit the “male” or “female” binary)
Cisgender– When a person’s gender identity matches their assigned sex. For example, a person assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman is considered cisgender. This term can get confusing with intersex individuals – some use it, some don’t.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) – This is an important tool in an intersex person’s tool box. HRT ensures that an intersex person’s physical and emotional health needs are properly maintained. If someone’s hormone needs (for things like development, body regulation, or bone growth) aren’t being met, they may go on HRT to figure out the best hormone levels for their bodies.
Informed Consent– This term gets thrown a lot, especially when talking about surgeries of intersex people. Basically, it means that nobody should be operated on without their full knowledge of circumstances, repercussions, reasoning, etc. For example, babies and children are too young to fully understand and give informed consent.
Preferred Pronouns – Many people (intersex or otherwise) don’t identify as a binary gender, especially when their bodies don’t line up in a typical binary box. Ask someone what their preferred gender pronoun is. They’ll love you for it!
What are some other intersex resources?
We have an ever-growing list of resources on our page. Please check there for more information on support groups or legal help.
What can you do as an ally?
Call out others when they say harmful things. Be our advocates where you can, but also give us a chance to educate. Don’t speak over an intersex person, as chances are we’re a lot more familiar with these issues than you are. Listen and try to understand our stories, as we’re pretty incredible people. 🙂