Everything you need to know about what it means to be intersex on Intersex Awareness Day
(HOUSTON) — For many in the LGBTQ community, there’s a tendency to forget that the spectrum doesn’t stop at the Q. In fact, the acronym often includes a + at the end, to maintain inclusivity of all the people who aren’t abbreviated in the acronym. However it is seldom remembered that LGBTQ+ is actually LGBTQIA: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual.
Many of these terms have been imbedded into our memory by now. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are the most simple to understand for people outside the community, with trans seeming new to straight, cis-gender people (it’s not new, by the way). Asexuality could be perceived as simple explain to anyone who has no grasp on the subject. But when the word ‘intersex’ is thrown around, most people (including many in the LGBTQIA community) don’t have a clear understanding of what being intersex means.
Today, October 26th is National Intersex Awareness Day. The date marks fourteen years since the Intersex Society of North America (which ceased operations last year in 2016) first commemorated of the event back in 2003. The significance of October 26th, however, comes from that very date back in 1996 when the first public demonstration of intersex awareness was made in Boston by the ISNA. Despite the dissolving of the ISNA, October 26th (as well as National Intersex Day of Solidarity on November 8th) are currently maintained and promoted by the the Intersex Day Project, headed by Morgan Carpenter and Laura Inter since 2015.
Still, the question remains for many people within and outside of the community: what exactly is it to be intersex? Many people (wrongly) associate being intersex with being trans. This is not the case. In fact, it’s completely different altogether. So, to help spread awareness and clear up these misconceptions about being intersex on Intersex Awareness Day, I’ve compiled a list of facts about being intersex that will hopefully serve to create a better understanding of the subject.
- What exactly does intersex mean?
The trouble with that question is that being intersex has several aspects. In fact, the term is an umbrella for many variations of similar body types. According to IntersexDay.org, “Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that don’t meet medical and social norms for female or male bodies.” This can many any number of things, with innumerable variations of genitals and reproductive organs that don’t correlate to binary standards.
- Is being intersex the same as being a hermaphrodite?
No. For years, hermaphrodite was used synonymously with intersex. This lasted until the mid-20th century, but modern medicine has since begun to segregate the two from one another. By definition, a hermaphrodite is a living organism with both male and female reproductive organs. However due the complexity and presentation of intersex genitalia, including the varieties in which the reproductive organs present, the two have become medically disassociated with one another.
- How common is intersexuality?
According to the website for for the Intersex Society of North America, calculating these numbers can be tricky and often controversial. To let them better explain, we have provided a link to their FAQ page where the topic can be summed up in more detail, which can be found here.
- What happens when intersex is identified at birth?
When identified at birth, many parents make the decision to take medical action to assign their child one binary gender. However, due to the the medical complexities behind intersexuality, a child who is assigned a binary gender at birth may not grow up to identify with the gender they were assigned. Intersex pertains not only to the presentation of the person’s genitalia, but also to the hormones the body produces and the functions of the body—which often are neither male nor female, but instead sometimes somewhere in between. One intersex person—who identifies as female—said in an interview with Cosmo that while she identifies with female and presents with fully-functional female reproductive organs, her body does not produce natural estrogen. This is just one of many ways that intersex can present itself in the human body.
- How do intersex people identify in terms of sexual orientation?
Just like with all other people, gender and sexuality are mutually exclusive of one another and are fluid. Intersex people are just people! They’re sexually active and enjoy dating just like all other people. Just like all the other important members of the LGBTQIA spectrum, it’s important to recognize that no matter with which gender or orientation intersex people identify, they were born who they are.
It’s time for people on and off the LGBTQIA spectrum to start being more cognizant of intersex people and to be more inclusive of them. A great starting point is with Intersex Awareness Day, and Intersex Day of Solidarity on November 8th. Ignorance on the matter only leads to exclusivity, and just like all other people—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, cis, and asexual—intersex people should be recognized and celebrated.
After all, they’re only human. They just want to be treated as such and seen by the rest of the world.
So, today, celebrate an intersex person in your life. If you don’t know anyone who is intersex, celebrate the entire intersex community. Show your support and lift them up. Explain to someone who doesn’t know what it means to be intersex. Spread awareness so that intersex people don’t continue to be swept under the rug.
For more information on intersex awareness, visit IntersexDayProject.org or ISNA.org.