October 26, 2022
October 26th is Intersex Awareness Day! This day is set aside to bring attention to the discrimination that intersex people face and to celebrate their resilience in the face of adversity. Here's what you need to know about intersex people and the unique challenges they face.
What is Intersex?
Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in between the usual male and female types—for instance, a girl may have a noticeably large clitoris, or a boy may have a very small penis. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some have XY.
There are an estimated 1.7% of people are born with intersex traits. That means that there are approximately 5 million intersex people in the world! Despite this, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be intersex. Let’s clear up some common misconceptions:
Myth #1: Being intersex is extremely rare.
Fact: There are an estimated 1.7% of people who are born with intersex traits. That means that there are approximately 5 million intersex people in the world!
Myth #2: Intersex traits are always obvious at birth.
Fact: Many intersex traits are not obvious at birth. For example, someone with XY chromosomes but female anatomy may not find out she is intersex unless she undergoes fertility tests later in life.
Myth #3: People with intersex traits must identify as either male or female—there is no middle ground.
Fact: People with intersex traits can identify as any gender they choose—or they can choose not to identify with any gender at all. What’s important is that each person is respected for who they are is and what they want to be called.
Discrimination Against Intersex People
Unfortunately, because there is still so much misunderstanding about what it means to be intersex, intersex people often face discrimination and exclusion from family, friends, and society at large. This discrimination can manifest in many different ways, including:
These challenges often result in poorer health outcomes for intersex people. For example, studies have shown that forced “corrective” surgeries can lead to lifelong physical pain, incontinence, decreased sensation, disfigurement, and emotional trauma. In addition, these surgeries are often performed on infants and children who are too young to consent—meaning that they grow up without ever having had a say in what was done to their bodies.
There is still much misunderstanding about what it means to be intersexual. This lack of understanding often leads to discrimination against intersexual people, which can take many different forms—from family rejection to forced "corrective" surgeries performed on infants without their consent. We need to do better in educating ourselves and others about what it means to be intersexual so that we can create a more inclusive world for all!