- Intersex people are born with sexually ambiguous genitalia/gonads.
‘Sex’ is a biological term as opposed to ‘gender’ which has a cultural connotation. Accordingly, ‘intersex’ refers to people who are born with sexual ambiguous anatomies. Usually, males have XY chromosomes and females have XX chromosomes. Changes in these patterns or other changes during the fetus development may result in genitalia/other features that can’t be called fully male or fully female.
This is different from transgender people who are born with typically male or female bodies but don’t identify with them gender-wise.
- A host of different, separate conditions count as intersex
Not all intersex people have the same features. There may be a male child who lacks testes or females born without a clitoris or ovaries. Several medically complicated conditions are part of the “intersex” spectrum. Just like different hypospadias (Eg: the pee-hole being located under rather than at the end of the penis), Aphallia/penile agenesis (A man born without a penis), Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) ( A person born with a vagina without a cervix and with undescended/partially descended testes) etc.
- Intersex people can identify with/be assigned a definite gender
In their childhood, intersex people may be assigned either the male or female gender depending on the results of several medical tests and consultations with the doctors. Most people with AIS, for example, are assigned and do grow up to feel “female”. However, these assignments are not always binding and final as the child may grow up to explore alternate gender identities in the future.
- Corrective surgeries are not always mandatory
As mentioned earlier, intersex people can be raised as boys or girls despite their unique anatomical features. Castration, implants, surgeries etc are not always necessary to achieve stable gender identities.
Obviously, surgery is mandatory if the condition is life-threatening, like in the case of people born without pee-holes. But in non-threatening cases, surgery done on a minor without the parents’ consent, adequate expertise or medical awareness may lead the patient to lead a life of pain (physical and/or psychological), reduced sexual pleasure and/or reproductive capacity, among other problems.
- Intersexuality is common
Studies suggest different figures on the frequency of intersexuality ranging from 1 in around 1500 - 2000 human births to an estimated 1.7% of the studied population. Apart from severe cases, Intersex people can, in principle, develop cognitively and in physical (non-sexual) aspects, in the same way as others. Studies have suggested that irrespective of whether one is intersex or not, the human brain is sexually neutral - it is neither male nor female.
So, intersexuality by itself is not a cognitive defect, at least. The real roadblocks in the development and healthy living of an intersex person may be the social stigma and limited awareness about their condition. There are several organisations working towards spreading more awareness about intersex-related issues and fighting for their rights.
This article was first published on April 22, 2017.
About the author: Harish Pedaprolu is a writer and academic based out of Mumbai, India. He has been writing and editing content for the last 6 years. He has also been researching and teaching philosophy at the university level for the past 5 years. He can be reached out on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.