What Does It Mean To Be Intersex?


The International community is now, more than ever, aware of the issues of sexual identity and sexual orientation. But one aspect of the whole movement is still not clearly understood and represented.

Free & Equal” is a United Nations campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality. And here’s their description of “intersex”:

“Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.”

First of all, some intersex characteristics can be noticed immediately after birth, but in some individuals, these characteristics do not appear until puberty.

Sometimes some intersex features may not even appear in chromosomes.

Intersexuality may occur as genital ambiguity, chromosomal genotypes other than XX (female) and XY (male), and a wide range of sexual phenotypes.


The most common types of intersexuality are;

  • Androgen insensitivity

  • Klinefelter syndrome (XXY chromosome)

  • Turner syndrome (XY / XO chromosome)

  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)

  • Ovotestis

Since intersexuality involves a wide variety of chromosomal arrangements, the release of hormones in different proportions can lead to different forms of sexual organs.


In other words, because of all the physiological and anatomical differences of intersexual individuals, their sexual identities and orientations can be very different.

Biologically, sex can be determined by various factors at birth.

  • the number and type of sex chromosomes

  • the type of gonads—ovaries or testicles

  • the sex hormones

  • the internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females), and

  • the external genitalia.

However, some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.


While some infants may be born with ambiguous sexual organs, some may have internal sexual organs (testes and ovaries). Unless genetic testing is done, it cannot always be understood whether an individual is an intersex, because genetic codes don’t always reflect the physical appearance.

Intersex is also a socially constructed category that reflects the true biological diversity.


For example, an individual may be born seemingly a “female,” but may have male-type anatomy, or a girl may be born with a large clitoris, or the vagina may not be fully developed.

These individuals may also be born with mosaic genetics. In other words, some cells may have XX chromosomes, while some have XY chromosomes.


In fact, nature offers us a gender “spectrum.” Breasts, penis, clitoris, and gonads all show differences in morphology and genetics.

Nature does not set a definitive limit on where the "male" category ends and where the "intersex" category begins, or where the "intersex" category ends, and where the "female" categorization begins.


Assigning gender to a body is a human activity, and is constructed socially. For example, doctors are trying to see how unusual the distribution of chromosomes is before deciding on whether an individual is an intersex, and they’ve been conducting surgeries on these individuals to assign a certain gender to them. No matter how controversial that is, it’s been a common practice.

Societies restrict gender categories according to their cultures to simplify social interaction and facilitate order.


Some intersex infants’ and children’s bodies with ambiguous external genitalia are being surgically and hormonally manipulated to create socially acceptable gender characteristics. Actually, this is a human rights violation according to the majority of the internationally recognized human rights institutions.

An important aspect of these surgeries is the psychological effect on the individual.


As a result of these surgeries, individuals may find themselves imprisoned in bodies that were gendered against their will.

Also, the expression "hermaphrodite" which is used for intersexual individuals, is scientifically wrong.

In biology, a hermaphrodite is an organism that has reproductive organs normally associated with both male and female sexes. An intersex individual, however, may not have the two gonads.

Intersex individuals may be raised as “boys” or “girls” by their families, but they can identify themselves with other genders later in life.

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