Beyond the binary

By Rishamnoor Kaur



“You are human, you are whole, you are normal; Intersex is normal. We love you and you are not alone.”

Johnny Leggette (she/they), Former HRC Foundation’s Youth Ambassador


26 October, 1996 was the day when the members of the Intersex Society of North America crashed the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics at Boston, MA to take a stand against the non-consensual infant genitalia surgeries. This was the first public protest regarding Intersex rights, which forced the medical industry to take notice of their shared pain. Unfortunately, the activist’s voices were downplayed as a minority and no action was taken.


Back to the present, October 26 is celebrated as Intersex Awareness Day, an initiative by the Intersex Day Project that encourages people to speak out about the struggles faced by members of the intersex community. The Intersex Movement is in its early stages. Every movement advocating for a “controversial” policy change takes decades to see the light of the day, including civil rights and legal protection. Even though the first step of this movement was taken more than two decades ago, no significant policy has been passed. However, Intersex people have always existed.


What does it mean to be Intersex?

It is easy to assume that the entire human population is divided into two distinct biological and genetic groups, male or female, but this is entirely not true. There are millions of people whose bodies do not genetically fit the boxes of the gender binary. Intersex is an umbrella term, which includes people who are born with differences in their sex organs and reproductive anatomy. There is a wide variety of difference among intersex variations, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, internal sex organs, hormone production, hormone response, or secondary sex traits.


Just like any community, the Intersex community has people from all walks of life. They differ in race, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations and political beliefs. Another thing to keep in mind is that many members of the Intersex community do not identify as Intersex. They can identify as male, female, non-binary or any other gender just like anyone else. Keeping their differences in mind, they still face the same prejudices as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.


Intersex people are not rare.

A common misconception is that Intersex people are rare. It is true that finding local communities where intersex people can talk about their issues is difficult but this does not mean that finding them is impossible. The term ‘intersex’ is widely misunderstood and often erased from history. Presently, there is negligible representation for intersex people in media.


According to statistics, there are around 1.7% intersex people in the world. We are talking about millions of people, so assuming they are extremely rare is ignorant. This ratio can be compared to the number of people in the world with red hair and the population of Japan. Many intersex activists are continuously campaigning for their accurate representation. Eves and Charlie, two intersex activists, have spoken the following about the need for openness and acceptance. Eves said, “Society must become more open to all the diversity that being a person means. And children must be able to grow up the way they are.” Charlie said, If the topic is not discussed, when there is a de facto veil of silence, it makes it incredibly difficult for people affected to accept themselves and their own body.”


Being Intersex is not a disorder.

Just like the rest of the queer community, intersex people are widely discriminated against. One of the worst ways they are alienated are by non-life saving surgeries of their genitalia without their consent. These surgeries are performed on children below the age of two, only to make them fit the arbitrary boxes of male and female. These surgeries take form of alteration of a vagina (vaginoplasty), alteration of a clitoris (clitoroplasty), the removal of sex organs that make hormones (gonadectomy) and the reposition of a functioning urethra (hypospadias surgery).


This can completely invalidate an intersex person’s body autonomy and also leave long lasting effects on their body regarding sexual health, fertility and mental health.


How can we support the Intersex Community

Check out the InterACT’s Intersex Inclusive Language Guide and learn how to talk with and about intersex people about sensitive topics. Also, remember to shut down misconceptions about the Intersex Community. Being Intersex is not a physical disorder just like being LQBTQ+ is not a mental one. Laws and issues affecting transgender and gender non-conforming people also affect intersex people as well so remember to include intersex people when discussing these issues and speak out against injustice.