Claudia Is Intersex, Let’s Talk About It

Hey there, Autostraddlers. I’m Claudia, and I’m intersex.


I mean, I’m lots of things. For example, I’m . . .

  • a graduate student in the sciences in NYC
  • a feminist with riot-grrrly-type tendencies
  • a gay lady with an amazing girlfriend and some of the best friends, both queer and straight, that I could ever hope for
  • a chronically late sleeper & recovering procrastinator
  • a not-recovering peanut butter m&m’s addict (THEY ARE PERFECT AND WE’RE IN LOVE)

But yeah, I’m also intersex. And this is why I’m really here.

Intersex is generally thought of as a medical condition—a rare and kind of weird thing that sometimes happens to kids and needs to be fixed. I feel like the cultural consciousness around intersex is the image of an androgynous-y looking person with both a penis and a vulva; like a man and a woman smashed together, who is maybe “really” male or female, or maybe both, or maybe something else entirely.

This image isn’t accurate, although it took me more than a decade to really understand and embrace that. Intersex, first and foremost, is about bodies—a biological way of being. When most individuals are born, the doctor or the doula or the flustered taxi cab driver shouts out, “It’s a boy!” or, “It’s a girl!” The person shouting figures out whether this new, tiny human is a boy or a girl by inventorying the set of physical traits they have. Although doctors typically check only external genitalia to assign sex, these traits also include internal sex organs, chromosomes, and hormone types and levels. If a child has all the “boy forms” of these traits, he’s a boy. If the child has all the “girl forms” of these traits, she’s a girl. Intersex people are born with a mix of sex characteristics – some traditionally considered male, and some considered female – in the same body. For example, I have a vagina and later developed breasts and hips, but I also have XY chromosomes, and had testes at birth. I’ve got some “male” traits and some “female” traits in the same body, so it’s not so easy to clearly assign me “male” or “female.” My own body is just one example; intersex isn’t a single category, and there are many different variations of intersex and, within each variation, a lot of diversity. Not all male or female bodies look and function the same, you know? Knowing that I’m intersex alone doesn’t really tell you much about me or my body.

We are all real.

Understanding what intersex means also helps with understanding what it doesn’t mean. Our bodies are natural and normal and healthy; while some health problems are associated with some forms of intersex, simply being intersex isn’t a health problem in and of itself. Females typically have ovaries, but the fact that some women can get ovarian cancer doesn’t mean being female is a disease, right? Further, intersex people – biologically speaking – are not hermaphrodites. Hermaphrodites are living things that, at the same time or at different points in their life cycle, have complete and fully functioning sets of “male” and “female” sex organs – external and internal. Humans don’t qualify under this definition, with hermaphroditic species represented mostly by plants, fish, mollusks and other little beasties. “Hermaphrodite” is a dated term that physicians used to apply to people with atypical sex anatomy, and while it is widely considered offensive today, some intersex people have reclaimed it and use it as an inclusive term (e.g., “Give me a herm hug!”) or an identity label. This also means that the popular conception of a hermaphrodite as someone with both a penis and a vagina isn’t biologically accurate. While external genitals may look atypical in some forms of intersex, this is not the case for others. It totally depends. Intersex is definitely about bodies, but it’s not really about genitals.

No, it just makes you a raptor that likes to fuck snails.

Intersex has long been considered to be a controversial subject, and as I’ve grown to accept my intersex, it’s become harder and harder to understand why. It really isn’t so revolutionary to accept that there’s variation in what people’s bodies look like and how they function. Like, there’s not only brown eyes and blue eyes; there are dark brown eyes and light brown eyes and medium brown eyes and deep deep blue eyes and crystal blue eyes that seem to stare right through you and green and hazel and violet and violet with green flecks in it and blue with gold flecks in it and so many other colors you’d have to catalog them like paint swatches. We’re comfortable with the fact that there aren’t just two heights, or two weights, or two skin colors that people come in.

Why should sex be any different?

There are at least this many sexes. (Maybe)

This concept – that sex isn’t binary, that there are many ways biological sex can present itself – is a really fucking scary concept for a lot of people. I think it’s because there’s this idea out there that based on the body parts that a person has, their sex, gender, and sexual orientation are all inherently linked in one of two pre-determined sets. A child assigned female at birth is instantly assumed to be of female gender. She’ll feel like a girl, she’ll play with dolls dressed up in pink, she’ll act like a lady, she’ll wear skirts and lipstick, she’ll be kind and nurturing. It’s also generally assumed that she’ll be attracted to boys, and have sex with boys, especially the ever-hallowed penis-in-the-vagina kind of heterosexual intercourse, amirite? (Cue choir of angels.)

Gender roles: enforce early and often

But what do you do when confronted with a person whose body isn’t easily categorized as male or female? What would their gender be? Maybe they won’t feel like a boy or a girl and will play with GI Joes dressed up in pink, and act like a lady except when they won’t, and they’ll dress in clothing combinations that scare the kids. Maybe they’ll like just girls or just boys or both or other disturbing little snowflakes like themselves, and who KNOWS what will happen if they reproduce.

Maybe it’s time to freak the fuck out.

In short, unlike typical girls and boys, there are no guidelines telling society how intersex people are supposed to be treated. Intersex bodies create social panic. Our physical traits might not really be so scary, but the implications of accepting our bodies go pretty quickly from what-does-this-mean to what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do-NOW?! Biological sex is one of the most fundamental ways human beings identify and understand each other; if our idea of biological sex is wrong, what else could be wrong? It’s too much to handle.


The seemingly obvious solution for a long time has been to just try and “fix” us. We’re really just “normal” boys and girls with medical conditions. Treat the conditions – remove and alter what you can (e.g., genitals, internal sex organs, hormones) and try to forget what you can’t (e.g. chromosomes).

One of the most common “treatments” is genital surgery. Some intersex kids have genitals that are not typically male or female and are sometimes considered “ambiguous.” (I hate this term. Our genitals don’t, like, morph their shape every so often or something. Our bodies aren’t “in between” male and female bodies. They exist in their own right.) The clitoris and the penis develop from the same tissue in the body, so some individuals have what can be considered an enlarged clitoris or a small penis. Enlarged clitoris = too masculine for girls, and small penis = not a real man, so clinicians and parents usually opt to assign these children female and make this structure smaller (or, a few decades ago, remove it altogether) to look “normal.” Never mind that these surgeries are for cosmetic purposes and do not track health. Never mind that the children are almost always very young, and cannot consent to these procedures. Never mind that these kids, when they grow up, might not feel sexual sensation to some degree/at all under the scar tissue, might not ever know what an orgasm feels like. Never mind that the surgeries are irreversible, these kids have to live with the results of those surgeries for the rest of their lives.

There are many other treatments to “correct” the many ways that intersex bodies make other people uncomfortable. Doctors try to surgically move the urethra to the tip of the penis when it’s located elsewhere, or less commonly, surgically change an enlarged clitoris/small penis into a bigger penis. Multiple procedures are often necessary, and they result in a lot of scar tissue. Vaginal canals deemed not long enough for normal, heterosexual sex are reconstructed, although they might not self-lubricate or can close up or prolapse. Barring surgery, these vaginal canals can also be “dilated,” or regularly stretched with medical dildos for months or years. Internal sex organs are often removed because clincians warn there’s a chance they can become cancerous if left alone. This practice isn’t very logical, though; after all, doctors don’t remove typical girls’ ovaries or boys’ prostates at birth because these kids might develop ovarian/prostate cancer someday. Removing internal sex organs can make once-fertile individuals non-reproductive, and unable to produce hormones important for development and bone health. My testes were removed a few months after birth, and now I take a pill every day to replace the hormones my body could make on its own. I am privileged enough to have health insurance right now, but buying those pills feels yucky on principle, and it upsets me that I have to take them at all. While I elect to take my pills most days, doctors might put children on hormone replacement therapy from a young age to develop like a typical boy or girl. The results are sometimes irreversible.

There’s so much that intersex people have to live through, and heal from.

This shit is fucked

For a long time, I bought into the medical model of intersex, that I was some kid of girl-thing-person-whatever, and that it was the doctors’ jobs to make me normal—to erase the parts of me that were too strange, too much, and help me be this real girl that was buried somewhere inside of me. I was born in the mid-80s, when the internet wasn’t around yet, and I’d never heard anyone describe intersex as something other than a medical condition. It wasn’t until college that I began exploring intersex, on my now laughably bulky desktop in my dorm room when my roommate wasn’t there. I began to learn about my body and see other perspectives. There were other intersex people, like me, who seemed to think that intersex wasn’t this bad thing that needed to be fixed and erased. They said that what was done to their bodies was wrong, that it was done without their consent, that their parents and their doctors shouldn’t be able to make choices about what’s done to their body when it doesn’t track health. They asserted that doctors shouldn’t be involved at all: if our natural bodies are healthy, they reasoned, then why go to the doctor to “fix” it? We’re not sick—what’s to fix?

What needs to be fixed is the way we view intersex in our society, and the cosmetic medical procedures we’re subjected to without consent. Intersex activists started mobilizing in the early-mid 90’s. The first public protest by intersex people was held in 1996 when I was just ten, two years after I learned that I didn’t have a uterus and wouldn’t get my period, and three years before I’d hear the word intersex for the first time. Since then, many intersex activists have been working to raise awareness that intersex exists and that we’re just normal people, even if our bodies are less common.

The first public intersex protest (Oct 26, 1996)

Today, I know that the medical model isn’t accurate, and I’ve been working to do something about it. I’m the author of the blog Full Frontal Activism: Intersex and Awesome, the co-founder and co-coordinator of NYC’s annual Intersex Awareness Day events, and the Associate Director of the U.S. chapter of Organization Intersex International (OII), the world’s largest global advocacy group for intersex issues. (The U.S. webpage is under construction right now, so feel free to check out OII Australia’s fantastic website instead.)

As a gay lady, I’ve also been doing more thinking about the overlap of intersex issues with all things queer, like the heterosexism inherent in performing major surgical procedures to ensure that a vagina can accomodate a penis, or constructing a “normal clitoris” that won’t potentially freak out a male partner. It’s also becoming increasingly common to screen fetuses for certain kinds of intersex, like congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) [1]. Most CAH individuals are generally assigned and raised as female, but since they have relatively higher testosterone levels, being queer is seen as a secondary effect of CAH [2]. CAH → gay/queer. So parents are electing to have blood samples taken in utero to see if their kid will have CAH, at which point they can decide whether they want to terminate the pregnancy. All of this stuff is queerphobic, as it allows no space for these kids to make choices about what they want their body to look and function like based on who they’re attracted to, and what kinds of sex they want to have someday. There are many reasons why parents and doctors may want to have their intersex child surgically altered, and in some cases, queerphobia may unfortunately be at the top of the list.

Intersex issues are queer issues.

Intersex is now being included in the LGBT acronym, in adding the “I.” Not all intersex people are comfortable with this, and many of the same arguments that were used before including trans* individuals are now used for intersex: that intersex isn’t a sexual orientation or a gender identity. That not all intersex people feel queer in L, G, B, or other ways, and don’t want to be affiliated with the queer community. Not all intersex people want to publicly acknowledge their intersex, or don’t identify as intersex, because intersex people are already normal just as we are. More intersex activists are now opting for intersex inclusion in LGBTI, however, because our broad goals are in line with those of other queer movements: treat us as equals and accept our autonomy, regardless of our sex and gender identities and what we choose to do with our bodies. Look at us, know that we’re real and we’re visible if you open your eyes and your mind, and know in your heart that what’s happening to us is bullshit.

Let us choose what to do with our bodies and our selves.

I am really excited to be talking about intersex issues on Autostraddle. While I want to discuss issues broadly related to intersex, I really want to focus on issues affecting queer intersex ladies. How our bodies influence our understanding of our sexual orientations. How being intersex adds another layer of coming out to potential sex and relationship partners. How being queer takes on a new dimension when other people realize you’re queer AND intersex. How to be supportive of intersex sex partners, who might have physical and emotional scars from being shuttled through the medical system.

I also want to share some of my history – my personal stories – and create some dialogue about intersex issues you, dear readers, want to have.

Like I said, I’m Claudia, and I’m intersex.

Thanks for letting me share this with you. It’s really great to meet you. <3

1. Karkazis, 2008 – Fixing Sex:  Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience

2. Feder, 2011 – Where Medicine and Homophobia Meet: The Case of Prenatal Dexamethosone

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Claudia has written 1 article for us.


  1. Hi Claudia! First, you have very cute dimples and I also like peanut butter m&ms and do science. I feel like we’re friends already.

    Second, this is a really amazing, in depth, thoughtful article and I really appreciate your input. Do you have advice for parents who have intersex children?

    (I’m gonna go read your blog now).

    • Hey, Marika! I’ve been a consistent comment-reader and -lurker, but not a poster until today. I have often appreciated your science/fellow-grad student comments! Yay! Nice to “meet” you!

      I think the best advice I have for parents of intersex children is seriously? To love your child for who they are. Our world is pretty rigidly gendered, and parents of kids with atypical sex anatomy are likely to feel overwhelmed and upset at the thought of making the monumental decision to “choose” the “right” sex & gender for their newborn. This makes as much sense to me as parents trying to accurately predict their child’s favorite color for the rest of their lives, and it MUST be 100% right forever. Like, that’s ridiculous; you just had your kid – how could you possibly know who they will be and how they’ll change throughout their lives? Parents can assign a sex & gender for their child and STILL ultimately put the power in the hands of their intersex children by realizing their assignment is tentative and not necessarily permanent. Be open to listening to your kids and take note of who their kids say they are. If at any time, children state, “This is who I am,” that happens to counter their initial assignments, parents can say, “Ok! This is who my kid is, and I’ll let them be who they are,” and make changes accordingly. This may mean using different pronouns, a wardrobe change, changing legal documents, or perhaps some or none of those things. Regardless, this way, intersex kids are still have the right to identify as WHO THEY ARE and be that person with parental support. (This is a very different scenario from saying, “Hey! That’s not who you are! The doctors and I decided that THIS is who you are. If you don’t like it, it’s YOUR problem!”)

      My second piece of advice would be for parents to consider the rationale behind wanting to give their intersex kids medical “treatment” that doesn’t track health (i.e., is cosmetic in nature). Many parents may want to have their child’s “ambiguous” genitalia altered because they’re afraid of them getting teased at school, or what the babysitter will say when they need a diaper change. Those problems aren’t going to last forever though; is it more important what the babysitter thinks or that their future adolescent and adult children are comfortable with their bodies? Scope is important. So is outcome. Treatments can be both physically and emotionally difficult to cope with, if not outright traumatic, as briefly explained in the piece above. Parents should ask themselves if these permanent changes are really worth it if they’re not cosmetic, and may cause a host of problems (including real, legitimate health problems) later when they’re cosmetic. These procedures don’t change who your kids are – they just change their appearance.

      • Thank you Claudia! I love this advice!

        I hope you succeed in raising awareness about intersex issues so that when parents have intersex children, they’ll know how to deal with it–it sucks so badly that a lot of intersex adults now didn’t get to make their own cosmetic (and non cosmetic, but major) medical decisions. :(

        • Thanks so much, Marika!

          I’m hoping that I can add some things to the conversation & activism around intersex, and that someday, intersex kids won’t have to undergo medical procedures that don’t track their health, that don’t account for their consent. It really does suck that present-day intersex adults can’t go back and make thier own choices about what should be done to their own bodies, but at least we can help prevent this in the future. I hope that future is very, very, very near!

          • As a gay male, totally in the dark as to the ‘ functionality’ of a male having intersex. Does he have a vagina, and if so, is it external ? What I am leading up to is: SEX! As a corollary to this question, if he has a functional vagina, then potentially he can conceive? I know these questions seem far out, but so is this ‘subject.’ Also, can you give me a blog site where this subject is discussed in detail?

          • Hey, Paul. Intersex people don’t have “both” genitalia, or have a vagina “in addition to a penis.” (There’s actually a pretty wide range of forms that genitals – and all body parts, really – can take.) It sounds like you’re thinking of non-human hermaphrodites (like some plants and animals can be, but not us).

            I don’t answer the can-you-impregnate-yourself question directly, because it’s offensive, but I will once to be perfectly clear: no, we can’t. Some intersex people are reproductive, and some aren’t, but not in that way. It is not comfortable to be asked that question; I would refrain from asking that to other intersex people.

            Being intersex is not a “far out” subject. Talking about being intersex is not a “far out” thing to do. Having a healthy, natural body that is stigmatized and fetishized is far outside what the public perceptions of intersex should be. Your questions sexualize intersex in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I feel that no one really needs to know how another person has sex unless they’re having sex with that person, ya know? I think that you could really benefit from re-reading the piece to review the basics of what intersex is and isn’t, and scoping some resources to learn more about what intersex is.

            The sources I provide don’t have detailed information about how intersex people have sex, because 1) that is offensive, and 2) no. Otherwise, some resources to start include links above in the article to my blog, and the OII-Australia page. Also good Google searches: The Intersex Roadshow blog, and the book Fixing Sex (Karkazis).

    • First thought when just SEEING this article:

      Dimples. Remember to compliment the dimples. Then I read the article. Now I just want to compliment everything!

      Also- the differentiation between hermaphrodites/intersex. I DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE THAT WAS A THING I DIDN’T KNOW! Very interesting. Thank you for all of the things you’ve taught me today!

    • Hi Claudia, thank you so much for sharing this part of your life. It is so inspirational the way you think. I too do not see myself as male or female, but somewhere in between in the gender spectrum. My body does not make testosterone or estrogen as I do not have testes or ovaries…eventhough at birth I was classified as male as I have a penis, as soon as I grew breasts I have been exploring intersex as a “classification”. Anyway, I would love to get to know you and discuss your journey. Thank you again. Dave

  2. What a well written, informed, and informative article. Opening dialog is the first step to any type of change…

  3. This is awesome, Claudia, and I am so happy to see intersex representation on Autostraddle! I teach Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, and my students were blown away learning that sex and gender were different concepts…and even more so by the fact that sex identity ISN’T binary, and that its determination at birth is predicated on numerous genetic/physiological aspects.

    • Yaaaaaaaaay! I am actually a physical (or biological) anthropologist! I love talking about the complexities of biological sex in class because, you’re right – so many students find it old hat that gender is complex and identity is complex and all cultural things we talk about in class are complex but biological sex? It’s just M & F, what a no-brainer, right?


      Anthropology is awesome is basically what I’m saying, and I’m so glad you talk about the complexities of not just gender, but biological sex, in your classes! :)

      • Mand F not all there is? Sex isn’t set any more than gender?! Yus!
        I cannot love this comment anymore than I do already. But I will try. Anthropology is fantastic, I regret never finishing my minor in it(I drifted into Women and Gender Studies so its not all bad).

      • Ahhhhhhhhhh I’m also a bioanthropologist!!!! Except I’m more of an osteologist. All the same #excitedkinship

  4. “Hermagaddon” made me do a massive giggle-snort and now people are looking at me funny.

    Welcome, Claudia! Thanks for such an interesting article!

  5. Welcome aboard, Claudia!

    Thanks for writing this thoughtful, intelligent overview of the issue. This is definitely something I’m aware of but don’t know a lot about, so I’m incredibly keen to learn more/get my shit in order about my understanding of intersex people.

    “Intersex bodies create social panic” – it’s amazing how easy it is to create social panic, yes? For all the folks who claim a “live and let live” attitude, you’d think there would be less of it. Alas. So I’m super grateful to folks like you who are actively working to make things better.

  6. great post. I’m taking a gender seminar and this topic was exactly what we were discussing a few weeks ago. I am going to share with my class. It’s so great to put a personal perspective on these issues. thanks for your vulnerability and your honesty. I’m Danielle, it’s great to meet you Claudia! :)

  7. Well put, and super brave of you to come out and say all these things! <3 It's so true– people are people! Not ideas that fit snuggly into little boxes. Genital mutilation is horrible, it's awful that the desire to make kids visually 'normal' is more important that the numerous consequences to those actions– including the messages that sends the kids ("You aren't normal, you arent right, you have to be fixed) :(
    Bodies should be celebrated for being different and unique and beautiful!!! Not shunned…
    <3 to ya!!!

  8. Reading your blog now and I love the Child’s-Eye View post! My friend Brittney and I have been talking about writing radical children’s books for a while – figuring out how to communicate ways of understanding and knowledge about the world away from the (often harmful) social norm is so important. I think your X-Men post is a great example of how to successfully do that!

    • Thanks! My understanding is that a lot of intersex kids happen to identify with stuff like X-Men because 1) it’s based on genetics/something they’re born with, 2) they’re supposed to keep their strange, stigmatized bodies a secret from the public, and 3) it’s nice to think that your weirdo self could actually be something good, and even powerful. What kid in general doesn’t want to imagine themselves as a superhero? And even more so, for something you don’t feel so great about? :)

      In short, the X-Men rule. Your future book sounds awesome, I wanna read it! :D

  9. Eeeee!!!! EEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!! I’m intersex as well and only know two other people in the real life that are (one being a family member), so to see this on Autostraddle, the site that’s been around covering so many of the issues that have been pertinent to my existence as I’ve fostered this lovely queer masculine-of-center identity of mine, has definitely just made my day. Thank you so much for writing such a comprehensive article, as this can be such a complicated subject to broach, and one that isn’t discussed often.

    • HELLO, LAURENOH! Nice to meet you! Yaaaaaaay! Actually, even though I have been going around loudmouthing about intersex for a few years now, I’ve actually only met a handful of people that are openly intersex. It is always exciting and refreshing to meet another intersex person.

      Yay! Let’s be friends! :)

  10. Hi Claudia,

    Thank you so much for this amazing post! This is one of the finer examples of people explaining scientific ideas (the idea of biological sex and interindividual variability) that I’ve seen, and I’m sure it wasn’t particularly easy to write – but your passion and personal involvement showed and really made this a delight to read and very informative.

    From an anthropology background, I hear frequently and know well that gender is a social construction and is therefore extremely variable, changing, and in no way binary. Unfortunately, the way it is usually taught in classes are “sex is either male or female. gender is more complex!” I think you bring up a great point that the biology itself is incredibly complex and variable, too – and that this is a thing that has always been the case across cultures and human history. Your article has certainly changed the way that I’ll try to bring up gender in my classes from now on.

    Thank you again for this heart-felt article and for having the strength to really accept yourself for who you are. I’m certainly glad that you have that strength! Best of luck with your research activities, outreach activities, and life activities!

    • OMG! Hi, Jesse! I can only assume that this is The Jesse Wolfhagen, that has gone by a particular name Anthro King in a particular club at a particular university?

      I hope you are doing awesome! Thank you so much for your kind words! If you are going to be in my neck of the woods, I’d like to say hi! :)

      Also, if you ever need a nerd to talk about sex & gender in your class from a bioanth perspective, I would totally be glad to.

  11. Hi Claudia! Excited to go read your blog and learn more for sure. I’m a medical student, and when we had the “ambiguous genitalia” lecture last year, surgery was stated as the treatment. As in, cosmetic surgery, for no medical/life saving reason…(hormones in some cases are necessary and life saving but as you said there are many conditions under the intersex umbrella). Do you know of some good resources that I can point classmates to that explain the harms of surgery on a tiny unable-to-consent human being?? This article was a great intro, so thank you!

      • Sophie, just want to mention that Alice Dreger has a VERY mixed rep in both the Intersex and Trans communities. She is very much a proponent of the label “Disorders of Sexual Development” which many Intersex people find offensive. Moreover, she has a bad history of transphobia and supporting some very hack ‘researchers’ like J. Michael Bailey.

        If you want to read more about it:

        A really excellent book that I do recommend is “Fixing Sex” by Katrina Karkazis. It gives an excellent history of the history of altering Intersex genital without consent and the movement by Intersex people to own their own identities and bodies.

    • Hi, there! I would like to echo ginasf in recommending Katrina Karkazis’s 2008 book, Fixing Sex, which I referenced in this article, is a great book to start with. It’s a bit long, but it’s very comprehensive, and Karkazis offers a great blow-by-blow analysis regarding why intersex is conceptualized as this freakish thing, why cosmetic medical treatments are being forced upon young intersex kids who can’t consent to it, and why these cosmetic procedures are potentially damaging to kids.

      I have also heard that Bodies in Doubt (Reis, 2012) is also amazing, but haven’t yet gotten around to it.

      Additionally, my collaborator and fellow intersex activist Hida Viloria (Director of OII-USA) has been working on a document for parents of children with atypical sex characteristics! We’re hoping to make it available on our website soon. :)

  12. “I’m the author of the blog Full Frontal Activism: Intersex and Awesome, the co-founder and co-coordinator of NYC’s annual Intersex Awareness Day events, and the Associate Director of the U.S. chapter of Organization Intersex International (OII), the world’s largest global advocacy group for intersex issues.”

    Holy shit, you make me feel like I’m the world’s biggest slacker. You’re hardcore! Welcome aboard!

    • Hahaha, it sounds like I am way super-organized and productive, but honestly, I do far more than my fair share of procrastinating. My girlfriend and close friends can absolutely attest to this. :)

  13. This is fantastic! I knew surprisingly little about intersex people before reading this and now I feel more informed. Yay, knowledge!

  14. Wow, this is great! I learnt stuff.

    I seriously appreciate the way Autostraddle continues to challenge every lurking heteronormative idea in my brain and help me smash it to pieces.

    Thank you!

  15. Hey Claudia!
    May i ask what your opinion was of Jeffrey Eugenides’ “middlesex”? Given that intersex people are not very well-represented in mainstream literature and media i thought it was a decent effort especially at the beginning of the book but by the end I didn’t think it that great anymore.
    Cheerio and amazing article!

    • Hey, there! I felt the same way when I first read the book: initially, I really liked it, but toward the end it left me with a yucky feeling. Ultimately, I decided I liked a bunch of the story just for a story, but that the book makes me feel ://// because it’s really inaccurate and pretty stigmatizing toward intersex people.

      Eugenides has freely discussed that he basically made up a story of what he thought it would be like to be an intersex person. He went to the Columbia library for medicine and picked a “disorder” (read: form of intersex, or intersex variation – stigma-free! :) ) and made things up. In that vein, then, it’s not surprising that he chooses to make his intersex character the following:
      1) from a family of inbreds (because being intersex means you’re some weirdo that can only come about from incest, raditiation, and the like, amirite?)
      2) a sex worker whose performances focus on showing her “ambiguous” genitals as shock value for customers (which comes off as creepy/gross), where he stigmatizes sex workers as well

      It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, so I can’t think of any more specifics, but yeah, man. Not an accurate portrayal.

  16. Hi Claudia! This is a really informative article, about a topic I know very little about (the sum total of my experiences with intersex issues are reading Middlesex and watching that Freaks and Geeks episode where Ken finds out his girlfriend is intersex, and I’ve heard mixed things about both from people who know better than I do about these things). Also I am also totally addicted to peanut butter M&Ms and I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  17. A few things:
    I loved this article in all its informativeness, yay for knowledge and understanding.
    Re: Hermageddon, I guffawed like an old man
    Totally agree with Marika about your dimples <3
    Can't wait to hear more from you, Claudia!

  18. What a great article! Thanks for bringing more light into what some people would deem a dark subject. Only by helping the unimaginative out into the light are we ever going to get along. Thakns for writing this!

  19. Good article. Many who idenify as Transsexual are probably Intersex. I know I am. I was said to be born as a male but half my life as this male and a lie people have mistaken me for female. There is more than just male or female and the sooner everyone accepts this the better it will be for everyone. Its so nice not to hide and just be me now.

    • Yes, there are people in the trans community who fall somewhere on the spectrum of Intersex (especially some persons with CAH and Kleinfelter Syndrome who also ID as trans). But I also know a lot of Intersex persons are not happy with trans people saying that being trans in and of itself is a form of Intersex. The fact is, there really isn’t enough hard information about that and current brain studies are very rudimentary. IMO, there is some legitimacy to the feeling that some trans persons are appropriating Intersex identities to somehow legitimize their reality with the wider cis community and to solidify arguments for “born that way” discussions.

      I also think it’s worth mentioning that MANY Intersex persons (and, again, people with CAIS, CAH or Kleinfelter make up the vast majority of those who might be classified as Intersex) do NOT identify as either queer, trans or even ‘other bodied’ and I think it’s really important to respect that and not “other” people who don’t feel that way about themselves.

    • Well-said, ginapdx. :) There is definitely overlap in trans* and intersex experience, and I know of people who identify as both trans* and intersex – those identities are absolutely not mutually exclusive. :) That being said, the goals of intersex activism are sometimes different than those of trans* activists. (Maybe this is something good to discuss in a future article?) There has unfortunately been a lot of misunderstanding and bashing from both sides about intersex and trans identities, but both intersex and trans individuals have been having a lot more conversation and are being much better allies for each other. :) This is really important.

      • The differences within this so called Transgender community and Intersex community has become a nightmare of confusion especially for people not in either community. The drama,name calling and those who think they know it all has gotten very old and I stay out of it. Most of my good friends are outside of these communities and know about me. They don’t care because they like me and not what’s between my legs or what my gender was suppose to of been according to the doctor that delivered me at birth. Life is too short to argue about labels just call me Leslie.

  20. Overall, wonderful article!

    BUT, and a big but – CAH (and any adrenal disorder) can be very serious. Certain forms will lead to death if untreated. Furthermore, I have seen conflicting evidence on whether or not CAH makes women more likely to be gay. You are only looking at CAH from a gender/sex/sexual orientation standpoint, but I assure you there are real medical consequences.

    I would definitely want to know and treat a fetus if it had CAH – even if it was more likely to be straight ;)

    • Hey, OneHornedOne! I believe you’re talking about salt-wasting CAH. Yes, salt-wasting is a legitimate health condition that some CAH individuals have, that can cause heart problems and seriously needs medical attention. This goes along with the, intersex is not a medical problem even though there are actual health issues that are specific to some forms of intersex. (Like, how women with ovaries can develop ovarian cancer – real health condition – but being a woman isn’t a disease just because some women may develop ovarian cancer.)

      • Hi Claudia, your article has me thinking. The issue of consent in surgical operations as newborns I think isn’t black or white, it makes sense to me that parents see an abberration from normal as pathological. I mean, in most psychiatric diagnosis that’s basically how you define something as needing to be medicalised; if it deviates from normal. I think unless the intersex community advocates to change the public perception of normal to include being intersex, parents will continue to request surgeries where they can, thinking that otherwise they are risking exposing their child to social influences which will impact on their development. Whether we like it or not, normal is a very strong concept in how we view the world and you can’t get rid of it. I think you’re lucky being from the West with the equality and inclusiveness discourse, I strongly doubt that I would be able to convince my african colleagues that not having surgery on their child would be in their best interests. Anyway, these are just my own opinions, but thank you for sharing yours, I have been thinking a lot about intersex since my first introduction to CAH.

    • Also, knowing a fetus will be a CAH individual (if born) doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment is the best thing. The current treatment is to use Dexamethasone, and the drug will be delivered to the fetus in utero. There are few long-term studies that show the consequences of these treatments, and some investigations show that the fetus can incur serious health problems due to dex treamtne, even causing brain damage. I would check out some sources, such as the following:

  21. This is lovely. Thanks for writing. I’m also a med student and want to just forward this post to all of my ancient endocrine professors who really need to catch up with the times.

    • I completely agree with you! I know intersex individuals who identify as both intersex and trans – these terms are definitely not mutually exclusvie. If I somehow gave the impression that this wasn’t so, I absolutely do not hold these views at all. :)

  22. Thankyou for a great article.

    having been very ingrained in the medical model I have never even thought about the possible pros of leaving in testes in androgen insensitivity (or other intersex scenarios). Just accepted that removal was the thing to do, due to the relatively high risk of cancer.

    Thanks for making me think a little more deeply. I look forward to more thoughtful articles to shake me up a little.

  23. Claudia, I’m so glad you’re writing for AS! One of my very first mentors when I came out in 2010 was a girl who identified as both trans* and intersex :)

    Yay for increased awareness that our concept of “sex”, like gender or sexuality, isn’t a fixed binary!

    • Hi, Annika! I have been reading your articles for a while now! Thank you so much for your nice comment – it’s so great to have some support from other Autostraddle writers with non-normative sex and gender identities. :)

  24. Loved this article Claudia!

    AND AND AND I’m so happy to see the word “doula” on Autostraddle!! I might add however, that a good doula NEVER EVER FOREVER NEVER states the sex of the baby once it’s born. That privilege is for the parent(s) and parent(s) only. I hate it when Doctors or Midwives do it, let alone doulas!

    – NYC Doula & Birth Assistant

    • Whoa, that’s really cool! I didn’t know that! I will have to remember that when referencing doulas in the future. :)

      Also, doulas are so awesome.

      • Reference away :)

        I actually just found out through FB that we have a bunch of friends in common! If you ever need to talk to a doula for whatever reason, feel free to message me!

  25. Wow – I’ve never heard a case made so clearly and, not even convincingly, like, there isn’t even a way not to be convinced or anything to be convinced of.

    I’m so looking forward to reading this!

  26. re above: does it read as dismissive? It isn’t meant to. I just read it and was like “how could anyone not think this way about this issue?” “why has it been made an issue at all?” “but it is an issue for interesex people because the medical establishment and hetero-cis-patriarchy made it and issue so thank god such a convincing person is taking it on”

  27. Even though I’ve been proud of you countless times in your life, it pales in comparison to what I feel right now. I always knew you were “one in a million” and you just proved it! I love you, Claud, more than you know….Mom xos

  28. Hi! I am really excited for your column and to have a chance to learn! I have a silly quick question. Have you ever seen the episode of “Freaks and Geeks” when Ken’s girlfriend tells him she is intersex? It’s been a little while since I have seen it, so I don’t remember the details very accurately, but I was wondering (if you have seen it) what your thoughts were; if they handled the situation well?

  29. Hi Claudia! I love this article and the wonderfully conversational way you lay it all out. I’m Trans* identified and one of the things I have actually had leveled at me is “Are you intersexed?” as a means to ‘explain’ or justify the actions of being non-gender normative. Just another day at “My Little Trans* – Biology is Magic” land. From now on, I’ma just point folks at your article. I love this.

    • Yeah, there’s totally a lot of confusion when it comes to trans* and intersex issues. I teach college courses as a grad student, and just yesterday, a student asked a question about biological sex and development (we were talking about mitosis & meiosis), referencing “transsexuals.” We had a discussion about how trans* and intersex may be defined and the complexity of biological sex.

      Thanks for your praise! :)

    • I totally had this happen! It’s confusing. On the one hand, people can read me at a glance (and I find my reflection distinctly un-female). On the other hand, after one year on hormone therapy, my former doctor indicated that he was surprised by the results in a person over the age of 20 and suggested I get karyotyping done because I might be intersex. I never did (and I’m dubious whether my karyotype could possibly have anything to do with the way my body responds to estrogen–maybe someone can help me out with this?), but it felt odd that he needed to “justify” the “success” he perceived in my physical transition by knee-jerk intersex speculation. Is this a bigger social phenomenon than I realize, or is it just a fluke?

  30. I really enjoyed this article and I’m glad it’s on Autostraddle. I’m really looking forward to reading more from you, Claudia!

  31. echoing a lot of comments made already, but this is a really great article and i’m really excited to read more from you, claudia!

  32. Thank you for this wonderful and beautiful article. I learned so much, and I enjoyed it a lot. I can’t wait to read more from you.

  33. thank you so much for writing such a beautiful article. you make a lot of points i often have difficulty getting across especially when i’m already triggered and defensive. it really helps to have voices such as yrs in the public conversation about gender and sex. our natural diversity is real and cannot be silenced even through the coercive surgeries many of us had as children! i am still recovering and healing through transition and taking an active role in my own creative gender experience but these concepts and possibilities were not readily available or easily accessible especially as an adolescent growing up in the 90s. so much mistreatment by so many uncomfortable doctors!

    • Thank you so much for feeling comfortable enough to share this on Autostraddle. Those of us (and that’s literally almost all of us) that have gone through the medical system unnecessarily have scars, both literal and psychoemotional, and it’s really hard to talk about even in a general way sometimes. Thanks so much for your kind words – I’m really happy to be in a place where I can talk some about my experiences, and even then, it can be difficult and upsetting being so vulnerable.


  34. I am so overwhelmed by the positive comments and love all you AS readers are sharing with me. Thank you so, so much. <3

  35. I really, really love Autostraddle for highlighting all sorts of experiences that don’t get talked about anywhere else, and for letting those people share their stories themselves. Claudia, you are very smart and funny and rad and I look forward to reading more from you! :)

  36. Loving it! Can’t wait to read more from you, Claudia. It’s awesome to meet you & thank you for posting here!

  37. “Internal sex organs are often removed because clincians warn there’s a chance they can become cancerous if left alone. This practice isn’t very logical, though; after all, doctors don’t remove typical girls’ ovaries or boys’ prostates at birth because these kids might develop ovarian/prostate cancer someday.”

    Wow. I guess I assumed this was done because there was a higher than usual risk for cancer in these cases? Although now that I think about it I don’t know why that would be. But if that isn’t the case, then I really can’t wrap my head around why any doctor would do this. Other than pure squeamishness around the idea of a female-presenting body having internal male organs or vice versa. Which is just… an unbelievably ridiculous reason to do major surgery on an infant.

    • Chandra, in general, undescended testicles (in anyone’s body) are thought to be at a higher risk for testicular cancer. But the numbers on this increased risk widely vary from 4% more chance to over 40% chance. So, kind of with the reasons they used to use to medically justify circumcision, there are medical reasons, but are the medical reasons really the reason why they’re automatically doing it… maybe not.

    • When we studied intersex in genetics, we were told that in some cases internal sex organs contain a lot of undifferentiated tissue, which is thought to significantly increase the risk of cancer compared to fully-formed, differentiated testes/ovaries. Thus the recommendation for removal.

      What the reasoning is for removing fully functional testes in e.g. CAH, I didn’t know until ginapdx’s post, so.

      • Oh, Cassandra, thanks for this! I assume this means that there are lots more basic stem cells in internal sex organs, and there’s a stem cell/cancer hypothesis floating around that many cancer cells are similar to stem cells and that certain stem cells may increase the risk of cancer etc etc etc.

        I assume that it wouldn’t however be an issue until after puberty so maybe it could be left up to the person in question to choose…I don’t know the actual stats, clearly, but Gina’s post seems to suggest that it’s not a massive risk.

        (science thoughts)

        • We were studying it specifically in the context of a case study where a patient presents with no secondary sexual characteristics at puberty. Whether removal is what the NHS would recommend if the patient in question was a child, I’m really not sure.

          Clearly going to have to do a lot more learning about this.

          • Re-reading this, I realise that it’s completely steeped in the medical model. That’s the context in which I got the information, but I’m aware there are significant problems with it and I should have phrased my comment a lot better.

      • There is probably all kinds of layers of internalised and institutionalised misogyny that subconsciously influence the decision making. But recall that whilst testicular cancer is rare (only 1% of all male cancers), it hits the young (most commonly 15-44, and it is curable if found early. In external testes it has a good chance of being found early.

        I wonder if with the advent of ultrasound and the possibility of screening internal testes whether it would be an option to leave until the child is an adult and can decide for themselves. BUT it is a brave parent when faced with the “your child has a much higher chance of cancer” who chooses to take that risk, when years of medical tradition state the best option is removal.

        Tradition is not a good reason to do something, but as a profession we can be slow to move. I wonder if treatments and screening options will change with greater awareness of intersex as a constellation of true genders. I know cosmetic genital surgery on children is changing.

  38. Claudia, thanks so much for your post. I wondered if you have ever seen the movie xxy and if so, what you thought of it?

    • Hi, Becky! I have seen XXY! It is kind of a weird movie for a variety of reasons (the main character, Alex, does some pretty socially strange things that seem to be all about her personality and nothing to do with her intersex), but I think it is the most accurate portrayal of an intersex person in the entertainment industry. Definitely worth watching!

      • There aren’t a lot of films about Intersex people (and some of them, like Spork, tend to ignorantly exploit the subject rather than intelligently depict someone dealing with those issues). I thought XXY was a very good film (and the main actress was outstanding) but the title was kind of exploitive and appropriating a real genetic configuration (Kleinfelter Syndrome, which is what XXY labeled with) and using it for marketing purposes. I wish they had called the film something else. People with Kleinfelter Syndrome get enough BS about their condition without having it wrongly represented by a film title.

  39. Awesome. When I first came across intersex as a bright-eyed 18-year-old in my first (only?) gender studies class, I was fascinated. Why hadn’t I heard about it before? So I did research on it, and at that time I couldn’t find much in the way of personal accounts. Since then, thanks to the wonders of the internet and people like you, I’ve learned even more. And I wish there was a way to get even more people informed. People just come in so many different flavors, and no one has *any* idea.

    I would also go on a rant about the pros and cons of the medical model of diagnosis and treatment, since I’m in a class where that is a central focus, but this isn’t the space. :D

  40. Just out of curiosity, if your claiming to be Intersex/DSD, then what kind of Intersex/DSD are you and what is your specific Intersex/DSD condition? It just seems like you left that out in your blog and makes me wonder whether your really are Intersex/DSD or a Trans trying to pass themselves off as an Intersex/DSD wannabe.

    • Uh, hey, Nicky. I’m a little confused, because I “know” you on the internet. You have made comments on my blog before. Although I didn’t go into specifics about my form of intersex here, I discuss the fact that my form of intersex is androgen insensitivity (AIS), and specifically complete androgen insensitivity (CAIS) on my blog not infrequently.

      The spirit of your message is upsetting, since you are asking for “proof” of my intersex, and after providing it you get to decide whether I’m real or legitimate or not. Nobody has the right to police other peoples’ identities, and if I weren’t already completely comfortable talking about my form of intersex, I would feel absolutely no obligation whatsoever to provide you details I wasn’t comfortable sharing.

      Additionally, I think you need to rethink your attitudes toward trans* individuals. (You’ve expressed these views on other websites and blogs before, like Intersex Roadshow in the past, and seem to still support them.) You do not simply want me to provide proof that I’m intersex, but seem to specifically want to ensure I’m not “a trans” (by which I think you mean a trans* person, since ‘trans’ in itself isn’t a noun…just like a person isn’t ‘a gay’), and furthermore, “a trans…intersex wannabe.” This comment is discriminatory toward trans* individuals. I understand that intersex identity and trans* identity has sometimes been confused, and whether intentionally or not, aspects of those identities have been co-opted by either side. There is a lot more understanding today regarding how intersex and trans* activism overlaps, and where similarities exist in our experiences as people that aren’t sex-&-gender-normative. But that is not an excuse to make assumptions that I am not only not intersex, but that I am specifically a trans* individual trying to claim intersex identity. I suggest you read the multiple posts made by trans*-identified individuals on this thread and reconsider whether you’re really going to stand by those statements.

      Your anti-trans* statements also assume that an individual cannot identify as both intersex and trans*. I strongly support individuals that identify as both intersex and trans*, and don’t see these two things as mutually exclusive at all.

      In short, I think asking for proof that I’m a card-carrying intersex person – and not a trans* “wannabe” at that – is messed up. My expectation is that you won’t be expressing such views in your future comments.

      As a final note: I have not mentioned the phrases “DSD” or “condition” at all in this article, and have only used the term intersex for a variety of reasons. DSD, or disorders of sexual development, is a term created by clinicians and academics – with, as far as I can tell, the input of a single intersex indiviudal – to replace the term intersex. It’s a science-y sounding term and it’s got the word “disorder” right in there, which justifies the misguided conception of intersex as a medical condition, and not simply a natural variation of biological sex. The word ‘condition’ – instead of using form of intersex, or intersex variation – also depicts intersex as a medical problem, since ‘condition’ has a strongly clinical connotation. The term DSD also does not allow one to use it as an identity in the same way one can use intersex. I can identify as intersex. But, using DSD, I’m basically forced to identify as…a disorder. That doesn’t feel very good to feel you have to identify as a disorder, and I don’t feel that my body or self is disordered. I won’t be using this term on this site, except to mention that it is a term that doesn’t accurately describe intersex and that it shouldn’t replace the term intersex.

      • It seems to me after reading your blog, I was left wondering whether your Intersex/DSD or not. You never mentioned what you had and I had to assume that you were Trans. You didn’t make any mention of AIS or CAIS in your blog post. If you had said it UPFRONT in your blog post, I would have thought otherwise, but since you had left it out, I had to assume under the assumption that you were Trans trying to pull a Zoe Allen Brain on people.

        If you think I am bad with my stance on trans associating with intersex/DSD people, try pulling that in front of Radical feminist such as GenderTrender and Cathy Brennan. They would not put up with what you say and would just look at you as another trans and not an Intersex/DSD person.

        Also under DSM 5 you would still be classified as having GIDNOS because you are rejecting what is medically assigned to you. Where as WPATH and HBSoC takes a different view.

        On top of that intersex is not a Sex or a Gender identity. It is a Medical condition. I think you are mixing Sex & gender with a Medical condition which is why your confused with the two and can’t separate biological sex with gender and a medical condition.

        • Um, after reading my blog, you “did not have to assume I [was] trans[*].” You would have been more right to assume that I get to define my own identity, and that no one has the right to either police my identity or use their own yardsticks to decide whether my identity is authentic. You do you, I’ll do me, thank you very much.

          I am still confused because I talk (many, many times) on my blog about my intersex variation and issues specific to my intersex variation. Even still, you don’t get to decide whether my decision to include or not include personal information with respect to my intersex means I’m intersex or not.

          I do not care if you feel you are “not as bad as” others. Perhaps you can be more transphobic in your attitudes, but this does not erase the fact that your words were still transphobic, and this is still completely unacceptable.

          You can try defining me using the DSM, and all the other fancy acronyms you write out. But those still aren’t me. See above: I get to decide how I identify, and no one else.

          I’m sorry you feel that intersex is a medical condition, and cannot be used as a sex or gender identity. Intersex is not actually a medical condition, but a label used to describe people with atypical sex anatomy, that nevertheless show normal variations of biological sex. Other individuals – myself included – identify their biological sex (“sex identity”) as intersex. Although I do not, I completely accept anyone’s identity of intersex as a gender identity, too. While intersex in and of itself is about bodies and biology, if someone wants to identify their sex and gender in terms of their biological intersex, I say awesome!

          You’ve been clear in expressing your views, Nicky. I decided to publish this comment because I wanted to respond to your views, but further discriminatory and inflammatory comments by you will not be published.

          • “Try pulling that in front of Cathy Brennan”
            Oh, so so many things I’d like to pull in front of Cathy Brennan. *No, not that.*
            I think Cathy Brennan can now effectively be used as a Godwin rule. Mention her in any ‘enlightened’ post while attempting to define and or enforce set concepts upon another person’s Sex, Gender, Biology, or choice of headwear, and your comment is pretty much instantly invalid.

        • The opinions of cultural feminists (such as Cathy Brennan and GenderTrender) haven’t ever been worth a hill of beans on Autostraddle. Cathy Brennan has tried showing up here, and her posts had to be heavily moderated because all she can produce is hate speech. Cissexist, dyadist sentiments like yours and theirs aren’t really welcome here.

    • I find this specific comment to be both egregiously over stepping themselves and hilariously lacking any justification to do so. While I am a trans* identified person I cannot imagine ever requesting any sort of conformation from anyone, trans* or not, as to their sexual, gender, or personal identification.
      Using DSD terminology to frame this question(accusation) links the medical / psychological pathology model to a person who is Intersex despite no need to. Adherence to the particular view that personal identity is not within the agency of the individual is a thankfully outdated and receding concept in both the medical and clinical psychological settings. But hey, don’t let that stop you from thinking you can peek up my skirt to confirm anything. It won’t go well for you.
      (Mainly because my skirts are currently a mess.)
      But, all this is really academic. No, seriously. The point and tone of the above comment is one of demanding justification and proof of something that no one owes anyone, and reeks of a specific history or axe to grind.
      Heaven help us if someone, such as Claudia, educates us with a powerful and personal narrative of HER experience as a person identified as intersex, but doesn’t have the requisite paperwork. After reading Claudias response above it is clear that there is hostory here and prior issues.
      Luckily, I have great faith in the women of autostraddle to understand the difference between a valid query by a commenter looking for info, and a wannabe-commenter.

      • Word. Thanks for such a well articulated comment. I am dumbfounded at the presumptuousness and offensiveness of Nicky’s comments. I just can’t even. ‘I’m not being a douche because the radfems would be bigger douches to you’ seriously wtf seriously. Expecting you are entitled to somebody’s personal information and for them to ‘prove’ their identity is valid, just wtf I cannot fathom it.

  41. Great piece, and so lovely to see this issue discussed on autostraddle! Thanks Claudia :]

    A few comments from someone who works in the medical field (and apologies if any have been already commented on, I didn’t have time to pore through 90 comments) –
    1. intra-abdominal (retained) testes are advised to be surgically removed due to higher risk of cancer development (than that of descended testes – which are, of course, traditionally retained for either reproductive or aesthetic purposes). Other symptoms secondary to increased estrogen produced by the tumor often include suppression of the bone marrow, leading to anemia, low platelets (which help clot blood), and low white cells (infection-fighting cells).
    2. the decision to screen for CAH prior to birth is for early treatment, as adrenal glands produce steroids (not just sex steroids, but our stress hormones) and help balance electrolytes and the body’s water balance. Dysregulation of the above can be life threatening. Early recognition and treatment can help individuals lead a nearly normal life. Genetic testing, done automatically *at birth* in the US and many other countries, is not being done to select for straight children by early pregnancy termination.

    That’s all from the health professional here lol… Thank you again for bringing a subject like this out in the open!

    • Thank you, Mellie! The thing is, there aren’t a lot of long-term outcome studies that adequately indicate the risks of cancer development in “retained” testes. There is a study done several decades ago that is heavily-cited, but recent literature shows a lack of follow-up studies. That older study says that cancer risks are “higher,” but without follow-up studies to verify that research, we don’t really know if the risks are, in fact, higher, and if so, how much higher (and if so again, if the risks are higher for individuals with certain intersex variations or at certain “levels” within a certain intersex variation).

      Additionally, while CAH screening is done to prevent an actual health condition called salt-wasting, as you’ve described, the salt-wasting form of CAH is much less common than non-salt-wasting CAH. Testing positive for CAH in a fetal test simply means that fetus will be a CAH individual…it doesn’t necessarily mean that that CAH individual will have the relatively uncommon form of CAH that causes salt-wasting. (CAH does not = salt-wasting.) Early recognition and treatment in utero may actually not help individuals have a “normal life” since the standard and still very experimental treatment of using Dexamethasone has been linked to brain damage and medicine-induced complications at birth. The genetic testing done at birth cannot be used to prevent a pregnancy, for sure, but doing these tests in utero before the fetus is born, absolutely could play a role in a decision to terminate a pregnancy, especially since CAH girls (with higher levels of testosterone) are stereotyped as more aggressive and “masculine” in temperment, which sometimes leads parents to fear their “boylike” girls may turn out homosexual.

      Thank you for talking about some specifics as a health professional! I am excited to talk more about intersex on here, for sure! :)

      • The risk of gonadal cancer in AIS women is almost certainly very overstated and is often used simply as a stick to beat anxious, confused parents and shell shocked patients over the head with as a means to get them to agree to surgery. I have searched for the data and it just doesn’t justify the surgery it is very often used to encourage.

  42. Also- I was maaayyybeee reading this article in class when I came across that raptor picture, and definitely laughed at the caption in a volume that was by no means acceptable for a classroom situation.

    Needless to say, I was asked to leave.


    • Shana, I have thought of you a billion times since last October. If you wanted to, I would seriously love to get together and hear about all the awesome stuff you’re up to these days. Do you wanna get coffee?

      I hope everything rocks for you right now. :)

  43. YES. THIS.

    I have been reading Autostraddle for over two years on a pretty regular basis, and this is the first time I’ve commented on any article. As a queer lady with PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity syndrome), I was overjoyed to read such a well written article on the subject that I can really relate too. I’ve had a tough time trying to find an intersex voice in the LGBTQIA community and people like you show me how to do it! I’m excited to see where the discourse on this subject goes next :)

    • Hello, yet another intersex Autostraddler! :D This is so exciting!

      It is kind of awkward sometimes trying to discuss intersex in the context of LGBT activism just because it’s not something that’s on lots of peoples’ radars yet. Hopefully that will change with more time and more loudmouthing :) I’m excited to talk more about this stuff, too!

  44. this was really really excellent, and i promptly sent it to everyone i know encouraging them to read it, too. it’s going in the “must read” folder on my bookmark bar where i keep articles that i know i’ll want to refer people to in the future. which is all a round about way of saying thank you so much for writing this, and i really look forward to reading more of your work!

  45. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It would be so amazing if you could write more regularly for Autostraddle. I am definitely going to read your blog.

    In my first gender studies class we were introduced to South African intersex activist Sally Gross who is also a philosopher extraordinaire, former anti-apartheid activist, researcher and Policy Adviser for the Regional Land Claims Commission in Cape Town, peace and justice activist against the occupation in Israel,a theologian,is rabbinically trained, and also a long-standing practitioner of Buddhist meditation. Yes, she kind of pushes the notion of ‘remarkable’ into a whole new realm and blew my tiny mind. I learned so much from her and I feel like everyone should read her story available here

  46. This is such an interesting and informative post! This is a subject I now realise I was almost completely unaware of before reading this article. Thanks for explaining and discussing it so fantastically! I’m really looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future! :)

  47. Ah wow, this is so fantastic, I was squeeing when I was reading it! You have a really great writing style, thoughtful and intelligent, but you manage to put so much personality into it – it’s like you’re in a room having a friendly chat with the reader.

    I frickin’ loved what you wrote about the links between surgery on intersex infants and queerphobia. I’ve never thought about that from that perspective before, so it was nice to have my mind expanded. So looking forward to your contributions to Autostradde!

  48. Claudia, thank you so much for talking about intersex. Last semester, I wrote a paper about how gender and sex are not congruent and in that paper I talked about intersex (which I mistakenly called hermaphrodite. Yikes!) a little bit. It fascinated me and really made me think about how wrong the western system around sex and gender is. After reading this I looked at a lot of the posts on your blog and others you have linked to and learned a lot. I’ve also linked this article and some of your blog posts to my younger siblings, in hopes they can also learn more about the variations of human bodies.

    • It’s totally okay. Biological distinctions between intersex humans and hermaphroditic everything-else (like plants and mollusks and fishes and stuff) is not something that clicked for me until I took bio classes in college. I was like, Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I’m not a hermaphrodite because I don’t have both sets and can’t like, switch it up whenever I felt like it.

      Now I have weird images in my head. Buuuuuhh

  49. I’d like to recommend a couple of books for those interested- I am a visual artist and my work deals with issues of intersex, trans* and the concept of “othering” bodies, grappling with our masochistic practice of creating social stigmas, dichotomies and pressures for ourselves. There allegedly are statistically as many intersex persons as Jewish persons living in the US, but our culture of “hush it up, sew it up” keeps us from celebrating our unique Selves. I am constantly looking for articles like this one! A great novella is “Intersex” by Thea Hillman, AND AND AND “Sexing the Body” by Anne Fausto-Sterling. She is also the author of Myths of Gender, and I would STRONGLY recommend Sexing the Body to anyone new to the topic or really….just anyone.

    • I want to see this documentary so badly! Thank you! I tried to see if it was available for free streaming or was somewhere legally free on the internet, but no dice. The producer, Mani Bruce Mitchell, is an absolutely amazing activist (based in NZ)!

    • I actually read those! I liked the first few chapters, but at some point, the series pretty much completely focused on the will-they-won’t-they romance of the intersex main character and a fellow classmate. I skipped ahead to the end to see what would happen, though (cuz I’m awful like that). :)

  50. Many times the truth is viewed as negative for those unwilling to face the truth and view those who tell the truth as trouble makers. This is true in all walks of life. Facts not Myths.

  51. Oh wow, this is easily one of the best essays I’ve read on this site. I never knew the difference between biological hermaphrodity and intersex.

    Are you going to be a regular here?? Can we keep you????

    • Thank you! As long as AS is interested in having discussions about intersex, I am more than happy to stick around and contribute :) You can keep me

  52. Thank you so much for this article, Claudia! I just spent way too much time on your blog, you are a great and thoughtful writer.

    I really enjoyed your post questioning biological definitions of sex – its something that really interests me, because i always see the “sure, you can have different gender identities, I guess, but really there are only TWO sexes” pulled out by offensive people in offensive arguments and I just want to smack them upside their heads with knowledge but I can’t. At the end of the day I know those kinds of arguments are just derailing, but it still makes me mad.

    So yes, thank you for sharing your experiences, thoughts and knowledge!

  53. I had been aware of the intersex community, but remain largely ignorant about it. This article was a wake-up call that got me off my ass to do my due diligence* and learn about intersex issues so I can be a more respectful (and, hopefully, effective) ally!

    *I was going to edit this, but it’s the longest string of cliches I’ve written since my last round of holiday thank-you cards, and it’s almost endearing. Almost.

  54. Hi Claudia! I’m really looking forward to your articles, even if pretzel M&Ms are the objective superior.

  55. You absolutely rock, Claudia! I was slack-jawed at your credentials and many titles and think you are an excellent ambassador for Intersex awareness. You explained everything so well, and I have already learned so much from you and am eager to learn more.

    On a sidenote, I love that you are a biological anthropologist! I am about to start grad school for cultural anthropology. I always think people who are anthropologists are so much more interesting ;)

    • Yay! I love anthropology. I have limited training in cultural anthropology, but really appreciate the perspective that anthropology provides when investigating biological questions. I love my field so, so much.

      Congratulations, I hope that you enjoy your grad school studies!

  56. Great post, some info that was new to me, even if I am one of the more society standarded “normal” peeps I like to read and “research” the subject. Not to weed it out but to understand and just in case. But there is one thing that someone should drive through and make it iLBGT instead.

  57. Hey Claudia, welcome aboard! This is a really great article and now I am excited to Learn More Things About the World in an Attempt to Become a Better Person! (I like it when things have official-sounding titles.) Really looking forward to reading more from you. :D

  58. Thank you Claudia for this beautifully written, informative and kick ass, from the heart article. Looking forward to reading more from you, thank you for infinitely improving what was the gender normative day from hell :)

  59. Thanks a lot for this. Until today I’ve regarded my own intersex as not really counting or unimportant, since I identify comfortably as male and it takes a rather thorough examination to establish otherwise anatomically (hypospadias, to be specific).

    But I remember clearly that my one of my very earliest memories is of coming out of anesthesia, terrified, not knowing what was going on, and later, pissing blood.

    I didn’t have to suffer that, and others suffer a lot worse. So I’ve been inspired to share my own story a bit on social media, along with your excellent article, in hopes of letting babies avoid unnecessary and risky surgery, and of course for adults to have our own say about our bodies. Again, my thanks.

    • Thank you for being comfortable and brave enough to share your personal experiences, JB. Memories from medicalization are so painful, and you’re right – that was never something you should have had to undergo.

      I hope you find peace and strength in sharing your story. I know it has been healing for me in many ways, and hopefully will do its small part in preventing future kids from experiencing the same things. <3

  60. hi Claudia! Great to see you here :)
    I have been quite in awe of how the intersex community/activists have really taken on intersex awareness, more so than most other places (having been there for 6 years). It’d be great to read more about this especially on queer sources like A/S.

    For various reasons I have been thinking about doing some karyotyping or hormone testing to see if there’s something going on with my sex-related biology that I am unaware of (having been born and raised in a country where the whole *concept* of intersex-ness wasn’t even a thing). Do you know how would I go about finding this out? I’ve seen stuff related to pre-natal testing.

    • Hey, Creatrix! Since there are so many intersex variations, it is actually not a straightforward process to get tested to determine if you are intersex. Many forms of intersex are due, in part, to genes, but we don’t know all of the genes (or the different sequences of a gene) involved in different forms of intersex. Since intersex bodies are those that have a mix of traits traditionally considered “male” and “female” in the same body, you may also need to see multiple clinicians with different specialties. I would first consult an endocrinologist, who may then refer you to an ob/gyn, a urologist, and/or possibly other doctors.

      Additionally, these visits and any tests ordered may be considered elective and won’t be covered by insurance. My sister got tested because she wanted to know if she is likely to have a kid who may have my form of intersex (she is, and it isn’t affecting her decision to have her own kids, cuz my sister’s awesome). My mom also got tested because she wanted to know if she had the same form of the gene as my sister and I. My mom and sister had to fight a lot with insurance companies to get coverage, and still ended up paying a lot because it wasn’t (all?) covered, and there was prior history of an intersex person in the family (= me). Tests ordered can be really expensive.

      • Hi Claudia and Creatrix Tiara,

        I believe Creatrix Tiara is in Australia, as we met at an event called Camp Betty a few years ago. We have a universal health system here, and it’s unlikely that diagnosis would be anything like as expensive as in the US – but no doctor is likely to order relevant tests or examinations on an elective basis without due cause.

        It would be unusual, as an adult, to be unaware of some significant biological difference, but it would be worth consulting with your GP as a starting point if you have any issues of concern.

        Claudia – thanks for the shout out for OII Australia in your article, and well done for a great piece of writing.

        • Thanks for this perspective, Morgan! I was definitely thinking from a US-centric point of view, where we unfortunately do not have a universal health care system. I also agree that it’s not typical to go to a clinician to get tested to see if you’re intersex, and that those procedures would definitely be considered elective.

        • Hey Morgan!

          I actually moved to the US (Bay Area) in August, though I am on international student health insurance, which is its own level of sucktitude. I figured it would fall outside insurance purview and cost a zillion dollars, but I wanted to know where someone would *start* with this especially as an adult.

          thankee :)

  61. You rock. Can’t wait to read more about intersex issues here. It’s honestly a topic I don’t know very much about and just this article has enlightened me.

  62. This is the first time I’ve talked about this publically (well, as public as the 153rd comment on a four-day-old article is, anyway) and I’ve been carrying it with me for years.

    When I was a teenager, 16 or 17 or so, my mom made an offhand comment that my vagina was grown over when I was born. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as I just assumed (rightly) that it was a thing that happened. Then, when I went to college, someone described what intersex was in a class presentation and it was as if I’d been hit across the back of the head with something. Any definition that includes atypical genitalia would include me.

    But, I mean, I don’t have a medical diagnosis. And I’ve got the body parts that are traditionally associated with women – nothing grown over now, that’s for sure. I function as a cisgender woman with no need for therapy and no surgery (at least that I know of).

    So there’s part of me that feels like I am intersex but another part of me that thinks I don’t quite qualify and I don’t know if it means anything vis a vis my queer identity and my gender fluidity and as soon as I try to put this all into words everything breaks.

    • Hi, Dina! First of all, thank you for telling your stories here. I know that feeling of being in a public place, reminded of a way you’re different, and feeling like your world is swirling around you and everyone else around you is anchored down and unperturbed. That is such a shitty feeling, and I’m so sorry you have felt that way.

      Individuals with less-typical gential form may be intersex, and they also might not be. There’s a lot of variation in genital form, and there are arguments between clinicians, and between clinicians and people with sex-atypical anatomy, regarding what “counts” as a form of intersex.

      It sounds like perhaps you may have had vaginal adhesion – a non-intersex trait indicating that the labia are kind of fused together at birth, which makes it look like there is a skin layer covering the vagina. Estrogen cream and a medical procedure help separate the labia, and the vaginal canal can be open.

      There is a form of intersex called MRKH that is characterized, in part, by not having a vaginal canal, but if you haven’t had a surgically-constructed vaginal canal and can menstruate, you would not have MRKH.

      As far as how intersex affects queer identity, gender fluidity, all that, I think it’s really hard to know if and how other aspects of identity map onto one’s intersex. Like, in one form of intersex, CAH, individuals usually identify as female, and have heightened testosterone levels that may lead them to be more active and/or aggressive on average than non-CAH females. If a CAH girl likes to play sports, does she just like to play sports? Or does she like to play sports because of her intersex? I have no clue.

      I am both gay and genderqueer, and I am also intersex. Does those things have any sort of relationship with one another? I have no idea. What I do know is that there are people who are just queer, just genderqueer, or just intersex, that don’t identify with those other labels. And there are individuals that claim two or all three of those labels. Is it possible that there’s a biological basis to being gay or genderqueer, as there is for intersex? Yes. But we don’t know, even if there is, if that biological basis is the case for all queer or genderqueer people, or if some people don’t have those genes or hormone levels or whatever and yet still identify as queer or genderqueer. We have no idea if the biological bases for intersex share any relationship to being queer or genderqueer.

      In short, I know I am an individual that is gay, genderqueer, and intersex, but I don’t think those labels necessarily have anything to do with one another. Maybe they do, maybe not. No matter where they come from, or if we could find a biological basis for all those things and see how they interact, it won’t make my identities more “real” or provide a “reason” validating the fact that I’m gay or genderqueer. My separate identities are authentic in their own right, and my intersex might not inform those identities at all. The fact that there are people who are queer without being intersex, genderqueer without being intersex, and intersex people that aren’t queer or genderqueer means that there’s not an intersex = queer and/or genderqueer relationship going on.

      Being a scientist, I would love to know more about the biological bases for why I am the way I am. But identities are so complex, and I think even I knew, it could be totally wrong to generalize those reasons to other people. I am satisfied just knowing I am these things, and knowing how they link up won’t make me more or less of an intersex, gay, genderqueer person. :)

  63. Just excellent! Really, it was so refreshing to read and the tone you use is easy and confident. I have many intersex friends and acquaintances and they are more dear than I can adequately put into words. There are also many damaged souls and ravaged bodies trying to live their after medics have done their work and butchered both their bodies and their self worth. Unless there is a serious, medical, demonstrable and quantifiable need, NO surgery should be performed until the person is able to make an informed judgement themselves. NONE! And when I say quantifiable, I don’t mean half baked, misleading data, cobbled together from sources that have NOTHING to do with the individual and are only used to scare and bully and confuse. I have looked into the ‘cancer risk’ you allude to (AIS/CAIS) and the more you dig, the more everything evaporates into speculation, gender bias and just plain untruths!

    Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone who is either in serious pain and questioning whether it’s worth keeping going, or who has decided that a relationship is a pointless fantasy for them because of what they have been told, or who’s self esteem as a human being has been severely beaten down through years of lies and propaganda.

    I am not L,G,B,T or I, but I will stand my ground beside anyone who’s life has been undermined and devalued by the issues you raise. Love and Respect.

    • It’s so, so true. Thank you for sharing this, as a medical professional. It always makes me so happy when clinical people know about intersex, and don’t automatically advocate surgery or other cosmetic treatments. Thank YOU! :)

      • As a gay person, I still am confused about what ‘intersex’ is all about? Having both genitalia are you able to have sex ‘both’ ways and if so, , if penetrated, can conception be possible? Say you are a male, but have a vagina (in addition to a penis) you can ‘give’ as well as ‘take?’ can you clarify ?

        Paul S.

        • Hey, Paul. Intersex people don’t have “both” genitalia, or have a vagina “in addition to a penis.” (There’s actually a pretty wide range of forms that genitals – and all body parts, really – can take.) It sounds like you’re thinking of non-human hermaphrodites (like some plants and animals can be, but not us). Some intersex people are reproductive, and some aren’t.

          Your questions are uncomfortable, in that you’re sexualizing intersex – like how people do when they ask, “How do gay people have sex?” Besides the fact that they assume we have bodies that humans don’t actually have, intersex isn’t all about genitals and what we do in bed. It’s about being born with a body that’s less common, but normal and perfectly healthy. I pretty strongly feel that unless you’re actually have sex with a particular person, it’s not necessary to know how that person has sex, ya know?

          I encourage you to re-read the post above to gain a better understanding of what intersex is, and to check out other sources. I link to my blog above, but other good sources include the blog The Intersex Roadshow, and the book Fixing Sex.

          • My inquiry was not intentional in sexualizing intersex persons but don’t understand your sensitivity as to your identity as an intersex person. What’s wrong in being unique? You should be proud of who you are and not be paranoid about being found out; so what! Your position on this identity thing is not unlike a gay person who denies he is gay because he feels he will be marginalized by those he wants in his life. But don’t put sensitivity in the mix when it doesn’t belong there. Just say’en. lol.

          • You may not have intentionally meant to sexualize intersex people, but your comments *do* sexualize intersex people. I am telling you this not because I am “paranoid” and or being “sensitive…when it doesn’t belong there.”

            I am telling you this because intersex people are generally uncomfortable answering such questions, and are offended because our identities and our goals as activists (i.e., to end medically unnecessary treatments without our consent) are eclipsed by curiousity as to what our genitals look like and what we use them for in bed.

            As though intersex is just about genitals. As though it’s anybody’s business to know how a person has sex. As though it’s okay to ask these questions because our bodies are perceived as different, and that somehow makes it okay to ask such questions that are usually considered wildly inappropriate for others.

            I completely understand that you have questions about intersex that you want to know. If an intersex person, though, tells you that those questions aren’t okay, that’s something you should respect and keep in mind next time you’re talking to an intersex person. They may very well feel the same way. If you are not sure why certain questions/views are offensive, that’s okay – having a conversation and asking for clarity it totally reasonable, and welcome. But becoming defensive and writing off the other person by assuming they’re being oversensitive or somehow in denial of their identity (???) does not make room for a conversation or understanding one’s point of view.

            If you have productive replies and would like to have an actual conversation, I am open to that. If you do not want to share views in a respectful way, I won’t be replying to further comments. Thanks! :)

          • Thanks, Claudia–don’t mean to be confrontational only trying to understand a subject that is almost hidden from general conversations. I would never ask questions relating to their genitalia, unless they initiated the conversation.( Aside, a friend of mine just came out to his family, and his 22 year old son, asked: “Dad are you ‘top’ or ‘bottom?’ At first his dad was fending off an answer, but thought about it as an innocent inquiry and answered him (‘top’)). BTY: I was on a website some time ago where it was discussed (I don’t recall them using the term: Intersex. It concerned Far Eastern tribes having children with dual sex organs and it appears that the child can be classified as a female but by age 12 can assume a male gender. I hesitate to go there because I forgot much of the process concerning it. Are you familiar with that subject?

  64. “or the flustered taxi cab driver” – lol, this is so much win.

    So I guess I should stop joking to myself that, as a trans man who is not intersex, I have gynecomastia? Because it is becoming clear to me that this is probably offensive and appropriative. Sorry, my bad. I’m glad I never actually said it to anyone.

    I really want the acronym soup (LGBTQIAPQO2ZOMGWTFetc) of the queer community to be improved. I like QUILTBAG, but even that isn’t perfect/doesn’t include everybody. GSM (Gender and Sexual/Sex Minorities) seems the most inclusive to me, and – also! -has the benefit of brevity. Plus, it’s an opt-in system where you don’t HAVE to identify yourself as GSM if you don’t feel like you are one.

    Also, this article is helping me realize that there are issues out there that I am passionate about that do not *directly* relate to my own experiences. I may be trans*, genderqueer, mostly gay, bi-identifying, used-to-feel-sort-of-lesbian, etc. – but I really care about intersex and asexual visibility and education, and I am not either of those things. (Re: asexuality: not even close. But it’s fascinating and deserves respect/compassion/visibility.)

    Personal question for Claudia that you absolutely do not have to answer: do you ever find yourself wishing for accurate/non-exploitative/any representation of people with bodies like yours in porn/erotica? I know that this is something that a lot of GSM/queer people seek, and is something that I am interested in as a queer trans* person. Like, I am overjoyed that there is sexy trans fan fiction out there and I am an unapologetic James Darling fanboy. I hope this does not feel too invasive, and if it does, I apologize and, like I said, you do not have to answer (not that you need my permission, obviously).

    • Hey, Oliver! Thank you for posing your question so respectfully! I would be happy to see non-stigmatizing and -exploitative intersex people in erotica. It’s not something that I personally am really, really wishing would be out there, but it would be awesome if it were. Sex-positive stuff, yeah!

      At the same time, I am also very very slightly wary about anything that has to do with intersex and focusing on our genitals. There’s definitely stuff already out there that is absolutely not respectful and is totally exploitative, so it would have to definitely make it clear that this stuff was 1) not like that, and 2) also didn’t focus on our genitals cuz intersex doesn’t = genitals.

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  66. WOW Claudia.. That was one of the best articles I’ve read about being intersex. So informative, that I had to edit my commentary that I’m blasting all over the internet right now from my Facebook page. Check it out. It’s the top story on my page. I think you’ll be very happy to read it and know you helped me to get it just right. Thanks! :)

  67. this is one of the moments i love being a college instructor for an intro to cultural anthropology class, when i can assign my students this piece for our section on gender and sex. thanks for being an educator, Claudia!

  68. Claudia, thank you so much for sharing your truth. I am xxx and a lesbian; it is very interesting because people would expect me to be uber straight and girlie. I’m just me, a person. My ex-wife is intersex and her parents had all this horrible surgery done on her when she was a baby and now it is very difficult for her to have an orgasm and she feels very odd. She is small so they “made” her into a girl but she feels like she could have been either a male or female. I really wish society would just be okay with people they way they are. The universe seems to think it is fine. One of my best friends has half of an arm and that seems to be okay with everyone. I was the kind of kid that wore big puffie dresses and played in the mud and climbed trees. I just did all the fun stuff! My parents were not very gender-biased and my brother and I got toys like legos and crayons, mostly. I hope that in my life time everyone will be accepted for who they are born as. Who knows? It could happen. I’ve seen the Berlin wall fall and America elect a black president…what’s next?

    • Yay, another fellow intersex person! I love that there are a bunch of you on AS. Thanks for feeling comfortable enough to share your history. :)

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  70. “Humans don’t qualify under this definition, with hermaphroditic species represented mostly by plants, fish, mollusks and other little beasties.”

    By “other little beasties” I’m assuming, based on the examples you gave, you are basically saying, mammals and hermaphrodism do not co-exist. This is untrue. In fact, I had a fancy rat which was born appearing to be female; she gave birth, appeared to go sterile only to become fertile again several months later as a male, and he quickly impregnated all the retired females in the cage. The rat was a chimera (a zygote destined to be male merged with one destined to be female and instead created one animal with two different cell lines and sexes.)

    It CAN occur in humans as well, but is VERY VERY rare (unless you count the brain as a sex organ, in which case, IMHO it would only be “uncommon”, but it would still appear to be very rare as it is hard if not impossible to determine such as thing (you’d have to test cells from different parts of the body, and if (almost) all of one cell line is in the brain and not elsewhere, you’d need to get a sample from the brain itself- not exactly easy.))

    Anyway, agreed with much of the rest; good luck.

    • Hi, there! I do not think that mammals qualify under the definition of “hermaphrodite” in terms of having a) all internal + external reproductive organs at the same time, or b) switching from a “male” set to a “female” set, or vice versa, over the life cycle. It is possible there could be exceptions I’m not aware of, but I don’t think this is the case.

      Chimerism, or having some cells in the body with one genetic profile and other cells in the same body with a different genetic profile, is a form of intersex we see in humans. In humans, chimerism doesn’t enable people to switch from one set of sex organs to another – as hermaphrodites do – and I would be surprised if it would in other mammals, as well. I don’t know enough about what was happening with your rat to know if the rat’s sex characteristics changed over time – or, if they did, if this actually had something to do with chimerism or not. What I do know is that this is not possible in humans.

      There are some forms of intersex where it takes time for sex traits to fully develop, giving the impression that an individual “changed” sex traits, such as in 5-alpha reductase. It’s possible that something similar to this could have been going on with your rat.

      Thanks for reading!

  71. Thanks for your post Claudia. I can relate to much of what you wrote. I’m also intersex, I have CAH (salt-wasting if you want to get technical), and I’m queer. Even though I am involved in queer advocacy, I am not very out about being intersex or involved in intersex advocacy but your piece is making me think about this again. I grew up knowing I had CAH and that I had had a surgery related to that when I was very young but I didn’t really tie it all together until around college and coming out as queer. I was angry for a time with my parents for allowing me to be mutilated but I came to understand that they were just doing what the doctors told them was best. I was angry at the doctors for thinking that was best but they were just doing what they were (wrongly) taught. While I still feel a little bitter and think they should have known better, they didn’t. I’m glad there is increasing education and advocacy so hopefully this can happen less/never in the future. I’m glad I came upon your piece and thank you for your work for the intersex community.

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  76. Hey Claudia!
    Thank you for the post. I found it after doing some searching- I’m a medical student, and we had a lecture today on steroid hormones and CAH; my professor referred to individuals with ambiguous genitalia as pseudohermaphrodites. I have a feeling this term is not embraced by the intersex community; he never once used the term “intersex”. I’d like your opinion on the use of this term and about any medically relevant terms you appreciate so I may share them with my class.

  77. Am I correct that your CAH is 17alpha or 3beta ? Either would feminize an xy. I made several attempts spread over 40 years to even get a test for my brother (?) and myself. The doctors were only aware of the 21 condition and not looking the part, we never got tested! Did you have similar obstacles ? This last summer my brother came under treatment of some real talent at U.VA. endocrinology and genetics. The geneticist took one look at us together “I can see we won’t be testing for 21 today”. My brother is finally getting some help for 17alpha, maybe me later. For many INTERSEX persons, the health complications resulting from the condition which made them so will work to reduce the significance of other complaints. I have discovered that low glucocorticoids will actually improve immunities, while excess pregnenelone will improve memory. My job depends on memory. Not so bad after all! I believe INTERSEX to be the only birth disorder with a waiting list. – Tupungato.

  78. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this
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  79. Pingback: Claudia es Intersexual, Vamos a Hablar de Ello. Por Claudia Astorino | Brújula Intersexual

  80. How dare doctors monkey with a force of nature without consent!
    A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

    Only the fully informed individual experiencing the phenomena can decide how to use science to advantage when it comes to personal matters like this. There is no other way.

    Hippocratic oath?

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  85. Fabulous article. I will use it in the college diversity classes I teach. A little piece of advice: don’t use profanity in your writing next time. While I understand the raw emotions, it cheapens your professionalism and diminishes your persuasive abilities. But bravo on a fine piece of work.

    • I am still confused what in ‘intersex ‘ all about? Does it mean the person who identifies as such has functional sex organs of both sexes, and if so, in the case of a male, is he able to get pregnant? OR. does the person born with both sex organs opt for the one they want to be identified by.

      • It doesn’t look like Claudia is answering many questions so if I may direct your question to two good sources: “The Intersex Roadshow” (Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello, and “About Lianne” (Lianne Simon). There are about 36 different versions of Intersex, some of which have varying degrees of expression. Especially after being surgically “corrected” without their consent as children, most are pretty normal looking, while some are just pretty. Most were “assigned” gender and some disagree with the “assignment.” Some have a contrary or extra chromosome, others the opposite hormones. The being of myth, fully male AND fully female, may have existed in a mythological past…science says no, while the Bible hints Adam may have been such. While the internet is full of stories of such people,in the present that being does not exist. The testosterone needed to father a child precludes a full-term pregnancy. Many of the conditions are linked to health problems, some severe or fatal. Claudia’s article touches most of these thoughts.

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  87. Dear Claudia!

    I’ve been reading this article now very slowly and carefully because since today is #IAD, I really wanted not to rush, but to celebrate the diversity in this world.

    It’s a really good article and I think everybody who didn’t know anything or much about being intersex now knows a lot more.

    There’s only one thing for me to say left:
    Never give up. Fight hard and you will be rewarded!

    • I am a gay male and completely unaware what intersex is all about. I tried to google for info. but still, a bit puzzled what’s it all about. SO, can a intersex person have sex with both genders and have equal gratification from the ‘act?’ Also, if you have a vagina (and its functional), is it possible to become pregnant? If intersex, do you have the choice of retaining both genitalia or must you have one removed?

      • Why do you keep posting this exact question? It’s very odd.

        I would suggest further googling – it’s not really up to intersex people to answer your invasive and somewhat confusing questions…

        Maybe start here?

        • Then, pray tell, Alfie (I mean gueer girl): What’s it all about? You seem to be treating it like a cancer you are born with and any inquiry about it is considered an intrusion!

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