Some Notes on Intersex

arvan's picture

The Australian affiliate of Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII) published a great list of Intersex Terms for Journalists.  The goal is for people to understand Intersex persons better and to language conversations in respect and accuracy. 

I think the list is great for not only journalists, but for anyone in relationship with Intersex persons or with a desire to understand and respect the people we share this existence with. 

Read the list and comment with anything you would like to see added.

Disorders of Sex Development (DSD)

Intersex people find this term abhorrent and insulting, and ask that it not be used in connection with intersex. It was invented by a group of medical personnel to replace the word intersex and further medicalise and control being intersex when intersex is in fact a natural variation in human biology.

Intersex people object to the control that doctors have long exercised over our lives. Instead we wish to have them act as learned friends who practice client-centred health care in close consultation with us, and not one-size-fits-all solutions formulated under various unscientific belief systems and that do few of us any good.


Gender used to be a purely grammatical term meaning that a word was feminine, masculine or neuter until New Zealand-born psychologist John Money invented the use of gender as word referring to one’s innate knowledge of being male or female and went on invent a number of theories of gender that were based on ‘evidence’ later found to be fraudulent.

Despite this, some second wave feminists latched on to his theories and elaborated them further.

The essence of Money’s unproven beliefs is that one can somehow convince a boy that he is actually a girl and a girl that she is actually a boy. He tried to do the former in the case of the non-intersex boy David Reimer. The case was known as John/Joan. Money faked the case history as his experiment was a failure. It was discovered to be so when David Reimer went public, confirming suspicions long held by Professor Milton Diamond.

Money’s theories are still used to justify non-consensual experimental cosmetic surgery on some intersex newborns. Intersex people want such surgery to cease immediately unless it is to save lives in the case of congenital conditions such as cloacal exstrophy.

Contemporary medical research continues to accumulate evidence that the sex that an individual knows they are is set biologically in the womb in the early stages of fetal development.

The word gender is not to be used interchangeably with the word sex.

Gender cannot be tested-for medically. In Caster Semenya’s case, she states she is a woman so her gender is woman. That is the end of the question.

“Grave health risks”

What “grave health risks?” Being born intersex does not in and of itself constitute a grave health risk, although certain doctors would have one believe that it does. Some doctors use scare tactics to frighten intersex people into having experimental cosmetic surgery on their genitals and reproductive organs to “normalize” them.

Some use the same tactics to frighten parents into permitting them to do non-consensual experimental cosmetic surgery on their child in order to “fix” being intersex, another way of gaining control over our bodies and lives.

It is true that a very small percentage of intersex newborns with internal testes may find the testes become cancerous at a later stage in life, but that can be tested for over the individual’s lifetime and acted on only when necessary and when the patient so chooses.


This word is no longer used in place of intersex, and its use is considered by intersex people to be ill-informed, insulting and dehumanizing.

There is no such thing as a human hermaphrodite, that is, someone who has two full sets of reproductive organs, one female and one male, as earthworms do. Intersex people do not appreciate being compared to earthworms.


Intersex is a question of sex, and not of gender, nor sexuality, nor sexual orientation, nor sexual attraction.

Being intersex is not being transgender, although some intersex people may also identify as transgender or transsexual as a result of having passed through those medical protocols in the attempt to obtain appropriate medical treatment. Thus, intersex is not transgender.

Intersex people are people who, as individuals, have genetic, hormonal and physical features that may be thought to be typical of both male and female at once. That is, we may be thought of as being male with female features, female with male features, or indeed we may have no clearly defined sexual features at all.


Intersex lives are not inherently tragic, but the way we are mistreated is. Abuse of all kinds is rife from birth onwards, and the way intersex people are treated in this society is itself inherently abusive.


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