What is intersex?

There are many definitions in circulation. The definition that thisisintersex.org uses gives everyone enough room to give their own interpretation of the term intersex

The term intersex refers to the lived experience of people who are born with a body that does not fit within the normative social construct of male or female.

Portret van meisje met sproeten en rood haar. Het meisje draagt een strooien hoed.

Do you have red hair, or are you a redhead? What you call yourself is often a matter of personal preference.

Intersex is not something you ‘are’, but something you ‘have’, just like you might “have” blonde or red hair. You are not red or blonde hair. So you have an intersex body, just like you have a big or a small nose. Although most intersex people feel that their intersex status is not an identity, they often still say ‘I am intersex’. A few do so because their experiences have contributed to their identity. Others do it because they want society to know that they share experiences with other intersex people. And still others do it because they feel that intersex is not a medical problem, but a social problem. An intersex individual is not in pain, will not die from their ‘condition’, nor is it curable. Hence, these intersex activists are strongly against the word ‘disorders’ in ‘disorders of sex development’.

Intersex is a variation on the norms that are (incorrectly) applied to the ‘diagnosis’ of male sex or female sex. The standard for ‘male’ is XY chromosomes, penis, testes, testosterone and a certain physique, while the standard for ‘female’ is based on XX chromosomes, vagina, ovaries and a uterus, estrogen and a different physique. Yet some girls are born with XY chromosomes and some boys with XX chromosomes. Or boys with a vagina and girls with a clitoris so large that it might as well be called a small penis. In the latter situations, doctors and parents still often think that surgical intervention is necessary. Yet in most cases there is no medical emergency and surgery is performed only for cosmetic reasons. At that point, intersex is medicalized.