Saturday, January 30, 2010

Open Forum: (LGBTI) The Intersexual Intersection?

In recent years there has been a growing movement to add intersexuality to the growing LGBT acronymn with some approving and disapproving of such a measure. Intersex refers to a series of medical conditions in which a persons genetic sex (chromosomes) and phenotypic sex (genital appearance) do not match, or are somehow different from the "standard" male or female. Most intersex babies are genitally mutilated and either never find out or discover that doctors changed their birth sex later in life. Some of these individuals identify as male or female, and some elect to transition to the gender they feel more comfortable with while others identify their gender as being intersex and are fully comfortable being in between or neither male nor female.

The contention over whether intersex should be lumped into the broader LGBT spectrum is causing controversy in both camps. There are those who argue that intersex is a medical and biological issue separate from the issues faced by other queer people. There also are those who argue that gay and transgender identity is not simply psychologically based, but also has roots in our biological makeup. Common to all of these identities is that we are neither hetero nor cisnormative and we all have to come to terms with ourselves, whether it be coming out to others or to ourselves about who we really are. We all also face discrimination on the basis that we do not fit the standard mold of gender, sex, and sexuality.

Does the nature versus nurture debate even matter when it comes to who is included in the sexual and gender diversity spectrum? Do you feel there are similarities between some aspects of the intersex and other LGBT communities or are they so far apart that they must be considered separate social and political issues?


David Elijah Nahmod said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mave Gibson said...

LGBT as a label has to go the way of the dinosaur. I think it is a terrible way to approach things, for a variety of important reasons:

1] "LGB" all refer to sexuality, while "T" (and "I") refer to gender identity. It's a mixed acronym that just confuses the issues. While sexuality and gender identity are intertwined, they are not the same. A transgendered person, for example, will also identify as gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc. It just doesn't make any sense to mix things up like that.

2] LGBT is inherently noninclusive, as is demonstrated every time a group feels alienated and wants a letter added. How many letters are we going to add before we accept that the approach is severely flawed?

3] LGBT polarizes and fractures the community. It divides us up into disparate groups instead of bringing us together. It creates a sense of privilege and marginalization among various people within the community. It's totally counterintuitive to what we are trying to do.

4] LGBT is heavily invested in the gender binary, which again - is totally counterintuitive to what we stand for.

I vastly prefer the term "queer". It's inclusive, it's simple, it says it all. No one has to check to see if they fit into some label group in an acronym in order to justify their inclusion and participation politically or personally. It's just a better symbol for what we stand for.

Christian Messer said...

As a publisher of Oregon's first LBTIQ Magazine, id Magazine - there was a real struggle to come up with a name for the magazine that encompasses and includes everyone - if it had a Q in the name a certain segment of our community would not support it - because they don't like the term or label of Queer.

We went around and around, when finally I realized, "Hey…it's all about identity! id as in identification is perfect!" Of course we couldn't (for copyright reasons) use i.d.(International design uses that, no defunct, but still alive on the web) - so we opted for id.

I have always used the tagline "LGBTIQ" - the I for inter-sexual or In-transition - Q for queer or questioning - but on an search engine optimization side, LGBT is the standard. I'm still struggling with dropping the "IQ" part, but there does come a point when too many letters is too confusing - our straight allies have coined it "alphabet soup" - which is funny, but regardless - our community is diverse it's impossible to please everyone.

libhom said...

Anonymous: Obviously, you don't understand what the word transgender means and that it is a much broader term than transexual. Also, your bigotry against other transgender people is showing big time.

Anonymous said...

I am intersexed. That's the correct word. I was born with ambiguous genitals and organs - not exactly male or female, with some aspects kindo of like both. I have no fertility. I was subjected to no mutilatiing surgery. My parents dressed me in green and yellow, called me a nickname and waited to see if I seemed more like a boy or girl. I clearly identified with boys by the time I was 3 so boy it was. I couldn't make enough of my own adult hormones so I've taken replacement testosterone since a teenager. I'm affectionally and sexually attracted most to people like me - other men. I'm very active in the gay community - spend summers at a gay camp, am part of a Bear group and many other things. I'm happily partnered and raised 2 kids through adoption who are now 22. My son is gay, my daughter is straight. I am completely out of the closet as an intersexed person. This is rare. Most of us are so terrified of rejection we hide. As a group we have no social standing, no civil rights, and no legal protections of any sort in the U.S. It is changing in some other countries. We are not rare. One in every 100 people has some physical trait that is not typical for their sex. One in 2,000 are like me -born somewhere between male and female. Because so many of us were used as guinea pigs in the experimental sex surgeries of the 1960's - 80's many of us were mutilated as babies in an effort to make us look more male or female. Those who were got numb, scarred genitals that often didn't fit our identities. This still happens in some places and we are in desperate need of help in ending it. That's not likely to happen as long as most of us are too scared to come out. We do have an international association which started as a result of us searching for others like us online. (I was 40 years old before I knowingly met another person like me.) You can access the U.S. branch at if you'd like to learn more. There are many, many of us who are gay or lesbian. For those of us with mixed anatomy we find that people with a bit of bisexuality are most attracted to us. For those whose genitals don't look any different than ordinary males or females it's no big deal. None of you out there really know you're NOT intersexed unless you've had a genotype. You could be genetically intersexed and not know it. In fact you could be a male XX or a female XY and not know it - it does happen. I doubt there is anything in queerdom more queer than us - it's not our gender behavior, our sexual orientation, or our gender identity that makes us blur male/masculine and female/femminine. It's our very bodies. In my personal opinion we're the Zenith of sex/gender variation.

Jim C

Bee said...

@Mave Gibson- I agree 110%!

Anonymous said...

First, I think this is a great blog post and an important topic.

While it's true that many intersex people consider it (Disorders of Sex Development) purely a medical issue and want nothing to do with the queer community, others do welcome and advocate the inclusion. I co-founded Transcending Boundaries, an organization for those outside the sex/gender/sexuality binaries, such as bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer...and intersex. I've met many intersex folks on both sides of this debate, and I think it's important to honor the wishes of each. Not all intersex people consider themselves queer, and those who do not want to ally with us should be treated respectfully and their wishes be followed. However, other intersex people do identify with the queer community. Many are also transgender or bisexual/pansexual or identify as outside the sex binary of male/female altogether, and want recognition of their struggle in our communities.

That being said, I don't think the "I" should be added to an acronym unless an organization/author is truly committed to learning about intersex issues and promoting them, including understanding that not all intersex people will consider themselves queer-identified. Adding the "I" merely as a token gesture doesn't really help anyone.

Personally, I believe the mutilations, unnecessary medical procedures, stigma and other sufferings of intersex people stem from the same gender and binary stereotypes that lead to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other similar discrimination. As such, I think it behooves us all to work together and I strongly support it. I think non-intersex queer folks should learn about intersex and strive to include those who wish to be included. Our oppression, after all, has the same root cause.

An excellent article regarding intersex vs. transgender, including intersex in the GLBT community, why many intersex don't wish to be included, etc. can be found at: I highly recommend it.

Anonymous said...

It's fairly obvious that you don't understand what it means to be BORN intersex and born with an Intersex medical condition. It's also obvious that by calling someone a bigot, you actually shot yourself in the foot because you don't have anything to back up what you say. I think you need to go back to school and learn some science and psychology class. Also, Intersex dose not and will never equal transgender. Intersex will never be part of the transgender community. Frankly, Intersex is more medical based while trans, is more psychiatry/social based.

As for me, I am an Intersex person and I am one of those Intersex people who don't like the idea of my medical community being sexualized and co-opted by the LGBT machine. Intersex people don't like their community to be hijacked and used as a base to launch their social/ political agenda. The reason for this is because intersex people such as myself fear the same bigoted masses that attack the LGBT community would do the same thing to us intersex people. On top of that we have enough abuse to deal with already from the medical and scientific community and the intersex community simply doesn't need any more abuse piled on from the LGBT community.

Also the Article, here's the correct link;

Anonymous said...

"Frankly, Intersex is more medical based while trans, is more psychiatry/social based."

I'm not so sure about that. I am officially transsexual, however my estrogens were 30% above the male norm in some tests before I even started hormone replacement. My mother, my sister and I were 169 - 171 cm high, while my brother is 188 cm. My second and fourth fingers are completely equal in length, which is considered to be a femine trait by huge studies (n=3000+). I recently had an ultrasound, which found my testicles to be less than half the size of normal male organs. I hardly produce any sperm at all. I have no Adams apple and my voice is high enough to make me easily pass as a woman in tele marketing, which I did for a year. Now I'm an RN student easily passing face-to-face even in intimate situations.

I am 46,XY and thus not officially intersex, yet the doctors agree I have a peculiar biology. Recent research have found statistically significant connections between M-F as well as F-M transsexualism and certain genes i.e. the androgen receptor gene at Xq11-12 has longer intron sequences in M-F's in about 10% of the cases compared to the rest of the population. A complete microarray may or may not reveal a genetic explanation, we just have no clue what to look for.

In a review of 465 letters from people asking for help after the world famous sex reassignment on Christine Jørgensen in 1951 her doctor, Christian Hamburger, notes that 20% of the letters contained descriptions of bodily variations of some kind. Other sources have noted that as many as 50% of the M-F transsexuals are infertile. On the other hand the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-V taskforce have noted that it is more common to voluntarily seek sex reassignment among intersex individuals than it is in the background population.

On a personal level I have some very good friends, who are intersexed and there seems to be a certain very special understanding of each others gender identities among us.

The final thing is that when I tell people I am transsexed they almost instantly asks me how I'm equipped physically, which means that even though gender identity is primarily a feeling of which gender one belongs to and how you thrive best as a person our surroundings don't really comprehend that, but rather ties it strongly to biology. I imagine that would be a question commonly encoutered by an openly intersexed person as well.

For these reasons I believe transsexed and intersexed individuals have a lot in common.

Dylan said...

"It's fairly obvious that you don't understand what it means to be BORN intersex and born with an Intersex medical condition."

It's fairly obvious that you don't understnad what it means to be BORN transsexual and born with a Gender Identity Disorder; a medical condition.

"Frankly, Intersex is more medical based while trans, is more psychiatry/social based."

It is interesting to note that studies are now looking at things like brain development to try and explaining transsexuality.
Intersex people were once subjected to awful biological procedures to try and make them into one or the other, before it was realised that Intersex is just a biological fact and psychologically it's better to not subject them to that kind of surgery at such a young age.
Transgendered people have a different history. Transgendered people were put under psychological methods to try and solve any issues and reconcile them with their born sex, and they tried things as far out as hypnotism. However, nothing worked, suggesting it's a biological fact. If it was psychological, it could probably be treated with psychological methods.

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