Intersex: Brought to Attention • Psych N Sex

Intersex: Brought to Attention

May 1, 2017


Intersex: Brought to Attention

At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this

 – Hanne Gaby Odiele to USA TODAY.
 The term Intersex is a general one, but it’s usually used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a “reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male” says the Intersex Society of North America. They are advocates of education and understanding and go on to explain that:
a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

Intersex is more of a socially derived term than a scientific one.

If you are considered intersex, you simply do not fit into the female box or the male box. The dichotomy of having one gender or another is usually determined by your genitals, but as we are evolving as a social society, these terms and constraints are starting to expand with media attention and people speaking out. Odiele is a super model who has gained fame from walking in runway shows and starring in countless spreads and editorials. Odiele identifies as a woman and was married to a man last year. She decided enough was enough on her silence. Her look has always been one of an androgynous model, but as of January 2017, she is letting the world know that she is intersex.
She was born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) which gave her XY chromosomes which are more typically found in men. This resulted in her being born with both traditional female genitalia and male genitalia. Her parents were given the option to get rid of her testicles with surgery. At the age of 10, she had surgery and knew after when she was not getting her period that something was wrong, and she was not going to be able to have children.

Her case is not unique.

About 1.7% of the population is born intersex and to put the number in perspective, the same number of people are born with red hair.

intersex - psych n sex

Below is an incomplete list of conditions that typically deem a person intersex:

  • 5-alpha reductase deficiency
  • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS)
  • Aphallia
  • Clitoromegaly (large clitoris)
  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
  • gonadal dysgenesis (partial & complete)
  • Hypospadias
  • Klinefelter Syndrome
  • Mosaicism involving “sex” chromosomes
  • MRKH (Mullerian agenesis; vaginal agenesis; congenital absence of vagina)
  • Ovo-testes (formerly called “true hermaphroditism”)
  • Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS)
  • Progestin Induced Virilization
  • Swyer Syndrome
Prior to 1950, intersex wasn’t a term, nor was it brought to enough attention to deem changes. In 1950 a team of doctors at John Hopkins University created what is now known as “optimum gender of rearing.” This was the start of gender reassignment. The thought was that if the procedure was done before 18 months of age it would set a gender for the baby and would allow the baby to grow up to be a believable and straight girl OR boy. This paved the way for doctors to lie (and write textbooks on lying) to parents and children about being intersex at birth. The lying went as far as hiding medical records.
They believed that “nurture” rather than “nature” determined the sex of a child. With successful surgery and deception, this then allows endocrinologists to adjust the newly gendered patients’ hormones. The thinking behind this was to try to get the bodies of patients to do what they thought was necessary not just for physical health, but for psycho-social health.
transgender - psych n sex
Moving forward, the ISNA recommends that if you have a child with any of these conditions, or have the conditions yourself, we should be as informative as possible with no secrecy and frequent and open conversations. We need to end hiding medical records, and automatically doing gender reassignment surgery at birth. Surgery should be held until the intersex person is at consenting age and allowed the choice to decide for themselves what they would like to do with their body, rather than having a doctor or parent make that choice for them.
 Want to learn more? Here’s a great history lesson, a great article, and amazing support.
  1. Jordain

    It's pretty appalling how licensed professionals were willing to hide medical records just so that they could maintain a gender binary. I wonder if things had happened differently, if there would be less of a stigma around genderfluid/nonbinary people today? Because even from a scientific point of view, it seems pretty clear that there are more than just two sexes.

    • Sasha

      I think that the issue is the intent to keep things binary was stemmed in religious / controlling motivations. There has been a long standing issue with science vs control.

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