Intersex and ISGD: yet another attempt to co-opt intersex?

The new catch-all term being heavily promoted in Sydney, “Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse”, comes across as yet another variation on what Alice Dreger and ISNA did with their attempt to erase intersex with DSD, standing for “Disorders of Sex Development”.

A previous attempt at extending & replacing intersex

DSD was sold to the medical profession as a nicer, more genteel and much broader replacement for intersex and intersex people have been resisting that particular co-opting of intersex ever since, with some success. Now you often see intersex and DSD being used in the same sentence in the media and the medical journals that not so long ago crowed at how DSD was to replace intersex.

The intentions of the creators of DSD were crystal clear to those who cared to look and are even clearer in hindsight. They wanted to take over, medically pathologize and then medically erase intersex, if such a thing were really possible. They failed to grasp that once born intersex one remains intersex all one’s life. This new catch-all, ISGD, is anything but as transparent in its meaning and the intentions of its creators. Like DSD it looks like yet another attempt to take over intersex and reshape it into a tool for the use of non-intersex people.

The words of the term ISGD itself

The clues are in the words and punctuation of the term itself. Let’s take a look at them.

“Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse” – it’s a noun with some more nouns and an adjective tacked on at the end. Intersex is the noun while “sex and/or gender diverse” – what a mouthful – acts as an adjectival phrase elaborating on the primary noun.

The words can be reordered to mean the same thing but with a bit more clarity – “sex and/or gender diverse intersex”. It would appear that the phrase is referring to those intersex people who may be sex diverse or gender diverse or both sex and gender diverse.

What is sex diversity and gender diversity specifically in reference to intersex people? The definition of intersex is this:

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.

“Both male and female” – that’s intrinsically sex diverse compared to non-intersex people who are either male or female, not both at the same time to varying degrees. Intersex people are sex diverse by definition, in which case why do we need to state that sex diverse people are sex diverse by saying “sex diverse intersex”?

“Gender diverse” – gender is defined as the social roles that are associated with being male or female. Males usually take the social role of men and females usually take the social role of women. As to intersex people, well there are no specific social roles associated with being intersex other than man and woman.

Most intersex people take on one or the other role early in their life and maintain the same one for the rest of their life. Some intersex people have been known to take on the roles of men sometimes and women at others – we have members of national OII affiliates who refer to themselves in both social roles but they are relatively rare amongst intersex people. So are intersex people who are neither men nor women but they most certainly exist.

Who is ISGD intended for?

So who, exactly, is being referred to with “Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse” then? It can only be intersex people who are both men and women or who are neither men nor women. All intersex people are already female and male by definition, so the sex diverse part is redundant.

If “Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse” – or “Intersex, Gender Diverse” for the sake of removing redundancy – refers to a very small subset of intersex people then, following the same pattern, what term shall we invent to refer to the rest of us? “Intersex, gender dyadic” perhaps?

“Dyad” is a noun used by some intersex people to refer to non-intersex people because they are only either female or male, not both. According to Wikipedia, dyad in sociology is a noun that describes a group of two people. If you assume those two people are a female and male couple then the reference would be to two people who can only be one sex or the other. “Dyadic” is the adjective used in reference to non-intersex people such as these. Intersex people using the word dyad seem to be using it in place of the word binary. Sex is binary and so is gender. If sex is dyadic then so is gender.

If we wanted to become really inclusive then, we could say “Intersex, gender diverse or gender dyadic”. But hey, why waste words? Let’s just say “intersex”!

What of non-intersex people?

To further tease out the possible meaning and intention behind ISGD, how could we use the same word and punctuation construction as “Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse” to describe some other groups of people altogether? Let’s cast our eyes on the United States:

“Californians, Hispanic and/or Black” – that takes care of those people living in California who are both black and Hispanic as well as those who are black only or Hispanic only. In summary, black Californians, Hispanic Californians or black Hispanic Californians. Simple, isn’t it?

“Southerners, Red-headed and/or Cajun” – people who live in or are from the southern states and who are both red-headed and of Cajun heritage, or who are only Cajun or only red-headed. That is, red-headed Southerners, Cajun Southerners or red-headed Cajun Southerners.

“Writers, Southern and/or Fantasy Novelists” – there’s Anne Rice for you as well as a huge number of writers in all genres who happen to be from the South or who write fantasy novels or who fit both descriptions. Thus, all Southern writers, all writers of fantasy novels or all those Southerners who write fantasy novels.

By the same token then…

“Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse” – intersex people who are sex diverse which all intersex people are anyway or intersex people who are gender diverse which is relatively few of us. And that’s it.

What is the forerunner of ISGD?

“Sex and/or gender diverse” (SGD) was a phrase coined during the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) consultation with LGBTI people during its research for The Sex Files. It was decided a term needed to be coined to refer to people within LGBTI who are not L, G or B, that is, people whose main difference is not in the sex of those they are attracted to but in their variations in biological sex or social gender roles. “And/or” was thought to take care of those who vary both in their sexual biology and social role, or those who only vary in terms of sex, or only in terms of gender.

In reality SGD also refers to non-LGBTI by virtue of the fact that the whole human population is sex diverse, with less than half being female, less than half being male, and then there is all the rest. That is diversity in total, not sameness. SGD, as one participant in The Sex Files commented, is so broad and fuzzy it means everything and nothing so should be offensive to nobody.

ISGD is offensive – include us out!

ISGD is a very different thing to SGD and it most certainly offends intersex people. We have had more than enough of non-intersex people trying to erase the word intersex and intersex people altogether.

Medicine has been the biggest offender in this. Intersex was first used by the German-American scientist Richard Goldschmidt in 1902 or earlier. Despite science’s widespread, enthusiastic embrace of intersex since then, medicine blithely ignored science as it so often does and chose to call us “hermaphrodites” or “pseudo-hermaphrodites” instead. Medicine was finally persuaded to give up promoting ancient Greek mythology and adopted intersex, only for Alice Dreger to take charge and tell a medical convention they had to replace intersex with DSD.

Dreger is a non-intersex academic expert in intersex people and former member of the best-known global intersex organization from the 1990s to 2008, the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), prior to its demise and replacement with a DSD promotion organisation.

We have to ask, what are the real intentions of those who created and continue to promote the linguistically challenged term “Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse”?

We say “Enough!”

See also


Mish Pony

I think you’ll find that ISGD is not used to refer to “sex and/or gender diverse intersex” but to intersex people, gender diverse people, and sex diverse people – or any combination of the former. Your whole argument falls away after that I feel. And your clever word play is a straw-man argument. Nobody uses the term ISGD to talk about a group of people – they will use “ISGD people”.

Mish Pony

PS I actually support separating intersex from sex and gender diverse as that is what the intersex community is asking for – but I find this article problematic.


Mish, the section looking at the possible words and grammar and thus ostensible of ISGD is not dissimilar to the kind of analysis applied in branding exercises. ISGD is in effect a new brand and should be subject to the same considerations as to its effectiveness or not as any commercial brand or new product. ISGD is problematic on that basis alone.

Thank you for supporting the intersex community.


I have seen “ISGD people” in print, but the media, as is its habit, shortens it to ISGD or uses it as an adjective in conjunction with other words. This article is not an attempt at clever word play but is an analysis of this new term’s components as my other reply notes.


See I TOLD you so. I told ya what was going to happen when you start letting Trans people infiltrate the intersex community and look what they have done to it. They have stolen the intersex name and rebrand it to include those who are not BORN intersex and we intersex people are paying the price for it.

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