This page details some of the general differences and similarities between the experience of transgender/gender diverse people and people with intersex variations. In general, these comparisons reflect our understanding in Australia, but many of the same principles apply elsewhere.
Intersex is not a part of the trans umbrella (such as transgender or transsexual) nor is intersex a form of gender diversity, because intersex is not about gender, or transition. Intersex is about bodies; about congenital physical differences in sex characteristics.
Intersex, transgender, and same sex attraction are distinct concepts and issues, and people with intersex variations face distinct health and human rights issues.
We recognise that some people born with intersex variations change sex classification, and that some intersex people who have gender identities that differ from their sex/gender assigned at birth will identify with the trans community. Intersex people who change sex or gender classification may or may not associate their identity with any social or medical transition – for example, they may choose a classification that avoids or reduces stigmatisation due to their sex characteristics, or they may see the change in classification as correcting an error made by doctors at birth.
An overlap in these experiences is no more or less remarkable than when intersex or trans people are lesbian or gay. All LGBT and I populations overlap – but this means we have to recognise also that many intersex people are heterosexual and identify with sex assigned at birth. A conflation of intersex with being transgender or gender diverse fails to recognise that most intersex people identify with sex assigned at birth. Assuming that we are all the same, or that we pursue the same goals, obscures the specific goals of the intersex human rights movement.
- Read Intersex surgery disregards children’s human rights, Tony Briffa’s letter to Nature in April 2004
- Read What do intersex people need from doctors?, an article in the December 2018 issue of the RANZCOG O&G Magazine by Morgan Carpenter
Issues to do with sex and gender markers are not the most fundamental issue that intersex movement seeks to address. The most longstanding (and intractable) issue that intersex people face is a lack of bodily autonomy, and the risk of forced or coercive medical interventions. A particular difficulty faced by many intersex people who change sex/gender marker is the risk of forced and irreversible medical treatment to make their bodies appear more like their incorrect assigned sex. These human rights violations faced by intersex people who change sex/gender marker are obscured in flawed ideas that being transgender is somehow a kind of “brain intersex”. Such claims are not made by same sex attracted persons, despite comparable research.
More generally, all identity-based frameworks have limited application to the lived, material experiences of intersex people. As described by Morgan Carpenter, many human rights violations faced by intersex people occur before we are old enough to have agency to freely express any identity.
These issues highlight intersectionalities where discourse about transphobia and homophobia, and of the stigmatisation of LGBTI peoples, can fail to address the specific issues faced by intersex people. Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe precisely such concerns.
Issues that all LGBTI peoples share in common lie in the ways that we are stigmatised for failing to meet social or medical norms relating to sex and gender. These give stronger grounds for collaboration, in particular through recognition of the existence and intrinsic value of bodily diversity.
The medical model for the treatment of people with intersex variations means that the intersex movement also has much in common with the disability movement.
Recognise the specific circumstances of intersex people and the actual goals of the intersex movement. Do not instrumentalise intersex people, for example, by referring to our existence in debates about the rights of other populations without attention to the rights of intersex people and the goals of the intersex movement.
Recognise the diversity of the intersex population, and promote respect for our sex assignments and gender identities. Resist the harmful reduction of intersex issues to sex markers and gender recognition.
Collaborate and work with us to end forced and coercive medical practices, and in pursuit of access to medical interventions on the basis of personal informed consent, supported by peers.
We believe that intersex people, and intersex-led organisations, must be centred in work on intersex issues.
Stories about being both
These articles were written by people who are both intersex and transgender, about the exerience of being both:
- Mauro Cabral: A Message from Mauro Cabral, 26 October 2016.
- Catherine Graffam: The Rift Between Us — Intersex and Trans Discourse, 18 November 2015.
- Mauro Cabral: The marks on our bodies, 25 October 2015.
- Cary Gabriel Costello: Are Trans Communities Losing Intersex Allies in the TERF Wars?, 14 September 2014.
- Raven Kaldera: Dangerous Intersections: Intersex and Transgender Differences, undated.
More on intersectionalities by Intersex Human Rights Australia
More reading on intersectionalities between being intersex and transgender, by Intersex Human Rights Australia:
- Read more on intersex intersectionalities with other populations
- Sexuality, sex and gender diversity? the risks associated with new terminology like “sexuality, sex and gender diversity”.
- “ISGD” and the appropriation of intersex.
- High Court recognises “non-specific” gender identity, implications for intersex people.
- Discussion paper on “sex and gender diverse” terminology – a call to end use of that term.
- Intersex, brain differences, and the transgender tipping point
This page is not intended as an introduction to intersex. Introductory information, and reading on related issues:
- Demographic information on intersex people
- We recommend our Intersex for allies leaflet as an introduction to intersex
- Read more on intersex intersectionalities with other populations
- Submission on the ethics of genetic selection against intersex traits
- Statement on the Senate report ‘Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia’
- Defining intersex: Australian and international definitions.
- Resources listing – a curated list of key resources on the Intersex Human Rights Australia site.
This article was originally written for the Camp Betty Intersex 101 workshop in June 2011.
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