Haasch: We need to talk about intersex inclusion

People with intersex traits form 1.7 percent of the population, but they’re often overlooked in media and queer spaces.

Palmer Haasch

The LGBTQ community encapsulates a wide variety of identities that fall outside normative understandings of gender, sex and sexuality. Some of these identities are more represented than others in literature, advocacy and LGBTQ-centered programs. However, intersex identities and individuals are consistently left out of LGBTQ spaces and advocacy to the extent that some members of the LGBTQ community don’t know or understand what intersex means. Within the queer community, it’s commonly understood that gender exists on a spectrum that includes nonbinary identities that don’t conform to common understandings of male and female. 

It’s not as commonly understood that biological sex also isn’t strictly binary. In turn, intersex identities are not well understood within the queer community. InterACT, an intersex youth advocacy organization, defines intersex individuals as, “people who are born with any range of characteristics that may not fit traditional conceptions about male or female bodies.” Furthermore, many individuals who are born intersex undergo nonconsensual, irreversible surgeries in order to make their genital anatomy conform to typical understandings of male and female. This process, known as Intersex Genital Mutilation, can create physical pain, loss of genital sensitivity, scarring and sterilization, in addition to the possibility of psychological trauma later in life. Despite the fact that organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization consider IGM to be human rights abuse, few countries have outlawed nonconsensual surgeries that modify sex anatomy. The United States is not one of those countries; IGM is legal here.

A large number of individuals – about 1.7 percent – have intersex traits. This is about the same proportion of people in the world that are natural redheads. However, intersex individuals are sparsely represented in media and in queer spaces despite the visibility of activists like supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele, who came out as intersex early this year and brought visibility to intersex individuals by openly and candidly discussing her experiences as an intersex individual.

However, intersex identities are often not visible in queer spaces. While the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life at the University uses the LGBTQIA acronym – the “I” standing for intersex – there are no intersex-specific resources listed on their website. The same goes for the Queer Student Cultural Center. These organizations should make clear their support and inclusion of intersex students and could do so by providing resources such as brochures or information from InterACT’s website. Hosting intersex speakers or sponsoring events centered about intersex identities would also help to further educate people about intersex individuals and create intersex visibility on campus. It’s imperative that we get educated about intersex issues so we can work to create visibility and advocate against procedures like IGM, because above all, everyone deserves autonomy over their own bodies and representation.