What Is Intersex?


It’s the ‘I’ in LGBTI and what seems to be a new-world phenomenon.

But what is it exactly and is it really ‘new’? 

Ever heard about hermaphroditism? Whether your answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, read on.

What is hermaphroditism?

It’s a term used to refer to the genetic condition of being born with a sexual anatomy that does not fit the notion of your gender. So, for example, a woman born with a larger-than-normal clitoris, or a man whose scrotum is divided so that it looks like labia. Sometimes, this type of anatomy doesn’t show up at birth, and many have lived and died without even knowing they had the condition.

What is intersex?

Intersex is a term that has socially replaced hermaphroditism – but it does more than that. Intersex gives those who are not, or do not abide by the general or biological ideas of what is ‘male’ (XY chromosomes) and what is ‘female’ (XX chromosomes). On top of that, it also creates a more natural way of looking at the world; after all, it was humans who decided what was to be considered ‘male’ and what is considered ‘female’ and not nature.

Is it new?

Nope! The condition of hermaphroditism and of having different chromosomes (XO, XXY, etc.) isn’t new and neither is the stigma associated with the term. The intersex status was created to fight that stigma – and gender-neutral pronouns have been created over the past 150 years. Many intersex people, in fact, prefer not being referred to as ‘he’ or she’ but as ‘ze’ or hir’, which are technically not English words yet, but they’re slowly being integrated.

Don’t doctors usually assign a gender to an intersex child?

Yes, sometimes they do – but it’s the parents’ decision. Intersex is a very intricate condition that goes beyond physical features and can have psychological affects, too. Having a term that encompasses their condition without the stigma is vital.

Mokgadi Caster Semenya is a South African middle-distance runner and world champion. Following her victory at the 2009 World Championships, it was announced that she had been subjected to gender testing. Reports of elevated levels of male hormone testosterone were reveal.


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