What are some of the experiences and needs of intersex people in my community?



Intersex people are born with chromosomal, hormonal, gonadal, or
genital variations that differ from social expectations of what male and
female bodies should be like. Even as we begin or continue to challenge
binary understandings of gender and sexuality in the anti-violence
movements, many of us have not stopped to question the assumption that
there are only two biological sexes – and anything else is not “normal”
or acceptable. Social discomfort with this aspect of human diversity has
resulted in discrimination and marginalization of intersex people,
including medically unnecessary surgeries that they have not consented

While there has been a shift away from seeing intersex conditions as a
problem to be dealt with medically (a practice that became popular in
the medical community in the 1960s), these types of unwanted
“corrective” surgeries do continue today. Adults who have experienced
these medically unnecessary surgeries, also known as Intersex Genital
Mutilation (IGM), experience trauma common to many adult survivors of
child sexual abuse. The impact of such surgery includes shame,
stigmatization, physical harm, and emotional distress. Anti-violence
advocates should be prepared to provide trauma-informed care to those
who have experienced trauma surrounding IGM.

As you reflect during Pride Month
on your efforts to reach out to LGBTQ+ communities, consider ways you
can increase your capacity to meet the needs of intersex individuals who
may be dealing with trauma related to IGM.

Intersex Community & Inclusion

There is great diversity of experience in the intersex community, and
diverse ways intersex individuals think about community, activism,
needs, and goals. There is also a wide-ranging response to whether or not intersex people should inherently be considered part of the LGBTQ+ communities. One reason
that someone might take the position that intersex identity is not part
of LGBTQ+ communities may be the opinion that LGBTQ+ movements have, at
least in recent history, been primarily concerned with relationship
recognition and concerns around identity, and not as much with bodily

On the other hand, including intersex as part of LGBTQ+ communities
can lead to more visibility of intersex experiences, and can address a
common root cause of discrimination: harmful adherence to the gender
binary and related gender norms. Writer and intersex advocate Hida
Viloria makes this case in the article The Forgotten Vowel: How Intersex Liberation Benefits the Entire LGBTQIA Community:

“When we recognize the rights of intersex people to have their
identities recognized, we dismantle the very foundation of the binary
sex and gender system which has harmed LGBTQIA people for centuries.”

For more reading on this topic, check out this blog post by Viloria and another intersex activist, Dana Zzyym, which explores many of the diverse ways intersex individuals approach issues of identity.

Note the distinction between being transgender and being intersex. Being transgender
has to do with having an internal understanding of one’s gender that is
different than what was assigned at birth. This assignment typically
has to do with the external anatomy – babies with a vagina are assigned
female at birth and babies with a penis are assigned male. A transgender
person has a gender identity that is different from that assignment, whether female, male, non-binary, or other genders.

People who have
intersex conditions, though, have anatomy that has not been historically
considered by societies to be typically male or female
. An intersex
individual may be transgender, but the majority of intersex individuals
do not identify as transgender, and the majority of transgender
individuals do not identify as intersex.

Living at the Intersections

Intersex people of color are disproportionately impacted by physical,
psychological, and medical violence. Historically, people of color have
faced unspeakable atrocities including exploitation at the hands of the
medical industrial complex. Activist Sean Saifa Wall reflected on these
intersecting identities in a recent interview with NBC:

“I draw a very distinct parallel between how the medical
community has inflicted violence on intersex people by violating their
bodily integrity, and how state violence violates the bodily integrity
of Black people… My desire for intersex liberation is totally [entwined]
with Black liberation. They cannot be teased apart.” (2016)

Additionally, intersex activists and survivors of color are marginalized within the intersex movement itself
– facing underrepresentation in leadership roles, lack of visibility
and voice in public spaces, and limited opportunity to engage with other
intersex people of color.

By honoring and lifting up the unique experiences of intersex people
of color, by asking them what they need to feel heard and to feel safer
in our collective spaces, we can build a more intersectional,
anti-racist, trauma-informed movement. For more information, read the Statement from Intersex People of Color on the 20th Anniversary of Intersex Awareness Day and the Intersex People of Color for Justice Statement for Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) 2017, which emphasizes, “We are a just movement that has our vision set on attaining bodily autonomy for all.”

The Experiences of IGM Survivors

To explore what intersex advocates are saying about intersex genital mutilation, check out this video from Teen Vogue in
which three intersex advocates address what some forms of IGM
specifically entail, and how they’re unnecessary and nonconsensual.

One of the advocates in the video, Pigeon Pagonis, discloses the
experience of having the clitoris removed, and later having a
vaginoplasty at age 11. Pagonis makes the connection that one of the
underlying reasons for these operations was to make the vagina “more
accommodating to my future husband’s penis” – underscoring one example
of how harmful societal assumptions about what male and female bodies
should look like (and how sex should happen between men and women) forms
justification for these invasive medical surgeries. One of the other
advocates in this video, Hanne Gaby Odiele, helps make the connection to
trauma, by claiming, “Those surgeries need to stop because they bring
so much more complications and traumas.”

2017 report from Human Rights Watch called “I Want to Be Like Nature
Made Me”: Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on Intersex Children in the US

contains information on the history and impact of IGM, including
insight into the trauma mentioned by Odiele in the video. In one
testimonial from an adult survivor of intersex genital mutilation, Ruth,
age 60, shares: “I developed PTSD and dissociative states to protect
myself while they treated me like a lab rat, semi-annually putting me in
a room full of white-coated male doctors, some of whom took photos of
me when I was naked.” The report goes on to illustrate forms of
psychological harm and emotional distress that adult survivors of
intersex genital mutilation may experience.

When working with a survivor of intersex genital mutilation, consider
that control was taken away from the survivor in the nonconsensual,
medically unnecessary surgery. These surgeries may receive legitimacy
simply because they take place in a medical context, which we tend to
view as being associated with consent and authority. But the root of the
perceived “need” for this surgery is embedded in social standards about
what male and female bodies should look like, not medical need. We need
to move away from the notion that there might be an underlying medical
justification for this abusive touching (Tosh, 2013).

Shifting Our Culture

Working to end false binaries of sex, gender, and sexuality can be an
important first step in preventing IGM and many forms of violence.
Developing  an understanding of intersex peoples’ experiences by reading
intersex history and listening to intersex people share their stories
when offered can deepen your understanding of who is part of our
communities and how we can provide trauma-informed care to everyone who
needs our services. A first step can be to become familiar with intersex
organizations like Intersex Society of North America, interACT, and Intersex Campaign for Equality.
Another can be to educate colleagues on trauma related to IGM, and to
make efforts to directly engage the community in which your agency wants
to provide welcoming and relevant services to intersex people. Shifting
our culture to end the shame, secrecy, exploitation, and abuse of
intersex people will require broad level systemic change driven by all
of us.

What can you do to positively impact the lives of intersex survivors in your community?


Human Rights Watch, interACT. (2017, July). “I Want to Be Like Nature
Made Me”: Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on Intersex Children in the
US. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/lgbtintersex0717_web_0.pdf

Tosh, J. (2013). The (In)visibility of Childhood Sexual Abuse:
Psychiatric Theorizing of Transgenderism and Intersexuality.  
Intersectionalities: A Global Journal of Social Work Analysis, Research,
Polity, and Practice. Retrieved from http://journals.library.mun.ca/ojs/index.php/IJ/article/view/739/743

Image from InterACT Advocates for Intersex Youth.

What are some of the experiences and needs of intersex people in my community?



“When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. he sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lamppost, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: “it is so beautiful I must show you how it looks.” And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it. When I read this letter of Van Gogh’s it comforted me very much and seemed to throw a clear light on the whole road of Art. Before, I thought that to produce a work of painting or literature, you scowled and thought long and ponderously and weighed everything solemnly and learned everything that all artists had ever done aforetime, and what their influences and schools were, and you were extremely careful about *design* and *balance* and getting *interesting planes* into your painting, and avoided, with the most astringent severity, showing the faintest *academical* tendency, and were strictly modern. And so on and so on. But the moment I read Van Gogh’s letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it. And Van Gogh’s little drawing on the cheap note paper was a work of art because he loved the sky and the frail lamppost against it so seriously that he made the drawing with the most exquisite conscientiousness and care.”

— Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit (via raggedybearcat)

For anyone interested, I believe this is the letter and picture referred to.





when someone keeps referring to ‘the queer community’ and ‘queer people’

plot twist, the queer community is a separate thing. literally its for lgbt+ people who identify as queer.

added to that, ‘lgbt’ erases a whooooooooole lot of people. and that’s even without dredging up the cesspool that is Ace Discourse. 

pan people, intersex people, questioning people, people who don’t feel comfortable with a label at all and just know they’re not straight and/or cis… all clearly not cishet, but all clearly not included in the acronym. 

‘queer’ might not be the best word for The Group Of People Who Are Not Straight, Not Cis, Not Perisex, and/or Not Allosexual/Romantic, but LGBT is even worse, IMO.  it’s exclusionary as fuck, it’s unwieldy when you try to make it less exclusionary, it’s… generally not my first choice? 

there’s no word that’s gonna cover everyone, but ‘queer’ covers more people than ‘lgbt’ IMO.  

Also, I have a language disability.  “Queer” is much more possible for me to even say, and that matters to me.