Understanding the Intersex Community

“You are human; you are whole. You are normal. Intersex is normal...We love you, and you are not alone.” - Former HRC Foundation Youth Ambassador Johnny Leggette (They/She)

This resource was produced in collaboration with InterACT, an organization that uses innovative strategies to advocate for the human rights of children born with intersex traits.

What Does It Mean To Be Intersex?

Intersex people are born with a variety of differences in their sex traits and reproductive anatomy. According to experts, upper estimates are that nearly 2% of the general population is born with intersex traits (more than the entire population of Japan!). There is a wide variety of difference among intersex variations, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, internal sex organs, hormone production, hormone response, and/or secondary sex traits.

Intersex people come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, faiths, and political ideologies. In addition, intersex people can have many different gender identities. Though some individuals with intersex traits identify with intersex as their gender, the majority don’t--they may identify as male, female, non-binary, or a different gender. Intersex individuals may also be transgender if they do not identify with the gender with which they were raised. The same breadth of sexualities seen in the general population are also represented in the intersex community. Most of all, intersex people face similar bias and fear of difference that faces the entire LGBTQ community. As such, intersex people are valuable members of our communities who deserve recognition and respect. To learn more about intersex people and the issues they face, read interACT’s Intersex FAQ.

Non-Consensual Intersex Surgeries

Warning: This section contains descriptions of surgeries that may be distressing.

One of the biggest issues facing the intersex community is non-consensual surgeries performed on intersex children. These are non-lifesaving procedures intended to change genital appearance and reproductive anatomy to fit arbitrary norms. According to interACT, these surgeries may include:

  • The reduction or repositioning of a clitoris (clitoroplasty, or clitoral reduction or recession)
  • The creation or alteration a vagina (vaginoplasty)
  • The repositioning of an already functional urethra (hypospadias surgery)
  • The removal of the organs that would make sex hormones (gonadectomy)

Most intersex surgeries are performed on children under 2 years old, denying them the opportunity to make important choices about their own bodies. This can leave intersex people with serious lifelong emotional and physical consequences that affect fertility, sexual function, and emotional well-being.

Intersex advocates are committed to ending these harmful practices and allowing intersex people to make choices about their own bodies.

Are Intersex People Part of the LGBTQ Community?

Intersex people often have similar experiences to LGBTQ people and confront many of the same challenges. Some intersex people may also identify as LGBTQ. Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and outdated gender norms underlie many of the issues intersex people face. In recognition of these shared experiences, many advocates use the phrase “LGBTQI” and highlight our common struggle for acceptance.

How Can We Support Intersex People?

  • Remove stigma and depathologize intersex bodies. Just like being LGBTQ is not a mental disorder, being intersex is not a physical disorder.
  • Use intersex inclusive language. InterACT’s Intersex Inclusive Language Guide provides helpful guidelines on how to speak with and about intersex people in a respectful manner.
  • Laws and issues affecting transgender and gender non-conforming people often affect intersex people as well. This includes laws relating to official identity documents and access to sex-specific resources. Remember to include intersex people when discussing these issues and speak out against injustice.
  • Intersex Awareness Day is observed every October 26 and marks the anniversary of the first public protest against non-consensual infant genital surgeries in the United States in 1996. Learn about the history of intersex advocacy and what you can do to uplift intersex voices.