What is Intersex? Archives - A Gender Agenda

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Posted 19 Jul 2019

Intersex for Workplaces

At a time where many workplaces have visible pride initiatives and networks, it’s very easy to gloss over what the I in LGBTIQ+ means. It is a complicated issue to navigate and one that is often misunderstood. It is very important to recognise that supporting LGBTQ+ people and supporting Intersex people are very different things.

Intersex people have their own distinct pride flag which is yellow with a purple circle. While some intersex people may identify with the “rainbow” pride flag, the intersex flag has its own unique meaning and is inclusive of intersex people who do not identify as a part of the the rainbow community. Whilst some intersex people might have an LGBTQ identity, not all do, so it is important to consider displaying the intersex pride flag alongside the rainbow pride flag where possible. The Darlington Statement is an important document for all organisations to be familiar with and implementing and enforcing this is a meaningful demonstration of support for intersex rights and the work of activists.

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Posted 19 Jul 2019

Intersex for Schools

There is a very good chance that intersex students are not going to be open at school about being intersex, and that some of them might not even know that they are intersex. Different statistics suggest the number of people born with intersex variations to be between 0.05% and 1.7% of the population; making it comparable to the number of people with red hair. It is therefore important that schools are conscious of the issues intersex students may face.

There are approximately 40 different intersex variations, and many of these variations do not become apparent until well into puberty or adulthood. For students born with  observable variation at birth, there is a significant chance that they have not been told yet. If a school is informed that a student is intersex, it is important to work with the parents and the student, in an age appropriate way, to ensure their privacy and safety. It is also critical, however, to be guided by the parents in the first instance, as they may not have informed their child at that stage that they are intersex.

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Posted 19 Jul 2019

Intersex for Parents

Whilst the majority of babies born appear to have characteristics which can be clearly  grouped into categories we call ‘male’ or ‘female’, for some babies it is not so clear. The word intersex is simply a descriptor for a person who has natural variation in their sex characteristics (hormones, chromosomes, gonads, or genitals). For some parents it can be confusing and perhaps even frightening to find out their child is intersex. Our society is preoccupied with biological sex and gender and this is particularly true when it comes to having a child. Often before a baby is born, people ask if it is a boy or a girl. Parents often talk about their children in terms of their sex, yet very few people talk about what it is like to have an intersex child.

Discovering that your child is intersex can be a distressing experience for many parents. However, there are support services, such as AGA available to parents and families of intersex people, as well as crises services that offer help and support. Support services can be more limited to families of intersex people, but they are out there, including at AGA.

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Posted 19 Jul 2019

Intersex for Mental Health Professionals

Like many people under the LGBTIQ+ banner, intersex people experience a higher incidence of mental health issues , self harm and suicide, along with higher than average rates of poverty, disability, and lower participation in higher education. This is as a result of a social phenomenon called ‘minority stress’. Minority stress describes the social and emotional impact that comes from being marginalised or discriminated against.

It is therefore important to shift understanding from the assumption that being LGBTIQ+ somehow intrinsically causes these problems, to placing the responsibility with society. Social and mental difficulties arise as a response to social hostility, rather than being somehow innately consequential. As such, it is the job of mental health professionals to support their intersex clients, and to shift attitudes in society.

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Posted 19 Jul 2019

Intersex for Individuals

Finding out that you are intersex may be very confusing and confronting. The most important thing to do is to take care of yourself, and if you find yourself struggling, seek support. It is very important to empower yourself with information, especially if you are being pressured into making decisions about your body. The more resources available to you, the better informed decisions you can make. Unfortunately there can be a lot of barriers to finding out certain information; medical records can be lost or have restricted access, and families and doctors might not be completely straightforward with information.

Another important point to remember is that you do not have to navigate this alone. Many intersex people are told they are ‘rare’ or ‘unique’ and that other people do not have similar experiences: this is simply not true. For all their differences, a lot of intersex people have very similar experiences, often of shame and isolation. Finding community can help you navigate these feelings while also offering emotional support. It is worth seeking out support groups, such as those offered at AGA, to connect with other people who have similar experiences.

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Posted 19 Jul 2019

What Is Intersex?

Intersex is an umbrella term that describes the many different ways people can be born with biological traits that are not commonly regarded as unambiguously ‘male’ or ‘female’.

While there are many documented types of intersex variations, the term broadly refers to natural variations of the genitals, gonads, chromosomes, and/or hormones. These variations may be observable from birth, become apparent through puberty, or might not be detected until much later in life.

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Posted 18 Jul 2019

Intersex for Medical Professionals

The single best thing doctors can do for intersex people is to support the push for legislative protection against medical intervention on infants and children. It is important that the medical establishment uses a human rights framework when seeing intersex people as opposed to a framework of diagnosis and treatment. This is not about preventing intersex people from accessing treatment, but ensuring that the only people making decisions about intersex bodies are the intersex people to whom the body belongs.

It is equally important to change the language and understanding around intersex in a way that embraces diversity, as opposed to seeing variation and difference as a problem that needs fixing. Intersex patients need ongoing, open conversations with their physicians in order to make the best informed choice for themselves. Even when an intersex person gives consent, there is often a lack of discernment and a feeling of being pressured into making a certain decision. It is worth noting that even when an intersex person is able to consent, many may feel pressured into making choices they are not fully informed or resourced about. Under such circumstances, it may be helpful to refer intersex patients onto peer support services, where they can be informed, share experiences with others and feel supported by the experiences of others.

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Posted 18 Jul 2019

Intersex for Friends

So your friend just told you they’re intersex. Now what?

An important thing to understand about intersex is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone intends to change their gender identity or indeed anything about themselves. It’s important to know that intersex is a term used to talk about natural, biological variations in a person’s sex.  If someone comes out to you as intersex, it’s likely they need someone to talk to. Maybe they’ve just found out they’re intersex and are unsure how to process it. Maybe they have to make some decisions about their body, and need someone to trust.

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Posted 18 Jul 2019

Intersex for Families

Parents of a new born intersex child, report that a significant source of anxiety comes from worrying how other family members might react, particularly when there is a delay on visitation or announcements about the child. Therefore one of the most valuable things that can be done for the parents’ of an intersex child, is to allow them some space right after the birth. This gives the parents an opportunity to calmly make decisions about what might need to happen and how best to inform their loved ones in due course. Sometimes families can feel very eager for news about their newborn relative but this can add to the sense of worry parents face. Sending well wishes for the child and parents whilst letting them decide when and how to share information can be the form of support.

It is important to understand that there are many difficult decisions that the parents of intersex children need to work through. The family can be wonderful support to parents who need to be supported in these decisions, so the rights of the child are not overlooked. When faced with  intense social and/or medical pressures to raise a “normal” child, the anxiety and a lack of appropriate resources can minimise best outcome options for the child. There are many ways families can help support parents through this process such as helping with research, providing emotional support and putting families in touch with crisis services or intersex support groups.

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