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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.

However, it’s important to understand the boundaries of what you’re being trusted with. Asking questions is okay, but be considerate and sensitive about asking direct questions about their body and the specific variation they have. Chances are you’d be uncomfortable with intimate questions about your own body – so avoid the temptation to ask! Instead, let the conversation be guided by your friend. It’s okay to keep an open dialogue about their needs, but be wary of privacy concerns, and avoid telling others about your friend being intersex as much as possible. After all, it’s not your information to disclose. 

It’s possible your intersex friend is unable to talk to their family about their variation, or that the conversations they have are not very open or sensitive. Many intersex people find themselves estranged from friends or family as a consequence of shame and stigma. This often stops intersex people and their families from finding the support they need. Furthermore, it’s also possible they’re processing some internal uncertainty or shame, or dealing with other kinds of discrimination or trauma. Encouraging your friend to seek out peer support, online or in person, can be one of the most helpful things you can do, especially if they are in crisis.

 

Key Points

  • Respecting your friend’s privacy and trust is highly important. Someone coming out to you as intersex is a deeply personal revelation, and it’s unlikely to be something they are comfortable sharing with other people. 
  •  Intersex people don’t always want to change their name and/or pronouns, but some may ask for this. If they do, this is a reasonable request and something you should try hard to get right.  
  • It is up to your intersex friend to decide if they want to tell you about their specific intersex variation and/or if they have had medical intervention. Don’t ask questions about this, but allow space for your intersex friend to tell you about this if they want to.
  • It is important to support and validate your intersex friend. It is also important to  encourage your friend to seek out peer support or crisis services as necessary.Many intersex people think they are alone – they don’t need to be!