What does “Intersex” mean?
Intersex refers to people born with reproductive anatomies and sex characteristics that may or may not match the typical constitution or build of male and female bodies. It has become a major topic of discussion when it comes to gender issues and identities in the 21st century. Terms like agender, non-binary, and intersex refer to both the physical being and the psychological aspect of not properly identifying with a given gender. This could mean physical genitalia, the outward expression of gender, or an internal disconnect with the gender assigned at birth.
A History of Intersexuality in Medicine
Before the term intersex emerged, the terms “true hermaphroditism, female pseudohermaphroditism, male pseudohermaphroditism, hermaphrodites and “congenital eunuchs” were used to refer to intersex people. However, these terms were very discriminatory and misleading. Particularly, the term “hermaphrodite” is more applicable to be used on plants. This does not always apply to people that have both male and female reproductive organs.
Richard Goldschmidt coined the term “intersexuality” in 1917. Then, in the 1940s, Greek physician Alexander Polycleitos Cawadias suggested Goldschmidt’s term be used in place of “hermaphrodite”.
In some of the earlier international communities, specific laws and provisions have been established to cater to the needs and rights of intersex people. The Roman law, post-classical canon law and the common law in European societies are an example. These all acknowledged intersex (then still referred to as ‘hermaphrodite’) as a separate sex other than male and female. It likewise recognized and enumerated the legal rights of intersex individuals. Most often based on which characteristics were more prominent in their appearance.
Medical authors in the Victorian era proposed the term “male pseudo-hermaphrodite” for individuals with testicular tissue but possess either an ambiguous or dominantly female sexual anatomy. They likewise introduced the term “female pseudo-hermaphrodite.” This was for individuals with ovarian tissue but had either ambiguous or male sexual anatomy. Finally “true hermaphrodite” was used for individuals who possess both testicular and ovarian tissue.
As medical science continued to flourish, some intersex individuals opted to undergo surgery. Modifying their reproductive organs to resemble the genitalia of their preferred gender. This was not always in relation to the sexual orientation that they identify with best. Presently, much thought and analysis is being focused on discriminative and threatening acts done against intersex people. In fact, the World Health Organization, the United Nations’ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have addressed intersex discrimination. Additionally, the Council of Europe is amongst the international institutions that have tackled this issue.
Interacting & Addressing Intersex Individuals
The best way for people to understand the different conditions coupled with being genetically diagnosed as intersex is through awareness and education. Finding good sources of information about intersexuality can be a challenger. Moreover, when referring to intersex individuals, asking what their name and pronoun choices are is highly encouraged. When in doubt, using gender neutral pronouns like they / them / their is preferred and accepted.
Surgery on intersex people’s genitals during infanthood is extremely common. Both male and female hormone intake while they still children was common in the past. In recent years it has been argued that intersex people should be given the chance to decide on a gender. This has lead many parents to allow their child to choose a gender to identify themselves. This can be done once they reach the right age and level of maturity to do so, or at any time during development.
Topics Relating to Gender Identity
Intersex is also identified among a long list of other known genders, namely, Androgyny, Bigender, Boi, Cisgender, Genderqueer, Neutrois, Pangender, Transfeminine, Transgender and Two-Spirit to name some.
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