Are Sex and Gender Binary?
Fact

People can be intersex.

Are People Either Male or Female? Can People Be Intersex?

People can be intersex. Society divides people into male and female, but there is no reliable scientific evidence for a binary categorization. Below we discuss non-binary gender as it relates to intersex. First, lets clarify what intersex is.

What is Intersex?

In simple terms, intersex describes people whose characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female at birth.[1][2]

The reason we say “at birth” is because intersex describes the emergence of non-binary sex organs in the developmental phase (in the womb).

In other words, Intersex is different from Transgender and doesn’t specifically denote sexual identify or preference.

It isn’t just about “being born that way” on the inside (which is also a thing), it is more about literally being born with a mix of male and female features (internal or external).

A simple example of intersex is a hermaphrodite, but intersex is by no means limited to this.[3]

In some cases intersex traits, like two clearly matured sex organs, are visible at birth, but in other cases they aren’t. Some babies may be born with ambiguous genitals, while others may have ambiguous internal organs (testes and ovaries).

Furthermore, factors of genetic and hormonal expression may result in far less clear cut situations related to chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals.

Isn’t Gender a Simple XX and XY Choice?

XX and XY chromosomes exist, but they aren’t the whole story.

Instead, the XX and XY chromosomes and their related genetic and hormonal expression don’t always result in clearly defined typical male or typical female traits.

There is a huge variety of both external and internal sex traits that can occur despite an individual having a XX or XY choice in general. Furthermore, other biological and psychological aspects of sexuality and gender identity to make things even more convoluted and complicated (and thus generally, the classical binary sex and gender distinction is inaccurate).

See What is intersex? | Intersex Society of North America, see a step forward for intersex visibility and human rights or see our page on non-binary sex, gender, and sexuality for more information.

How Sex Genes Are More Complicated Than You Thought. Sexual differentiation is much more complicated than XX and XY. This video provides an introduction. There is no logical way for anyone to conclude that there are only two gender possibilities if they know even a little about sexual differentiation. I suggest these links. The Genetics of Sex Determination: Rethinking Concepts and Theories and Chromosomal Sex Determination in Mammals.

WIKIPEDIA TIPS: An intersex human or animal is one possessing any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.” Such variations may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.[4]

HI I’M INTERSEX #firstvlog. There are a few ways to look at this. We can use social science to understand people and society. We can also use biological science and genetics to prove assertions in the lab. Also, given philosophy, we can use reason to show that liberty trumps telling people what box they should fit in. This first-hand testimony gives a social science perspective.

Beyond the Gender Binary | Dr. Margaret Nichols | TEDxJerseyCity

How Many People are Intersex?

It is difficult to estimate the exact number of people who are born with no conclusive evidence of being one sex or another, but intersex individuals may make up almost 2% of the population.[5] That is about the same number of people as have naturally blond or red hair or green eyes and more than silver-gray or amber eyes.[6][7]

Intersex Individuals

The most common figure found in scientific research is that 1 in every 1,500 babies are born with external genitals that cannot be classified as either male or female.[8] Even more people have non-standard sex chromosomes, non-standard internal reproductive organs, internal organs that are inconsistent with external ones, bodies that respond to sex-related hormones in unexpected ways, sex hormones that are either under or over produced or non-standard development of testes or ovaries. All of these are regarded as intersex conditions.

Some intersex conditions are present at birth, and others do not become obvious until puberty. Cecelia McDonald did not discover that she was intersex until puberty failed to occur. She spoke about her experience in her TED Talk, Intersex People and the Physics of Judgment.[9] For an interesting table giving a breakdown of the frequency of various intersex conditions compiled by Brown researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling et al. based on medical literature from 1955 to 1998 and originally published in the American Journal of Human Biology. See[Cite] How Sexually Dimorphic Are we?[/cite] Sex, like gender preference and gender identity, is a myriad, not a duality.

Sex Assignment

There has been a longstanding effort to classify people as one sex or the other. In sports, especially in important events like the Olympic Games, officials have been striving to define their criteria for decades. People feared that male athletes “pretending” to be female would have an unfair advantage. However, after years of false starts, no reliable scientific measure could be found to determine sex. At present, Athletes Can Determine Their Own Sex in International Sports. There has been increasing acceptance of there being more than two sexes. Facebook, along with many other entities gives people a choice of male, female, or a custom designation.

It used to be common practice for intersex babies to be given sex assignment surgery soon after birth to fit them into one of the two existing categories of sex. This surgery, also known as sex reassignment, was often based on penis or clitoris size. A standardly structured penis of a newborn baby boy is typically 2.8 to 4.2 centimeters.[10] Since a clitoris and penis, as well as the accompanying labia or testicles, are similar structures that develop before birth, identifying external genitalia can be a matter of guesswork based on size as much as anything else.[11]

Most large hospitals now have teams of specialists who can be assembled as needed if a baby is born with an intersex condition.

FACT: Despite improvements, it is still common practice for the doctors to “fix” intersex children by reconstructing their genitalia or aborting a potentially intersex fetus. This can and should be seen as a human rights issue. Consider this mind-numbling disturbing paragraph from isna.org: “Abortion is routinely offered to women who are likely pregnant with children with intersex conditions, including Klinefelter’s Syndrome. Many surgeons maintain the paternalistic attitude that they should remove healthy testes from babies with AIS to “spare them the trauma later,” thereby denying these girls the opportunity to have a natural puberty and to come to know themselves, in a sexual way, free from surgical scars. Many endocrinologists press unnecessary–sometimes devastating–“normalizing” hormone treatments on patients who are otherwise healthy. Finally, doctors continue constructing vaginas in infants and young children, despite arguments by many medical professionals that early vaginoplasties fail too often and are unnecessary to begin with. By contrast, as in the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the LGBT rights movements, the goal of intersex advocacy groups is to have people understand intersex conditions as human rights issues. ISNA maintains as its fundamental principle the principle also fundamental to the women’s health movement and the LBGT rights movements: that one’s genitals are primarily for one’s own use, not for the comfort of others.”[12]

Intersex Medical Issues

As society becomes more accepting of diversity, the medical community has moved away from surgical intervention toward waiting and allowing the individual to decide whether or not they wish surgery.[13] Many intersex individuals who have had surgery as infants regret that their bodies were irrevocably changed without their consent. The 2017 National Geographic program, Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, offers a long, but excellent, discussion with individuals of various genders and orientations. It is available on iTunes. During the program, an estimate was given that as many as one in ten intersex individuals whose parents decided on their sex and agreed to surgery during infancy bitterly regretted the decision and found that the sex that had been assigned to them was not the one they felt they should have.

Anatomy’s relation to sexuality is involved. Alice Dreger Explores it in her TED Talk about the relationship of anatomy to destiny.[14] Being intersex is distinct from being transgender, even though the feeling of being in the “wrong” body is sometimes a commonality. The range of human sexuality is far greater than we ever imagined.

Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

Being a Minority

Most of us have some physical traits that are uncommon; we need to keep open minds and accept just how common it is to be in the minority. See How Rare Are Your Physical Traits to see some qualities that may make you a minority.



Conclusion

An intersex human or other animal is one possessing any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.”

The science is there to support the idea that people can be what we call “intersex” and certainly, the science aside, free will and liberty speak to a person’s right to identify as intersex. So a skeptic can argue the science, although it won’t be easy as it is complex and conclusive, but identifying as intersex is a matter of individual liberty. With that said, there are some complexities in areas like sports, culture, and law that are still developing.


Citations

  1. Intersex
  2. What is intersex? | Intersex Society of North America
  3. Hermaphrodite
  4. Intersex
  5. How Common is Intersex?
  6. Eye Color Guide
  7. Top Model Hanne Gaby Odiele Speaks About being Intersex
  8. Individuals with Intersex Conditions
  9. Intersex
  10. Micropenis
  11. All Mammals Start as Female
  12. Frequently Asked Questions
  13. Cutting Edge
  14. Is Anatomy Destiny


"People Can Be Intersex" is tagged with: Human Rights, Sex. Gender. and Sexuality


Vote Fact or Myth: "People Can Be Intersex"

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Chris on

You can’t deny scientific fact.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Totally agree, that is why we wrote this page. It is a fact that people are XX and XY and that expresses itself in complex ways as the fetus matures and the gonads develop and that creates things like True hermaphroditism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_hermaphroditism

This isn’t a statement on a person who is clearly what we consider male putting on a dress and using the ladies room, this is about the reality that people can be intersex. I support both personally, but they aren’t the same issue and shouldn’t be conflated.

Paul on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

While in common speech, it would seem appropriate to say “people can be intersex” the truth is that, except for the 0.06% of individuals with the specific traits of neither/both genitalia or the XX (female) XY (male) chromosomal pairs, the other people cannot be intersex.
The liberty to “identify” as whatever one wants – gender included – may be all the rage for the current expression of freedom or the search for meaning, but it is simply enabling delusion when that belief is in contrast to the superior evidence to the contrary. Like all “trans” delusions (trans-abled, trans-racial/ethnicity, trans-aged, trans-identity (I am Napoleon), cutting, anorexia, bulimia, etc) trans-gender is a dysphoric psychological disorder. An underlying dissatisfaction with one or more areas of life is “handled” by determining that one or more features of their person is dysmorphic (deformed, ugly, wrong). To “solve” the problem, they “identify” as something/someone else.
The ethics and morality of helping someone binge/purge or not eat because they “identify” as fat while the evidence is obvious that they are underweight (“skin and bones”) is not questioned. We treat them, we don’t help them waste away. The same is true for the ethics or morality of someone who feels they shouldn’t have an arm so try to cut it off (trans-abled). No moral person would help them to deform themselves. We treat them; seek to discover the source of their dissatisfaction, and get past the delusion. Cutting: same.
But when “sex” or “sexual satisfaction” enters into the equation, ethics and morality seem to be cast aside. Johns Hopkins, pioneers of the sex change surgery business, has spent decades studying the “transgender” before and after sex change surgery. They have concluded that transgenderism is a mental disorder. They found no improvement (decrease in depression, decreased suicidal ideation, decreased suicide rate, increase in overall dissatisfaction with life, etc.) in individuals with body dysphoria (body dysmorphic disorder) when they either “identified” as the other gender, underwent hormone therapy to develop physical traits of the other gender, or when they had ‘sex change surgery’ to appear as the other gender.

Transgender is a mental disorder and except for the 1 in 1500 (0.06%) of individuals BORN with a defect in XX/XY chromosomes or physical genitalia and associated hormones, the rest of the people cannot be intersex, so the statement “People can be Intersex” is a myth.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Obviously this is the “against” argument. And while I disagree with it given my research, it is welcome here.

My basic counter-argument is that I think you are underplaying the very real effect of hormonal expression and reception on development (you say it only affects a few, but I wonder how many people we all consider normal and binary are really somewhere in a gender spectrum). Consider the range of people who identify as LGBT (so many that the idea that it is a “disorder is” very questionable).

Also, technically depression and anxiety are mental disorders… thus, if anything that is a chemical reaction having to do with the brain is a mental disorder, then we all are probably very disordered people. And if we are al disordered, and thus abnormal, then what the heck is normal anyway?

I won’t go into every counter-argument, but generally your argument while intelligent and not wrong is obviously bias toward the perspective of “intersex is a rare disorder and otherwise gender is binary.”

Suffice to say, we have two fully conflicting views, but we agree on some common facts, so that is a good start. Thanks for the comment.