The Intersection of Intersex and Trans Issues
The Intersex Issue is a big theme in sex/gender ontology discussions because intersex conditions often throw a wrench in the easily-classifiable-sex-binary enterprise. Intersex conditions are medical conditions that make someone difficult to classify as either biogentically “male” or “female” by the usual metrics of chromosome karyotype, genital morphology, gonadal tissue, and perhaps sex hormone profile for those later in life. An intersex person can, for example, have a “male” karyotype of XY and have female sex organs and produce enough estrogens and other hormones to develop female secondary sex characteristics. Such intersex people can live a relatively normal life (for lack of a better term) as long as they can outwardly pass for one or the other typical sexual anatomy and body morphology. However, some intersex people have conditions render them not merely as having anatomies incongruent with the expectations of genetics or other features, but as individuals who don’t fit easily into one category or the other. Some may have ambiguous genitalia—genital morphology that is something “in between” a penis and scrotum on the one hand and a vulva on the other. In some extremely rare cases, intersex people can have both. They can also have all kinds of karyotypes beyond XX and XY, and genetic chimera are individuals who have some cells with one karyotype and other cells with another. Intersex conditions are relatively common in the scheme of things, perhaps as much as 1 in 1000 people. Any time you’re in a shopping mall, the statistics suggest that you’re probably shopping with a few people with some kind of intersex condition. They may not even be aware of their condition themselves.
The Intersex Issue seems like a huge win for those espousing ontologies of sex and gender that are not binary and not contingent upon things such as genital morphology, karyotype, or hormone profile. If things aren’t so cut and dry, then it demonstrates that society has been perfectly fine all along accepting XY folks as women and people with pseudo-vulvas and gynemastia (female breast tissue) and XXY karyotypes as men, so what’s the big deal with allowing unambiguously male people to live as women and unambiguously female people to live as men and either to live as another gender category altogether (i.e., a nonbinary gender identity)? What’s the point of hanging onto something that was never true in the first place? And by something that was never true in the first place, I mean specifically that certain anatomical and genetic features necessarily force you into a specific sexed/gendered existence along a reproductively male/female binary.
Despite how compelling the Intersex Issue is in supporting ontologies of sex and gender that allow for the consideration of trans men as being unequivocally men and trans women as being unequivocally women, there seem to be people still taking issue with this. In my time observing arguments between Twitter mutuals and TERFs, I’ve noticed a particular person often shows up whenever the discussion of the ontology of sex and gender moves to the Intersex Issue. This person claims to be intersex and uses this as a cudgel: “I’m intersex. Don’t use my issues to support your ‘transgenderism’. You are appropriating my struggle.” The only thing being appropriated here is left-wing language, but I’m not writing this to “own” this person in particular. TERFs are just trolls. I’m writing this for the victims of their abuse and those still on the fence who might be compelled by such a response. I want to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with such a take, even though the take is obviously given in bad faith anyway and is just meant as a “gotcha” to silence trans women seeking to justify their view of gender by using the Intersex Issue as a point of discussion.
Being intersex and being trans are not mutually exclusive issues because intersex trans women exist (and intersex nonbinary people and trans men, for that matter). Someone can be intersex and desire not to live as the gender assigned to them. They may still have to see a psychologist and an endocrinologist, have to undergo surgeries and hormone replacement therapy, and have to struggle with convincing some people that they are a gender that may not line up with certain aspects of their body morphologies that defy gendered expectations of how they “should” look or sound.
So what do intersex people need? They need unique medical care. They need the freedom to live as they feel suits them best. They need a society that recognizes them so that they can receive this medical care and have the legal right to be who they are without discrimination. They also need a society that is more welcoming of them and compassionate, a society full of people who accept them so that they don’t feel like foreigners in their own lands, some kind of sex/gender outcasts looked upon with amusement, suspicion, or even hatred. If this sounds remarkably like the things transgender folks needs, it’s because it is. Intersex folks may not have the exact same struggle with gender and sex that transgender people have, but they can have broadly similar needs. It’s not hard to imagine why the TERFs of Twitter can only seem to find one token intersex person to agree with them: anyone who has ever dealt with intersex conditions and the dysphoria often associated with at least some of them would obviously sympathize with any trans person!
So to that token Twitter rando and all the people who tag them into every conversation in order to score some rhetorical points over the trans women they abuse, no, you are not allowed to speak for intersex people. Intersex issues intersect with trans issues, and this is especially true when you consider that lots of intersex people are also trans (and some trans people may be intersex without knowing it). The struggles of intersex people, trans people—and yes, intersex trans people too—cannot be dismissed so easily by people who are just looking to score rhetorical points in their profoundly disturbing and malevolent quest to hurt trans women in any way they can.
Don’t appropriate the struggle of intersex folks to give yourself ammunition to spew your venom at trans women.