Symbols

There are few intersex-specific symbols. Many symbols used in iconography are used by sexual and gender minorities as well as sometimes to represent intersex. These include symbols also used to represent bisexual, transgender, and bigender people.

The use of gender symbols presupposes one particular idea of what intersex is: that intersex is an arbitrary sex, combining ideas of sex characteristics (or biological sex) with sex classifications in ways that are surprisingly complex in their impact.

Modern rights-based definitions of intersex, however, refer to intersex traits and variations of sex characteristics. They recognise that some intersex people may understand themselves as intersex people, including intersex women, intersex men, and non-binary intersex people, while some people have an intersex variation, and some use medical terms.

Popular or widespread symbols that are unique to intersex include the orchid, and the intersex flag. The use of such symbols can sometimes be an indication of a well-researched article, while the use of symbols used (or also used) by other intersecting populations can indicate poor research, or a limited understanding of intersex people.

Chromosomes

The X and Y (and sometimes 0) are sometimes used to represent sex chromosomes, including variations of sex chromosomes, but also less common combinations of chromosomes with particular kinds of body. These letters appear, for example, in the movie XXY, and also in the short movie XXXY (available in full, online).

Intersex flag

Intersex flag. Download in PDF, JPG, or SVG formats. The PDF is suitable for printing as a 900mm by 600mm flag.

The intersex flag

The flag was created by OII Australia in 2013 and has a creative commons “zero” universal licence. This makes it free to use. OII Australia say:

The colour yellow has long been regarded as the hermaphrodite colour … Purple, too, has been used for the same purpose … The circle is unbroken and unornamented, symbolising wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities. We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolises the right to be who and how we want to be.

If you browse through the range of documented actions for Intersex Awareness Day and Intersex Day of Solidarity over the years, then you will see many creative uses of the symbol. We use a version of this iconography as our logo for the Intersex Day Project: the outline of a heart.

The colours have been used to illuminate buildings and bridges, with examples in Houston, Texas, Madrid, Spain, and Brisbane, Australia.


Orchid, by Carla Núñez

Orchid, painted by Mexican intersex activist and artist Carla Núñez

The orchid

The orchid is used as a symbol by many intersex-led groups, particularly those by, or originally by, people with androgen insensitivity or resistance. The word orchid comes from the ancient Greek word ὄρχις (órkhis), for testicle or testis. It describes the shape of twin tubers in some species of the flowering plant.

A form of gonadectomy called an orchidectomy or orchiectomy refers to the surgical removal of testes. This remains a common experience for people with androgen resistance and other intersex variations. Due to a poor or very poor evidence base, such interventions are controversial.

Orchids appear, for example, in the logos of the AIS-DSD Support Group (USA), AIS Support Group Australia, and also in the film Orchids: My Intersex Adventure.