Participants at the Third International Intersex Forum, Malta

Participants at the Third International Intersex Forum in Malta. Photo: OII Australia

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that don’t meet medical and social norms for female or male bodies. Intersex people suffer stigma and discrimination as a result.

Intersex traits are physical variations in genitals, chromosomes or other features that relate to the development of sex characteristics. There are many different intersex variations and many different types of intersex body.

Intersex people have a wide range of different sexual orientations and gender identities. Our gender identities may match our assignments at birth or be chosen.

Other words for intersex include “hermaphrodite”, “differences of sex development”, and also “disorders of sex development”. Some of these terms are strongly contested.

The word “hermaphrodite” has poetic, medical and biological associations. It is reclaimed by some intersex people, but for others it has unpleasant connotations and may be regarded as inaccurate or misleading.

Many people struggle with “disorders of sex development” or “DSD” as this intrinsically disorders intersex characteristics themselves, resulting in eugenic de-selection and prenatal treatments, as well as irreversible surgical and hormone treatments during infancy, childhood and adolescence. Childhood treatments have well established risks comparable to those in Female Genital Mutilation: sexual dysfunction and lack of sensation. They take place without the informed consent of children, and with only limited consent from emotionally vulnerable parents.

Many activists argue that “differences of sex development” does not challenge the disordering of intersex traits as it is impossible to distinguish one DSD from another.

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Important note: while the contents of this site largely reflect the statement of the Third International Intersex Forum, the event and participants in the photograph are not associated with this page.