Intersex is the general term in use for a variety of conditions wherein an individual is born with reproductive organs or sexual anatomies that don’t fit into the typical norms of female and male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female to the general public. However, the same female has typically male organs on the inside.
Or, a person is born with genitals that seem to be an in-between the usual male and female types. For example, a girl could be born with a noticeably larger clitoris or perhaps the lack thereof a vaginal opening. A boy could be born with a much smaller penis or his scrotum dividing to look more like labia.
Even further, a person could be born with a mosaic of genetics. In such a case, individuals’ cells have both the existence of XX chromosomes as well as XY.
However, although an inborn condition, it may not take into effect until puberty or until one finds out they are an infertile adult. There are also chances where the person is proven as intersex when an autopsy report is shown. In such cases, the individual and those around them spend their whole lives completely oblivious to the true nature.
How do you classify someone as intersex then?
It’s simple, you can’t. Male and female categories are not exceptionally defined. This causes the in-betweens to not have a definition either.
Nature is broad with a huge spectrum of sex. Breasts, penises, clitorises, scrotums, labia, gonads etc are all existing currently in multiple forms and shapes. The sex chromosomes can vary a bit too. We as humans have classified sex: male, female and sometimes intersex. It makes things easier and helps us express clearly what we know and feel.
That being said, it is not nature that decides when “male” ends and “intersex” begins or when “intersex” ends and female begins. Humans decide such things.
Moreso, even within humans we have variations in classification. Some doctors believe that one have ambiguous genitalia to be considered intersex, regardless of if your inside is of another sex and the outside of another. Other doctors believe the existence of hormones in the brain is what makes you intersex. Some more think that one has to be born with both ovarian and testicular tissue to be considered intersex.
Intersex people were previously referred to as hermaphrodites or “congenital eunuchs”. Many ancient and pre-modern cultures thought to know of the existence of intersex people. Research is ongoing on whether they were socially tolerating or accepting by a particular culture.
Such people were given rights based on what was their strongest gender. If you were more strongly a male, your rights were like the normal male. Likewise, for the female.
During the Victorian Era, there came an introduction on the terms “true hermaphrodite” for a person who has both ovarian and testicular tissue. “Male pseudo-hermaphrodite” – the term is given to someone if there was an existence of testicular tissue but female/ ambiguous anatomy. Likewise, “Female pseudo-hermaphrodite” if there was an existence of ovarian tissue but with male/ ambiguous anatomy.
The term is no longer in usage as it is misleading and stigmatizing.
Richard Goldschmidt was the first to coin the term “intersexuality” in 1917. Soon after, in the 1940s, Cawadias was the first to suggest the replacement of the term ‘hermaphrodite’ with ‘intersex’.
Since the rise of modern medical science, some intersex people with ambiguous external genitalia have had their genitalia surgically modified to resemble either female or male genitals.
In April 2015, Malta became the first country to outlaw non-consensual medical interventions to modify sex anatomy, including that of intersex people
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