Does intersex validate trans?  Aren’t they both both? 


(Melodee Mabbitt is a freelance writer and production staffer for City Pulse.) 

I was not born with a penis or a vagina. My body is not typically male or female. I am intersex. 

Intersex is invisible. You probably think you’ve never met an intersex person before. Unless your intersex friend is like me and enjoys awkward dinner conversation, you’ll rarely know that you just met an intersex person. 

But we’re as common as twins — 2 percent of the population. 

Just like sexuality and gender, physical sex traits exist on a spectrum. Male and female are only two of the possible human sexes. Variations can occur in genitals, genes, gonads or hormones, and the myriad of possible natural variations in sex traits are called intersex. 

Because our society insists that there are only two genders, intersex bodies that do not uphold the binary are surgically and medically erased. The same surgical and hormonal treatments denied to trans kids are forced on intersex kids so our bodies match cosmetic expectations of males and females. These cosmetic genital surgeries often happen in infancy or childhood without our consent or knowledge and leave permanent harm. 

It is difficult to explain intersex existence without a slide show on human sexual development to illustrate how human bodies can naturally develop as atypically male or female while you listen looking terrified, as if the next slide could reveal a photo of intersex vulvas. 

Don't worry: My personality is no more a function of my genitalia than is yours. Don't reduce me to my intersex status and imagine that I feel bad about my body and should be pitied for my "deformity." It doesn't bother me. It's just my body. 

I escaped the scalpels that create trauma for intersex people. I still have my natural variations intact and I don’t hide my existence because I want all intersex children to be able to keep their natural bodies and to be able to exist without shame or forced genital mutilation. 

Outside of support groups for intersex people, I rarely see intersex mentioned unless it is in arguments about whether to accept gay and trans folks. “What about intersex people? They exist!” our allies offer as proof. “They’re both!” they argue.  

About that "both." It is an impossibility of human development to be both male and female. Inter means between. None of us ever have both. 

If anything, we’re variations on male or female themes — not male or female enough to feel comfortable fully identifying as either sex. Am I a male or female? No. I'm an intersex woman. 

The term hermaphrodite is therefore inaccurate and received as a slur among some intersex people, though some reclaim the term proudly. 

Like trans people, we are not accepted as valid identities either. Our genders are challenged when we win at sports games, too, but when our physical bodies are examined, the inspection doesn’t offer any clear answers. If transphobes require male or female genitals before allowing people into restrooms, some intersex people will be holding our pee all the way home. 

If you're arguing with opponents of the LGBTQIA community and you throw out “what about intersex people?” hoping to win the argument, the answer you'll get won’t lend the validity you're after. 

What about intersex? That's just a rare disorder, they'll say. That's actually a man or woman, they'll say. That's a deformity — not a sex, they'll say. 

Intersex people are not any more immune to misogyny, homophobia or transphobia than the rest of the population. Just because our bodies don't match physical expectations of male or female doesn't mean we won't cling to heteronormativity like a crutch and never reveal our "disorders of sexual development," much less wave intersex flags at pride festivals. We're not all gay or trans. We're just intersex.  

So as an intersex person, I do indeed exist. But not as both, and I have no validity to offer to gay and trans experiences. You don't need it anyway. 

Whether we defy typical expectations of being a man or woman by our sexual, gender or physical differences, who we are as individuals was never defined by what is between our legs. It was always between our ears, in our hearts, and in our souls. Isn’t that valid enough? 


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