The most up-to-date definition we have today is “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”1
The term “intersex” is one subject not commonly brought up in standard sexual education. Traditionally, these classes have viewed gender as black and white, which we now understand to be a false assumption. Gender is a spectrum, whether it be someone’s gender identity or their biological makeup. The term “intersex” is a socially constructed category that is used to explain biological variation.1 Being born intersex is more common than one would think. In fact, being born intersex is just as common as being born with red hair.2 This statistic may even be underreported, as some people can go their whole lives without realizing they’re intersex. People born with mosaic genetics (someone who can have cells with both XX and XY chromosomes) may not find out they are intersex until puberty when their bodies go through changes they might not have expected.1 Intersex can also include those with mostly male/female-typical internal anatomy while having the opposite external anatomy or those with a combination of male- and female-typical external anatomy. Some examples include:1
In the 1950’s, a team of doctors from Johns Hopkins University developed the “optimum gender of rearing” system for treating intersex children. The thought process behind this system was to get gender assignment surgery or hormone therapy early in adolescence so children would grow up either traditionally male or female. The considered optimum age for these procedures was 18 months and younger. This means that children were given no say in whether or not they actually wanted these procedures. Doctors often justified these procedures by telling parents that their child would not be healthy if they kept their intersex characteristics. Doctors told parents to raise their children and not inform them of their intersex genetic makeup. Most medical centers today still follow the “optimum gender of rearing” system.
Sources: ISNA.org, Amnesty.org, concealment