Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Intersected, Transsected: The Intersex / Trans Nexus

A troubled alliance

Intersex and trans people share some deep common experiences. Yet we often find ourselves prickling at comments made by people in the "other camp." As an intersex person assigned female at birth and transitioning to legal male status, I consider myself both intersex and trans, and I'd like to speak to what both groups share, and what divides them. Divides us.


The most fundamental thing intersex and trans folk share is that we suffer because we belie the ideology that dimorphic genitals determine gender. This is the belief that people are born with one of two possible genital configurations, and that gender identity is inevitably bound to this genital configuration. Penis = "it's a boy!"; vulva = "it's a girl!"  This is an ideology so basic that most people in our Western society rarely if ever question it. Then we intersex and trans people come along and call a fundamental belief into question. Genitals come in a spectrum of possible flavors. Gender identities are not determined by genitals. We are girls born with penises, or androgynes born with vulvae, or boys born with both testes and a vagina. And we make people nervous.

Freaking people out when it comes to sex and gender turns out to have serious consequences. We evoke shock and horror, distate and tittering, fetishistic dehumanizing desires. People fail to treat us as. . . people. Doctors poke and prod us, employers find excuses not to hire us, and idiots bash us. So: we share a common enemy. We suffer from the enforcement of the ideology that dyadic genitals determine gender.

Another thing intersex and trans people share is that we have a difficult relationship with doctors who have power over our lives. For people with intersex conditions, this often starts at birth, when doctors label us as defective and in need of surgical "correction." We are subjected to sex assignment and "corrective" surgeries without our consent. Then many of us grow up not identifying with our sexes of assignment, and join with our trans siblings in facing gatekeeping from the other side. People who identify with a gender that does not match our sex of assigmnent often want to alter our bodies, to reduce feelings of tension, and to get other people to recognize our deep internal sense of self. And we face a lot of hurdles. Medical insurance generally doesn't cover sex transition services--and they are expensive. Worse, to get access to them we have to run a gauntlet of medical gatekeepers. We need psychologists and doctors to grant us access to the hormones and surgery we want, and they make it hard for us, very hard. At every step we may find ourselves confronting, if not outright bigotry, a strange assumption that to want to do what we want to do, we must be mad. We have Gender Identity Disorder, considered a mental illness. Gatekeepers act as if we might well be utter psychos, and need to be tested, cautioned, challenged, as if anyone decides to face discrimination and violence on a whim.

Another thing trans and intersex people share is the way in which we are sexualized in a society with both Puritan and Dionysian strains. This is complex enough to rate its own post, so I'll set it aside for now.

Tensions: Intersex Complaints

Something that makes a lot of intersex people grouchy is encountering trans folk who think we have it easy. There's a belief some trans people hold that doctors and people on the street are understanding of intersex people's needs. More particularly, these trans people think that if they had an intersex diagnosis, they'd get easy access to medical transition services, and have their transition honored by employers, schools, the DMV, and other institutions.

But this is not the case. Doctors and families make decisions on behalf of infants with visible sex variance, and having subjected us to surgery without consent, they don't want to hear that we're ungrateful. As for schools and employers and DMVs, we have the same relationship to them if we want to undo a sex assignment that trans folk do when they seek sex reassignment.  Intersex people are not "fast-tracked" in medical or legal gender transitions.  Our transitions are not paid for by insurance--only those medical procedures that would make our bodies conform to our assigned sexes are covered.  In fact, intersex people can face higher hurdles in dealing with diagnostic gatekeeping, as the GID diagnosis used by psychologists to green-light a transition is understood by some as excluding intersex people.

Nobody wants to hear their suffering dismissed. Intersex people feel hurt when trans people treat living with intersex status as a walk in the park. It is true that *some* doctors and families and coworkers are more comfortable treating intersex people as tragic victims than they are when they look at trans people and see them as having "chosen" to be freaks. But it's not true of others.  And it doesn't make accessing transition services any easier.  Furthermore, treating intersex people as "lucky" glosses over all that intersex kids often suffer in childhood, with multiple surgeries, humiliation, and familial silence.

Another thing that bugs intersex people is when trans people try to latch onto intersexuality as a way to explain their identities. This is especially common among people just coming out of the closet. Trans folk who've been living in denial and are reaching the point where they can't bear it any longer often search the internet, find one of the few intersex support sites, and start posting about how they must be intersex: "I must have some intersex hormone imbalance--I hate sports and cry easily." "People have told me my clitoris looks kind of big and I want to have sex with girls, so I must be intersexed." It makes it hard for intersex people to use the boards at times. Interfolk get tired of explaining the difference between intersex conditions, sexual orientation, and gender dysphoria to nonintersex people who are looking for an explanation for trans identities..

Tensions: Trans Complaints

Trans people are less likely to feel irritated by intersex people's actions, because they usually aren't aware of meeting any. Intesexed people are instructed from youth to go stealth, and we're often invisible. But there are legitimate gripes that trans people can have with intersex folks.

Intersex people can be transphobic.  Intersex adults who identify with their sex of rearing and don't want anyone to question its legitimacy can reject people of any bodily configuration who are interested in transitioning. Intersex people who want to transition can consider their need more justifiable than the need of trans people born with more normative genitalia. This is wrongheaded, wronghearted.

Just as genderqueer intersex folks get irritated by trans people who hold to highly dyadic, sex-sterotyped gender ideologies, genderqueer trans folk can find stereotypical dyadic gender presentations from intersex people very disappointing. They feel that if anyone should be enlightened about the force of gender-regressive ideology, it should be intersex people. And I can certainly understand why genderqueer trans people, suffering the slings and arrows of social bias against androgyny, would want intersex people to identify outside the gender dyad. But genderqueer trans people should have empathy for the fact that the majority of intersex people do identify with a binary gender category. Given the extraordinary pressure intersex people are under to genderconform--from the medical profession, their families, even intersex advocates, above and beyond the social pressure everyone faces--genderconforming presentations are unsurprising. And everybody's gender identity deserves respect, whether it aligns with sex of rearing, against it, or ourside the binary.


As an intersex person who is transitioning, I see clear common cause between inter- and trans folk. Many intersex people deal with transition, and live as a bridge between the inter-cis and the nonintersex trans community. Those I've just termed the inter-cis--people with intersex conditions who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth--could gain support and community if they'd come out of the closet and identify as siblings of people who sex transition. Intersex advocates could gain the support of a large pool of trans people and work together on a general campaign for the individual right to choose to use or avoid medical intervention in sex characteristics ("My body, my sex, my right!"). Trans people could gain allies whose very existence undermines the genitals-determine-gender ideology that binds people.

There are issues to address. Intersex transphobia and trans jealousy of mythic intersex advantages in transition are both highly problematic. But our commonalities far outweigh our differences, and we should be allies.


  1. Once again, you've done a bang-up job of laying out the issues. :) *applauds*

    Another trans-vs-intersex issue: What do you think about the idea of non-intersex GQ trans people (particularly transsexed genderqueers) as being appropriative of intersex experiences? I haven't seen this idea thrown around too often within trans circles, but I was wondering if you've seen it? On one hand, I can see where the idea has merit in certain cases (i.e. I've encountered GQ people who blatantly exotify intersexed bodies without considering the very real experiences of people who had no choice in the matter), but on the other hand I strongly disagree that all GQ identities are appropriative (for obvious reasons), and think that line of thought is treading dangerously transphobic waters (because I've also heard the "trans women are appropriating cis women" argument from nasty radfems).

    Wow, long sentence is long.

  2. I say your logic is very wrong and their is no commonality with trans. I think you have been drinking too much trans kool aid.

  3. Oh whoops, looks like I spiked the punch again.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Nicky, the kool aid was transilicious.

    I find wanting to deny links between intersex and trans experience just another manifestation of transphobia.

  6. Luminis,
    It's obvious that you have not read any hard core scientific and psychiatric data that is currently out their. Their is no link what so ever and what you are doing is causing more harm and more damage to intersex babies and intersex kids out their by claiming such as a link. Their is no scientific link and the science dose not show any link. Their is no one within the science, medical and academic community who will back your warped logic and claim. It's obvious your showing more of a social link because you see intersex as a scape goat when someone ask why you transitioned. You see intersex as a "blame free" group. It's fairly obvious that your a trans and your just another one of those transjackers, who want to hijack the intersex community for your own perverted gain.

  7. I also find that by you claiming that intersex has a link with trans, you are in effect erasing the history, upbringing and experience of those who are born intersex and intersex born intersex people. You are erasing not only my intersex experience, upbringing and history, but you are erasing every other intersex person's experience, history, and upbringing as well. So I hope you like what you did, by erasing mine and every other intersex person's shared experience, upbringing and history because you and every trans out their are doing that to women, lesbian and intersex people out their.

    It goes to show that you are too drunk on the tranny kool aid to realize what you are doing and you have been taken and hijacked by the tranny (male) mentality. In case you forgot, majority of transgender people are males to begin with. They still have their male power, male privilege, male upbringing and male experience. Even though they are trying to claim female, womanhood and female privilege, when in reality, they are still male.

  8. Nicky:

    Fuck your transphobic, transmisogynist bullshit.

    Yes, there is some overlap between some intersex people and some trans people. No, that does not erase your personal experiences, nor the experiences of any other non-trans-identified intersex person. What you are doing is erasing the experiences of trans-identified intersex people by denying their existence.

    Christ on a fucking cracker.

    p.s. "There", it's "there".

  9. geopunk:

    Go fuck yourself, because your nothing but a transjacker and an intersexphobic. Your nothing but a misogynist.

    No, their is no overlap between intersex and trans. Yes you are erasing intersex born intersex and intersex people's experience and denying there rights and experience of intersex people and intersex born intersex people.

    You are nothing but a bigot and misogynist and it clearly shows that you are using your male power and male privilege to claim womanhood and intersex, which is so wrong and so bigoted.

  10. Nicky:

    I'm claiming womanhood? Excuse my while I laugh my arse off for a few minutes at your ignorance.

    Also, "some people identify as x" and "some people do not identify as x" are both valid statements. One does not negate the other. Note the "some" part. The world does not exist in a "all one or the other" paradigm.

    One could say, "some cars are grey" and "some cars are red". Just because some cars are red, does not mean that there are no grey cars out there.

  11. I'm sorry you attracted the attention of this notorious transphobe. If you are able and willing, you might just considering putting them on permanent moderation. They have an ax to grind that apparently never ends.

  12. also, nicky, please remember that some of us trans people were assigned female at birth.

  13. Oh wow, look what we have here another misogynist, bigot and someone who can't face reality in front of them. It's no wonder why your just another misogynist trans using your male power, male privilege, male upbringing and male mentality to talk down someone else. It just goes to show that your nothing, but an autogenophilia and a misogynist.

  14. your complete ignorance over the existence of transsexual men is very very very strange.

  15. I must be a unicorn!

  16. Thank you, geopunk and jay, for your support. I've addressed Nicky in a blog post because I found it a useful exercise. But if zie becomes overly bothersome, I'll do as you suggest, jay.

  17. Oh, and isnt' it ironic? We actually get to pass as "biological men." Just so we can be called "autogenophiles." (Erm. I get turned on by my genotype?)

  18. Put your money where your mouth is, Nicky, and open your profile and your blog to the public.

  19. Jay,
    Your completely an ignorant bigot. The fact that your erasing the history, experience and upbringing of intersex people, those born intersex and intersex born intersex people. What you are doing is putting more intersex kids and babies at risk and in danger with your warped logic and ideology.

    Your nothing but a sellout. Your selling out your intersex for the likes of transgender people. It's no wonder why parents of intersex kids and babies do not want to seek the help for their intersex kids and babies. Because your going around telling parents that their their intersex baby or kid will grow up trans and scaring he parents into shoving their intersex kid and baby into unnecessary, needless and very traumatic surgeries. That's why parents of intersex kids and babies are very fearful of what you say and by you linking intersex with trans, is going to make parents even far more fearful and put intersex babies and intersex kids lives in DANGER.

  20. Nicky,

    Apparently you haven't actually read my blog. Every post I've made opposes infant sex assignment surgery.

    In fact, if you want to be a big transphobe about it, you could really embrace my blog as discussing how childhood surgery often leads to trans sexuality, so by stopping infant surgery you could reduce the number of people who feel compelled to transition.

    I do wish you'd stop calling people names, but I haven't blocked you yet because I find your comments instructive in laying out the transphobic position for me.

  21. Hey there peeps. I really want the Trans community to understand my point of view. I am an intersexed activist. Genitals Rights Advocate. Intersexed, True-Hermaphrodite, who is also reassigning female. I do not identify with being Transsexual. I have one crappy time just learning to accept myself as an intersexed person, who is neither male nor female. I know myself well enough to understand what it means to be trapped in a body that I was not born into; an ambigous child, surgically assigned male, with repeated surgeries long into adulthood to keep removing the bits that weren't male appearing. I respect all within the Trans community as men or women because that is how they self identify. I do not accept Trans men or women who continue to try to push that when one person changes their social gender they are trans. Most intersexed people will reject any assumption that surgery on any of us, intersexed people means we are ever to be considered as Transsexual. You may call it Transphobia, but you are mistaken. We fear others calling us Trans men and Trans women most of all. We are men or women or whatever we chose to call ourselves, but of all things we are not is Trans. So please stop trying to compare what it means to be intersexed with what it means to be trans. If I use your methodology I would then be a Trans Man ie forced surgery, who rejected that assignment by doctors and parents to a trans woman<---that is your understanding of what i am. My understanding is that I am intersexed: True-Hermaphrodite; that is my gender, my sex I was born as. I am neither man nor woman, nor am I a trans man or a trans woman, what i am is Intersexed woman, because I do identify as a woman regardless of all the crap treatment i have had at the hands of doctors and parents and society. So please get off the Transphobia kick and understand just how much hurt you are doing to people who are not trans.

    If you want me to make things simple I will. Quit mocking what it means to be born with an intersexed body as having anything to do with transsexuality. I do not need your hate or assumptions about any of my medical experiences.

    And please do not comment on me being transphobic, I happen to love many trans people for who they are. I could care less what they were born as.
    Love, Love, Love

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  23. An intersex person can identify as transgendered, but that doesn't imply a link between intersex and transgender. Why? Because a transgendered person can't claim to be intersex. Intersex is biological in nature, as you know, so how can you say that there is a link. We may share some of the same experiences, like being discriminated against, but that doesn't make us the same. The transgendered don't understand our unique issues, and don't care about them any more than the general public does. Transgendered people are just as incapable of understanding us as the general public is.

    In the paragraph that begins with this sentence, You are describing transsexuals, not transgender:
    "Another thing intersex and trans people share is that we have a difficult relationship with doctors who have power over our lives."

    The problem I see in this paragraph is the conflation of transgender and transsexual. In fact, when you describe a transsexual person you use the meaningless word trans, and don't even use the proper term transsexual. That's just as bad as calling an intersex person transgendered. Trans can mean anything, usually transgender, just as the word transgender can mean anything that has to do with gender variance. Transsexuals are not transgenders any more than transgenders are intersex. People who sex-transition through surgery are transsexual. People who gender-transition are transgender. Transsexuals do not gender-transition.

    The problem with the leaders of the transgender movement is that they marginalize transsexuals and intersex. They do not speak for us, but they try to, and they will not allow us to have our own voices, unless we fight back.

  24. Hi all, and first, i agree totally with Kailana and´s amazing how we think the same without knowing each other, and this is the most important thing who identifies as intersexed: we automatically feel empathy with those who FEEL as we do.
    i´d like to bring what i know about this issues on intersex,transsexual and transgender.

    I see, that everything´s mixed up today, because LGBT´s issues causes missinformation about our treatments and medical protocols. That´s a fact every IS person knows.

    I´m a woman, i found very offensive being treated as "trans", because "transsexual" it´s an oxymoron, the perfect definition for it. It´s a medical condition, not a lifestyle. You transgender people must understand this finally.

    Trans doesn´t means woman or man, the only thing that means woman, it´s (obviously) woman.

    We can, of course, identify as Victoria Ocampo, and pretend to write better than her XD
    Every person can say "i´m a genius, i´m a doctor"....all this, without being really what we claim.

    So, i see historically that transvestited individuals wish to be transsexuals, when transsexual it´s, in fact, an intersex condition.

    On the last 20 years, some brain researching bring us some results...that problematical word known as "transsexualism", it was really an intersex condition, placed on a very deep place, the BSTc.
    Finally, the condition known as transsexualism Type VI, or HBS, it´s recognized today as INTERSEX.
    So what we´ve got here?
    Among TG´s, there´s such a LOT of HBS intersexed people, they clearly identify female, or male, without any doubt, they desperately need GRS, but they´re very influentiated by LGBT movement.

  25. (continued)
    Today it´s a new beggining for us, because it´s being proved by science, the biological origin of HBS (wrongly knwon as "true or classic TS")....soo...what´s the point?

    OK, those people who claim to be trans,transgender,MtF trans,Ftm trans,,etc, etc,etc, that actually needs TRH + corrective surgery, they are true HBS intersexed ones. But....they still don´t know it...

    Transgender activists MUST understand, that what we ALL share (IS, TG, TS,etc), are the corrective surgeries, or the lack of it due to a political movement who tends to the "option".

    There´s NO option for us, intersexed ones, we do not need to claim this PAINFUL BIOLOGICAL DISEASE, as a lifestyle, we do not need LGBT talk for Us anymore.
    We go toward very different ways or paths...and we all can fight toghether if we respect each other "videri quam esse".

    Transsexual, or just "trans", means nothing, it´s a biological state of the body, not an pseudo-identity or election, option, or whetever.
    You must understand that if you consider yourself transgender, you are putting yourself on a very different way than a man or a woman could take.
    When there IS an option, there is NOT the same biological condition.
    When there is NOT an option, there is a very different biological condition.

    HBS is not AIS...AIS is not Turner, Turner is not Klinefelter...but they all are intersexed conditions, far away different from transgender or LGBT ideologies and labels.
    You got the human rights to do whatever you likewith your bodies, but you do NOT any right to push me into the "option" field.
    I never wanted to do that, i never wanted to take agressive hormonal treatments, and see my family treat me like a trans, because they were missinformed before knowing who i am, and they treated me as they learned from transgender diversity.They took me for one of those TG´s, who are NOT interested on any surgical needings for a truthful woman life.
    But they realize today what were happening to me, that i was NOT really what they thought...a trans.
    I´m just a girl. Transsexualism is today recognized as an intersexed and medical condition. See the new research found on PubMed.

    Don´t mess up and mix the things again, let us live our lives as we need, and go live your lives the way you choose, with happiness in your hearts.



  26. I know I'm super late to the party here, but I just wanted to say how I think it's funny that people seem to be confusing your (I think perfectly acceptable) ideas about the similarities between the experiances of being intersex and transexual/transgender and how we might be able to find some common ground and mutual understanding due to the similar problems we face in society, with the (obviously stupid) idea that intersex people are in fact the same as transexuals. Also how many of them seem to have not got past the title of the post before getting all worked up about it.

  27. This is all on this post who say that being Transgender is a biological condition, because it happens in the brain of the person, so maybe being Transgender is also a form of being Intersex. So that being said the point of this blogger is trying to make is that some intersex people can classify as transgender and yes some transgender can classify as intersex, because both are biological disorders it's just one is of the brain and one is of the body. But both the trans community and the intersex community can work together to support each other in matters of discrimination and transition (if it applies). Because there is no use fighting over something that is basically the same condition.

    P.S.-Sorry about calling it a condition there is no better word to describe what we have. I classify myself as both male and female even though I was born male, and another thing Intersexed people are apart of the LGBT community even if you don't want to be.

  28. Unfortunately, the comments here kind of prove the point of the "Trans Complaints" section :-(

    Many of us trans people (yes, that *is* a meaningful term) would very much like to be better allies to the intersex community [*] and to understand in greater depth the issues they face. But when we try, we are often treated with outright hostility. It's discouraging.

    [*] Yes, I know that some in that community don't identify with the term "intersex".