Intersex: Gender Beyond Male and Female Expressions
The LGBT+ community has gotten more cultural and political recognition worldwide in the 21st century. The fight for LGBT+ rights has led more countries worldwide to include the decriminalization of homosexuality, the legalization of same-sex marriage, transgender identity rights, and the criminalization of conversion therapy  practices within their laws. It is easy to think that the fight for LGBT+ rights aims for the fair expression of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, other groups do not obtain the same recognition within the LGBT+ community. Intersex people are one of them. According to the Intersex Society of North America, intersex people are held to “a variety of conditions in which a person is born with […] reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”  Intersex people are a group that steps out of gender binarism to shed a light on sexuality’s true complexity. So, why is it important to learn about intersex people? As an underlooked group within the LGBT+ community that involves anatomical variations, intersex people are often victims of unethical medical practices and human rights violations. Therefore, it is important to recognize intersex people for them to be treated more fairly, beyond the strict canons of gender binarism.
Intersex is an “umbrella term that covers a range of medical conditions which result in a person being between the typical definitions of male and female”.  As of 2019, 1.7% of the human population identified as intersex — about the same worldwide population with natural red hair. According to Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice, the biological sex of a human body is determined by four factors:
a) chromosomal or genetic sex: the sex chromosomes of a person;
b) chromatic or nuclear sex: the reminiscent material of whether a person presents an XX or XY combination of chromosomes;
c) gonadal sex: the presence of testicles or ovaries in a body;
d) morphological sex: the existence of external genitalia and other extragenital characteristics. 
Mexico’s Supreme Court went on to say that the biological sex of a person is different from the social role that person chooses to follow because of his biological sex, or from the gender identity said person chooses to adopt. The Mexican Supreme Court’s clarifications are important because they show that sex and gender are not two concepts that are limited to male and female expressions. Intersex people are living proof. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI, for its Spanish initials) has identified over 30 types of intersexuality. According to an investigation from a Mexican journalist organization about intersexuality , some common variations of intersexuality in a human body include:
a) Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: a genetic condition where people lack an enzyme in their adrenal glands. The condition may cause individuals with XX chromosomes to menstruate irregularly, have fertility issues, grow more pubic hair than usual, or, in extreme cases, develop ambiguous genitalia in comparison to the common female genitalia;
b) Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: This Syndrome often affects genetically born males. The body of the people affected by this syndrome does not respond to testosterone properly, so the male genitalia may appear (completely or partially) female as a result. Though an individual doesn’t develop a complete uterus or ovaries, a well-functioning penis is not developed either. As such, individuals who develop the syndrome may be thought of as females until puberty arrives, or they may show external signs of both male and female characteristics in their genitalia from an early age.
c) Hypospadias: The penis of a genetically born male presents an opening in the urethra. They may be common amongst the population. In Mexico alone, 26 out of every 1000 newborns presented hypospadias in 2011. They are often corrected with surgery.
d) Turner Syndrome: The Syndrome develops in female bodies that possess one X chromosome instead of two X chromosomes. As a result, the individual may develop infertility, a lack of completely formed ovaries and other secondary genital characteristics, and a relatively low height. As of 2019, an estimate of 70,000 women suffers from Turner Syndrome in the United States.
e) Klinefender Syndrome: In comparison, this Syndrome affects people with two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome. It affects male bodies most commonly. Some of its traits include relatively small testes, breast enlargement, and lack of pubic and facial hair, among other signs. This Syndrome often becomes evident during the individual’s puberty.
The list goes on.  Therefore, various manifestations of intersexuality occur in human bodies worldwide. But, if intersexuality is so varied and common, why is it so unheard of as well?
Contemporary society is deeply based in gender binarism. Our societal conception of human anatomy has led to the common belief that humans can only be male or female. As a result, intersex people have been stigmatized; they have been victims of the belief that intersexuality is a genetic condition that needs to be corrected. According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report , doctors have been suggesting surgical procedures to modify intersex genitalia into male or female standards in the United States since the 1960s. As such, some intersex people have not had their right to decide over their bodies for years. Frequently, the parents of intersex people are the ones who decide to surgically modify their children’s intersexuality into male or female aesthetic traits. Before they are old enough to decide over their sexuality, intersex people often face genital surgeries that do not improve their health but rather forces them to fit strict criteria of male or female identity. Therefore, intersex people are often deprived of exercising their sexualities, their identities, and their full personalities freely.
In the United States, only 5 states have introduced bills against genital surgeries for intersex minors. Even further, California’s bill is non-binding, so there is no penalty for doctors who consider those surgical practices in the state. Therefore, intersex people are often involved in fighting for their consent in the surgical practices that intervene in their anatomy. Sometimes, intersex people never learn about the surgeries that have been applied over their bodies until they are old enough to have an opinion over the situation. Oftentimes, parents approve these surgeries over their intersex child with the best intention — for them to be able to fully adapt to the binarist identity system the contemporary society has settled in. However, this causes severe and often irreparable damage over the autonomy of intersex people. Surgical procedures to modify intersexuality in an individual’s genitalia enforce a gender identity over intersex people’s will. Intersex people have fallen into a legal and social battle that aims to favor their rights and dignity over the historic discourse that there are only two biological sexes. And rightfully so. Nonconsensual cosmetic surgeries over intersex genitalia is a practice that the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the World Health Organization all consider torturous.
In his 2013 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture noted that members of sexual minorities are “disproportionately subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment because they fail to conform to socially constructed gender expectations.” He specifically mentioned that:
“Children who are born with atypical sex characteristics are often subject to irreversible sex assignment, involuntary sterilization, involuntary genital normalizing surgery, performed without their informed consent, or that of their parents, “in an attempt to fix their sex,” leaving them with permanent, irreversible infertility and causing severe mental suffering.” 
Luckily, intersex rights have been increasingly recognized during the past decade. For example, Malta became the first country to ban non-consensual genital surgeries on intersex minors in 2015 (only five years ago!). Furthermore, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has condemned nonconsensual intersex surgeries in New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, France, and Nepal, among a list of nine countries. However, intersex people still have a long way to fight to achieve global respect for their autonomy and free exercise of identity rights. Laws in the United States do not prohibit explicitly nonconsensual genital surgeries over intersex minors. In reality, very few countries have followed the example that Malta gave when banning nonconsensual intersex surgeries nationwide. Most countries assign the identity of intersex people under a male or female standard, either to avoid further complications in their birth certificates or to respect the guardianship parents have over their intersex children. However, these procedures violate intersex rights— they take away intersex people’s capacity to develop their full personality, their rights to bodily autonomy and health, and their integrity in light of the torturous process of nonconsensual genital surgery. These problems affect 1.7% of the worldwide population. Still, the violation of intersex rights is a problem that concerns society as a whole.
The problems that intersex people face show a bigger perspective about the way society needs to rethink its perceptions over sex and gender. Intersexuality shows that biological sex goes beyond the binarism of a male or female identity. As Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice demonstrated, biological sex relies on various factors: gonads, sex chromosomes, internal and external genitalia, amongst other characteristics within a human’s reproductive system. It is important to understand that biological sex is a spectrum — that biological sex is more complex than the societal norms that involve male and female genders. If society perceived biological sex as a spectrum instead of a canon, then gender oppression would not be so rigid. Males and females would not be expected to fulfill a specific societal role, and intersex people would not be perceived as abnormal for not fitting into that societal role completely. Intersex people deserve to be recognized because they shed a light on gender oppression and they remove the stigmas society holds when forming specific criteria for male and female genders. Moreover, intersex people deserve recognition and consideration, not as people with an abnormal condition, but rather as human beings who deserve respect and dignity.
The LGBT+ community is not only about people who have different sexual orientations and gender identities: it is also about people who biologically go beyond the binarism of male and female standards. Intersex people are a group that has been stigmatized for not fulfilling strict male or female canons. However, biological sex goes beyond gender binarism because it is determined by numerous anatomical and genetic factors. As a result, intersexuality is an umbrella term that encapsulates different variations that the human body can present over its biological sex. Consisting of 1.7% of the entire world population, intersex people are a vibrant and powerful group within the LGBT+ community. As such, intersex people’s integrity should be respected — intersexuality should be recognized as a biological trait that enriches human diversity, instead of an anomaly that needs to be corrected.
And yet, intersex people are often restricted from exercising their rights to bodily autonomy and the free development of their identity. Through nonconsensual genital surgeries to modify their intersexual traits, intersex people do not get to make decisions about their bodies frequently. Therefore, intersex people need to be more recognized — they are humans that deserve to have their human rights respected, beyond any social stigma about gender canons. Furthermore, intersex people show the rest of society the necessity of more tolerance and more respect towards the LGBT+ community and minorities that are often stigmatized and misunderstood. Intersex people exist — they are vibrant and present, they always have been, and the rest of society must listen to what they have to say.
Bibliography and other references
Columbia University. “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts”. In Columbia University Press. Accessed on July 5th, 2020. https://cup.columbia.edu/book/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-change-efforts/9781939594365.
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The fundamental rights situation of intersex people. April 2015. PDF Document. https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2015-focus-04-intersex.pdf.
ISNA. “Turner Syndrome”. In Intersex Society of North America. Accessed on July 5th, 2020. https://isna.org/faq/conditions/turner/.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. “Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia”. In Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Accessed on July 5th, 2020. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/1467/congenital-adrenal-hyperplasia
National Organization for Rare Disorders. “Turner Syndrome”. In Rare Disease Database. Accessed on July 5th, 2020. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/turner-syndrome/#:~:text=Affected%20Populations,United%20States%20have%20Turner%20syndrome.
Quinn, Emily. “The way we think about biological sex is wrong | Emily Quinn”. In TEDx Talks. March 6th, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stUl_OapUso.
Temko, Susanna. “A different kind of superpower: what it means to be intersex | Susannah Temko | TEDxLondon”. In TEDx Talks. June 11th, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vaq4Ij0qmog.