October 26th is Intersex Awareness Day and we wanted to highlight the importance of recognising and taking joy in intersex identities.

Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe ‘people who develop sexual characteristics which do not align with the binary sex of male and female’. For example, some intersex people who were assigned female at birth may develop both male and female sexual characteristics and vice versa.

Intersex people are as common as red heads

Although some people may think that intersex people are rare, they actually make up around 1.7% of the population, which is comparable to the number of people with red hair in the world. Many children are born with ambiguous genitalia, meaning that doctors are unable to identify their sex as either male or female. However, let’s get one thing clear: Sex is NOT binary.

Scientific research and intersex people’s existence proves that sex does not only consist of XY (male) and XX (female) chromosomes. Sex can be fluid, just like gender is. For instance, some people are born with cells that have XX chromosomes as well as XY chromosomes.

In the Dominican Republic there exists a high prevalence of intersex people – called ‘guevedoces’ or translated ‘penis at twelve’ – who were born with female sexual characteristics but then started growing male genitalia throughout puberty.

Surgeries on infants have to end

However, the ambiguity of intersex people’s sex leads to healthcare professionals operating on infants to adjust their sex in order for it to conform to either male or female sexual characteristics. Doctors are legally allowed – with the consent of the infant’s parents – to perform surgeries on children, stripping them of any kind of agency over their own bodies. These procedures can also cause serious problems such as infertility, pain, incontinence, and mental health issues.

The intersex community has long advocated for healthcare professionals and hospitals to acknowledge the fluidity of biological sex without needing it to conform to the sex binary. They are still ‘fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity’.

Western society’s view of gender and sex as binary makes it impossible to understand the multitude of the human body, reinforcing a false binary and consequently, negatively impacting the healthcare provided for intersex, trans, and gender diverse people.

Valentino Vecchietti’s intersex-inclusive pride flag

The Intersex Flag

Recently, Valentino Vecchietti created the intersex-inclusive Pride flag. Vecchietti is an activist as well as a writer. Her version of the Pride flags were hung in the streets of London this year as a mark of how progressive and ever evolving the LGBT+ community is. The intersex flag consists of a yellow background with a purple circle in the middle of it.

The flag was originally designed by Australian researcher Morgan Carpenter. The purple circle is about ‘being unbroken, about being whole’, stating that it symbolises ‘the right to make our own decisions about our own bodies’.

There are countless variations in sexual characteristics and to believe that sex is binary is to undermine the existence of intersex people. This community should have the right to decide over their own bodies and not be stripped of their bodily autonomy and consent because our society is not ready to let go of the false notion of the sex and gender binary.

If you would like to read an intersex person’s story of how they realised their true gender, visit GenderGP’s website.