In humans, biological sex is determined by five factors present at birth:
- the number and type of sex chromosomes;
- the type of gonads—ovaries or testicles;
- the sex hormones,
- the internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females), and
- the external genitalia.
People whose five characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female are intersex. Many conditions can lead to the underdevelopment of the sex characteristic collectively referred to as intersex conditions. These can involve differences of the genitals, either externally or internally. Some of these differences include:
- genitals that cannot be classified as male or female
- Incomplete development of internal reproductive organs
- Variations of the sex chromosomes
- different development of the testes or ovaries
Intersex traits are not always apparent at birth; some babies may be born with ambiguous genitals, while others may have ambiguous internal organs (testes and ovaries).
In humans, intersex is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Such variation may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female. Intersex infants with ambiguous outer genitalia may be surgically “corrected” (cosmetically assigned to male or female) to more easily fit into a socially accepted sex category. Others may opt, in adulthood, for surgical procedures in order to align their physical sex characteristics with their gender identity or the sex category to which they were assigned at birth. Others will not become aware that they are intersex—unless they receive genetic testing—because it does not manifest in their phenotype. Some individuals may be raised as a certain sex (male or female) but then identify with another later in life, while others may not identify themselves as either exclusively female or exclusively male. Research has shown gender identity of intersex individuals to be independent of sexual orientation, though some intersex conditions also affect an individual’s sexual orientation. Recent legal and regulatory developments in Australia have distinguished “intersex status” from both gender identity and sexual orientation.
Intersexuality as a term was adopted by medicine during the 20th century. In Anne Fausto Sterling’s book, Sexing the Body, she mentions the most common types of intersexuality. They are congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), gonadal dysgenesis, hypospadias, and unusual chromosome compositions such as XXY (Klinefelter Syndrome) or XO (Turner Syndrome). Intersex conditions received attention from intersex activists, who criticized traditional medical approaches in sex assignment and sought to be heard in the construction of new approaches. The passports and identification documents of some nationalities have adopted “X” as a valid third category besides “M” (male) and “F” (female), at least since 2003. In 2013, Germany became the first European nation to allow babies with characteristics of both sexes to be registered as indeterminate gender on birth certificates.
Research in the late 20th century has led to a growing medical consensus that diverse intersex bodies are normal—if relatively rare—forms of human biology. Milton Diamond, one of the most outspoken experts on matters affecting intersex people, stresses the importance of care in the selection of language related to such people.
(Above information retrieved from Wikipedia)
A great book to read about intersex individuals is Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides.
The documentary, Intersection: Gender Ambiguity Unveiled, very candidly and thoughtfully explores how several intersex people have chosen to live their lives.
Also, intersex is different from transgender. Further information and terminology from GLAAD:
Transgender An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.
Transsexual (also Transexual) An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. While some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves, many transgender people prefer the term transgender totranssexual. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, as many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
Transvestite Derogatory see Cross-Dressing
Transition Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step process; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following personal, legal and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more forms of surgery.
Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition (see Transition above). Preferred term to “sex change operation.” Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of SRS in the transition process.
Cross-Dressing To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it. “Cross-dresser” should NOT be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex or who intends to do so in the future. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation.
Gender Identity Disorder (GID) A controversial DSM-IV diagnosis given to transgender and other gender- variant people. Because it labels people as “disordered,” Gender Identity Disorder is often considered offensive. The diagnosis is frequently given to children who don’t conform to expected gender norms in terms of dress, play or behavior. Such children are often subjected to intense psychotherapy, behavior modification and/or institutionalization. Replaces the outdated term “gender dysphoria.”
Intersex Describing a person whose biological sex is ambiguous. There are many genetic, hormonal or anatomical variations that make a person’s sex ambiguous (e.g., Klinefelter Syndrome). Parents and medical professionals usually assign intersex infants a sex and perform surgical operations to conform the infant’s body to that assignment. This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults speak out against the practice. The term intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym for transgender.
Problematic: “transgenders,” “a transgender”
Preferred: “transgender people,” “a transgender person”
Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, “Tony is a transgender,” or “The parade included many transgenders.” Instead say, “Tony is a transgender man,” or “The parade included many transgender people.”
The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous “-ed” tacked onto the end. An “-ed” suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. For example, it is grammatically incorrect to turn transgender into a participle, as it is an adjective, not a verb, and only verbs can be used as participles by adding an “-ed” suffix.
Problematic: “sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative”
Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.
Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing” or “masquerading”
Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. Do not characterize transgender people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” other people, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are defamatory and insulting.
Defamatory: “she-male,” “he-she,” “it,” “trannie,” “tranny,” “shim,” “gender-bender”
These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used.
Defamatory: “bathroom bill”
A new term created and used by far-right extremists to oppose non-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. The term is geared to incite fear and panic at the thought of encountering transgender people in public restrooms. Use non-discrimination law/ordinance instead.
NAMES, PRONOUN USAGE & DESCRIPTIONS
Always use a transgender person’s chosen name. Often transgender people cannot afford a legal name change or are not yet old enough to change their name legally. They should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else who lives by a name other than their birth name (e.g., celebrities).
Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use. A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not that person has taken hormones or had some form of surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.
If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun he or she prefers, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression. For example, if a person wears a dress and uses the name Susan, feminine pronouns are appropriate.
It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.
The Associated Press Stylebook provides guidelines for journalists reporting on transgender people and issues.According to the AP Stylebook, reporters should “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly” (see AP, New York Times & Washington Post Style).
When describing transgender people, please use the correct term or terms to describe their gender identity. For example, a person who is born male and transitions to become female is a transgender woman, whereas a person who is born female and transitions to become male is a transgender man.
Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition.It is usually best to report on transgender people’s stories from the present day instead of narrating them from some point or multiple points in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.