Intersex is not Trans

This all started from this post.

Say it a few times until you believe it. Intersex is not Trans. Now, this doesn’t mean they’re mutually exclusive. Intersex people can be trans. Trans people can be intersex. But intersex people are not inherently trans. While there’s some debate, I’m gonna go with trans people are not inherently intersex (and if we were, we’d be a small part of their community, not the other way around).

I don’t know if all intersex people get full cis privilege because if they don’t “look cis” then people won’t treat them as such. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t cis. There are plenty of cis people who don’t “look cis” either all the time or sometimes who can face transphobia for it. That doesn’t make them trans. Facing transphobia doesn’t make you trans. A whole lot of straight people face homophobia, being called a fag or queer, particularly as a form of gender policing. It doesn’t make them gay, it doesn’t make it sting as much as using a homophobic slur hurts people who actually are gay.

The problems intersex people and trans people face may have some parallels, but they aren’t identical. Both face abuse from the medical system, but different abuses. And because I’m not intersex, I have no right to talk about the problems they face. But there are intersex bloggers out there who do talk about it. Interphobia is separate and distinct from transphobia. The two are related. Sexism, homo/bi/acephobia, femmephobia, transphobia, and interphobia are all related. But they’re also all distinct and separate, and no one would say that sexism is identical to homophobia, saying that gay men who face homophobia are women because homophobia and sexism are related is pretty damn incorrect.

I’ve seen too many instances of non-IS trans people, trans people who have privilege over intersex people (and, yes, cis intersex people have privilege over us, but that doesn’t erase ours) saying that intersex people are trans. No matter their gender dientity, their assigned sex, their self identity, or anything else- they must be trans. That’s bullshit. It’s appropriative, it’s screwed up. It’s wrong. It’s wrong to tell anyone especially someone you have privilege over, who they are. Isn’t that the entire fucking reason trans people have problems? Because cis privileged people think that they can tell us who we are? So then why the hell do we think it’s okay for us to tell other people that they must be trans?


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26 responses to “Intersex is not Trans

  1. Yes, this. Now I’m going to ramble in agreement for a few paragraphs.

    Trans appropriation of intersex issues is problematic. There are a lot of really good reasons for trans and intersex people to work in solidarity (when someone’s gender is being denied because of their non-normative physiology for that gender, that’s a problem for all of us whether they be intersex or trans. Abolition of childhood gender assignment is another good issue to build solidarity on) and to crib off eachothers’ theories, but the two groups aren’t the same at all.

    The simplest proof of this, I think, comes from ability to generate theory (though, well, I love writing theory, so this is as much a reflection of myself as it is a description of a phenomenon). If intersex people are inherently trans, then cisgendered intersex people are qualified to write accurate theory about the psychology of trans people. This is obviously silly; nobody who hasn’t experienced gender dissonance is qualified to write about it. If I knew intersex theory the way I knew trans theory, there’d be a converse example here, but I don’t.

    This isn’t to say that the two bodies of theory should be kept entirely separate. Trans people can and in many cases should cite intersex activist theory to write trans theory (as long as those of us who aren’t intersex are mindful and not appropriative); we (non-intersex trans people) are not qualified to write intersex activist theory (and when our theorizing steps into misuse of intersex theory, we should absolutely be called out on it). Cis intersex people can cite trans theory when writing their own and are welcome to as much of it as they need, but aren’t qualified to write trans theory. Conflating the two groups implies that there should be one body of theory behind them and that everyone in either group is qualified to write it.

    Actually, this thing about how theorizing about other groups is terrible solidarity work is something I’ve been meaning to turn into a post for a while.

    Also, this typo: “ No matter their gender dientity, their assigned sex, their self identity, or anything else- they must be trans.” needs to become a phrase.

  2. Thanks for posting this. As an intersex person who has gender transitioned, I think about this issue a lot, and it’s complex. I certainly agree that being born intersex does not “make a person trans”–as you note, if an intersex person is androgynous and faces transphobia, this does not make hir trans any more than a straight guy is made gay by someone yelling at him that he’s a fag.

    On the other hand, though we are intersex, not trans, by birth, in the U.S. and other Western nations today, intersex people are required to live in a dyadic sex into which we were not born, and if genitally variant are often given nonconsensual sex assignment surgery in childhood. In this sense, we are physically trans sex–but hardly in the way nonintersex adult trans people are. We may share in common a lack of bodily autonomy–being forced into sex assignment treatments as intersex children, or finding it very hard to access medical transition services we want as trans people. But there are great differences in the experiences of dyadic-sex-assigned intersex people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth and genitally-typical people who do not identify with their birth-assigned sex. Intersex people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth have cis gender identities–and their cis gender identities must be respected.

    Consider this example: 1 in every 500 people born with a penis has Kleinfelter’s syndrome. This is an intersex condition in which the individual has XXY chromosomes. People with Kleinfelter’s are raised as boys and are as likely to grow up to identify as men as other boy-assigned people. Their XXY genotype may be evident in bodily differences such as the development of some breast tissue or infertility, or it may be physically unnoticeable. Many will never know they are intersex. In what sense is a person who was assigned male at birth, has a body that looks male to people, and identifies as a man “transgender”? Certainly not in the sense of his gender identity. How ironic, then, if a trans person insists for political reasons that he is trans, privileging his biology over his identity, telling him he’s not “really a man” because he wasn’t born one.

    Trying to understand intersex experience just through a trans framework doesn’t make sense. Intersex is a physical sex status, while trans experience is about the primacy of gender identity.

  3. Birds are not Ducks: but Ducks are Birds.

    Intersexed people are not Trans: but Trans people are Intersexed (neurologicaly). Or so it appears. Does that mean they should be classed as Intersexed too? A subset of Intersex, just as PMDS is a subset, or CAH is a subset, or 5ARD is a subset? Good question.

    Given that there’s plenty of arguments as to what exactly *is* Intersex – from Sax’s exclusive definition, to Fausto-Sterling’s inclusive one – I guess it depends.

    • Right now, the intersex and trans communities have so much tension between them that I don’t think we’re at a place to be able to say that trans people are intersex. If we mend the burnt bridges and work together and the intersex community decides that they do consider trans people to fit under their umbrella, then I’ll say that we can. But right now, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

      Also- I’m not sure what Sax or Fausto-Sterling refer to, but if you’re talking about non-intersex doctors’ take on being intersex, please don’t. Doctors have done tremendous harm to intersex people, and the intersex community deserves to have their voices heard.

    • Nicky

      Zoe, Neither are you. You are not qualified enough to speak for Intersex people. Zoe Brain isn’t intersex at all.

      Intersex people are not Trans and Trans people can not be intersex as well. Also their is NO such thing as neurological intersex as Zoe likes to proclaim and push to people. [anti-trans part redacted. Do not think it's okay to spread anti-trans sentiments on this blog]

      • Nicky, I am an intersex trans person. I’m glad the hugely transphobic things you had to say were removed by Dreki. Being born intersex does not give you the right to be a bigot.

  4. Indi

    I dont fit the binary, my experience is one of transdom however my “intersexuality” (for me) is also entwined with my gender diversity. As much as I feel people want me to pick a team. I can’t I won’t nor do I feel i need to.

    So what am I???

    anyone who can answer this gets a beer.

    As for the trans appropriating/ hijacking the IS struggle.

    I do’t believe that at all.

    We have a great opportunity here.

    “you get in the bowl”, Red M&M

  5. Maibi

    I agree with Zoe Brain: trans is a subset of intersex (of course being intersex doesn’t make one trans).

    It’s pretty straightforward… the brain is a physical and biological organ like any others in the body, and sexually differentiates in the womb. To say that being trans isn’t intersex is like saying brain cancer isn’t really cancer because the brain isn’t a physical part of the body. That makes no sense whatsoever.

    • Considering the relationship between the trans and intersex communities- to say that trans is a type of intersex is likely doing a disservice to the intersex community, even if there are arguments in favor of it.

      • Maibi

        I don’t see how the relationship between two communities determines a matter of biology.

        Simply because the larger group has tension with the subgroup does not mean the latter isn’t part of the former. If I applied that logic, humans as a whole have great tension with gender variant minorities, but does that make me something other than human?

        I’m not crossing my fingers for the medical community or the IS community to include trans, but reality is reality.

      • Okay- the trans community is actually more established than the intersex community. So if we wanted to, we could do severe damage to the intersex movement by trying to lay claim to it as you’re suggesting we should do. The whole of humanity has far more acceptance among humanity than trans people do. The trans movement is, though not as much, better established than the intersex community. This is not like the “LGBT” where gay and lesbian people smash trans people down.

        Trans people have, and possibly continue to, severely insult the intersex community by diminishing what they go through and trying to get themselves determined intersex because “You get free surgery, right?” (this is inaccurate). I don’t know if you’re aware of just how horrific this is considering that that “free surgery” was an incredibly traumatic thing for a lot of intersex people, and was followed up by years of abuse at the hands of doctors.

        Also- really? Biology? Science is something that has used bigotry to justify mistreating trans and intersex people- and you’re using it to justify laying claim to a label we have, through our own actions, made it clear we have no right to touch? That’s unacceptable.

      • Nicky

        It dose a great disservice to Intersex people and It serves no purpose other misappropriating intersex people at their expense.

  6. Maibi, as an intersex trans person, I do not believe at all that trans gender is a subset of intersexuality. What I hear is the argument that trans identity is in fact caused by some anatomical brain difference, and for this reason should be supported by society–which is much like the argument that was so popular among “gay activists” (the term of the time) that there was a “gay gene,” and that this should justify equal treatment. As a trans person, I see this argument as a useless distraction. Protection of sexual orientation did not flow from a discovery of a putative “gay gene.” It came from social activism changing attitudes. Furthermore, the argument that a minority is biologically distinct is exactly what led to the death of Jewish relatives of mine in the Holocaust (not their salvation).

    So as a trans person, I believe that looking hopefully for biological causes for sexual identity or gender identity is a distraction from what is really needed: a social movement for acceptance of both LGB and T people.

    As an intersex person, I find the assumption that the intersex community has some sort of power and legitimacy and the backing of the medical community exactly the sort of intersexist assumption that Dreki was, rightfully, warning against. The medical community wants us to be erased from the face of the earth, via surgical “correction” or prenatal detection and termination.

  7. Maibi

    I did not diminish anyone’s experiences, and I’m not even sure how that was inferred. I’m also not trying to make life easier on myself by acquiring a different label. I’m only saying that if the brain sexually differentiates in the womb (and evidence suggests it does), then the development of the opposite chromosomal sex’s brain structures is a state of being intersexed.

    Regarding another matter, not all officially recognized intersex conditions result in attempted surgical correction; many are no more visible at birth than being trans (for example, Complete AIS). The only reason I even say this is because it keeps being brought up, as if it’s a tribulation that cannot be avoided if one is to be deemed intersex. For that matter, whether the culprit is a surgeon or nature itself, the ultimate result of having the wrong genitals is traumatizing. Yes, I can see it’s different when one feels the betrayal of knowing their parents were involved, however I have to live with being thoroughly disowned by my parents at the age of 18 (of whom I had a very close bond with before). Would my parents still be in my life if I possessed a condition that could not possibly be attributed to a choice? I suppose that’s not something I’ll ever know.

    Finally, how can you write off science entirely because of how certain people used it in the past? Science is the reason we have the means to physically transition in the first place… I for one am glad I wasn’t trans in antiquity.

  8. Maibi

    Intersexroadshow, I disagree. A major factor in the mounting social acceptance of homosexuality is the view that it is an immutable part of a person’s being that they were born with.

    You know, if a prenatal biological cause isn’t actually important, then why does it matter when being classified as intersex? That seems to be a double standard. After years of HRT, a random doctor looking at me would see a clearly intersexed body if I withheld my trans status. So even though my body itself is of a mixed sex, I’m not seen as intersex because I wasn’t *born* with the qualifications. While I can tolerate not being viewed as intersex based on such reasoning (it’s still iffy), at the same time if I actually *do* have a legitimate claim to a prenatal biological cause in my brain, then what’s the problem?

  9. Maibi, I’m not arguing against biological components of the sex spectrum. I’m not arguing that trans bodies do not conform to our society’s binary ideas about sex. What I am saying is this: when doctors detect an intersex condition prenatally, they schedule a termination of the pregnancy. The mother has the right to refuse this “treatment,” but generally people do what doctors suggest. If we ever did find a definitive “trans brain structure,” my experience as an intersex person gives me strong evidence that rather than making society accept trans people, we’d see a lot of selective abortion of this “birth defect.”

    I still hear you saying, “I want to hop on your bandwagon because you’re treated as if you’re legitimate.” No, we’re treated as if we are freaks. A surgeon nearly let me die. When my intersex spouse goes for medical tests, crowds of doctors and nurses and techs stick their heads out the door to stare at her. She, like many, had to live through punitive GID therapy as a kid just like non-intersex gendertransgressive children with phobic parents.

    In short, I believe in the scientific method, and I’m glad to have access to hormone therapy. But I see the hope that proof that some characteristic is biologically caused will save people as sadly mistaken. It didn’t happen to me. Scientific race research has been used to justify great wrongdoing. Scientific “proof” is used to justify fatphobia. Scientific tests are used to further the selective abortion of fetuses that show signs of disability. Science is a tool, and it is used to further the social beliefs of the dominant ideology. . .

  10. Maibi

    Here are the options, A) Being treated as a freak, or B) Being treated as a freak *and* a mentally twisted pervert who mutilates their own body, thereby deserving every ounce of scorn and disgust that falls on them.

    Regarding the selective abortion of trans fetuses… my existence has been so conclusively miserable up this point (hooray for being trans in the rural deep south) that I cannot clearly say it would have been a poorer outcome in the end.

    But of course I don’t speak for all trans people, so excuse me for my pity-party; I fully understand and acknowledge your point. The dominant ideology of a society will indeed use science to further whatever current version of a normative existence they prop up.

  11. Amber

    I am a Bisexual person who is not trans or intersex, but I am very shocked and disgusted with the way society treats intersex and trans people. I am an artist and I am in my second year at art school and I am considering doing a series of paintings in order to react against transphobia and interphobia. I am hesitant to do this however because I am not trans or intersex, and I don’t want people to think I am trying to speak for intersex or trans people. If anyone could give me advice on whether or not I should abandon the project and start another one I would appreciate it. I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone, and wanted to communicate with trans and intersex people about the project. I feel strongly about this issue but if anyone thinks it is not appropriate because I am not trans or intersex I would appreciate being told. Thanks.

    • This isn’t the best place to ask, I don’t think many people check the comments on a year-old post, but I do appreciate you asking. From my perspective: I am glad that you’re aware of the concerns. I’m not intersex, either, so I can’t speak for them and, in terms of trans people, I can only speak for myself. I think you could do it well, but definitely be careful doing it, it would be a good idea to talk with as many transgender and intersex people as possible about it. Also, if you’re doing a project to address both, do be careful because conflating trans & intersex is problematic.

      I’m not sure where the best place to ask about this would be. There are a few forums for trans & intersex people, some might have an area for supporters where you could post asking about this. You could join up and send a message to an administrator of each forum to make sure it’d be alright to ask, find out where you could. If you use at all, it has a decent sized transgender community and I know there are intersex users as well- you could post there, using the tags ‘intersex’ and ‘transgender’ to try and reach more people.

  12. Drn

    Ok – here’s my, late and probably not worthwhile at this juncture, thoughts on this.

    As an IS individual, at first, i was upset with a few trans* people using stories in the way in which Zoe Brain and others have, where they justify being trans* because of an intersex condition.Simply put, anyone feeling the need to transition has a legitimate reason for transitioning without the need for making any up. However, the vast number of trans* people I have encountered have not tried to use intersex as an ‘excuse’ for transitioning, and I have a great deal of respect for the honesty and courage of the majority of trans* people.

    Identifying as trans* is a medical condition, just as being intersex is, and sometimes the gender identity assigned to intersex individuals at birth, is not congruous with their identity and they get medically corrective procedures performed in much the same way as adults. Personally, I believe that being trans* is probably going to be proven to be a type intersex disorder as more progress is made in research, I don’t feel the need for anyone to have to lie about their physical bodies in order to transition, Zoe

    • Thank you so much for your take on this! I’m also sorry for taking so long to respond.

      I actually had to reread the post to see what I said, I’m not sure if I would have written the same thing now. I definitely appreciate your input.

      The post was initially written in response to people saying that intersex is a subset of transgender. I’ve seen enough intersex people who don’t identify as trans and don’t want to be considered trans that I don’t think it’s fair to say “intersex is in the transgender umbrella”. I agree with you that the other way around is possible, thatbeing transgender could be considered an intersex condition one day.

  13. Anon

    How come the Intersex and trans* community can’t work more closely together? I often get the impression from some inter-sex people in the way they don’t want to be associated with trans* people, that they perceive the issues faced by trans* people as trivial. I don’t understand this hard separation some inter-sex people want to drive between us.

    I agree that it’s dangerous for the intersex and trans* communities to be mixed together and treated as one in the same by overshadowing or leaching off of each other’s labels. However, considering that the two communities have a lot more issues in common than those who identify as just LGB. I think we’d benefit each other more working closer together than separately. The one thing I feel we do have in common is that we want the freedom to be who we are, not what society tells us who we should be or how we’re suppose to be, or how where suppose to look, or how we’re suppose to act. I think with the trans* community being more well established, we could help spread more awareness about the medical and social issues concerning the intersex community. and with the intersex community being more visibly concrete in medical research, it could help people to understand the trans* community better by seeing how the varying degrees of gender-expression aren’t dependent on birth-genitalia. I think the ultimate goals should be to stop having non-intersex cisgender people force their gender ideals on us.. surgically, medically, and socially. and I feel we’re more weaker apart than we are together.

    • I believe part of it is social stigma and mutual ignorance. Similar to how the cis LGB community sometimes thinks that if they distance themselves from the T, society will be more willing to accept them- I’ve seen intersex people who feel that being conflated with trans people makes it harder for them to be accepted. Also, I’ve seen trans people who have deep resentment for intersex people because they feel like intersex people are seen as more “genuine” than trans people, so they mistreat people who are both intersex and trans out of that resentment. Some also make deeply insensitive comments about how intersex people who are put through non-consensual surgery as children, which is often traumatizing and deeply hurtful, are “lucky” they got their surgery so young- which furthers the divide. It also wouldn’t surprise me if trans people are concerned that the work intersex people are doing to stop early, unnecessary medical interventions will interfere with teenage and adult, consensual medical transition.

      I agree that we would be stronger together than apart. Unfortunately, at least when I wrote that post (hopefully it’s gotten better), there’s so much tension between the two that I don’t know how easily it would be fixed. I also don’t think that either community as a whole sees building bridges as a real priority.

      I haven’t seen many trans people intentionally try to distance themselves from the intersex community- but trans people are definitely equally to blame for the divide. Many trans people have said and done things to alienate intersex people and make them want to drive a wedge between the communities.

      • Drm

        I’ve been looking at the way I’ve personally been relating to the trans* community and changed my attitude towards MOST of them. Not all, mind you. The reason I made my initial comment was/is that some trans*people try and use intersex as a way to gain greater acceptance. The problem I have with this is simply that it overshadows the real problem for IS individuals. Our problems don’t come from re-affirming gender in later life if that’s what we choose to do (as I am doing) but from the IS message being lost through the hijacking of IS status.

        By saying “I’m transitioning FTM or MTF because I’m intersex”, and concentrating on that, the message IS activists like myself are trying to get out is muddied. Our primary goal is to ensure that no child born with an IS variance is FORCED to undergo genital surgery or other gender-assigning medical procedures without their consent. Trans*people want and deserve the right to be accepted as their gender without using IS as a reason for transitioning, but by many claiming IS status, and the greater visibility of trans*people, means that the IS message is being lost.

        That is why, while I am undergoing therapy which is contrary to the gender the medical professionals gave me, I do not self-identify as trans* but solely as intersex.

  14. Christ

    I’m intersex and mosaic. I was not altered at birth ,everything is natural and unchanged.Lived as a girl 33 years found out I was intersex when got sick on estrogen after hysterectomy. My body and brain can’t function without testosterone. So I have to take T and transition to male. I was brought up to be me and not traumatized by gender role. I’m ok as girl or boy. But I am more biological male dominant. I go to trAns support group and treated as intersex not trAns. In these groups trAns have to learn a lot of things to present as male and behavior that I do naturally . I actually had to learn how to walk,talk,act as a female my whole life to fit my female gender. I don’t have to learn how to be male that’s natural. I actually learned to suppress a lot of male traits. My body is mixed with both genders and I don’t feel fully male or female but both with one gender a little more dominant. It sucks that I have to transition male at age 42 because I need testosterone to be healthy. I can’t take T and stay the way I am as a intersex female. Why do I have to choose. Why can’t I be as I was born…both genders. And intersex people have no marriage legal rights. Not for hetero or gay because they are not true male or female.

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