- What is intersex?
- How common is intersex?
- Intersex conditions
- What does ISNA recommend for children with intersex?
- Does ISNA think children with intersex should be raised without a gender, or in a third gender?
- What's wrong with the way intersex has traditionally been treated?
- What do doctors do now when they encounter a patient with intersex?
- Questions about Intersex Society of North America
- How come many people have never heard of intersex?
- Is a person who is intersex a hermaphrodite?
- Does having a Y chromosome make someone a man?
- Is intersex the same as "ambiguous genitalia"?
- Show me how intersex anatomy develops
- What is the current policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics on surgery?
- What's the difference between being transgender or transsexual and having an intersex condition?
- Why Doesn't ISNA Want to Eradicate Gender?
- How can you assign a gender (boy or girl) without surgery?
- What evidence is there that you can grow up psychologically healthy with intersex genitals (without "normalizing" surgeries)?
- Does ISNA advocate doing nothing when a child is born with intersex?
- What's ISNA's position on surgery?
- Are there medical risks associated with intersex conditions?
- How can I get my old medical records?
- What do intersex and the same-sex marriage debate have to do with each other?
- Who was David Reimer (also, sadly, known as "John/Joan")?
- What's the history behind the intersex rights movement?
Is a person who is intersex a hermaphrodite?
No. The mythological term “hermaphrodite” implies that a person is both fully male and fully female. This is a physiologic impossibility.
The words “hermaphrodite” and “pseudo-hermaphrodite” are stigmatizing and misleading words. Unfortunately, some medical personnel still use them to refer to people with certain intersex conditions, because they still subscribe to an outdated nomenclature that uses gonadal anatomy as the basis of sex classification. In a paper titled Changing the Nomenclature/Taxonomy for Intersex: A Scientific and Clinical Rationale, five ISNA-associated experts recommend that all terms based on the root “hermaphrodite” be abandoned because they are scientifically specious and clinically problematic. The terms fail to reflect modern scientific understandings of intersex conditions, confuse clinicians, harm patients, and panic parents. We think it is much better for everyone involved when specific condition names are used in medical research and practice.
To read more about the Victorian origins of the medical terminology of “true” and “pseudo” hermaphroditism, check out chapter 5 of Alice Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex which is available at our bookshelf, or go to our FAQ called What’s the history behind the intersex rights movement?.
One more thing: While some intersex people seek to reclaim the word “hermaphrodite” with pride to reference themselves (much like the words “dyke” and “queer” have been reclaimed by LBGT people), we’ve learned over the years it is best generally avoided, since the political subtlety is lost on a lot of people.