Questions & Answers about Gender Issues and Intersexuality

Classification: FAQ

Below are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about gender issues as they relate to intersexuality. See other sections of the FAQ if you have questions about another aspect of ISNA or intersex conditions.

Questions about Gender and Intersexuality

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How do we know the correct gender of a child with an intersex condition?

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What is the correct pronoun for intersex people?



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Are there five sexes?



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Are people with intersex conditions "third gender"?



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Is intersex part of "transgender" community?



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Is intersex part of "queer" community?



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Can you help me "transition" from one gender to another?



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How do other cultures deal with intersex conditions?




Answers to Questions about Gender and Intersexuality

How do we know the correct gender of a child with an intersex condition?

We won't know the child's gender until she or he is old enough to communicate to us. It is recommended that the child be assigned a gender based on our best prediction, and allow her or him to determine for herself or himself once she or he is old enough to do so. Irreversible surgeries on infants should be avoided in order to give them the widest range of choices when they are older. This principle should apply not only to a child with an intersex condition, but to all children.


What is the correct pronoun for intersex people?

Pronouns should not be based on the shape of one's genitalia, but on what the person prefers to be called. For children too young to communicate what her/his preference is, go with the gender assignment parents and doctor agreed on based on their best prediction. Do not call intersex children "it," as it is dehumanizing.


Are there five sexes?

The notion of "five sexes" was popularized by Anne Fausto-Sterling's article The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough published in 1993. In this largely tongue-in-cheek piece, she wrote that three subcategories among "intersex" should be considered as three additional sexes aside from male and female.

Unfortunately, the "five sexes" theory does not help people with intersex conditions. In addition to exoticizing and sensationalizing intersex people, the distinction between three additional "sexes" - merm, ferm and herm - were artificial and did not mean anything to the well-being of an intersex person. Fausto-Sterling herself declared that she was "no longer advocating using discrete categories such as herm, merm or ferm, even tongue in cheek" in Sexing the Body (2000).

For more analysis about the problematic ways in which "five sexes" theory is used in academia (especially Women's Studies, Queer Studies and Gender Studies), download the booklet Teaching Intersex Issues: A Guide for Teachers in Women's, Gender & Queer Studies.

Are people with intersex conditions "third gender"?

Many people with intersex conditions identify solidly as a man or as a woman, like many non-intersex people. There are some who identify as a member of an alternative gender, like some non-intersex people. While we support everyone's right to define her or his own identities, we do not believe that people with intersex conditions should be expected to be gender-transgressive just because of their condition.


Is intersex part of "transgender" community?

While some people with intersex conditions also identify as transgender, they as a group have a unique set of needs and priorities besides those shared with trans people. Too often, their unique needs are made invisible or secondary when "intersex" becomes just another subcategory of "transgender." It is for this reason that we prefer to have "intersex" spelled out explicitly rather than have it "included" in "transgender." Please see the FAQ section on how to become allies to intersex people.


Is intersex part of "queer" community?

It is difficult to answer this question because it is not clear what it means. One thing that is clear is that the term "queer" needs to be redefined beyond sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual preferences if it were to be inclusive of intersex. Please see the FAQ section on how to become allies to intersex people.


Can you help me "transition" from one gender to another?

No. We understand that there are some people with an intersex condition who wish to transition genders, but there are already many other organizations that assist people who are transitioning from one gender to another regardless of their intersex status. We choose not to replicate other existing programs in order to focus our resources on issues that they do not address. See our list of resources for people dealing with gender identity issues.

How do other cultures deal with intersex conditions?

How non-Western cultures deal with the existence of intersex people varies widely. Rather than going into details, which runs the risk of exoticizing these non-Western cultures, we note that the existence of cultural variations suggests that the medical paradigm based on surgery and concealment is not the only possible cultural response to the birth of an infant with an intersex condition.