A lot of unintended harm happens when people assume a Y chromosome makes a person a boy or a man and the lack of a Y chromosome makes a person a girl or a woman. For example, one physician educator on our Medical Advisory Board had the challenging experience of trying to calm a 23-year-old patient who had just been told by a resident that she was “really a man” because the resident had diagnosed the patient as having a Y chromosome and complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS).
It is true that in typical male development, the SRY gene on the tip of the Y chromosome helps to send the embryo down the masculine pathway. But more than the SRY is needed for sex determination and differentiation; for example, women with CAIS have the SRY gene but lack androgen receptors. In terms of hormone effects on their bodies (including their brains), women with CAIS have had much less “masculinization” than the average 46,XX woman because their cells do not respond to androgens.
The word "hermaphrodite" is a stigmatizing and misleading word.
There is growing momentum to eliminate the word "hermaphrodite"
from medical literature and to use the word "intersex" in its
place. While some intersex people do reclaim the word "hermaphrodite"
Many people contact us about how they might help ISNA. We hope the following suggestions help you find a meaningful way to support our mission:
Donate to ISNA and help us support our important work.
Become an ally: An ally is a partner, friend, family member, or associate who is not herself or himself intersexed, but is commited to fighting social and medical structures that hurt and erase intersex people. You do not have to be an intersex person to help create a world free of shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries on intersex children.
Below are answers to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) about intersexuality and the law. See other sections of the FAQ if you have questions about other aspects of ISNA or intersex conditions. Please understand that we are not lawyers and be advised that you should consult with your attorney if you have legal questions about a specific case.
Many people who know of ISNA’s work mistakenly think we are “anti-surgery.” Not at all!
Like all sane people, we believe it is appropriate to have competent surgeons perform operations necessary to resolve a life-threatening metabolic crisis. For example, if a child is born without a urinary opening, the child needs surgery to create a urinary opening. If a child has active gonadal cancer, the cancer should be treated immediately.
What about other kinds of surgeries in cases of intersex? We believe that competent patients should be allowed to get the surgeries they want after they have been fully informed of the risks and benefits (and the evidence, or lack thereof, for both). They should be given access to expert, humane surgeons, as well as peer support before and after their procedures.
People who identify as transgender or transsexual are usually people who are born with typical male or female anatomies but feel as though they’ve been born into the “wrong body.” For example, a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual may have typical female anatomy but feel like a male and seek to become male by taking hormones or electing to have sex reassignment surgeries.
People who have intersex conditions have anatomy that is not considered typically male or female. Most people with intersex conditions come to medical attention because doctors or parents notice something unusual about their bodies. In contrast, people who are transgendered have an internal experience of gender identity that is different from most people.