Monday, September 10, 2012

Interconnected Identities

I have been thinking about some interesting things regarding identity. Principally, how interconnected our various identities are. Each of our identities don’t exist in a vacuum, completely independent from all the others; in fact, many of our identities are built upon each other, so that it is not necessarily intuitive to describe yourself in one way while simultaneously claiming another identity that contradicts the first.

Let me explain.

Tricia, intersex activist and blogger of Intersex Unicorn, had a great post describing her sexual orientation after a reader inquired how an intersex person determines their sexual orientation. Her sexual orientation is, “I like girls.” Tricia explained her multiword identity by reminding us that since she identifies her sex as intersex, the use of standard terms out there wouldn’t be authentic to her. For example, lesbian didn’t feel right since it more strictly refers to a woman-identified person that is attracted to other women; Tricia didn’t feel her intersex identity matched up with this definition. Because of this, she chose to express her sexual orientation as, “I like girls.”

I've read accounts from intersex individuals, or in books about intersex, that indicate that one’s perception of your identities may change after learning about your intersex. For instance, a casual conversation about being athletic a few moments before may take on new meaning after learning about one's intersex. A doctor that learned this information from a patient getting her yearly check-up would likely have read her as a woman who happens to like to play sports, or maybe a tomboy. After learning about her intersex, this girl's love of sports meant something different. Confirming her love of sports would simply reinforce her intersex identity to this doctor. She would not be both an intersex person and a person who was athletic, separately – she'd be an an individual who was athletic as a RESULT of being intersex. This individual's sex identity is linked to her love of sports.

Identity is extremely complex, and I don’t feel that an individual’s many identities have to match up in a way that’s seen as intuitive or “normal” according to a culture’s mainstream views and attitudes – one’s identities just need to be authentic to that individual. That being said, it is worth noting how consideration of one’s intersex shifts how that person’s other identities are constructed, described, and read by others. Many standard terms for identities are based upon the assumption of one’s biological sex as male or female, and for some of us, those assumptions simply can’t be made. How will we go about creating identities for ourselves that fit comfortably and feel authentic by accounting for our intersex? I don’t think that any such identities would need to be standardized since identity is so personal, although it’s interesting to consider that some terms could hypothetically catch on and be used in a (more-or-less) standardized way.

Although finding new ways to describe oneself can be a frustrating venture, in some ways, this could get downright fun. Let me know if you have created any identities accounting for intersex that you particularly like!


  1. Here's my question, how can Intersex be an Identity, when Intersex is just a Medical condition. Why dose it that LGBT people think that Intersex is a Sex and Gender issue when in Reality, Intersex is not a Sex & gender issue. It is a medical issue and vast majority of Intersex people don't have a sex and/or gender issue.

  2. Hi, there! What you are touching on is that intersex is about bodies. Since intersex is about biological sex, it is an issue related to sex. This also means that this is an issue related to gender. If your sex is assigned male at birth, then it's assumed that aspects of your gender will fall in line with your male sex. You'll feel like a male (gender identity), you'll dress like a male (gender presentation), and you'll act like a male (gender performance). Just from having a biological sex assigned, there's all these expectations about who you will be, or what you should enjoy, or what is socially acceptable for you to do. Beyond that, sex and gender are ALSO linked to sexual orientation. If your sex is male, and your gender identity is male, then you're expected to be attracted to females. Heterosexual orientation is the expected norm, so individuals also assume you'll be attracted to the "opposite" sex. So, biological sex, gender, and sexual orientation are intimately linked in many cultures, because it is thought that 1) there's only two sexes, and 2) sex, gender, and sexual orientation must line up in one of two ways (male sex & gender + likes females, or female sex & gender + likes males).

    Intersex, then, at its core is about bodies, and biological sex. And because biological sex is related to gender and sexual orientation, people freak out about intersex individuals because there's no rulebook for how to treat an intersex person. Will they feel like girls, boys, or something else? Will they want to dance ballet or play rugby? Will they wear skirts or a backwards baseball cap? Will they be attracted to girls, boys, or both? People don't have any standards for what an intersex person is supposed to do or be like, so we try to shove intersex people into one of our two favorite boxes - M and F.

    Intersex, though primarily about bodies, has been embraced by some intersex individuals as a gender identity, as well. Identity is very complex. Some individuals feel that they are just male or just female all their lives, and that's it. Others have a gender identity that is not expected by outside observers - for example, an individual that is read as female by a passer-by, but identifies as male. Some individuals have a gender identity that is more fluid, where sometimes they feel male, sometimes female, sometimes genderless, etc. Their gender identity may change once during the course of their lives, every few years, every year, every month, every day, or every few minutes. Some individuals do not choose to label themselves at all. All of these ways of identifying are valid and should be accepted at face value; only that individual can know who they are, and thus thier identity/ies!

    Intersex individuals may, then, choose to identify not as male or female, as the only two choices we're conditioned to think exist. Some intersex individuals choose to identify as intersx, and that's perfectly legitimate.

    I also strongly disagree that intersex is a medical condition. Intersex bodies are natural variations of biological sex. Our bodies healthy and normal and beautiful as they are. Many of the problems that intersex individuals face today, and have faced in the past, are that our bodies need to be "fixed" so that we can be "normal" boys and girls. Clinicians and parents make decisions to have use undergo "treatment" that can cause lasting negative effects to our physical, health, and psychoemotional well-being. I strongly argue that we need to move away from the medical model of intersex - that we have a disease condition that needs to be fixed, and accept that variations in biological sex have always existed in humans, and that our bodies are good and shouldn't be changed without our consent.