Monday, September 10, 2012


Hi, there, lovelies! I have been (unsurprisingly) considering language and identity YET AGAIN.

It won't stop! ;)

I have heard the phrase "dyadic" a few times since talking to intersex activists and in reading about intersex in general. I didn't really understand what this word meant at first, but in context, I came to realize that it was shorthand for "non-intersex."

This puzzled me a bit.

I don't think it would be a bad idea to have an adjective meaning "non-intersex." Having a term like "intersex" without an opposite serves to identify an individual as intersex, but doesn't really help you understand what a not-intersex person is. The implication is that non-intersex people are just "normal," and because they're "normal," they don't need to have an extra word applied to them. The extra-word burden is on those people that are different. But having an opposite-word can be really important, because instead of having the "normal" state of being and the weirdo one with the funny name, having two words means that for this state of being, there's more than one way to be. There's no value judgment implicit in having multiple terms for a different states of being like there is in having a term only for the less-typical one.

This can be exemplified by looking at the words "transgender" and "cisgender." The concept of cisgender wasn't something that existed when people initially were using the term transgender. There were transgender people, and then there was everyone else. The implication was that these non-trans* people were normal, so no other label had to be applied to them. But later, trans* individuals began using the word cisgender to refer to non-trans* people. Having both of these terms sent out a message that asserted, "Hey! There's different ways you can be. Some people are cisgender, some people are transgeder. Ya got choices, yo!" It allows individuals to see that the more common identity isn't inherently more valid or's just perceived that way by the majority.

I'm not against having another term for non-intersex people, but I don't think that dyadic is the greatest choice. The term dyadic means "two" - a dyad, a pair. By calling a non-intersex person a dyadic male or female, you're basically saying that everyone who's not intersex fits nicely into that binary of male, female. But the fact that intersex people exist at all means that there is, and never was, dyadic sex as long as intersex people were around. By using the term dyadic to refer to non-intersex people, it totally glosses over the implications of intersex people existing: that binary sex is actually real.

If biological sex isn't binary, then using a term like "dyadic" to describe non-intersex makes about as much sense as saying we've got a binary color wheel that's composed of red and blue, when we know full well that there's purple and orange and magenta out there, being awesome. What phrase could we use instead? I'd love to hear some suggestions. But whatever they are, they shouldn't uphold this idea that somehow, despite our existence, the idea of dyadic biological sex is still legit.

Anyone got any ideas for terms that could be used?


  1. Please excuse my bad English. Heike Bödeker, intersex-activist since the 90'ies called and calls the "non-intersex" people "endosex". It's Greek: "inter" means "between", and "endo" means "entirely inside". Heike Boedeker can speak and write English much better than me, and she did a lot. But most sources I know are German, and in German even today more people say "intersexuell" (intersexual) than "intersex" without bad attitude. So have a look to the following sources:

    Greetings from Halle, GDR

  2. Maybe something etymologically related to polarity, rather than to pairing/binaries, would be appropriate? I think that the concept of polarity better expresses 'being all the way to one side' without implying that it is abnormal to be somewhere between one end and the other.

    Jim from Canada

  3. Hi, Jim! Welcome to the blog! :)

    I like thinking outside the binary, but don't know that a sort of polarized scale would be the best way to represent this. Because one end of the pole would be male, and the other end would be female, so intersex individuals would still be defined as being "more" or "less" male or female, when we just exist in our own right, and don't have to be defined in terms of male or female.

    I feel like if we need a term for "non-intersex" or we should just start totally using "non-intersex" in dialogue. Other suggestions are appreciated! :D

  4. When writing in my own blog (in Spanish) I like to talk about sex-diversity (to encompass all diversity regarding biological sex). [Also, in my blog I keep male and female for biological sex only, and man and woman for gender identities (sticking to the binary for a second here)]. So talking about biological sex alone, which is separate from gender identity, most people are sex-typical males and females (you know what that means). But some people have sex-divergent bodies, and I call them "diversex". The reason I don't use intersex in my own blog is that inter- means between, and this suggest a linear paradigm of biological sex where male is on one end, female on the other end, and all variations are in between. I guess this linear paradigm works for in cases but not in all (where do you fit people with XXX chromosomes or aphalia?). This doesn't mean that I don't respect people who want to use the term "intersex". In fact, when I give talks about this I use "intersex" along with my own terms.

    Anyways, sex-typical might be a valid choice for what you're looking for.

    Here is the link to a post I wrote on November 8th about the history of the different terms used to describe sex-divergence. I mention "hermaphrodite", "DSD", "VSD" and "intersex" and explain why I use my own terms. It's in Spanish, but I guess you could run it through Google Translator. Also, the gist of the article is already summarized in the first paragraph above.

    Thanks for blogging! I added you to my links :)

  5. Yeah, I agree that intersex is a problematic word...we're not "between" male and female - we exist in our own right.

    Sex-typical definitely gets closer to something I'm comfortable with. I guess I also feel like, I don't necessarily want to use terms that value certain ways of being over others. Typical totally doesn't have the same connotation as "normal" or something, but I think that people would still say, "Oh, you're sex-ATYPICAL..." and not think of the distinction between a/typical as more/less frequent but less/more weird.

    Thank you for adding me, and for your comment!