Collage by Angela Mascolo
Angela Mascolo explores how people with differing sex characteristics can be embraced
In the last few years, the position of intersex people in the LGBT community has received more attention.
You may have seen the introduction of the acronym LGBTQIA, with the last two letters referring to ‘Intersex’ and ‘Asexual’ (someone who is not romantically and/or sexually attracted to anyone). Despite this inclusive term, there has been significant opposition to including intersex people in the LGBT community.
Some have argued that the acronym LGBTQIA suggests that intersex people are inherently LGBTQ+. Of course, intersex people may identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer but they may not. As the Amnesty International website explains, “being intersex is about biological features and not gender identity per se”.
Gender identity is someone’s internal sense of being male, female or neither – it’s to do with how people perceive themselves. Shoehorning intersex people into the LGBT community may therefore hinder a full appreciation of the specific challenges they face due to their biology.
Solidarity from the LGBT community is essential in a climate where intersex people around the world are still fighting for the right to not have their bodies ‘rectified’
This argument stems from the false premise that intersex is a subcategory of ‘transgender’, an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. It is true that intersex people can identify as transgender, but not all do.
However, some believe solidarity from the LGBT community is essential in a climate where intersex people around the world are still fighting for the right to not have their bodies ‘rectified’.
Intersex people have been pathologised in a similar way to how LGBT people have been treated historically. Like intersex people, LGBT people face detrimental medical treatments such as conversion therapy or forced sterilisation to ‘cure’ them of their supposed mental illness.
Humans, amongst many other mammals as well as vertebrates, display biological features outside of the male/female sex binary
In light of the recent controversy where author J.K. Rowling supported transphobic comments made by Maya Forstater on her Twitter page, evolutionary biologist Claudia Astorino – who is intersex – has disputed the idea that sex is binary (i.e. that the only two sexes are male and female).
She points out that humans, amongst many other mammals as well as vertebrates, display biological features outside of the male/female sex binary. For example, Astorino does not produce eggs or sperm. This supports the premise that intersex is just another biological way of being.
Considering the challenges intersex people face in a society largely structured around sex and gender binaries, I agree with Astorino’s view that intersex people can benefit from being included in the LGBT movement’s fight for equality and acceptance. Ultimately, we need to respect how an intersex person chooses to identify, and whether or not they consider themselves to be part of the wider LGBT community.
Angela Mascolo has been working with Exposure for six years. She recently graduated from Royal Holloway with a first-class degree, where she studied History.