Identity + Intersectionality / Intersex

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“hi, how do you handle being intersex when you go to the doctor? my primary care doctor knows that I’m intersex, but I never know if I should talk about it if I have to go to the school nurse, the ER, or see a specialist. do I have to tell them? does it matter if I don’t? thx”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Claudia Astorino Says:

Awww, booooo, Anonymous—having to go to the doctor’s is never fun, but having additional needs on top of your medical needs isn’t always intuitive to navigate. When I’ve chosen to disclose aspects of my body that aren’t normative for women—or even to say that I’m intersex—I’ve had results that range from really positive to really awful (like, eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s awful #chubbyhubbyforevs). Based on these various experiences, I’ve created a few rules for myself that tend to end up making my visits a bit more pleasant.

1) I only disclose information about my body that is (I think is likely to be) medically necessary. So like, if I have a sore throat and go to the doctor’s, it’s probbbbbbably highly unlikely that my XY chromosomes are the reason I’m hacking up a lung. If the reason I’m getting medical care CLEARLY has nothing to do with my being intersex, I don’t mention it.

Now, I’ve put “I think is likely to be” in this rule as a reminder that if I think that my being intersex might be relevant to my medical care, then it may be worth bringing up to my doctor.  For instance, if my doctor may say something to the effect of, “Well, [health concern] is highly uncommon in women,” I may say, “Well, that may still be worth exploring since I’m not a biologically typical female. I’m an intersex person, and my form of intersex is complete androgen insensitivity. Is [health concern] likely to impact me?”

2) If doctors ask questions about my body that are medically relevant, I answer them (although I don’t have to give them all the details). I had an appendicitis scare, and the doctors performed an MRI of my lower abdomen to see if my appendix was inflamed. After doing this, one of the ER nurses said that she’d observed that I didn’t have a uterus, and asked me why.  I said, “I was born without a uterus.” In similar instances, I might follow up with, “I didn’t have a hysterectomy or other procedure you might want to be aware of.” These medical professionals are likely making sure that they’re ruling out any possible reasons why I may be having a set of symptoms, and answering these questions helps them to do that. However, I’m not obligated to provide further details. Read on, intrepid Anonymous!

3) If doctors ask questions about my body that are NOT medically relevant, I’m not obligated to answer. So. The thing is, doctors are people. And we people are living at a time in history where intersex people aren’t highly visible or well-understood. Many people don’t know what it means to be an intersex person, and sometimes these people wear white coats and stethoscopes and hold medical degrees. Sometimes, it is clear that medical professionals are asking questions about your body that aren’t medically relevant, and you might feel really uncomfortable with this. Well, Anonymous, I’m here to say it loud and clear: YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS, AT ALL, EVER

Let’s go back to that appendicitis scare I had. After I stated that I was born without a uterus the attending nurse asked me, “Um, why is that?” Hopefully, this nurse was trying to ask me if there was other medically relevant information she should know about. In response to situations like this, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “That isn’t medically relevant in this case,” and state that I haven’t had a hysterectomy or other procedure they might want to know about, as suggested above. Another way to respond to questions like this is by asking another question: “Is that medically relevant?” or “Can you tell me how that’s medically relevant?” and wait for a response.

What doctors need to know is information that is medically relevant. That I’m intersex and my form of intersex is complete androgen insensitivity and I have XY chromosomes and I was born with testes and blah blah blurgh blah is usually not medically relevant information. Under those circumstances, I don’t need to report this info. If I feel comfortable providing this information, I can choose to do so, but I’m not required to.

Occasionally, you may have an encounter that makes it clear that doctors are asking questions about your body out of curiosity, and that’s not appropriate or okay. You are visiting them to stop hacking up your lungs or prevent appendageddon—not to teach them about intersex people.

Let me tell you a story.  Several years ago, after I moved to NYC, I went to try and find a doctor to serve as my primary care physician. During my first appointment with a physician we shall refer to only as Dr. Doodoopoobutt, I was asked why I took a daily estrogen pill. Since Dr. DDPB was going to be my GP, I came out to them as intersex, and told them my form of intersex. Dr. DDPB responded by asking a series of inappropriate questions, including, “So, um, do you have a penis? Oh. *pause* So you have a vagina, then? Uh, what do you and don’t you have?” Later, when I was lying on the exam table, I was terrified that Dr. DDPB was going to try to insist I should pull down my pants so they could inspect my genitals.

Today, if this situation had happened, I would have the confidence to say, “Those questions aren’t medically relevant. Can we move on?” or perhaps to say, “Those questions are medically irrelevant and they’re insensitive. I’m going to leave now,” and walk out the door and buy a hot chocolate and sit on a bench in Central Park and watch the squirrels stealing soft pretzels right out of the garbage cans, because eff that noise you know? But at the time, I didn’t know these options were open to me. Dear Anonymous, know that if any medical professional acts in a manner that’s inappropriate or disrespectful, you don’t have to sit in that plastic patient’s chair and try to deal. You are fully within your right to let them know it’s not okay, to leave, to go get that hot chocolate.

4) If doctors ask questions about my body that are NOT medically relevant, I reserve the right to lie about it.

Yep, you read that correctly, Anonymous. Real talk:  I may choose not to be truthful in answering questions about my body related to my intersex if I know it’s not medically relevant—and especially if I don’t feel comfortable with a particular healthcare provider. I have mixed feelings about this—I want to be clear about the fact that, in general, I don’t advocate lying to health care providers, and that coming out to medical professionals can be a positive experience. That being said, you are not required to come out. It can be painful when clinicians are less-than-sensitive about my body after coming out to them as intersex. I’ve dealt with a lot of damaging words and procedures from various doctors at multiple medical facilities during my childhood and adolescence—I value myself and my emotional health too much to put myself in a similar position again as an adult.

In what situations might one lie? There are often standard questions you’re asked to fill out on medical forms or asked by clinicians that you can’t answer truthfully without coming out and having a conversation about it afterward. For example, I’ve never gotten my period, but I’ve never had a medical appointment where I didn’t have to report when my last period was.  Although I tell doctors now, “I don’t get my period,” or “I have amenorrhea,” and go from there, I used to simply lie about it when I was younger because I didn’t know that, “I don’t get my period,” was actually an acceptable answer. My go-to was, “The first of the month,” and then sit there white-knuckling it because I was nervous they knew somehow I wasn’t fessing up.

Finally, I am fortunate that I have never felt truly unsafe when visiting medical facilities as an LGBTQIA individual. However, this is not always the case for LGBTQIA patients. If I felt that my safety was at issue by disclosing my intersex, I would not hesitate to lie to protect myself, and leave the facility if I was able to. Remember, you can always find a new doctor. Keeping yourself safe—even if you have to lie—is okay. #safetyfirst #always

Well, Anonymous, I hope that this helps you out! Before appointments, I’d recommend spending a few minutes thinking about what information you’re comfortable disclosing and how much—it will make you feel more comfortable during the appointment and feel empowered that you’re taking control of the conversation about your body (which is not what most of us have experienced being medicalized as kids).

Fingers and toes crossed that your next appointment goes great! <3


Claudia Astorino is an intersex activist living in NYC.  Claudia serves as Associate Director of Organization Intersex International’s USA chapter (OII-USA), coordinates the Annual Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) events in NYC, and writes for Full-Frontal Activism: Intersex and Awesome (her personal blog) and Autostraddle. Help support our contributors here on Patreon!


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“Hey there – so I’ve heard that there’s a thing called Intersex Awareness Day that’s happening. I’ve heard about intersex people so I know what that means, but I didn’t know that Intersex Awareness Day was a thing. What is it and how can I help celebrate it? thx!”

-Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hey, there, Anonymous! This is a great, timely question, since Intersex Awareness Day (lovingly acronym-ed IAD) is upon us, today on Oct 26th! It’s worth noting that IAD is actually just one of TWO days that 1) celebrate intersex people and 2) raise awareness about intersex human rights issues. Let’s talk about them!

IAD is celebrated on Oct 26th because this marks the day of the first public protest of the medically unnecessary, cosmetic procedures that are still today routinely performed on intersex kids without their consent. The protest took place in Boston, MA, outside a conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it was led by the now-defunct organization Intersex Society of North America and their supporters from the group Transexual Menace. The protesters wore shirts and carrying signs proudly emblazoned “Hermaphrodites With Attitude.”  Just look at this image below—I mean, #swoon! The power of this image makes me feel huge things in my chest and tears springing into my eyes. This protest is one of several events that clearly marks the beginnings of intersex activism in the United States nearly two decades ago in 1996. This start date is also significant in that it shows how much younger a movement the fight for intersex human rights is than other LGBTQIA and civil rights movements. We might still be the new activists on the block, but we’ve got the attitude to keep on keepin’ on raising awareness!

While North America primarily celebrates IAD, many countries instead or additionally observe International Intersex Solidarity Day (also called International Intersex Day of Remembrance) on Nov 8th, the birthday of Herculine Barbin, a French person with intersex traits. Barbin’s posthumously-published diary is the earliest known record of intersex lived experience written by an intersex person.

So how can you celebrate Intersex Awareness Day & Intersex Solidarity Day? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED—there are so many ways! If you want to see if there are any intersex events being held near you, you can use the “Intersex Day” online hub, created by Morgan Carpenter. You can also participate online with the Intersex Awareness Day Twitterstorm, in which intersex folks will be raising awareness with the hashtag #IntersexStories. Give this campaign, created by Pidgeon Pagonis, an even bigger signal boost by donating to the “Intersex Stories NOT Surgeries” Thunderclap event—if it makes its goal, Thunderclap will help our #IntersexStories reach others further and faster. This campaign has only a few days left, so hop to it if you’re so inclined!

Aside from attending an event and participating in the Twitterstorm, the best thing you can do is simply to TALK ABOUT INTERSEX and SHARE CONTENT BY INTERSEX PEOPLE with others. Have you read or watched a great piece about intersex lately? Then tell a friend, start a convo, and/or post about it on social media! There are so many great resources and activists out there. Check ‘em out and share with others!

Well, Awarenessmous, I hope you feel prepped and PUMPED for all of the fab IAD and ISD events coming up!  See you on the 26th / 8th!  #everyoneisintersex


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“Hi, I’m intersex, but I’ve never met another intersex person before. Where is everyone?! I want to meet another intersex person so much. Where do I find them?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hi, Anonymous!  This is a great question – I don’t think I’ve ever met another intersex person that didn’t share these sentiments.  I remember dreaming about what it would be like to meet another intersex person as a kid, wondering where they all were, wondering when it would happen. When I finally did meet an out intersex person for the first time, I felt like my heart and my life exploded in the best of all possible ways.    I had been told for years and years by doctors, my family, society at large that I had to keep my body and myself a secret, that other people wouldn’t understand, that I had to try my best to be “normal” at all costs.  To finally meet someone that not only understood but VALIDATED my intersex self? Was nothing less than life-changing. I count that as one of many turning-points in my life.  Meeting other intersex people is important and great, and I hope that you can connect with some fantastic intersex folks soon!

That being said, WE ARE NOT AN EASY BUNCH TO FIND out in the world nowadays.  That shame and secrecy I referenced just a moment ago is still the party line that a lot of intersex kids are given – and what a lot of intersex teens and adults stick to because 1) there aren’t a ton of models out there showing closeted intersex people that you can come out and live a fulfilling life and it will be okay, and 2) the medicalization most of us undergo and the intersexphobia we feel in society is a deterrent to coming out when most of us are still closeted. Intersex people looking to connect have historically had a difficult time doing so.  Furthermore, doctors have not been helpful for putting intersex kids and families in contact with one another, at least in part because of patient confidentiality agreements.

But one giant thing has changed since the dark ages of the 1980’s when I was born, that’s helping intersex people find one another today:  THE POWER OF THE INTERNET.  There has been, like, approx. eleventy billion articles and thinkpieces on how the internet has changed social landscapes, in ways that are argued to be either awesomesauce or awfulsauce #makinwordsup #fakewordfriday #justgowithit  #awfulsauceyum??  In this particular case, the internet has been enormously helpful in enabling intersex people to connect with one another – both online and in real life.  In short:  THE INTERNET IS RIDICULOUSLY HELPFUL, DO YOU KNOW, WHY DON’T YOU LOG ON NOW #dialupnoises #ughlikeyouknowwhatthosearenow #speakingofthe80s #halpimdecrepit

There are multiple ways you can search for awesome, out intersex people to connect with.  You can search the #intersex hashtag on social media, like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook or Google search terms like “intersex organization” or “intersex activist.”  (You may not care if the wonderful intersex people you wanna connect with are activists/affiliates of an intersex organization or not, but these are nevertheless starting points to meet other intersex people!)  Follow some intersex folks and orgs that advocate for intersex human rights and/or provide support for intersex folks.  If you find some people or groups you think you like, check em out online and learn more.  Check out some stuff they’ve written.  Subscribe to a newsletter.  See if they host a chatroom, forum, or closed Facebook group you can join, where intersex people can talk with one another.  (These exist out there, with some that are specific for people with a particular intersex variation.)  See if the intersex folks or orgs you like give talks or workshops, or take part in or host (bi-)annual meetings you’d like to attend, AND THEN GO!  Going to a real-life event is a great way to meet intersex people in person!  You have the opportunity to not only meet awesome intersex folks who live far away but you can keep up with through the wonders of text message, Gchat, and Skype, but you may also find intersex people you like that live near you! And now you’re straight-up hanging out with intersex people, ALL BECAUSE YOU SEARCHED A HASHTAG ON THE INTERNETS, man are you good!

A further note:  if you don’t have a lot of $$$, that’s not necessarily a problem – you can still totally go to an event!  Many talks and workshops are free or donation-based for participants, and big annual meetings – which do cost money, and are hosted in different places that require travel – sometimes offer scholarships to help those in need attend. See what’s in your area or close-by, and what seems worth saving up for, traveling to, and applying for scholarships to attend.

FIRE UP YR SEARCH ENGINES, Anonymous, and go find some friends!  <3


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“How can I get more involved in intersex activism? And what’s the best way to go about educating others in intersex issues and activism?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hi there, ALLYNONYMOUS! (You’re being an excellent ally right now, so BOOM, your name!)  I thought you’d never ask.  It’s always fantastic to see folks that are interested in spreading the word that us fantastic intersex humans 1) exist and 2) deserve the right to keep all of our body parts at birth as they are. Intersex people exist globally and across races, classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc., so some groups of intersex people have specific needs that require individualized advocacy plans. Like pretty much any group of people, understanding intersex people and what it means to be intersex – and how to advocate for intersex people – isn’t a one-size-fits-all dealio.


The first, best thing you can do to become more involved in intersex activism is:  homework.  Now, before ya go all WOMP, WOMP on me if you’re not the homeworking-type (relevant: I’m in grad school, so ‘scuse me if I’m a little over-enthusiastic on the YES, LET’S READ *ALL THE THINGS!* front), this isn’t homework-for-a-grade, but homework-to-be-a-better-human.  This kind of homework might require as much focus as [hard thing], but it is so, so worth it.  Just think: you’ll know more about a group of people that aren’t so well understood and are discriminated against, and you’ll be equipped to help spread the news and lend a hand.  Like, how rad, right?!

Some great places to start in learning 101-level intersex basics are as follows:
Brief Allies Guide (Organization Intersex International, OII – USA chapter)

Your Beautiful Child: A Guide for Parents (same source – OII, USA chapter)

Everyone Is Gay Q’s on intersex (Claudia’s Second Opinions page)

“Claudia Is Intersex, Let’s Talk About It” (

Fixing Sex (2007), Katrina Karkazis

Once you know about what intersex is and are pretty well-versed in intersex issues, the next best thing you can do is TALK ABOUT US.  Tell someone, “Hey I was just reading this cool article about intersex people, do you know what that means?”  On social media sites, reblog, tweet, post, or retweetpost an article on intersex issues. (While there’s been many a criticism about “hashtag activism,” social media has increasingly become a means for folks to raise awareness and get educated about important issues.  My main feeling is that it can’t hurt to fire up the ol’ Facetwitblrgrams for social change!)  Loan out your copy of Fixing Sexyou picked up at the local library to a friend.  SHARE, ENGAGE.  There are still a shocking number of folks out there who have never heard the word “intersex” before, and don’t know who we are or why intersex issues are human rights that they should care about.  Help get the word out, ALLYNONYMOUS!  Lots of stuff can get done – or at least get started – when people are informed and can put pressure on folks in charge to create social change.

Another thing you can do is attend an event on intersex issues!  You’ll get to learn about intersex people from other intersex people, and meet other interested allies like yourself.  Facetime can be a great thing – by attending one event, you might learn about others that are taking place.  Check out some event schedules at various LGBTQIA centers, student centers at colleges/universities, or organizations that are queer-friendly near you. If you don’t see any intersex events on the calendar already, you can always contact the group and ask if they’re planning to host any – or better yet, if you’re affiliated with one of these orgs yourself, help host one!

Finally, if you want to get involved more in intersex activism as a fantastic ally, contact an intersex org to see if they need any help.  A good place to start is contacting your region’s closest branch of Organization Intersex International (OII) – the largest group advocating for intersex human rights of people around the globe.

Well, ALLYNONYMOUS, I think that about covers it!  Thanks for wanting to support intersex human rights, youdabest!  <3


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“Are intersex people inherently part of the queer community?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hey there, Anonymous! This is a great question, and one that’s important to address.  Intersex issues are starting to gain mainstream traction, and us intersex people have had a slightly raised profile in the last couple of years. People are interested in learning how our movement for rights and equality fits in with other movements at this time in history; for many folks, I think “including the I” in the LGBT acronym (i.e., LGBTI – or even better and more inclusive – LGBTQIA!) makes intuitive sense, while others can just as easily see intersex issues as distinct from those of L, G, B, and/or T folks.

So whadda we do about this? Luckily, I have no shortage of opinions on this (read:  basically any) topic! Before we get started, since this question focuses on both intersex peeps and Fabulous Queer Stuff, I’ve got rainbows on my mind. If it’s all right with you, Anonymous, I’m gonna call ya RAINBOW BRITE! (I mean– I am an 80’s kid, after all.  Also PRIDE is coming up, and I’m anticipating all those lovely rainbows already! RELATED: If you’re gonna be around for the NYC Dyke March on June 27th, look for the lady with the loudest mouth in the whole march proudly holding up an “Intersex Dyke” sign. If you’re not shy, say hi!  *waves*)

So, RAINBOW BRITE– people have questioned whether intersex issues really “fit” into the LGBT acronym or not. The LGBT acronym represents those with sexual orientations and gender identities outside the normative party line. And intersex isn’t a sexual orientation or a gender identity– it’s a bodily way of being. (Things can get a bit tricky here– some intersex people might identify their gender identity as “intersex,” and we need to allow intersex people– like all people– the room to identify however is authentic. Strictly speaking, however, intersex is about biology.)

While on the face of it, this might seem like a clear reason to exclude intersex people, it’s important to note that this same “one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other” argument was made when considering whether the “T” should be added to the LGB acronym.  Some folks argued that since being trans* wasn’t a sexual orientation, including trans* people in LGB visibility and fight for equality wouldn’t be a good “fit.” People eventually recognized including the “T” made sense since trans* people were fighting for the same basic things as LGB people– to be accepted, respected, and protected for having identities that are perceived as outside the norm.

Similarly, although intersex is about bodies, intersex people are fighting to be accepted, respected, and protected for being perceived as outside the norm. Since issues of bodily diversity are also often tied up in misunderstandings about how sex, gender, and sexual orientation fit together– hence, why so many people still advocate for “fixing” intersex people to make us “normal,” YUCK, NOPE, GO FISH!– including intersex people in LGBT issues makes a lot of sense.

Many intersex people support adding the “I” and the LGBTQIA acronym, but some have been hesitant to support this inclusion because they don’t feel an affinity with the queer community. This stems (at least in part) from the perception that intersex people have to be L, G, B, or T in addition to being intersex for inclusion to make sense. But this doesn’t have to be the case! As lovely and fantastic as us intersex queers are (*buffs nails on shirt, blows on nails, winks*), being queer isn’t required for intersex inclusion to benefit us. Intersex folks, queer or not, can benefit from inclusion in the fight for equality and acceptance that the LGBT movement is working to achieve. Intersex folks that are really, REALLY against queer inclusion? Might want to sit down and consider whether they think it actually doesn’t make sense to add the “I,” or if they actually have some queerphobia to work through.

Well, RAINBOW BRITE, I hope that helps clear some things up! If you’re interested in reading more about why intersex inclusion is so important, check out this piece I wrote for Autostraddle, as well as a call to action for LGBT organizations to officially update their org’s name to LGBTI if they truly support intersex-inclusion! (Lip service <<< action, ya’ll)




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