advice, claudia astorino, coming out, coming out to friends, everyone is gay, friends, friendships, gender, identity, intersectionality, intersex, kristin russo, lgbt, lgbt advice, second opinions
"I’m an intersex person and I’ve never told anyone. I want to tell my best friend, but I’m afraid they’ll think it’s weird and not want to be friends with me. Should I tell them?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Hey, there, Anonymous! Coming out is a tricky thing in general – you’re putting yourself out there, you’re hoping to be accepted, you might feel a little nervous (or maybe a lot nauseous) because stress. It’s not easy, and I support you in doing this thing that’s both uncomfortable and really important for you – GO, GO, GORGONZOLA! (Your name – it’s getting close to lunchtime, what.)
There are often extra layers of trickiness for intersex folks since, largely, people still aren’t sure what intersex means – and by extension, how to respond supportively and appropriately when their intersex friends & loved ones come out. People mostly know what it means to be gay at this point, so if you come out as gay, your friends will at least GET that, even if they’re not super-supportive. But people are more confused if you come out as bi, generally queer or not-straight, asexual, trans*, or otherwise gender non-binary.
So coming out will likely not simply entail a casual, “Oh hey btdubs, I’m intersex, ok cool good talk,” whereafter you and PEPPERJACK (your best friend) move onto other important things in life, like watching Mean Girls and painting your nails. Which – let’s be honest – what is more important than that?? (A: absolutely nothing #fourforyou)
For anyone coming out as intersex for the first time, I’d suggest they think about a few things before choosing to do so:
1) How much do you want to tell THIS PERSON? I am willing to bet that PEPPERJACK is awesome for a zillion reasons, and because you’re super close, you want to share this part of yourself that’s important to your history, identity, etc. It’s only natural to want to share more, and more personal, info with your BEST friends (#duhhh). It’s important to evaluate, though, whether your desire to come out to this particular friend is compatible with your desired end result after coming out. Like, do you only want PEPPERJACK to know you’re intersex at this point? If PEPPERJACK is kind of a blabbermouth and accidentally outed you to a bunch of people, how upset would you be on a scale of 1 (literally don’t care, let me help you find your megaphone) to 10 (volcanoes exploding behind your eyes)? Or, when PEPPERJACK has falling-outs with friends, does PJ ever make public their frenemies’ personal info told in private out of spite?
It sucks to have to consider these things, but the people we love aren’t perfect. #fact. If you want to bring PEPPERJACK into your confidences but are pretty sure deep, deep down that PJ can’t respect your boundaries, re-evaluate whether PEPPERJACK is the best person to come out to.
2) So you’ve decided to tell THIS PERSON, yaaay! How do you exactly tell THIS PERSON? – You are fairly confident that MANCHEGO, your bestie formly known as PEPPERJACK (my heart is a fickle mistress, ya’ll, and I need some variety #cheeeeeeeese #isitlunchyet), is someone who’s safe to come out to, and you’re gonna do it. I like to start with something like, “Hey, MANCHEGO. You’re the best chee- I mean, friend, ever.” Make this more or less mushy according to taste. Continue, “I’ve been wanting to tell you something. Have you ever heard the word ‘intersex’ before?”
This approach has been the most comfortable for me because inevitably, if you just say, “Guess what? I’m intersex,” the follow-up from your own MANCHEGO will be something like, “Oh, okay. What’s intersex?” Asking them if they’ve heard of intersex opens up a conversation and gives them permission to feel like it’s okay to not know everything about what intersex is beforehand. Also, it gives you the opportunity to gauge what they’ve heard about intersex folks and correct some inaccuracies they might’ve gotten through the (very misinformed) grapevine. #omggrapes #FOCUS
And sometimes you’ll be surprised! I’ve steeled myself to have the long conversation about intersex only to find that, “Oh, they actually do know about this!” In one memorable experience, my now-girlfriend replied, “Oh, yeah. I actually read your blog a while ago. *please-don’t-think-that’s-creepy grin*” EASIEST CONVERSATION EVER. #epicwin
But that usually doesn’t happen. Figure out before having this convo what you’re interested in talking about and what you’re not. You have likely been medicalized – like nearly all intersex people – and might not want to share everything (or anything) about your medical history, especially experiences that were upsetting or traumatic. You might not want to talk about what body parts you do and don’t have. THESE THINGS ARE TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE! You don’t need to disclose anything you don’t want to, and aren’t required to be your friend’s very own personal Intersex Google. #intergoogle #googlesex #ohdear #maybeletsnot
Because the stereotype is that intersex people have “both” a penis and a vagina (not biologically possible in the way you’re thinking, friends), I’ve been asked countless times to basically describe my genitals in detail. I often say, “I’m not going to talk about what my own body looks like because I’m not comfortable with that, but I’m happy to talk about intersex in general.” It is often helpful to say at the start of the convo, “If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if I’m comfortable with them, I’ll answer them. If I’m not, I won’t.” Or even something more direct like, “Just so you know, I don’t want to talk about my medical history.” That helps a lot in making it clear that your friend’s wanting to ask questions is okay, but that your boundaries are important and need to be respected, too.
Other questions I’ve had to think about responding to in advance focus on how intersex is perceived by society. Folks well-meaningly ask what intersex “condition” I have, or want to confirm, “Intersex is a medical condition, right?” Because I am the dorkiest dorkasaurus that ever saurused (#RAWR), I’ve practiced how to talk about intersex alone in my room, explaining that intersex encompasses a variety of biological ways of being where our bodies aren’t easily categorized as male or female, but we’re not sick or unhealthy with the bodies we have, so intersex actually isn’t a medical condition or a disorder. (For more info on intersex basics, check out my first Everyone Is Gay Second Opinion response, as well as a Brief Allies Guide to intersex by Organization Intersex International USA (OII-USA) and “Claudia Is Intersex: Let’s Talk About It” on the queer lady blog Autostraddle.com.)
Finally, you may feel a little (or REALLY) nervous talking about this for the first time. Go at your own pace, take it slow. Don’t be hard on yourself if you stumble or things don’t come out super-eloquently. Coming out is often at least a little awkward, but remember: you are just a human that’s telling another human about one aspect of your humanness. Coming out as intersex is not a shameful thing to be or talk about. Let your pride fly. <33
I have had fantastic experiences coming out to my friends, and I hope you do, too. In case your own coming out doesn’t go so well, though, have a game plan for how you can make yourself the most comfortable in uncomfortable scenarios A, B, and C. And be ready to give yourself some self-care. You can’t control what other people think and do, but you can control what you do in response and just decide to live your own damn life anyway. #pride Remember that someone else’s ignorance does nothing to diminish your own awesomeness. Cuz you’re awesome.
Congrats on your decision to come out, GORGONZOLA! I hope PEPPERJACK/MANCHEGO is supportive and fantastic and awesome because you deserve it. <33
(AND GUESS WHAT, IT’S LUNCHTIME! #yaaay #allthecheese #NOM)
Click through to read more about Claudia and our other Second Opinions panelists!
Everyone Is Gay has started a new project to help parents who have LGBTQ kids: Check out The Parents Project!
2 thoughts on “Should I Tell My Friend I’m Intersex?”
Hey, um I have the same problem, but mine’s a little different. I was catergorized as a girl but never had regular periods or anything. I thought I was bi, which I still am, but I want to be a guy. Turns out….I am intersex. But everyone knows I want to be a guy and this can explain a few things. Now I have to come out to my family, they don’t even know, and I want to come out to my friends and boyfriend, he already knows I want to be a guy. But I am so conflicted, I don’t want them to think I am doing it for attention, but it’s important.