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Intersex refers to a variety of inborn conditions whereby an individual s sexual or reproductive anatomy varies from social expectations about ”normal male or female anatomy. Because the standards are arbitrary, ”intersex is not a discrete category – what counts as intersex depends upon who s counting. That said, about 1/2,000 babies is born with obvious enough differences to come to medical attention. This biological variation creates direct challenges to binary constructs of sex and gender and to the cultural institutional systems designed around assumptions that discrete sex categories naturally yield complementary gender roles and heterosexuality.
Individuals with intersex conditions entered the arena of gender and sexual identity politics with the formation of the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) in 1993. Building on strategies employed by gender and sexual minority rights movements of the late twentieth century, ISNA members have demanded an end to cosmetic genital surgery on infants, noting the absence of empirical evidence supporting the practice and ethical, medical, and human rights concerns (see the ISNA website, www.isna.org). Sex assignment at birth has critical legal and social implications including marital rights, certain constitutional protections, military service, athletic program participation, and leadership opportunities in religious organizations. People with intersex argue the existing medical treatment protocol must be changed to reduce the shame and secrecy around their condition and to allow people with ”ambiguous genitalia the right to make their own decisions about plastic surgeries.
- Fausto-Sterling, A. (1997) How to build a man. In: Rosario, V. A. (ed.), Science and Homosexualities. Routledge, New York.
- Fausto-Sterling, A. (1999) Sexing the Body: How Biologists Construct Sexuality. Basic Boooks, New York.
- Kessler, S. J. (1990) The medical construction of gender: case management of intersexed infants. Journal of Women in Culture and Society 16: 3-26.
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