Category Archives: Intersex

Gender Glossary: Understanding ‘Intersex’ Beyond the Binary

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By Harish Iyer

[8] November is designated as the day where we show solidarity and ensure that we educate ourselves about the intersex community. 8 November is the birthday of Herculin Barbin a french intersex person, who was brought up as a girl, but in adulthood discovered that she has a vagina but also a small penis. She thought she was being punished and ended up committing suicide after writing a memoir, which is, a living document of what it meant to be intersex in the mid 1800s.

As a person from the LGBTIQ community, it is important that we address the I in LGBTIQ. To address that, we need to understand what intersex really means. This is because much of our discrimination is borne out of misinformation or lack of knowledge. In a world where we view everything in binaries, to let people know that there are sexes beyond male and female would need an open mind. But do we understand the binaries well either?

Did You Know: Bisexuals are capable of having romantic feelings with people regardless of gender.

Before we even get to intersex, it is important to understand the difference between sex, gender and sexuality. Let me try simplifying this with the least amount of jargon.

Speaking of sex, I remember the joke way back in school, where we used to giggle whenever we saw “sex” written in any form as we thought the response should be “2 times in a day”. But sex in every context is not the act of sexual intercourse. The most easy and explicit way that I could explain is that sex is between your legs, it is determined by the presence or absence of an organ like a penis or vagina. If you have a penis you get classified as male, if you have a vagina you get classified as female.

Gender is a social construct. It is in your mind and heart and is not determined by the presence or absence of a body organ. One could be a female and identify as female, or be a male and identify as a male. However, you could also be a male (with a penis) but identify as a female, or be a female (with a vagina) and identify as a male. What you identify as, is what we call – “gender identity”.  It is also known as “transgender”.

Segregation of gender would directly detriment a culture of empathy and mutual respect.

Also, when we say gender is a social construct, it could mean that it may take time for people to realise their gender expression. Because of the fact that the society puts people in specific gender roles, it becomes difficult for people to express that they actually are a man but from within they feel they are a woman or the vice versa. It could mean that they wish to identify as gender-queer or transgender.

Like, I am a male and till a few years back I thought my gender was male. But I am realising that my gender expression is more feminine, which could mean that I could identify as gender-queer in coming years.

The bottom-line is that my gender is what I tell you my gender is. My gender is not what you think my gender is.

One could go on and on about gender, sex and sexuality. Now that we have some basic knowledge about sex and gender. Let us understand intersex.

One could go on and on about gender, sex and sexuality. Now that we have some basic knowledge about sex and gender. Let us understand intersex.

Intersex persons are people who are born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit into definitions of sex of male or female in terms of anatomy. A person may be born with a penis and with a depression that leads to a labia. Or a person could be born with a vagina and may have a small penis.

It is rude and incorrect to classify intersex persons as “in-betweens” or “abnormal” people. It is however not rude to state that intersex persons are different.

There is a huge confusion among most people about intersex persons and hijras. Hijras are a community of transgender persons who live together and have their own social and religious practices. They are mainly male persons who have a female gender expression. They may or may not have undergone a sexual re-assignment surgery to align their sex with the gender that they identify with. Hijras could be intersex people too. However, all intersex people are not Hijras.

There is a myth that hijras pick up children with ambiguous gender when they come to bless newborns. In a world where the girl child is drowned and killed at birth, it is not hard to imagine that a child with ambiguous gender is despised and also killed in some cases. Hijras are believed to offer to adopt such children. There is very little research on this. Much of these are myths propagated by folklore and incredibly stupid television serials who’re feeding on such myths and increasing the confusion between our understanding of intersex persons and hijras.

How do you identify if a person is intersex? You will not be able to tell. And you don’t need to identify them. They will tell you if they feel like telling you. It is polite to ask everyone what gender pronoun they would prefer and address them that way.

Didn’t I say, gender is something that people tell you? It is not just he/she or him/her, some could say that they prefer a collective pronoun “they or their” or “ze or hir” as gender neutral pronouns. So the pronouns in short are he/she/ze/ they or him/her/hir/their. Ask, don’t assume such things.

There are very few people in India who are intersex and openly identify as one.  One of my friends, Gopi Shankar is an intersex person who founded an organisation called Srushti Madurai. I used to always refer to Gopi as “he” as his gender expression, I assumed is Male and so did many journalists. Until recently when I discovered that he is intersex and prefers pronoun “ze”.

Ze contested elections in the Tamil Nadu Legistlative assembly in 2016 and has also won a lot of awards and accolades for hir work in the domain of gender and sexuality especially in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Complete Article HERE!

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