Physically and phenotypically speaking we each start out female. When a man and a woman produces a human, each contributes 23 chromosomes. One pair of these chromosomes serves in determining the sex of the human. Two X chromosomes and it will be a female, and an X chromosome from the mother and a Y chromosome from the father and the human will be a male. The first 5-6 weeks of embryonic development is attributed exclusively to the X chromosome alone. When it comes to males, after that 5-6 week period, a gene called SRY activiates the Y chromosome and starts to inhibit certain features of the X chromosome.
I recall being a young nursing student in the newborn nursery at a local inner city hospital. I was listening to report with a group of my fellow nursing students on the unit when we were called over by a facility staff member to look a newborn baby whom was a “hermaphrodite”, now known as “intersex”. This wasn’t the first time I had heard of intersex, as my mother, a former nursing assistant by trade shared this information with me as a child. My mother knew I wanted to be a healthcare provider one day so she explained to me in caring for others, you may hear or even see things few can explain but compassion and respect are always an order. She explained to me she once cared for an elderly woman in a nursing home whom had both male and female parts. According to my mother, this patient was isolative and self-conscious.
This newborn baby had a phallus which looked a lot like a penis plus a vagina. There was no scrotum. In that moment, I pondered sex, gender and sexual orientation. This baby was born this way. This baby didn’t choose this. Nor did the parents. In deciding gender reassignment surgery, what if it’s not the gender the child is comfortable with years later? Why is it so difficult for people to believe that sex, gender identity and sexual orientation is not like deciding on a new hairdo? Who are we to put limits on mother nature? It’s much more complex than this. People often confuse intersex and transgender, but remember, intersex people sometimes get gender reassignment surgeries they don’t want, and transgender people can’t get the gender reassignment surgeries they do want.
A variety of conditions which lead to atypical development of physical sex characteristics are generally referred to as intersex conditions. These conditions may encompass abnormalities of the external genitals, internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes or sex-related hormones.
Intersex was originally a medical term which was later accepted by some intersex persons. Many experts and persons with intersex conditions have recently recommended adopting the term disorders of sex development (DSD). They feel this term is more precise and less stigmatizing than the term intersex. Some experts estimate as many as 1 in every 1,500 babies is born with genitals which cannot easily be classified as male or female. Further, intersex conditions are not always obvious at birth. Most people with intersex conditions grow up to be heterosexual, but persons with some specific intersex conditions do appear to have an increased likelihood of growing up to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults. Even so, most individuals with these specific conditions also grow up to be heterosexual. Further, most people with intersex conditions are content with the sex to which they have been assigned so there should be no presumption gender-atypical behavior by an intersex person indicates an incorrect sex assignment.
The ignorance surrounding sex, gender and sexuality is unfortunately, widespread and blaring. I’m hopeful as a society we can become more educated, supportive and compassionate of these individuals and their struggles.
Happy New Year!