Intersex steps forward and backwards, and the LGTBI debate

Published June 25, 2013 by Katy J Went
Four subsequently discovered to be XY developing nation athletes but raised and appeared to be women from birth, had their internal ‘male’ testes removed and cosmetic surgery to conform to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requirements after the London 2012 Olympics because they had shown abnormally high levels of testosterone.
Although the exact intersex condition has not been revealed 1-in-4500 or more may be affected by this occurrence. As many as 1-in-100 may have some kind of medical intersex condition. Alternative allosome combinations can be XYY, XXY, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX or XXYY, among other possibilities. I know people who discovered they were XXY in their 30s only when seeking IVF after unaided fertility was not possible. I’ve similar friends and contacts with variants such as XXXXY. Human diversity is endless so why are we stuck with a legal pseudobiological binary? Perhaps athletes should have golfer’s handicaps based on height and hormone/muscle levels and all genders could then compete together. Boxing already divides based upon weight and horseracing equalises rider mass with weights.

Professor Charles Sultan, head of hormonology at Montpelier University Hospital said: “These women are born with female genital organs… but they assume male characteristics at puberty with considerable muscular development, a man‘s frame and a testosterone level similar to that of a man. They have the chromosome Y synonymous with masculinity. They can have 25% more muscular mass than their competitors.” (

Professor Sultan’s statement is respectful on gender, still regarding these women as women but with some male/masculine/’similar to … a man’ characteristics, not even accepting the XY chromosome as detracting from their inherent female identity and nurture.
Meanwhile, some good news, intersex has for the first time been used in an international agreement in EU foreign policy:

“The acronym LGBTI describes a diverse group of persons who do not conform to conventional or traditional notions of male and female gender roles. LGBTI people are also sometimes referred to as ‘sexual, gender and bodily minorities’.”
“…The term intersex covers bodily variations in regard to culturally established standards of maleness and femaleness, including variations at the level of chromosomes, gonads and genitals.” (

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union adopted the Guidelines To Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons, a legally binding document instructing EU institutions and Member States how to progress LGBTI  human rights when dealing with third countries and at international levels. Actions combating discriminatory laws and policies, LGBTI-phobic violence, and the promotion of equality and non-discrimination, are prioritised.
I have been active in getting the ‘I’ added to all LGBT groups I work with, the reluctance has not been from any public bodies, but rather the LGB elements, not wanting to “dilute” or “confuse” others! This is the same old argument that raged when Gay rights added first Lesbian, then Bisexual and most recently and reluctantly Trans rights. Gay politics has often been reticent to be seen to add the “weird” (and wonderful, IMHO) to their respectable middle class conformism after the early years of more outlandish and outrageous and generally just “out” activism. One group didn’t see the need to add the ‘I’ to any documents suggesting that those in the know knew LGBT included it, and those that didn’t need only be told it once and that the core acronym should remain unchanged, as if it had never changed before! 

I’ve written elsewhere about various groups suggesting a move towards MSGI (Minority Sexual & Gender Identities) or GSD (Gender & Sexual Diversity)/SGD (Sex and/or Gender Diverse) acronyms. LGBT could indeed be seen to be “diluted” by further additions to the alphabet soup of LGGGBTTTIQQQ2SSCHHHHAAAAFOOPPPPNUU (by my last enumeration) letters, but no minority wants to be the bottom of the pile, the mere asterisk in LGBT*. I don’t have a perfect solution but I resent the resistance to the very debate. Personally, I often use LGB/TIQ to indicate the split between sexuality and gender diversity, for the two groups are not always in agreement. Here I use Queer in the modern alternative sense of non-conformist, Queergender which could be seen to embrace genderfluidity, as well as Androgyne, Neutrois and Ungendered identities and expressions.

Australia seems to be the nation to watch on intersex rights. For a decade or more it has had sex/gender non-specific birth certificates and passports. Now it is passing an intersex-inclusive Sex Discrimination Amendment bill. Some half-dozen nations support M/F/X passports including Australia and New Zealand. 

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