All our genitals develop from the same set of stem cells and differentiate in early pregnancy. How they do that depends on our genes. Despite our society all around us appearing to be “binary” – only 100% male or 100% female – God or nature has provided an infinite range of variation in between, not only in humans and not only in animals. Intersex may be evident from genotype: a person may have variations in their genes and chromosomes other than the 46,XX and 46,XY that define typical female and male sex respectively. There may be variations in phenotype: the visible sex characteristics of the body may differ from those of a typical male or female.
As we know, we are all different. And we are all the same. Intersex highlights this truth.
“Intersex” babies are those born (perhaps 1-2%) with a wide natural range of rare features, some external and visible and some internal. External visible differences may account for 0.59% of all babies.
Intersex people with any particular intersex characteristic do not all feel that they are male or female or neither (their “gender identity”), just as intersex people are not all heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or something else (their “sexual identity”). Any more than people who are not intersex.
Debate rages amongst intersex adults about whether it is best to “assign” the baby to one of two sexes, male or female, and increasing numbers are proudly adopting their intersex status in society. Mot favour bringing babies up as boy or girl if only to help their families and to help them socialise as they grow up. But cutting their genital to “make” them more boy or more girl is a different matter.
Genital surgery on a small percentage of intersex babies and children is medically necessary to enable their uro-genital organs to function properly (a clear therapeutic issue). But doctors sometimes argue that surgery is needed to reduce the risk of future gonad cancers or the perceived risks of growing up intersex in a male/female society. AIGA says balancing that risk against all the other risks should be decided by an independent body like a tribunal or court, so that the rights of the child and the future adult are fully considered. An Australian Senate Committee Inquiry in September 2013 decided the same.