Intersex people are born with physical, hormonal or genetic features that are neither wholly female nor wholly male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male. The term intersex was first used by science in the early 20th century; historically, the term “hermaphrodite” was used.
Intersex is always congenital and can originate from genetic, chromosomal or hormonal variations. Environmental influences such as endocrine disruptors can also play a role in some intersex differences. The term is not applicable to situations where individuals deliberately alter their own anatomical characteristics.
Intersex is not about sexual orientation; we have as diverse a range of sexual orientations as non-intersex people. Intersex is not about gender identity; we have as diverse a range of gender identities as non-intersex people. Intersex is primarily about the body, although intersex people may have an identity that is contingent on our body’s sexual characteristics.
Although figures vary, intersex people represent a significant percentage of the population.
Intersex people, especially those of us who are diagnosed at birth or in infancy, are often the subject of surgical intervention to “fix” our sex and make us appear male or female. This is still considered “therapeutic” in Australia, with “psychosocial” rationales. We strongly contend this; there is no firm evidence supporting such surgeries.
Read a longer introduction to intersex in Intersex for allies.
Organisation Intersex International Australia Limited (OII Australia) is a national body by and for intersex people. We promote the human rights, self-determination and bodily autonomy of intersex people in Australia, to help us all achieve our maximum potential. We develop policy, and provide peer support, information and education. Our goals are to help create a society where sex differences are not stigmatised, and where our rights as people are recognised.
We have made significant contributions to Australian human rights policy and practice, resulting in:
- Senate Committee recommendations for major changes to clinical and legal practice, with the development of national policy guidelines within in a human rights framework – see our article about the report Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia (October 2013)
- the inclusion of “intersex status” as a biological attribute in federal anti-discrimination legislation, with the intention of no religious exemptions (June 2013)
- federal government guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender (June 2013)
- changes to Medicare to remove gender from item numbers for medical procedures (July 2013)
- improved, but still deeply flawed, Victorian guidelines on decision making around the treatment of intersex infants, children and adolescents (February 2013)
OII Australia is a not-for-profit company, recognised by the Australian Taxation Office as a charitable Public Benevolent Institution. It is primarily resourced out of the voluntary contributions of members, along with limited project funding. We receive no public or philanthropic funds. Please contact us if you can help support the work we do.
OII Australia is the Australian affiliate of Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII), a major global network of intersex organisations. We are a member of the National LGBTI Health Alliance and ILGA.
We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia, their diversity, histories and knowledge and their continuing connections to land and community. We pay our respects to all Australian Indigenous peoples and their cultures, and to elders of past, present and future generations.