Anonymous asks, “In your post addressing intersexed people, there was a mention that most intersexed people aren’t able to tell from their physiology that they are atypical. What are other indications?”
This is a difficult question to answer, as the term intersexuality covers a broad range of conditions & physiological characteristics, some of which are immediately obvious, & some of which are not.
Depending on your definition of intersexuality, between 1-2% of children born could be classified as intersex, but only around 0.1% of cases will be noticeable enough at birth that the doctor will take action - we should note at this point that surgery for children who are born intersex is incredibly controversial.
There are three main types of intersexuality:
- Physical intersexuality - This is the most well known type, & also the most obvious. Most people assume that there are only two options when it comes to genitalia: vulva & penis, but the reality is that there is a broad spectrum of genitalia, & anyone with atypical genitalia can be considered intersex, although since there’s such a broad range of genitalia, to a certain extent, where the line is drawn is often rather arbitrary. It’s also important to note that many people who are born with atypical genitals will be given surgery to make them look more “normal” (although this is opposed by the majority of intersex advocacy groups), & therefore you may not be able to tell if someone was born with atypical genitals or is intersex. Physical intersexuality also covers people who have atypical gonads (testes & ovaries). This is harder to identify straight away, since people with atypical gonads may have typical genitalia, & many people with atypical gonads only find out after being examined for an unrelated issue, such as infertility later in life.
- Genetic intersexuality - Genetic intersexuality is caused by a mutation on one of the genes, which may or may not cause any noticeable physical changes. Many people who are genetically intersex but show no physical signs may never find out about their condition, unless they undergo genetic testing, usually as a result of another issue. One of the most common forms of genetic intersexuality is Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, where an individual with XY chromosomes (usually associated with being male) fails to respond to male hormones during gestation, which can result in atypical genitalia & hormone levels.
- Chromosomal intersexuality - As with genitalia, people often assume that chromosomes are a binary: you’re either XX (female) or XY (male) but the reality is often much more complex than that. People can be born with XXY chromosomes (this is called Klinefelter syndrome) as well as XXXY, XXXXY, XYY or XO. People with chromosomal intersexuality often have no physical signs, & if they do, they often won’t start showing until puberty. These signs can include smaller testes, slim build, & atypical distributions of fat, especially in the breast area, however because these are not particularly extreme, people with Klinefelter syndrome, often go undiagnosed.
Hopefully this answers your question, but if you’d like to learn more feel free to message us again. The Intersex Society of North America also has some amazing resources which can help you learn more about intersexuality.