What does it mean to be intersex?

Being intersex looks different for everyone in the community. They are a group that is widely misunderstood and underrepresented. For Pride month, we were fortunate enough to speak to Anick, founder of Intersex Advocates and Friends, about his experience coming out, and normalising intersex.

True Stories

“My name is Anick and I’m 23 years old. I work with lots of organisations as a Creative Producer, Researcher and Advocate for equality – oh, and I’m also intersex. It’s one of the least discussed topics in society, and I’m one of the people trying to change that.” 

Anick aims to ‘usualise’, that is to make real in the minds of a learner, intersex bodies. He wants to acknowledge his, and other intersex people’s, differences while also being accepted in society.

“Intersex” is an umbrella term

“It’s used to describe people that fall outside of traditional biological sex related ideas and concepts. Intersex is a matter of sex which focuses on a person’s anatomy. It’s different from gender identity, which is about a social role. It’s also distinct from sexuality, which is more concerned with who a person is attracted to. Some people have intersex traits identified at birth. Others may discover this during puberty or later in life. Some intersex people end up developing breasts while having typical male XY chromosomes. Or the opposite. There is a tonne of intersex varation, but sadly it isn’t celebrated. Intersex children are brought up as either male or female, and the decision is often made by health professionals.”

Growing up intersex can be isolating

So what does intersex look like in terms of growing up?

“I identified as intersex from birth, but was frequently left out of decisions made about medical intervention.This made me feel like there was nobody else like me. As I grew up, those around me noticed how I didn’t fit in.”

What does intersex look like?

Intersex people have characteristics of both genders, but they may present any way they choose. Intersex traits can be very diverse and can’t be identified with one particular look. Especially considering many intersex people are brought up as either a boy or a girl and encouraged to believe they should identify that way.

For Anick, his appearance attracted unwanted attention from a young age. “There was something “unusual” about my body, because I didn’t look like the other little boys and girls. Intersex people often undergo medical procedures which aim to “fix” or “normalise” their bodies. For me, that took the form of countless surgeries and hormone treatments.”

I felt like an alien being experimented on

When people think intersex, what does it look like? (if they even think of it in the first place)  They probably don’t think about the lack of autonomy over your own body, but that’s exactly what Anick experienced.  

“Neither myself or my family were offered any kind of support. The only medical advice we received was about how to make me fit into one gender or the other. This made things worse. I grew up believing other intersex people didn’t exist. Believing that my existence was wrong. I developed an extremely unhealthy view of my body. Often I felt like the choices made for me were in my best interest. One day I hope we live in a more inclusive and accepting society. I often wonder what my life would have been like if they waited until I could voice my own opinion, before they made decisions about my body.”

I just wanted to stop hiding

“When I came out to my best friends it was pretty nerve racking. During that time, I wasn’t sure how I was expecting them to react. I just told them I needed to “tell them something important”. In the slowest possible way I explained my truth to them. It was an incredibly big deal for me. After two decades of believing, and convincing myself, that I was an unlovable freak, I finally developed the courage to utter the words “I am intersex” to those around me.”

My story can help teach others

“I armed myself with knowledge that I was born this way, and made online friends who had similar experiences in life. I gathered people at home, after telling them I needed to talk. It was enjoyable wondering what they were all thinking – they almost never suspect intersex. Most of them had never heard of it before, but it was a beautiful moment, filled with tears, hugs and lots of confusion.”

Treat it as though it’s not that of a big deal

“It’s a very important personal moment in your life, but nowadays, when I come out, I tend to just throw it into the conversation. Of course, not everyone will be positive about who you are. Truth is,  you’ll probably be coming out in one way or another for the rest of your days, but it gets better. How people react will tell you all you need to know about them. Easy way to weed out any potential bad seeds.”

Need some support with coming out? Try reading our article on how to come out here.

The community is wonderful

“I have made friends that I regularly keep in contact with, collaborate on projects with and just vent to whenever I’m feeling particularly low. The advice I’d have for any intersex person is this: find acceptance in yourself, before trying to seek it in others. Coming out is a personal choice, and it is never a requirement. Whether you’re ready to tell the whole world, or just want to find some others to talk to – there are people who are ready and willing to listen. Instead of normalising intersex bodies; let’s start to usualise them.”

Additional support for intersex people

There are tonnes of support groups such as Intersex UK  who offer advice and support on intersex issues, or you’re welcome to share your experience as an intersex person on our Discussion Boards.

Next Steps

  • Intersex UK offer advice and support on intersex issues.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 23-Oct-2021