The occurrence of people born with bodies that have some biologically male traits and some biologically female traits have led many people in common culture to reject a sexual binary and of course also a gender binary. It is common to hear people argue that we are all on a spectrum, and there is no such thing as true males and females but just a bunch of people at various points in a spectrum, and so there should be no need to have to label people as either male or female. Some people could choose these labels but many people could choose something entirely different, something in between, or nothing at all.
Some of justification for this view comes from a false understanding of inter-sexed conditions. This recent scholarly article (Unfortunately we don’t have access to the whole article, but the 1 page preview explains quite well and gives a nice summary) by Leonard Sax explains –
“Anne Fausto-Sterling’s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media. Many reviewers are not aware that this figure includes conditions which most clinicians do not recognize as intersex, such as Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and late-onset adrenal hyperplasia. If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female. Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex seems to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto-Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”
In addition to this article, both Fausto-Sterling and Sax are mentioned in wikipedia on “Intersex.” Sterling’s view is well reported at the site, but Sax seems to be only briefly mentioned.
Although intersex is popularly used to refer to any person whose biological characteristics are not fully female or not fully male, I believe, as Sax seems to be arguing, that it is more helpful to use the term only for those whose sex is truly ambiguous. And that number of people is very small. People with conditions like Klinefelter syndrome or Turner syndrome are still clearly male or female. It is just that they were born with these unhelpful abnormal conditions. People like this deserve our compassion and help and we should not criticize them for being different. However, their existence does not justify a whole culture rejecting that there are two distinct sexes, male and female. The occurrence of people born truly ambiguous in their sex is more of a genetic irregularity happening very rarely, than it is proof that we are all on a spectrum of sex. In fact, I think these genetic defects help to prove the existence of the norm. They would not be such difficult emotional and physical conditions, that happen so rarely, unless indeed there really exist a sexual binary, of males and females. In fact, to define these intersexual conditions we have to compare them against the normal genetic and biological binary.
What do we do with the few people who are truly ambiguous? This is a tough one. If I was counseling them, I’d first ask them to tell me about themselves, and see if they feel like one sex or the other. If they clearly perceived they were male or female, we could consider options for surgery. But I would not necessarily push them into some kind of corrective surgery. I think in these very rare cases it would be okay to allow them to just be themselves, if they were able to live comfortable not fitting into either sex. That seems like it would be very hard in our culture though, and so they might want to consider still dressing like one sex or the other, instead of purposely appearing ambiguous. I am not a expert as to what to do to help these people. I’ll leave that to others wiser than me. But I really wish that transsexuals and crossdressers would stop using these people as justification to reject the sexual binary, or as justification to get sex change surgeries or as justification to portray themselves in public as the opposite sex. These people were born in a specific way to have this ambiguity. It is not justification for us to live ambiguous lives when we were not born in the same way.
Thoughts? Ideas? Feel free to teach me, point out flaws in my argument, or tell me something new.