“Intersex” is an umbrella term describing several conditions in which a person’s reproductive and/or sexual anatomy doesn’t fit into the usual definitions of male or female. In some cases, a person might be born with female external genitalia, while inside they have anatomy that is predominately typical to males. Other people are born with external genitalia that is in between male and female genitalia. While others may be born with XXY chromosomes instead of the typical XX and XY. And those are just a few examples.
To be clear, an intersex person is not a hermaphrodite, which implies that the person is both fully male and fully female. As the Intersex Society of North America states, “The words ‘hermaphrodite’ and ‘pseudo-hermaphrodite’ are stigmatizing and misleading words. Unfortunately, some medical personnel still use them to refer to people with certain intersex conditions, because they still subscribe to an outdated nomenclature that uses gonadal anatomy as the basis of sex classification.”
There are many ways to be intersex.
For many years, when intersex children with differing external genitalia were born, many medical professionals believed it was essential that parents should decide the child’s gender assignment right away. Cosmetic genetic surgeries were often performed on infants, while endocrinologists manipulated children’s hormones. These practices have since been deemed unethical and unscientific; however, the mainstream population still doesn’t really understand the experience of intersex individuals, and they are often not considered when people talk about the validity of gender identity.