Working While Intersex

Intersex Awareness Day was October 26, 2018. Visit InteractAdvocates.Org to learn more. 

By guest writer Robyn Foley (They/Them)

Working can be stressful enough as is. Having a work environment that makes you feel excluded or weird can be even worse. My name is Robyn, and I'm an intersex person who can attest to the "othering" that occurs in the workplace when it comes to mentioning anything about my experiences. To give a quick definition: being intersex means a person possesses genitals, hormones, gonads, or secondary sex characteristics that don't allow someone to be neatly defined as strictly male or female. We make up about 1-2% of the world's population, so you probably know someone who is intersex, and they may or may not be aware of that themselves! Intersex people are often told to not talk about our bodies, that they are nothing more than shameful, biological mistakes; this is often reinforced by medical professionals pressuring us into procedures/medications to make us "better" or "normal," creating a vicious cycle of stigmatization and shaming of our bodies.

From that, you may likely conclude that the intersex community needs support and allies, and here's where I'm going to be listing some tips and tricks on how to support and be an ally to the intersex coworkers you could very well likely have!

1. Be Respectful
Please don't ask intrusive questions, like what our genitals look like! Think of it this way: if you wouldn't ask your friend's grandmother, you probably shouldn't be asking your co-worker/employee. Not only is this intrusive, but as far as the working environment is concerned, this is sexual harassment.

2. Use Affirming Language
Don't make generalizations about sex traits, or talk about our bodies like they're an exception to the rules of biology; we're simply proof that sex characteristics are subject to variation like any other biological traits, like how the color of your hair or eyes are determined. Also avoid the following phrases:

"Girl/boy parts" - this genders genitalia and is part of the problem with preconceived notions of biology, as sex is not the same thing as gender.

"Hermaphrodite" - this word can be tricky, as some intersex people take pride in the term, but it's not applicable to all intersex conditions, and makes many of us feel uncomfortable because it's very outdated and overly medicalizes our bodies. As a rule, it may be better to not use the word at all if you aren't intersex, or at the very least, wait for an intersex person to use it as a self descriptor! Saying the word "intersex" usually works just fine!

"Disorder/Illness" - this language puts intersex traits into a medicalized and negative tone. Saying "intersex traits" or "intersex variation," would be better!

3. Help Educate
Intersex people are often taught to avoid mentioning our diverse sex traits due to the fear of social stigmatization and body shaming. Imagine if we started talking about intersex bodies more, outside of the context of biology textbooks where we're seen as genetic disorders. Including us in your workplace sensitivity training, or just sharing awesome resources like the brochures created by interAct youth members, could do wonders in terms of normalizing the conversation! This can also include correcting someone in your workplace, or everyday life, as allyship doesn't start and end in the workplace!

4. Practice Body Positivity
Every time you make a negative comment about someone's physical attributes, such as their weight or facial hair, an intersex person may feel less likely to be able to talk to you about their struggle. Due to a lot of body shaming intersex people face, it can be hard when someone shows they will make fun of another person's body for any reason. Especially with your co workers or employees, consider any comments on physical appearance off the table. Compliment their drive or work ethic instead!

5. Show Us Understanding|
In addition to possible complications from our intersex variations, we can have unrelated health conditions, and some of us have faced medical trauma, including non consensual surgeries, forced hormone treatment, and general uncomfortable situations with medical professionals. Because of this, some of us may have PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), or any number of complications such as nerve damage or trouble urinating. So please just try to work with us! Asking for doctor's notes is even a complicated matter, some of us actively avoid going to the doctor, because we may have had a myriad of unpleasant experiences with doctors, and they're expensive! I haven't seen a doctor in over a year because they always want to make it about "fixing" my intersex traits, even if it's entirely unrelated to the reason for my appointment. Instead of asking for doctor's notes, or reprimanding us for a long restroom break, please just consider what may be going on before getting upset with us!

Fun fact about a lot of the points previously mentioned: most of them apply to helping you be a better trans ally too! While being intersex is different than being transgender, some of us (like myself) can be both! Check with us about our pronouns before making assumptions, like you would for anyone else. Intersex people can be cis, non-binary, or anything else! Being intersex is distinctly separate from romantic and sexual orientations as well, meaning we can be bisexual, gay, asexual, or even heterosexual! Being intersex is just another facet of one's identity; it's not all someone is, just another piece of a really awesome person.


About the author: Robyn is a 24 year old intersex advocate, and recent graduate of the University of Houston. They currently reside in Austin, Texas and enjoy making soap when they aren't working at a local bakery.

Image: Via Pixabay 


Contact Person: 
Judi Baker