October 26, 1996, marked the first public demonstration of intersex people in North America, when hundreds gathered outside of the annual American Academy of Pediatrics conference. Their main message? “Corrective” surgery is not the only course of treatment for intersex children.

Identifying AS Intersex

The term “intersex” refers to a person who doesn’t have traditionally male or female reproductive or sexual anatomy. An intersex person may look traditionally male on the outside but have female reproductive organs (and vice-versa).

Many people go their entire lives not knowing that they’re intersex. But if a person does know, they’ll typically find out during these four stages of life:

  • At birth. A child can be born with genitals that don’t clearly resemble one sex. For example, a baby girl born with an abnormally large clitoris or a boy born with a split scrotum that resembles a labia.
  • During puberty. Many intersex people are born with traditional looking male and female sex organs on the outside, meaning it’s often not until they reach the age of puberty that they learn they are intersex.
  • When trying to conceive. Intersex adults can learn of their true identity after being unable to conceive a child.
  • After death. Many people live their entire lives never knowing that they are intersex. Only if an autopsy is done will it be discovered that a person is intersex.

How Common IS IT TO BE Intersex?

Because some people don’t know that they are intersex, it’s difficult to know exactly how many people are intersex. However, the most thorough research to-date has found that between 1 and 2-percent of the world population is intersex. To put that in perspective, roughly 2-percent of the world population has red hair.

Is that number a little higher than you expected? Most people are surprised to learn that there are millions of intersex people alive today. Most of the misunderstanding comes from one (now outdated) major statistic that said people with ambiguous genitalia make up .05-percent of the population. While people with ambiguous genitalia are intersex, there are a variety of additional conditions that fall under the umbrella of intersex identity.

The Need for Intersex Awareness Day

One of the biggest problems facing intersex people today is a lack of awareness and education on the subject, specifically among doctors and those in the healthcare industry.

“...medical care for intersex people is overwhelmingly focused on surgical intervention when we’re children and too young to consent. The needs of intersex adults are an afterthought,” writes Kimberly Zieselman, a woman who learned she was intersex at age 41.

Today, Intersex Awareness Day is largely dedicated to raising public awareness of intersex people and to “challenge [doctors’] still-prevailing opinion that cosmetic surgery to ‘fix’ intersexed genitals was the best course of action," as stated by intersex activists Morgan Holmes and Max Beck in a joint address at the 1996 intersex demonstration.