Hermaphrodite Info.

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Sex Differentiation Disorders

Accepted definition: A person born with both male and female sex organs. This is a vague, confusing and inaccurate definition. There are 3 labels of Hermaphrodites: True, Male pseudo and Female Pseudo. All are equally genuine.

A person born with both ovary and testicular tissue, this could be 2 separate gonads ( one of each) or a combination of both in one (an ovotestes). The genitalia can vary from completely male or female, to a combination of both or even ambiguous looking. The chromosome (karotype) compliment can be XX (female), XY (male), XX/XY (mosaic) or even XO (extremely rare). Those XX with female genitalia are raised female ( some have even given birth). Those XY with male genitalia are raised male ( a few have fathered children). The children born XX/XY or XO (with genitalia male or female are raised in the sex they look most like) ,Those born with ambiguous genitalia have many medical tests for the doctors to determine which sex they should be assigned. Doctors then recommend early surgery to make the child look physically like the sex assigned to them.

The causes are not known, The medical community does know this is a very rare condition but do not have accurate figures to how many people have this condition (depending on the literature between 350-450 known cases).

A person born XX with normal female internal organs but with "masculanized" genitalia. They can appear more male then female or a combination of each.

The most common is Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) it occurs approximately 1:14,000 births. This is when the adrenal glands overproduce testosterone. It also has been recorded that some persons with this disorder had been exposed to progesterone-like drugs before they were born.

A person born XY with testes (usually in the abdominal cavity). The external genitalia are usually female but can be ambiguous.

The most common cause is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). This is when the body doesn't respond to the androgen being produced. There are different variations: Complete (CAIS) , and Partial (PAIS). This condition has a variety of names and occurrence rates..


Alternative names:
pseudohermaphroditism; hermaphrodite; intersexual

A term referring to being of both sexes (intersexual).

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
True hermaphroditism requires the presence of both ovarian (female) and testicular (male) reproductive tissue and is relatively rare and poorly understood. Pseudohermaphroditism is more common and from a medical standpoint hermaphroditism suggests two factors:
The following conditions can produce ambiguous genitalia and hermaphroditism:
Please see the individual conditions.

Signs and tests:
Early assignment of the sex is important for the emotional well being of the person. In large part, the decision is based on the corrective potential of the ambiguous genitalia, rather than on chromosomal determinants. Once the decision is made regarding sex, from that point on there should be no question in the family's mind regarding the sex of the child.

Corrective surgery is used to reconstruct the external genitalia. In general, it is easier to reconstruct female genitalia than male genitalia, and the ease of reconstruction will play a role in the determination of sex.

Expectations (prognosis):
With corrective surgery, the appearance of external genitalia may appear normal, but other problems such as virilization may appear later.

Calling your health care provider:
Hermaphroditism will typically be diagnosed while your child is in the hospital. If you notice that your child has unusual appearing or multiple genitalia, call your health care provider.
Taken from HealthCentralDotCom




Intersex Society of North America (ISNA)
P.O. Box 31791
San Francisco, CA 94131
Web Site: http://www.isna.org/

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome
AIS Support Network US
4203 Genessee #103-436
San Diego, CA 92117-4950

Turner Syndrome
Turner Syndrome Society US
811 12 oaks court
15500 Wayzata Blvd
Wayzata, MN 55391

Klinefelters Syndrome
Support and Educational Exchange for Klinefelters Syndrome (SEEKS)
1417 25th Ave Dr W
Bradenton, FL 34205-6449



Alliance of Genetic Support Groups
35 Wisconsin circle Suite 440
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Ambiguous Genitalia Support Network
428 E. Elm St. #4D
Lodi, CA 95240

Chromosome Deletion Outreach
P.O. Box 280
Driggs, ID 83422

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 8923
New Fairfield, CT 06812-8923
Web Site:

National Parent to Parent Support and Information System (NPPSIS)
P.O. Box 907
Blue Ridge, GA. 30513


Female & intersexual genital mutilation
in North America & Europe


This is an invasive procedure that is usually performed on girls before puberty. It is occasionally performed within Aboriginal, Christian and Muslim families who have emigrated to the US or Canada from some Muslim countries where it is practiced as a social tradition. It is also done at birth to some "inter-sex" infants for what are seen by some as medical reasons.

Genital Mutilation among Immigrants:

This operation is occasionally performed on children of immigrants from some Muslim countries of the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia and other Muslim countries in Asia. It is seen by some of its supporters as a religious duty, social custom, and/or a necessary operation for health reasons. It is criticized by those in opposition as a cruel mutilation of a young girl in order to reduce her sexual response after puberty.

In the West, the procedure is outlawed in Britain, Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. After 20 years of personal effort, Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) saw a US federal bill, "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995"  passed in 1996-SEP. The bill had been introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada). The law provides for prison sentences of up to 5 years for anyone who "circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18." US representatives to the World Bank and similar financial institutions are required to oppose loans to countries where FGM is prevalent and in which there are no anti-FGM educational programs. The law took effect on 1997-MAR-30. FGM has also been criminalized at the state level in California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. At least one FGM assistance, education and support group is operating in the U.S. among immigrants from countries that practice FGM. 17

Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who are ordinarily resident in Canada, (as citizens or landed migrants) from being removed from the country and subjected to FGM. In the US and Canada, the very small percentage of Muslims who wish to continue the practice often find it impossible to find a doctor who will cooperate. The operation may then be done illegally in the home by poorly trained persons, under less than sterile conditions.

Specialists in Denver CO reported in 1998 that at least  6,000 immigrants have settled in the area from African countries which widely practice FGM. 15  Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a women’s clinic in that city commented: “I know of one patient where it was clear it was performed in this country." About 4 mutilation cases are seen each year at the clinic.

Legislation against FGM can be counter-productive in some cases. It might force the practice deeply underground. Women may not seek medical care later in life because their parents might be charged. The operation can be life threatening if performed by untrained individuals; if the operation is botched, the parents may be reluctant to take the child to a hospital out of fear of being criminally charged with child abuse. On the other hand, it does indicate that the government has taken a stand against FGM. This, and potential penalties, may well cause some parents to decide against having their daughter(s) mutilated.

On 1999-FEB-3, Hawa Greou went on trial in France on charges of "voluntarily bodily injury causing mutilation or permanent disability." She is alleged to having mutilated the genitals of about 50 young girls. (Some sources say 48) Also charged were 27 parents of the victims. The case was triggered by a complaint by a woman of Malian origin, Mariatou Koita. Both she and her sister were allegedly mutilated by Greou. Jean Chavais, the defendant's lawyer, admits that the mutilations were carried out. He said : "If the trial can help bring about an end to this custom, then it will be useful. But punishment is not as effective as education and prevention...This is an African custom that has existed for centuries. It takes a long time to change habits." Ms. Greou, known among the Malian community in Paris as "Mama Greou" had received a one year suspended sentence in 1994 for excising two girls. This time, she was given an 8 year jail sentence. Parents received sentences ranging from a 3 year suspended sentence to 2 years in prison.

Genital Alterations of Infants:

Western society has traditionally oppressed sexual minorities. Every child is expected to be conceived with XX or XY chromosomes, grow up to be either a man or a woman, to have internal and external sexual organs which are clearly male or female, and to be sexually attracted to members of the "opposite" sex when they mature. For reasons of ignorance, religious teaching and fear, we have tended to force people into the traditional heterosexual male or female role. But, as in so many sexually related topics, a two-mode model is insufficient. Consider:

homosexuals: male or female adults who are attracted to members of the same gender; about 5% of the population
bisexuals: male or female adults who are attracted to persons of both/all genders
transsexuals: male or female adults who appear like a typical male or female, but who are convinced that nature has played a terrible trick on them. They feel that they are a woman in a man's body, or vice versa. They are rare, numbering only 1 in tens of thousands of individuals
intersexuals: individuals who are born with anatomy or physiology which differ from cultural ideals of male and female." 1

Anne Fausto-Sterling attempted to categorize intersexuality in a 1993 article. 7 She introduced three sexes in addition to male and female:

Herm refers to "true hermaphrodite".
Merm is an intersexed person with a XY (nominally male) karyotype.
Ferm is an intersexed person with a XX (nominally female) karyotype.

These categories have not been well received by most intersexed people.

She has written of her vision of a more accepting future:

"At birth, instead of hearing the inevitable pronouncement of "boy" or "girl" new parents might excitedly await a much expanded range of possibilities. Herms, ferms, and merms, being the rarer birth events might come to be seen as especially blessed or lucky, having as they do the best of all possible worlds, sexually speaking. Herms, merms and ferms might become the most desirable of all possible mates able as they are to pleasure their partners in a variety of ways. Furthermore, the existence of three additional sexes would open up possibilities for the rest of us. It would become difficult to maintain a clear conceptualization of homosexuality, for example, and perhaps its current contentious status would fade from view. If we envision the world in fives instead of twos, it would also be more difficult to hold onto rigid constructions of male and female sex roles. ...Should we have only two sexes?--my answer would be a resounding no.

Most physicians have recommended in the past that the ambiguous external genitals of intersex infants be carved up so that the child will grow up appearing to be a "normal" male or female. Some the infant have an enlarged or protruding clitoris; others will be born with a "micropenis". In about 90% of cases, intersex infants undergo genital surgery to make them appear as a "normal" female. One surgeon explained: "You can make a hole, but you can't build a pole." 8 Surgery involves removal and remolding genital structures, and may involve the addition of parts taken from elsewhere on the body. Physicians now attempt to preserve structures that have concentrations of nerves, so that sexual feeling will remain. But they cannot guarantee that their patients will ever be able to have orgasms in later life. Such care was not always done in the past.

These operations are usually performed shortly after birth, at the age of 6 weeks to 15 months. 6 They are sometimes done later, during childhood or teen years. There is increasing opposition to these operations. Several activist and support groups by and for intersexuals have been formed. 1,2,3 They generally oppose genital surgery on intersexual people, particularly when it is done at an age where the individual cannot make an informed choice. Nathalie Angier 4 has written: "The debate raises difficult questions about who has the right to decide what ranks as esthetically acceptable genitalia, whose interests are being served by surgical intervention and whether one's sexual identity is so entwined with the appearance of one's genitals that it is worth subjecting infants to a major operation to assure visual concordance between one and the other.

The Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act does permit genital surgery if it is "necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed." Activists are now trying to modify the law, so that it cannot be performed without the informed consent of the individual. Cheryl Chase, founder of the Intersex Society of North America commented: 1"Africans have their cultural reasons for trimming girls' clitorises, and we have our cultural reasons for trimming girls' clitorises. It's a lot easier to see what's irrational in another culture than it is to see it in our own." With regard to the proposed change in the law, she commented: "That would break the pediatricians' argument that they do this to prevent psychological and mental trauma for the child...We don't expect this to be finished up in six months, but we're not going to go away, and we have more passion than they do."

Some pediatricians defend the practice of infant genital surgery. Dr. Anthony A. Caldamone, head of pediatric urology at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, RI said: "I don't think it's an option for nothing to be done. I don't think parents can be told, this is a normal girl, and then have to be faced with what looks like an enlarged clitoris, or a penis, every time they change the diaper. We try to normalize the genitals to the gender to reduce psychosocial and functional problems later in life."

Dr. Justine M. Schober, a pediatric urologist at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa. has said "The truth is, genital surgery is being done, but we don't know what the outcome of it is, sexually or otherwise. We don't have any long-term studies." David Thomas, a pediatric urologist at St. James's University Hospital and Infirmary in Leeds, UK conducted a scouting study. It involved only about a dozen intersexual individuals aged 11 to 15 who had been subjected to genital surgery. Results were not encouraging. 6 Dr. Thomas reports: "Every girl required some additional vaginal surgery...The results are indifferent and frankly disappointing."

Estimates on the number of intersexuals in North America range from 1 in 50 to 1 in 1000. Intersexuality is sometimes caused by genetics, sometimes by rare hormonal levels during pregnancy, and sometimes by unknown causes.

Religious Attacks on Intersexuals:

One would hope that the unique challenges faced by intersexual individuals could be handled through an interaction of intersexuals, their families, physicians and other health professionals. Unfortunately, they cannot be dealt with in that way. Some Christians have introduced religious objections to intersexuality, based on what they believe are literal interpretations of scripture:  

Genesis 1:27 states: "God created man in his own image...male and female he created them." (NIV)
Many Conservative Christians interpret the verse (and similar Biblical passages) literally, and believe that there can be only two genders: male and female. If there were intersexual peoples, then God would have mentioned them. Thus, they reject the concept of gender as a continuum, with three or more varieties of intersexual genders. 
One intersexual individual 9 cites an ancient Jewish tradition "that Adam was an hermaphrodite."

Many Liberal Christian theologians interpret this to refer to the creation myth in which God's was believed to have created the Garden of Eden, the rest of the earth and the rest of the universe. The verse would then refer to God's original creation of Adam and Eve as male and female. It would not refer to their descendants, who would have been male, female and intersexual. Religious liberals usually consider the Old Testament creation story to be a myth, similar to those of other religions.

Numbers 5:1-3 states: "The Lord said to Moses: 'Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infections skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of [touching] a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.'" (NIV)
Many Conservative theologians point out that the phrase "male and female alike" is a way of including everyone. Thus, God has implied that there are no intersexuals. 
One intersexual individual 9 pointed out: "The phrase which tends translated as 'male and female'...reads 'mi-zakhar ve-'ad neqevah', or 'from male to female,' in the original Hebrew. The form 'from A to B' suggests a continuum of some sort." The concept of male and female with three intermediate genders fits perfectly into the phrase in its original Hebrew. Numbers 5 appears to be still another Biblical passage in which translators have created an English text that discriminates against minorities. Meanwhile, the original Hebrew text is inclusive of all gender minorities.

Many Liberal theologians interpret this passage in a different way. The authors of the book of Numbers lived in a pre-scientific age and were unaware of sex chromosomes, hermaphrodites, intersexuals, and other sexual minorities. They would have naturally assumed that there were only two genders when they wrote this passages as if it had been stated by God.

Chuck Colson has written a particularly insensitive attack on intersexuals 5 He states (in part):

"The Bible teaches that the Fall into sin affected biology itself - that nature is now marred and distorted from its original perfection. This truth gives us a basis for fighting evil, for working to alleviate disease and deformity - including helping those unfortunate children born with genital deformities."

"...for the Christian, nature is not our basis for determining normality. Scripture tells us how God created us before the Fall, and how he intended us to live: as males and females, reflecting His own image. We take our standards and identity from His revelation of our original nature."

One cause of this attack on the reality of intersexuality is the desire by conservative Christians to delay as long as possible the recognition of gay and lesbian marriages. One method of continuing special rights for heterosexuals is the US Federal Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA has two main objectives:

restriction of the definition of "marriage" in federal legislation to unions between one male and one female,
allowing states to refuse to recognize marriages performed in other states that do not involve one man and one woman.

If it is shown that there are more than 2 genders, then DOMA could be ruled unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court has already declared a Colorado amendment to be unconstitutional because it singled out one group (homosexuals) for legalized discrimination. DOMA could be interpreted as singling out two groups (homosexuals and intersexuals) for such discrimination.

Thus, it is important for groups that are opposing same-sex marriage to maintain the fiction that there are only two genders, that intersexual people do not exist.

It would be unfortunate if the hatred expressed against homosexuality by conservative Christians spreads and becomes widely directed against intersexuals.


  1. The Intersex Society of North America maintains a home page at: http://www.isna.org/
    They have a FAQ, which describes their newsletter and other materials on intersexuality.
  2. Intersex Voices is a Web site supporting intersexual persons and their families. See: http://www.qis.net/~triea/inter.html
  3. Genital Mutilation Survivors' Support Network (GMSSN) has a German and English web site at: http://www.sonic.net/~boedeker/gmssn/index.htm [May be a broken link]
  4. Nathalie Angier, New Debate Over Surgery on Genitals, New York Times, New York NY, 1997-MAY-13
  5. Charles Colson, "Blurred biology" is a Fundamentalist Christian attack on intersexuality. See: http://www.goodnewsmag.com/mar97/colson.htm
  6. Anne Scheck, "Early Vaginal Reconstruction for All Intersex Girls?," Urology Times of Canada, 1997-APR. Available at: http://www.doctoc.com/uro/articles/97-2/intersex.html
  7. Anne Fausto-Sterling, "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not enough", The Sciences, 1993-MAR/APR, 1993:20-24. Responses were printed in the JUL/AUG issue. The article was reprinted on the New York Times Op-ed page on 1993-MAR-12.
  8. Melissa Hendricks, "Is it a Boy or a Girl?", Johns Hopkins Magazine, 1993-NOV-10 to 16.
  9. Sally Gross, "Intersexuality and Scripture". This essay is on-line at: http://www.qis.net/~triea/IS_and_scripture.html
  10. A.D. Dreger, "Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex," Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, (1998-MAY)
  11. Cheryl Chase, "Hermaphrodites with Attitude: Mapping the Emergence of Intersex Political Activism," GLQ: Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 4 (2):189-211 (1998)
  12. A.D. Dreger, "Ethical Issues in the Medical Treatment of Intersexuality and 'Ambiguous Sex,'" Hastings Center Report. (1998-MAY/JUN)
  13. Suzanne Kessler,  "Lessons from the Intersexed," Rutgers University Press, (1998-AUG)
  14. Cheryl Chase, "Affronting Reason," a chapter in  D. Atkins, Ed, "In Looking Queer: Image and identity in lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered communities" Haworth, Binghamton New York, (1998-AUG)
  15. Associated Press article, 1998-FEB-16, quoted in the Feminist Majority Foundation's web site at: http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/february98/0218.html
  16. New York Times article, 1996-OCT-12, quoted in the Feminist Majority Foundation's web site at: http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/october96/1014.html  
  17. M. Ramsey, "Forward USA/Ethiopia: Assistance, education and support for women and girls affected by female genital mutilation," at: http://www.forwardusa.org/

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