October 26 – Intersex Awareness Day

Posted October 26, 2018

There are some people who insist that male is male and female is female - period! End of sentence.

These people often make some sort of reference to "that's just nature!" or "anything else is unnatural!"

These people don't seem to understand that "nature" is complex and varied. Here's some science that is important to understand in order to even discuss the topic:

First, loads of animals don't have "male" and "female" at all. For example, jellyfish have "babies" by asexual reproduction, in which polyps protrude and then break off to grow up to be new jellyfish.

Some animals, such as copperhead snakes, have males and females but still - sometimes - make baby snakes through asexual reproduction.

Some animals that have males and females have some interesting differences from MOST male / female roles - like seahorses, in which males are the ones that get "pregnant" and give birth.

Some animals change sex from female to male or from male to female, depending on their age or the need of their group. Some examples are  clownfish and moray eels.

A few animals are born with both male and female sex organs. One example is banana slugs.

At least one animal - whiptail lizards - has all females! No males.

In a few species, males regularly mimic being females. Examples of this include garter snakes and cuttlefish.

Okay - enough about "nature" and other animals. What about humans? Maybe, when it comes to humans, male is male and female is female?


When it comes to male or female, we generally go by body parts, and some people are born with some body parts usual in girls, AND some body parts usual in boys. Some people are born with ambiguous body parts that include parts that are not usual in either boys or girls. All of these people are called "intersex." 

Remember, intersex has to do with bodies. It is not a term that considers what gender people identify as (whether people identify as a girl / woman or a boy / man) or what gender people are attracted to.

There is a television show with a main character who is intersex.

Another way that we can discuss male and female is to look at chromosomes: males generally have XY chromosomes, and females generally have XX chromosomes. But, again, nature is complex. Some people are born with XYY, just X, XXX, XXXX, or (maybe) other variations. 

Also, some people are born with XX chromosomes but male body parts, and some people are born with XY chromosomes but female body parts. There are a variety of reasons for this kind of mismatch between genotype (chromosomes) and phenotype (bodies). One example is androgen insensitivity syndrome - people with this syndrome have cells that do not respond to male hormones, so they develop as females although they have the XY chromosomes that normally go along with males.

Supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele
chose to share with the world that she is intersex.

She has androgen insensitivity syndrome.

Confusing? Biology is really complicated, but living things are also amazing and fun to learn about. I hope you are more aware of intersex, now - and THAT's what this day is all about!

Also on this date:

St. Demetrius's Day

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