Towards a Philosophy of Intersex  

Hermaphroditus. Louvre. B&W. Greek marble, Roman copy of the 2nd century CE after a Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2005), Public Domain

by L J Frank

In the Egyptian Coptic 4th century papyrus scrolls (Nag Hammadi library) is the following text: when you make the male and female one and the same…so that the male not be male nor the female female…then will you enter the kingdom. ~ The Nag Hammadi Library, Gospel of Thomas 22: 25-30

Intersex is ancient – viewed as an anomaly in external organs and internal apparatus. Intersexual, mythologically speaking, may have been recognized as representing a transitional being between god and goddess. A remarkable combination of male and female traits – intersexual is a male and a female, one at birth. It doesn’t fit into the binary scheme.

Yet intersex is primitive and found in ancient mythology, oral traditions, religious texts, and engravings. Hermaphrodite is I think an effort to express more of a cultural, myth-based metaphor. And androgyny, is also quite ancient (Assyrian-Babylonia), and even among a number of primitive shamans, androgyny implies “the opposites within” and moves towards the inner blending of the male and female consciousness.

Philosophically, giving a name to a condition or a person reveals I suppose an attempt to approach, access and even manipulate information and perception. In a philosophical – theological cast it’s the I and Thou of Martin Buber frame of reference. That is, I name something for approachability, accessibility and or control. It’s also in a sense a suggestion to leave open a meaning beyond the obvious to ponder. In a way I and Thou from my perspective is suggesting that I have no choice but to leave my mind open to the possibility of future revelations and meaning.

The more research I perform, including professional conversations – the more I find that factual information is but one necessary element of the whole picture – in part it’s the comfort of perception and historical experience, beyond stereotypes, labels, and categories.

Natural genome editing occurs in most if not all species.

That natural editing in part in Intersex people means they are naturally born with both female and male attributes from penis and vagina to breasts and other physiological and brain related traits and manifestations. The intersex person retains two beings within one body. The concept has spiritual variations in cultures on all continents.

Today, in the United States, intersex people don’t fit our artificial (politicized) reference binary chart. Regardless, the human cell is cognitive. The cells are not in an obligatory process to fit in a prescribed manner, that is, the process has variables. Cells take in information, learn, grow and do not always fit into a particular absolute static paradigm.

Intersex is unsettling for those who think in non-adaptable terms. In the current social political environment, it’s easy to touch nerves when the conversation includes Intersex as they are lumped into the trans category and even a number of intersex people accept the trans denotation yet feel detached from the category. Intersex is a different reality, according to an intersex friend of mine, than people who have a gender identity change when not naturally having the combined sex organs and internal genetic apparatus at birth.

Right-wing discourse has dramatically affected the framing of diversity ~ as threatening, dangerous, and malicious. Gender fluidity is unsettling within a binary context.

Social media and comedians get into the act and truths are cherry picked to make a point that blurs the conversation about the overlapping of human genetics and the natural genome editing.

As one philosopher observed ~ When people feel threatened, they lose their capacities to reason consistently about the matters before them.  Hence, we see right-wing outrage at gender-affirming therapy for transgender children, which in a few cases involves surgery, while at the same time the bills prohibiting surgery allow an exception for intersex children at birth or soon after.  These children are sometimes subject to genital surgery to force their bodies to conform to the gender binary, without waiting to see how the children themselves come to understand their own gender identity. And in the same laws we see both an assertion that there are only two sexes by God-created nature, and confidence that surgery + socialization can make intersex P whatever sex/gender anyone else besides P thinks P ought to have, although P’s body does not clearly point to one sex or the other.  Of course, the same contradiction appears in the case of conversion therapy for LGB people.

In another communication a biologist and medical doctor inquired ~ have those people who question intersex ever read any literature on human genetics, intersex, or about the experiences of the intersexual or operate on an intersex patient?  I predict the numbers of intersex people will increase for various natural and artificial reasons from genome editing to environmental reasons and potential synthetic intervention, which opens up another greater complexity. 

A political science professor offered ~ There have been an increasing number of studies of the political-religious-social environment fields into controlling people about what is male and female…life is not binary. It’s not black and white. Life is much more complicated.

 And a physicist noted ~ I suspect with artificial intelligence things are going to get even more confusing. Politicians and judges are not even in the same arena as to what is happening today. Neither is religion. It’s breath taking. Binary is a comforting illusion.

 During times of upheaval chaos rises across all facets of life. Intersex people face enormous challenges involving self and other acceptance. Stigmatizing any minority is counter-productive, for a democratic society.

Those pursuing wealth and power at the expense of their neighbor expose their pursuit in a divide and conquer scenario. The move to the extreme right, authoritarian modus operandi is treacherous if not deadly, not only to democracy, but to human and planetary health.

A philosophy founded on cooperation is superior to any philosophy of exploitation, competition, and subsequent greed, financial wealth, and possession causing untold suffering. Earth’s extraordinary natural resources and richness in diversity is wounded and bleeding. We are not singular. We are a multitude.

 Intersex people by country: 2023 World Population Review