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Language use is contested and fast moving in the study of ‘intersex’ a term we use here for want of a better one (as author and activist Hida Valoria also once did). For example, umbrella terms that are used in this area include: ‘Intersex(uality)’ ‘Disorders of Sex Development,’ ‘Differences in Sex Development,’ ‘Diverse Sex Development,’ and ‘Variations in Sex Characteristics.’ PSI-I recognises variations in sex characteristics as part of human diversity and therefore interprets DSD as diverse sex development (often written in lower case to emphasise the focus on diversity not disorder, i.e. dsd). Note that language borrowed from botany or non-human zoology is inaccurate and stigmatizing so is not included in our discussion for those reasons. All of these umbrella terms have one thing in common; they lump together different people whose anatomical, hormonal and/or genetic configuration is in some way different from typical, culturally-bound parameters of male or female. However, there is great heterogeneity within these individuals and a wide range of etiologies, experiences and health implications. As such, many people prefer to use terms that are specific to their variation and may not identify with any umbrella term or overarching category.  Best practice is to ask about and use the language with which people understand themselves and to be mindful of the context in which one is speaking.


Some advocacy organizations emphasize the use of “person-first” language, noting that these terms are best used to refer to specific sex characteristics rather than to individuals or groups of people who have those sex characteristics. The difference between talking about “who I am” vs. “what I have” is a strong preference for some. Most surveys also show a strong preference for language that is less pathologizing, therefore we use the word ‘variation’ rather than the medical term ‘condition’ here. 


There also exist terms to describe people who are not intersex. ‘Endosex’ is a relatively new term that appears to have widening adoption. For that reason we use it when describing individuals whose anatomical, hormonal and/or genetic configuration is considered typical based on cultural expectations. Other terms describing endosex people include: dyadic, perisex and juxtasex.       


In the present, as in the past, lots of people are creatively struggling to find new terms to express useful ideas in this area. The task of creating ideal language that includes everyone accurately and marginalizes no one is a work in progress. We include a breadth of language in this discussion since individuals’ lived experience as well as our fields’ research base encompasses a range of historical and cultural contexts. PSI-International welcomes critical feedback on how our own use of language can be improved.

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