Intersex vs. Transgender | What Are the Differences You Should Know?

Some kids are often born with sets of features that do not readily lend themselves to being categorized as either “male” or “female.” We refer to individuals whose bodies fall along the enormous continuum separating “male” and “female” as intersex people. We predicate being transgender based on an individual’s intuitive understanding of gender identity.

The physique and DNA of a transgender person will typically match those of a regular man or female at birth. The transgender person knows that their gender identity is different- find out more about intersex vs. transgender.

Key Takeaways

A few key points to take away from this piece are:

  • Intersex and transgender people are not the same.
  • Intersex is a spectrum of situations in which a person’s reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn’t conform to the standard gender binary.
  • A transgender person does not identify with or display behaviors typical of their biological gender.
  • Individuals with diverse sexual orientations can be intersex.

Intersex vs Transgender: What Are the Differences?

These words are commonly used interchangeably, but they have different meanings used to describe individuals with gender dysphoria. In most cases, a transgender person is born with a body that exhibits specific sexual traits (either male or female). For instance, trans women are people assigned a male identity but exhibit female sexual traits. Trans men, on the other hand, are people assigned a female identity yet show male sexual traits.

Intersex people‌ are born with bodies that do not conform to either male or female anatomy. A kid born with male chromosomes, for instance, could have female-appearing genitals and other sexual traits despite having male chromosomes. Still, these qualities do not correspond to the person’s gender identity

Babies who are born with female chromosomes could have the opposite characteristics. In certain instances, a person who is intersex may have reproductive anatomy that combines aspects of both male and female anatomy. Roughly one in 1,500 to two in 2,000 births will involve a kid born with a sex phenotype.

a boy looking at the girl in the mirror

Intersex people can live lifestyles consistent with the binary biological sex system although sex variations fundamentally challenge the notion. For instance, an intersex baby given female genitalia at birth may be brought up as a girl and persist throughout their life in behaving, dressing, and grooming in stereotypical ways. However, some people were raised as one sex but subsequently identified with the gender identity of the other sex. 

These people change their appearance, habits, and bodies that are comparable to those made by many transgender people. Although it’s not very common, it’s possible for a person who identifies as transgender also to be intersex or vice versa.

female and male face mixed together


By assuming that all humans are either men or women, a binary gender perspective assumes the existence of those who do not fit into either of those categories, hence obscuring gender diversity. Our culture makes the gendered presumption that a person assigned female identifies as a female and that all women were born female. Although this is the case for persons who identify in line with their biological gender (often known as “cisgender” folks), this isn’t the case for all of us.

Biological determinism is the concept that biological sex is a reliable predictor of gender identity. However, the existence of transgender people challenges this theory. People who identify as transgender may or may not have their physical bodies altered through medical procedures or treatments, including hormones, to normalize sex characteristics. 

Still, in most cases, they go through a transition in their social gender identities. Some individuals who do not identify with the male or female binary may, for example, refer to themselves as non-binary, gender fluid, or genderqueer.

gender identity fugures in pink, blue and green color

Intersex People

“Intersex” is shorthand for biological diversity. Because of this, the disparaging and inaccurate term “hermaphrodite” cannot be used to describe intersex people.

The idea that there is just one biological sex in its pure form is called into question by the existence of sex variants. The term “intersex” refers to various sexual traits, including genitals, chromosomes, sex hormones, and gonads‌.

The term “intersex” is, like “female” and “male,” a human invention used to describe individuals whose bodies do not conform to cultural norms regarding what constitutes “male” or “female.”

Individuals who have sex characteristics variations have bodies that do not conform to the conventional conceptions of what is thought to be “male” or “female” in our culture.

portrait of a person smudging the lipstick

The X and Y Factor

Does the fact that there is over one X show that the person with XXY initials is a female? Does the existence of a Y show that the individual with the XXY combination is a male? These people are chromosomally intersexed, so their chromosomes do not clearly show that they are male or female.

According to an estimate by the Intersex Society of North America, approximately 1.5% of people have sex variations, corresponding to 2,000 births yearly. So the question is, why isn’t this information more widely known? Many people born with genitalia that cannot be easily categorized as “male” or “female” have genital surgeries performed on them when they are infants, children, or adults to change the visible ambiguity caused by their genitalia. These procedures can be life-changing.

Surgeons, in both cases, actively shape patients’ anatomy to make them conform to the binary gender norm. Surgeons lower the size of female-assigned infants’ genitals to make them look more “feminine” and less “masculine.” Infants with genitals smaller than 2.5 millimeters are assigned as females.

Medical records are a common source of information for adults who, after years of doctors keeping the secret, learn about their chromosomal composition, surgery history, and intersex status. Parents and doctors may argue that these procedures are in the “best interest of the kid.” Yet, many patients go through them in silence and without understanding their sex variation or giving their consent, so the resulting social treatment can be traumatic. Due to scar tissue, deformity, medical difficulties, and persistent infection, the operations do not always restore a “natural” appearance to the body.

Intersex activists have successfully shifted attitudes away from immediately doing surgery on youngsters in favor of waiting until they are old enough to make informed decisions about their bodies. There is limited data on how often nonconsensual procedures are still being done in the United States. Still, because a single institution has not fully adopted the Accord Alliance’s standards of care, we can assume that the practice is continuing. But the intersex community can bring about marked changes when they align themselves with a prominent intersex focused organization.

Does an Intersex Person Have a Gender?

People born with intersex variants have a wide range of gender identities. Individuals born with intersex variations are sometimes misgendered since the definition of intersex as a gender identity invalidates or casts suspicion on their true gender identities. Of course, there may be instances in which an intersex person’s identity is shaped because they are intersex. Still, we all have something in common: They were given a set of sex characteristics at birth that deviated from the norm and is thus stigmatized because they do not conform to traditional gender norms.

Can a Male Become Intersex?

Yes, a male can become intersex. An intersex individual may have male or female genitalia, and reproductive organs yet carry chromosomes more commonly found in the other sex.

How Do I Know if I Am Intersex?

The bodies of intersex people typically provide sufficient proof they are indeed intersex. Thus, there is no need for them to go on a fruitless hunt for proof. People with ambiguous genitalia include those who have lost one or both sexes’ genitalia, such as women without ovaries, men without testicles, and women without a clitoris or inner labia. Some recall having multiple genital surgeries as children, with scars in the genital area and abdomen, and those who have never experienced either sex.

portrait of a smiling person outdoors

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Difference Between a Hermaphrodite and an Intersex?

There’s no difference between a hermaphrodite and an intersex. Intersex refers to a group of conditions characterized by anatomical differences between the sexes’ external genitalia (the ovaries and testes). Hermaphroditism is an older word for this condition.

Can an Intersex Person be Female?

Yes. A female can be an intersex person. Intersex people may view their bodies and genders as intersex, while yet others may choose to identify as female, non-binary, or male. Intersex people, like non-intersex people, have the freedom to identify with whichever gender they desire because gender has nothing to do with biology or appearance.

Can a Transgender Woman Get a Period?

Yes, a transgender woman can get a period. A period may be considered a natural and acceptable element of being transgender. Having a period, or menstruation is a normal part of life for many women.

Can Intersex Males Get Pregnant?

Yes, intersex males can get pregnant. People who are intersex may have either ovaries or testes, or both. If they have testicles, they might produce more testosterone than what is healthy for conceiving a child and carrying a pregnancy. If an intersex male has a uterus, he may conceive a child independently.

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