Should there be two genders? The case of intersex people

Published: Feb 22, 2015
intersex gender ethics bioethics
Nikoleta Pikramenou (Νικολέτα Πικραμένου)

Gender refers to all those social, cultural, and psychological traits which are linked to males and females through particular social contexts. Sex makes us male or female and gender makes us masculine or feminine. However, this relatively simple distinction masks a number of problems associated with its usage. It implies that all people can be conveniently placed into unambiguous “either–or” categories.

Intersex people are born with characteristics that are in between male and female. Consequently, they often go through a lot of suffering because intersex infants are sometimes subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment that is cosmetic rather that vital for health in order to fit in the gender binary model. Although at least one in every thousand people is born intersex, many countries do not acknowledge their existence. Their rights are also ignored because they don't fit into standard social and medical models.

In this article, I will examine the negative effects of this gender binary distinction and justify my arguments by using the example of intersex people.

Article Details
  • Section
  • Original Articles
Download data is not yet available.
Butler Judith, “Undoing Gender”, Routledge New York and London, 2004, pp. 17-40.
Fausto-Sterling Anne, ''Sexing the Body: gender politics and the construction of sexuality”, New York: Basic Books, 2000, pp. 45-115.
Lear Jonathan, “Unnecessary surgery on intersex infants: Problems of theory become problems in practice”, Master’s Thesis in Applied Ethics, Centre for Applied Ethics, Linkopings University, 2007, pp. 53-55.
Mhuirthile Ni Tania, ''Legal Recognitions of Preferred Gender Identity in Ireland: An analysis of Proposed Legislation'', 2013, Chapter 5, p. 133.
Ridgeway Cecilia and Correll Shelley, ''Limiting inequality through interaction: the End(s) of Gender'', Symposium, Stanford University, 2000, pp. 110-119.
BBC News, “India court recognizes transgender people as third gender”, (last accessed on 7 October 2014).
Chase Cheryl, “Hermaphrodites with attitude: Mapping the emergence of intersex political activism”, Journal of Lesbian and Gay studies, Vol.4 No.2, 1998, pp.189-211.
Nandi Jacinta, “Germany got it right by offering a third gender option on birth certificates” on The Guardian, (last accessed on 8 October 2014).
Rosario Vermon A., “An Interview with Cheryl Chase”, Journal of Gay& Lesbian Psychotherapy Vol. 10 No 2, 2006, p. 93-104.
Switzer Latesha, “Can Surgery For Intersex Babies be Justified?”, The York Scholar Vol.2, 2005, pp. 67-74.
Wilson Gina, ''Equal Rights for Intersex People'', The Equal Rights Review, vol.10, 2013, pp.133-136.
Woo Elaine, “David Reimer, 38, After Botched Surgery, He was Raised as a Girl in Gender Experiment”, Los Angeles Times, 2004, (last accessed on 7 October 2014).
Zara Christopher, “Intersex Austalia: Third Gender Allowed on Personal Documents in Addition to Male and Female” on International Business Times, (last accessed on 8 October 2014).
Agius Silvan, Tobler Christa, “Trans and intersex people, Discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender identity and gender expression”, European Commission report, 2011, p.1-108.
Australian Human Rights Commission, “Surgery on intersex infants and human rights”, 2009, pp.1-10.
UN, General Assembly, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Mendez”, A/HRC/22/53 (1 February 2013) available from (last accessed on 7 October 2014).