“I think I’m a very strong-willed person,” she said.
“I’m determined to get what I want.” I met Adams through Inter ACT, an advocacy organization for young people who are intersex — meaning they were born with some combination of chromosomes, hormones, gonads or genitals that defy social expectations of sex, including the expectation that sex is dichotomous.
In 2011, the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture released a statement critical of nonconsensual intersex surgeries; two years later, the panel went further, declaring that the surgeries often “arguably meet the criteria for torture.” Even in the past few months, there has been growing momentum for intersex rights — on both the cultural and political fronts.
In January, a prominent Belgian model named Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex.
Now, in an era when society has proved open to revisiting other identities that were once considered shameful or taboo, is the intersex community finally on the brink of its own revolutionary moment — one that could transform what was a disorder into just another way for a person to be?
Indeed, rather than using the label “intersex,” most physicians and many parents still prefer to talk about “disorders of sex development” — in other words, problems for doctors to fix.
People with complete AIS are born looking like typical girls.
Adams’s insensitivity is partial; in cases like hers, children are often born with an enlarged clitoris that may look like a small penis, and sometimes with a single “urogenital” opening instead of separate openings for the vagina and urethra.
“Intersex” is a broad umbrella that is often used to encompass dozens of variations, from unusual karyotypes, such as XXY, to hormone insensitivities that can cause a person with XY chromosomes and internal testes to develop as an externally typical female.
The question of who exactly counts as intersex isn’t a simple one.