Many of us have taught gay, lesbian and bisexual students and would also have an understanding of transgender issues; the “i” in GLBTI is, however, a little more elusive.
So what does the “i” stand for? It stands for intersex, not “into sex”, as one of my teaching colleagues purported. A pair of chromosomes, x and y, determine biological sex, and there is a general notion that people are either male (xy) or female (xx). Alterations in, or multi-copies of, the chromosomes can lead to variations in expression of biological sex. In short, sex is not just two types but a spectrum of “female” and “male” and lots of variations in between, known as “intersex”.
People who are intersex may identify their gender as male, female or X (indeterminant, intersex, unspecified). Unfortunately, we are not seeing the X on any of the Department of Education and Communities forms at this stage.
Current statistics vary on the frequency of children being born of indeterminant gender: the lowest is around one in 2000 people (.05 per cent of births) but a more likely figure is closer to 1.7 per cent. This makes intersex differences about as common as red hair.
Recently, under anti-discrimination law, Australia recognised intersex as a spectrum. As a result, intersex people are now protected against discrimination in accessing education, health and other services.
The Department currently has no policy relating to intersex students. As a teacher, there are things we can be mindful of that will ease the lives of these students and their parents. Use of inclusive language, being mindful of the language used within the classroom, and educating ourselves on the issues surrounding intersex identification will assist.
If you have any questions or would like further information, browse the Organisation Intersex International Australia Limited site — oii.org.au. Films to view include Intersexion and Orchids: My Intersex Adventure.