Intersex and families: supporting family members with intersex variations

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    618 Downloads (Pure)


    People with intersex variations have congenital atypical sex characteristics (chromosomal, hormonal, and/or anatomical) and receive protection against discrimination in only three countries globally; these include Australia, where the case study on which this chapter centers was based. This article considers the complex dynamics of family for people with intersex variations from their own perspective, filling a significant gap in the existing literature on family strengths studies of intersex issues. It draws on data from an Australian survey of 272 people with intersex variations and specifically considers in detail for the first time questions on these participants’ family discussions of intersex issues, family support levels, and family information sharing. It also considers the contribution of families to the participants’ gender rearing, surgical and hormonal medical interventions, and feelings about having intersex variations. Finally, it discusses the participants’ views on key parenting debates about rearing children with intersex variations. Overall, the data confirmed the hypothesis that family relationships are strained by disordering of intersex variations, which is viewed as problematic. The data showed that participants wanted their families to embrace their natural (intersex) bodies more strongly rather than seek “corrective” measures, provide more information, and protect them from early medical intervention.
    Key Take Away Points
    *Parents often delay telling children with intersex variations about their variation, and families offer these family members mixed levels of support.
    *Extended family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles) can contribute to atmospheres of secrecy by not disclosing any hereditary intersex variations or their own experiences of intersex variations.
    *Some parents have pushed their children with intersex variations to display gender normative roles and behaviours, or to engage in hormonal and surgical interventions to make their bodies appear more aesthetically 'normative' for their sex.
    *Family responses to a family member's intersex variation can impact how they feel about it and their social and physical realities, and family dynamics in the long term.
    *Ideally, people with intersex variations want more family protection from intervention and more family support
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number8
    Pages (from-to)1-29
    Number of pages29
    JournalJournal of Family Strengths
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • intersex
    • DSD
    • Family studies


    Dive into the research topics of 'Intersex and families: supporting family members with intersex variations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this