A 2017 poll revealed that about 4.5% of Americans openly identified with the LGBTQ+ community. Truthfully, the numbers are probably far higher, given the number of people who aren’t in a safe environment to come out. Plus, there are entire identities that are often overlooked in these kinds of polls.
The intersex community is one of these often-overlooked communities. You may have noticed the “I” in “LGBTQIA+” or seen the intersex flag once or twice without knowing what it represented.
The more we know about the LGBTQ+ community, the faster we can create a more inclusive world. Read on to learn about the intersex flag, its history, and the community itself.
What Does the Intersex Flag Mean?
The most commonly used intersex flag has a yellow backdrop and a perfect purple circle in the center. It is used to represent the intersex community, meaning the people who compose it.
It is not meant to represent the diverse range of gender and sexualities identities experienced by the members of the community; there are other pride flags for that.
Importantly, this flag has not been embraced by all intersex people, some of whom don’t identify with what it represents. In fact, the intersex flag has undergone many changes over the years.
Let’s take a look at the history behind the flag.
Intersex Flag History
As we’ve discussed before, the history behind LGBTQ+ symbols is just as important as the symbols, themselves. Previous attempts to establish an intersex flag were often considered derivative or inaccurate.
For example, some versions of the flag embraced the rainbow that is often associated with queer pride, while others used colors like blue and pink, which are found on the transgender flag.
The problem with these variations was that many intersex people didn’t identify with these colors. The rainbow flag has historically been used to represent sexuality, while the colors blue and pink felt closely aligned with gender identity.
That’s why in 2013 Morgan Carpenter chose the colors yellow and purple for the intersex flag, because neither color is associated with the social constructs of the gender binary (male/female).
The circle, perfect and unbroken, represents the wholeness of intersex people. It is a reminder that regardless of social norms or pseudoscientific claims, intersex people are perfect the way they are or choose to be.
Why Is the Intersex Flag Important?
Intersex people often go through an experience that is unique to them. From a young age, many are stripped of bodily autonomy and privacy. Decisions are made for them as infants or young children that should have been their choices to make when they reached an adequate age.
Having a flag to represent intersex people both raises awareness and creates community. It also validates the lived experiences of the members of this group.
The intersex flag is both a way to support the intersex community and take a stand against discrimination and unethical medical practices.
What Is the Definition of Intersex?
It’s important to remember that when we’re discussing the LGBTQ+ community, we’re not only talking about sexual preferences. In some cases, we’re also exploring gender identity or sexual identity, which are different from one another and from sexuality.
The definition of intersex can mean a variety of things, but often aligns with sexual identity or anatomical features.
At a basic level, the word intersex is most often used to describe someone who is born with variations in sex characteristics – such as chromosomes, genitals, gonads, or sex hormones. Thus, an intersex person may be born with or develop the anatomical features we associate with both (or neither) male and female anatomy.
Importantly, being intersex doesn’t translate to one specific “look” or outcome. Because it is an identity, it is critical to ask each person you meet with this identity what it means to them.
Also, remember that anatomical differences do not inherently align with gender or sexual identity.
An intersex person can be a woman, a man, a nonbinary person, a transgender person or any other gender identity. Likewise, intersex people can also identify as straight, gay, queer, asexual—whatever matches their feelings of sexual and romantic attraction.
How Many People Are Intersex?
It is difficult to give an exact number when estimating the percentage of our population that is intersex. As of right now, it is estimated that 1 in 100 people are born with variations that could be categorized as intersex.
Why isn’t this number considered accurate?
Some intersex variations are very subtle and are overlooked at birth. Some intersex variations don’t become evident until later in life, sometimes around puberty or well into adulthood. Other variations present as subtle variations throughout one’s lifespan.
Perhaps most importantly, most intersex people prefer to be keep their medical records private, which limits large-scale documentation.
Because there is no single defining feature of intersex individuals, it’s not possible to get an exact percentage. Thus, the are odds are that the intersex community has been vastly under reported.
Biological Sex Diversity
Some people mistakenly believe that being intersex falls under the supposedly medical umbrella of “disorders of sex development.” It’s important to remember that there is a negative connotation that comes with the word “disorder” and that this word has been used to harm members of the LGBTQIA+ community for decades.
Using the word “disorder” to describe an intersex person’s anatomical or hormonal development implies that there is something “wrong” during development.
Today, the phrase “differences of sexual development” is used to acknowledge the existence of a beautiful range of biological sex diversity. Across all time and history, biological diversity has been a critical component of our species’ survival.
I wrote about the fascinating range of biological sex diversity present in humans in this article where I discuss why neither gender or biological sex are binary.
Similarly, the journal Scientific America published a widely circulated article called “Visualizing Sex as a Spectrum” that also changed the public’s understanding of biological sex forever. That article has been viewed tens of millions of times, according to Google. It’s also been shared over 8,200 times on Facebook.
Intersex bodies are as natural as any other body. After all, genetic diversity has been a mainstay across all of human evolution and development.
Today, biologists understand sex to be created by a constellation of traits, none of which are binary.
The Power of the Intersex Flag
The more we know about the world and the diverse communities that exist within it, the better equipped we are to build a more inclusive future. Now that you know more about the origins and meaning of the intersex flag, I hope you fly it proudly.