Living Intersex
: Reconceptualising dualistic notions of sex and the body

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores living Intersex in Western society. Intersex is an umbrella term which refers to biologically atypical bodies, where physical and/or chromosomal features more commonly considered to be either male or female are combined in one body. It is currently case managed as a medical emergency in Western societies which involves routine genital surgeries on Intersex babies and young children. These surgeries are primarily performed to erase Intersex difference and include supplementing or removing healthy internal or external genitalia so that the Intersex child can be more clearly identified and categorised as male or female. Intersex is referred to in the medical literature as a ʻsexual disorderʼ which advances a narrative of Intersex as pathology and erases it from common knowledge. It is not a new, rare or inherently life-threatening phenomenon, yet Intersex people remain a hidden, socially stigmatised and marginalised group.
It is within this context that my study seeks to document and theorise the experiences of Intersex adults. The study draws on empirical social science and, more specifically, qualitative research methods to analyse the viewpoints of Intersex people on the medicalisation of Intersexuality in Western culture, including how they have conceptualised and navigated their Intersex difference throughout their lives and in a variety of situations. The study analyses the accounts of seventeen Intersex adults and consists of biographies and case studies. Since Intersex people comprise a hard to reach and hard to access group, participants have primarily been sourced from online communities. Intersex online forums are typically composed of an international membership, on account of this in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted using Skype, the telecommunications software which permits video and/or telephone calls between computers and other electronic devices.
The theoretical framework for this study is predominantly informed by literature from the fields of Gender Studies, Feminist Theory, Feminist Post-structuralism and Queer Theory. The study examines sex categorisation in the West to reveal its purpose as a mechanism of social regulation and control. It does this by exposing how the dominant categories of sex, male and female, are unstable, volatile, temporal and multiply contingent. The study also engages with philosophical literature to present the central argument of the thesis, namely, that the imposition of a dualistic Cartesian world view which constructs the body as a defective and disordered mechanical object, permits unfettered biomedical access to human bodies in Western societies, and for Intersex bodies this means the sanctioning of infant genital surgeries to fix, repair and correct their Intersex difference.
My project has demystification, consciousness-raising and emancipatory aims. It is hoped that it will provide valuable insight for educational, medical, therapeutic and health networks - including any professionals who encounter, treat and advise Intersex people and their families – and in so doing inform how Intersex people are supported in the wider community. It also seeks to assist in crucial policy-making decisions regarding highly contested ʻgenital-normalisingʼ surgeries.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSharon Gewirtz (Supervisor), Alan Cribb (Supervisor), Louise Archer (Supervisor) & Becky Francis (Supervisor)

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