Changing Labels For People, Not People For Labels

Nerd. Freak. Punk. Loser. Idiot. Drop-out. Druggie. Rich. Poor. Bitch. Tool. Slut. Loner. Jock. Prep. Goth. Goodie-two-shoes. White. Black. Yellow. Red. Brown. Buddhist. Muslim. Christian. Jew. Liberal. Conservative. I label myself as a white, Christian, liberal, and a woman. Where do you fit in? Are the labels you place on yourself different then the labels others place on you? Do you change yourself to fit the labels or do you change the labels to fit yourself? What would happen if there were no labels that fit you, would you make up a new one? People who do not fit in the gender binary experience the effects of having no label every day.

There is no word in our language, with negative or positive connotations, to describe anyone who isn’t or does not want to be a man or a woman. In the English language you have to pick one or the other. The word transgender doesn’t make the cut for some people. Using it requires that you acknowledge your gender within the binary and then acknowledge that you want to be part of the other gender. Some people just don’t want to fit in the binary at all. Many people choose not to choose, but that often results in discrimination, confusion, and the gift of a new label, “freak”. Our society has decided to follow the binary so strictly that we won’t allow for a new word to be made up to fit those individuals. Instead, those individuals are forced to change themselves to fit the binary. Our language needs the word, “intergender” to describe those who do not identify as man, woman or transgender.

The word intergender is important because there is no other word in our language to describe people between or outside of the two defined genders. There are a few words that do describe people outside of other binaries; including intersex, transgender, and transsexual. The word intersex “refers to intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish male from female” (Wiki). This refers to individuals with ambiguous genitalia, a divide between genitalia and chromosomes, and/or chromosome combinations like XO and XXY. Transgender individuals are individuals whose gender identity does not match their sexual identity. Some individuals use this word to label themselves, but it isn’t enough. The word “transgender” implies that one has transitioned from one gender to another. If that person never felt like they were woman or man OR if they don’t want to transition into woman or man, then this word doesn’t fit them. Transsexual individuals are individuals who have gone through or want to go through sexual reassignment surgery to become the other sex.

We can better understand the need for the term “intergender” by looking at the life of Max Beck. Max Beck was born intersex, in his case he was born with ambiguous genitalia. The doctors could not tell whether he was a male or a female. After many tests, the doctors collectively decided that although she was born with some XY and some XO chromosomes, it would be best to “raise [her] female.” Her parents called her Judy. Judy grew up as a tomboyish girl who doctors called “unfinished.” This idea of “unfinished” was detrimental to Judy’s self esteem. Judy sought out to find what it was that would make her a completed person. Through adolescence and young adulthood Judy continued to struggle with identity and a sense of self. In college Judy realized that she must be a lesbian. She began to identify as a “butch lesbian”. After coming out, Judy felt empowered by her new sense of self identity. Judy’s sense of identity quickly turns to despair again when she realizes that doesn’t feel like a woman. Her logic said that a person can’t be a lesbian if that person is actually a man.

The term “intergender” could’ve changed everything for Judy. Judy’s sense of completeness, sexual identity, gender identity, and even sexual orientation could have benefitted from that one word. Judy said that at one point she tried to kill herself, because she felt like “a freak, a monster, an anomaly” (Max Beck). Eventually Judy started taking testosterone and now calls herself Max. Max’s struggle to be a woman, then a lesbian and then finally a man stems from a culturally constructed need to fit into a label. Getting rid of labels altogether might be ideal, but it seems unrealistic. Instead of changing people to fit labels, we should be changing labels to fit people.

A second example of someone who really could’ve benefitted from the term “intergender” is Mr. Barb Greve. In his story, “Courage From Necessity” Mr. Barb was born and raised as a female but from the time she was in kindergarten she knew she would grow up to be a guy. When she was in junior high she realized that her attraction to woman must make her a lesbian. In college, Barb came out as a lesbian, and she joined the lesbian community. Barb surrounded herself with women, but the more time she spent with them, the less she felt she belonged. Barb also expressed her desire to fit into a stereotype, into a label.

Barb could’ve benefitted from the label “intergender” because she didn’t feel like she was a woman, and she didn’t know how to identify as a man. Eventually Barb finds that she is most comfortable with herself when she goes by Mr. Barb. He keeps the name Barb for sentimental reasons, but goes by “Mr. Barb” so that people know he is a man. Mr. Barb also makes the distinction between gender identity and gender expression. He says that gender identity is man or woman, and gender expression is masculine and feminine.

More people could benefit from this new label than I could ever imagine. Almost every single intersex, transgender and transsexual individual probably has felt intergender at one point in their lives. I think the idea of intergender individuals, further blurs the line between gender and sex. By definition sex is biological and gender is culturally constructed, but I think that the term intergender poses some interesting questions.

Here are a few links that may help you better understand the struggle of intersex/intergender individuals:

Psychological Effects of Gender Reassignment at Birth
My Life as an Intersexual (Max Beck's story)
Personal accounts of transsexual, transgender, and intersex individuals
Gender Identity Research and Education Society

Works Cited

Beck, Max. "My Life as an Intersexual." Sex Unknown. Nova Online, Oct. 2001. 15 Mar. 2010. <>
Greve, Barb. “Courage From Necessity.” Genderqueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary. Ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins. Alyson Books: New York, 2002. 247-249. Print

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