Understanding Intersex and Transgender Experiences: A Primer

What does “INTERSEX” mean?

Intersex is a broad label for people with a difference of sex development (DSD)—people whose bodies show physical characteristics of both male and female. Intersex isn’t a third sex; it’s a mix of male and female characteristics.

In Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, a girl is born with female-typical external genitals, but with testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus. She has a spontaneous, feminizing puberty, but without menstruating. She could live her entire life without knowing she has XY chromosomes.

In Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, the adrenal glands produce too many male hormones. It is the most common cause of ambiguous genitals in an XX child. It is one of the few intersex conditions that requires immediate medical care—not for the genitals, but due to issues with adrenal function.

In Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis, the child can be any combination of male and female, but often has one good testis, one streak ovary, ambiguous genitals, and a partial uterus.

What does “TRANSGENDER” mean?

The following definitions have been adapted from those provided by the Human Rights Campaign. (The Genderbread Person is another resource.)


An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. The term transgender is only used as an adjective (e.g. A Transgender Person) and never as a noun or verb with trailing ‘s’, ‘ed’, or ‘ism’.  Not all Transgender people use the term to describe themselves (e.g. man rather than transgender man).


The personalized process by which a Transgender person takes social, legal, and/or medical steps to align their expression, physical, and/or social identity with their gender identity. Some people socially transition, whereby they alter their expression, name, and/or pronouns to be socially or legally recognized as their gender identity. Others undergo various physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions. Qualified medical transitions are classed as medically necessary after rigorous assessment. The process and steps for transitioning are personalized for an individual designed to alleviate gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria

Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. Being Transgender is not considered a disorder and dysphoria “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”

Gender identity

One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.  Gender identity can be known at a young age and, while atypical gender expression can change with time, a strong sense of gender identity usually is persistent.

Gender expression

External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine. Gender norms are highly influenced by culture.  Gender identity is not.

In addition: Our friends at LOVEboldly have produced a helpful resource called “Words Can Crush,” which is a free downloadable glossary of LGBTQ+-related terms.

This primer was prepared by the panelists of our Gender, Jesus and the Church webinar, a conversation with Christians who have transgender or intersex experiences.

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