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.

Author Biography

Associate Professor Tiffany Jones (PhD) is a DECRA Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia. Her research has been funded by UNESCO, governments, the Australian Research Council, beyondblue, Origin and other public and private bodies. She has written a range of books on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues; education and health policies; and other sociological work. Her work has been awarded an APA Scholarship, the Griffith University Medal, an ATLAS Methodological Award and other recognition. Dr Jones has liaised with UNESCO, and various international and local/ state government and non-government organisations, on policy development. Her work has contributed towards legislative and policy change in Australian education and beyond. Dr Jones sits on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed journals LGBT Health and LGBT Youth, and she is an active peer-reviewer for various education, health and sociology journals. Dr Jones is also an assessor of grant applications for a range of key institutions including the Australian Research Council.


Dr Jones acknowledges the contributions of the community reference groups advising on sensitivity issues for the original study this article discusses.