Intersex characters in fiction

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics, such as genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns, "that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies".[1] Literary descriptions may use older or different language for intersex traits, including describing intersex people as hermaphrodites,[2] neither wholly male or female,[3] or a combination of male and female.[3]

Intersex characters and tropes

Intersex people have been portrayed in literature, television and film as monsters,[2] murderers and medical dilemmas.[4] Characters in award-winning literature include Cal Stephanides in the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides[5] and Max Walker in the novel Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin.[6]

Morgan Holmes, Canadian sociologist and a former activist with the (now defunct) Intersex Society of North America, comments on constructions of intersex people as monsters or ciphers for discussions about sex and gender.[2] Holmes describes her weariness "of writers who had contacted me for a number of years during my intersex-activist days, trying to determine if their proposed ‘hermaphrodites’ could do things like impregnate or have sex with themselves", and how depictions of intersex people are "stalled", reifying "the proper place of traditional visions and modes of masculinity in opposition to femininity" or "beyond and outside the realm of gender altogether";[2] the character of Annabel/Wayne, in the Canadian novel Annabel by Kathleen Winter, provides an example of monstrous auto-impregnation.

An intersex murderer plot twist trope has been repeated in the TV programs Nip/Tuck (Quentin Costa), Passions (Vincent Clarkson) and Janet King.[7] This has been criticised as hackneyed and offensive, characterizing intersex people as deceitful.[7]

Examples of the medical dilemmas trope include the 2010 Childrens Hospital episode Show Me on Montana, the 2012 Emily Owens, M.D. episode Emily and... the Question of Faith,[8] a 2009 episode of House entitled, The Softer Side, and Masters of Sex episode 3 in season 2, Fight.[9]

The MTV series Faking It marked the first intersex series regular in a TV show, Lauren Cooper,[10] and also the first intersex character played by an intersex person, Raven.[11] MTV worked with intersex civil society organization interACT on Faking It; the program was praised for creating a groundbreaking character.[12] A Freaks and Geeks story has also been credited as commendable.[12] In film, the character Rebeca Duarte in the movie Both was created by an intersex woman, Lisett Barcellos.[13]
















  • Rachel, in Friends TV sitcom, was rumored to be intersex in episode The One with the Rumor.[28]
  • Raven in the MTV series Faking It. This character, played by Amanda Saenz, was notable for being the first intersex character played by an intersex person.[11]
  • Rebis, character in the comic series Doom Patrol.[29]





See also


  1. United Nations; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2015). Free & Equal Campaign Fact Sheet: Intersex (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-04.
  2. Holmes, Morgan (August 16, 2007). "Cal/liope in Love: The 'Prescientific' Desires of an Apolitical 'Hermaphrodite'". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 11 (3–4): 223–232. doi:10.1300/J155v11n03_05. ISSN 1089-4160. PMID 17954458.
  3. Australia; Parliament; ComLaw (July 2013). Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013. Canberra. Archived from the original on 2016-01-15.
  4. Carpenter, Morgan (April 8, 2016). "Celebrating intersex firsts on TV". Organisation Intersex International Australia. Archived from the original on June 4, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  5. Gilpin, Sam (September 28, 2003). "Paperback pick of the week: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides". The Times. London. Archived from the original on February 21, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  6. Thornton, Jeanne (May 21, 2013). "Book Review: 'Golden Boy'". Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on October 16, 2014.
  7. ""Janet King" recap (2.8): Her Majesty The King". After Ellen. May 16, 2016. Archived from the original on May 21, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  8. Guccini, Jill (November 28, 2012). ""Emily Owens, M.D." recap (Ep. 6): God and Gender". After Ellen. Archived from the original on August 3, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  9. ‘Masters of Sex’ Recap 2×3: ‘Fight’ Archived 2014-10-21 at the Wayback Machine, New York Observer, July 28, 2014.
  10. Covington, Carter (May 13, 2016). "Carter Covington Explains Why MTV Is Ending 'Faking It' With Season 3 (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 16, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  11. Pidgeon Pagonis (2016). "The Significance of MTV's Intersex Representation". Interact Advocates for Intersex Youth. Archived from the original on 2016-05-11. Retrieved 2016-05-21.
  12. Peitzman, Louis (September 24, 2014). "Meet Television's Groundbreaking Intersex Character". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on May 29, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  13. Dunne, Susan (November 3, 2005). "The Taboo Of Intersexuality". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014.
  14. VanDerWerff, Todd (October 16, 2013). "Freaks And Geeks: "The Little Things"". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on May 24, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  15. Guy, Christine Fischer (August 23, 2012). "It's a boy! It's a girl! It's..." The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on April 19, 2017.
  16. du Plessis, Michael (2011). "Robert Fuest and The Final Programme: Science Fiction and the Question of Style". In Hochscherf, Tobias; Leggot, James (eds.). British Science Fiction Film and Television: Critical Essays. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7864-4621-6.
  17. Bender, Hy (1999). The Sandman Companion. DC Comics. p. 243. ISBN 978-1-56389-465-7.
  18. "Lisset Barcellos film "Both" screens in San Francisco". Intersex Society of North America. May 19, 2005. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015.
  19. White, Donna R. (1999). Dancing with dragons: Ursula K. Le Guin and the critics. Columbia, South Carolina, USA: Camden house. ISBN 978-1-57113-034-1.
  20. Perez, Richard (2006). "Literary pre/occupations: An interview with Puerto Rican author Edgardo Vega Yunqué" (PDF). Centro Journal. XVIII (1): 188–206. ISSN 1538-6279. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-09-19. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  21. M John Harrison (June 14, 2012). "2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson – review". The Guardian. Archived from the original on February 21, 2015. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  22. "Ilario: The Lion's Eye by Mary Gentle". Strange Horizons. 6 March 2007. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013.
  23. Leith, Linda (1980). "Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover". Science Fiction Studies. 7 (1): 28–35. ISSN 0091-7729. JSTOR 4239308.
  24. Ebert, Roger (September 4, 2008). "XXY Movie Review & Film Summary (2008)". Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  25. Leary, Alaina (2015). "This Intersex Character Is Leading The Way In YA". Bust. Archived from the original on 2016-04-16. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  26. Williams, ed., Gary; Julia Ward Howe (2004). The Hermaphrodite. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. x. ISBN 978-0803204270. Archived from the original on 2018-01-04.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  27. "Viz Media Adds JoJo's Bizarre Adventures: Battle Tendency, Requiem of the Rose King Manga". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 11 July 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  28. "NBC's "Friends" episode offensive to intersex youth". Intersex Society of North America. 2001-11-26. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
  29. Belonsky, Andrew (September 5, 2010). "Remember Doom Patrol's Queer Characters, Rebis and Coagula?". The Bilerico Project. Archived from the original on August 18, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  30. Doto, Bob (May 12, 2010). ""Spork" Is The First Classic Bitpunk Movie". io9. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  31. "Dove Self-Esteem Project x Steven Universe: Social Media". YouTube. Dove. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  32. Peeples, Jase (November 16, 2012). "Week In Geek: DC Outs First Intersex Superhero, Minnie Mouse Works the Runway, and More". Archived from the original on May 12, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
  33. Walton, Jo (January 18, 2012). "A Soldier Like My Mother. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga". Archived from the original on March 25, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  34. "Tintomara". Internet Movie DataBase. 2006. Archived from the original on 2016-08-13.
  35. Gough, Val (2000). "Stylish Apocalypse: Storm Constantine's Wraeththu Trilogy". In Seed, David (ed.). Imagining Apocalypse. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 181–198. doi:10.1007/978-1-137-07657-1_13. ISBN 978-1-349-62247-4.
  36. "A Brief History of the Ring". Empire (film magazine). Oct 19, 2005. Archived from the original on 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
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