Intersex people and military service

Military service of intersex people varies greatly by country. Some armed forces such as the Australian fully embrace intersex people in modern-day while others have vague rules or policies or treat the subject on a case by case basis, such as the United States.


In the late 1800s military medical examinations became a driving force in increased detection and diagnosis of intersex individuals.[1]


The 2014 book Operative Pediatric Surgery states that "societies that have accepted intersex individuals culturally may still have issues with whether or not to accept them in the military", this being due to the difficulties in determining where to place them as well as the complex medial issues they may pose.[2] In 2007 the US-based Palm Center released a report that found that most of the militaries beliefs about transgender and intersex medical requirements were myths and posed no barrier to effective service.[3]

By country

United States

Accepting of intersex people in the United States Armed Forces appears to vary depending on the nature of the condition of the individual people.[4] Publications by the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information recommends that intersex individuals be allowed to serve in the armed forces, but not combat units.[5] The Veterans Health Administration distinguishes between surgeries for transgender individuals and intersex persons. In 2015 this allowed intersex persons to receive medically necessary treatment that was prohibited for transgender people.[6][7]


Officially, Israel Defense Forces policy does not prohibit intersex patients' draft[5] but does exclude some people based on intersex status.[8][9][10] The Military Medicine journal estimated in 2008 that there should be expected to be about "a few dozen" intersex persons serving in the Israel Defense Forces at that time and that it is probable that most intersex persons service closeted since it is underreported comparatively to the general population. According to the publication this is most likely caused by shame or secrecy. One reported case of an intersex woman was found where the woman's status was not discovered until military medical investigation, she was initially drafted to a combat unit and served successfully, but was later transferred to a non-combat unit where she also completed her service successfully. It was also discovered that her older sister who served in a fully in a non-combat unit also was intersex, as was their younger sister who was yet to be drafted.[5]


A report from 2017 by ABC Online stated that intersex personnel of the Australian Defence Force have had their history and contributions largely scrubbed out, much like other queer people and that their history was still being attempted to be rediscovered.[11] During the "25 years of diversity" celebration for the armed forces intersex people were honored and included with other queer people.[12] In their 2018 book Serving in Silence? Noah Riseman, Shirleene Robinson and Graham Willett acknowledged the lack of perspective and representation from intersex people in their work, they account for this by explaining that the Australian Defence Force never had official policies regarding intersex people and that it was purely considered a medical condition which would mean that the nature of it would determine if someone was allowed to serve, but either as a man or woman regardless, and the fact that the one intersex person they were able to interview provided them with content which they felt was too sensitive to share.[13] In 2016 the first ADF policy regarding intersex and non-binary people was put in use, it states that they are allowed to sign as "intersex", "indeterminate" or unspecified" on their papers.[14] Australia allows both non-binary trans people and intersex servicemen to use "X" on their papers as well.[15][16][17]

DEFGLIS is the most well known organisation of the Regular, Reserve and Civilian members of the Australian Defence Organisation for those who are homosexual, bisexual, intersex and transgender, as well as their allies.[18][19]

South Korea

Intersex service people of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces are subject to supplemental urological examinations, this was first introduced due to transgender people but is also meant to clear up the status of intersex individuals to the military leaders. Non-intersex people can also be subject to them in some cases.[20][21]


Taiwan's military is overwhelmingly male and only males are obligated to serve under conscription, this can cause complicated situations for intersex people. One noted case was in 1954 with the soldier Xie Jianshun who was originally assigned as a male at birth but was later discovered in the military to have many female characteristics. Xie had a penis but a very slim vaginal opening as well as internal gonads which contained both testicular and ovarian tisue, doctors detirmed that they could still produce eggs and that Xie's testicular tissue was deteriorating. Military doctors performed four surgeries despite Xie's desire to remain a man, afterwards Xie left the armed forces.[22]


In the past the exclusion or inclusion of Intersex people presented a difficult task for the Royal Thai Armed Forces which have at times expected both transvestites and male assigned transgender people to be eligible for drafting[23] despite how many feminine traits they have, but were unsure how to handle intersex people since many of them despite their male traits may not have been assigned as male at birth.[2] In modern-day they are mostly allowed.[24]


In the 19th century Spain excluded many androgynous people and those with ambiguous genitalia from military service, people who they described as being of "doubtful sex". If a male person was found to be developing breasts they could be excluded even if they had no vissible genital abnormalities. The military composed several regulations to determine who was deemed unfit for service based on their genitals.[25]

In modern-day the Spanish Armed Forces accepts intersex personnel.[5]


One of the most well known intersex military people is Lê Văn Duyệt. Born in 1763 he was considered a genius general and helped unify the area that is today known as Vietnam.[26]

Czech Republic

The Armed Forces of the Czech Republic allows intersex recruits.[5]


[27] Intersex individuals are accepted in the Canadian Armed Forces.[5]

New Zealand

The New Zealand Defence Force offers support to its intersex troops the same as to their other queer personnel.[28] Intersex service members and veterans are supported by DEFGLIS, the Defence Force Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Information Service.[29]


During the Taishō period (30 July 1912 to 25 December 1926) an intersex man who was initially assigned female at birth underwent sex reassignment surgery to masculinize his genitals and was allowed to be assessed for military service, he was rejected for not being tall enough but his intersex status was not commented on.[30]


Since the first half of the 20th century intersex people who were assigned male at birth and had surgery to correct any issues were allowed to serve and intersex persons assigned female at birth could also serve if they choose to transition to male and have surgery.[31]


According to the laws of the Russian Federation, only people with a male gender marker in a passport are eligible for drafting. People with a female gender marker in the passport can serve in the army at will. At the same time, there are a number of medical restrictions, in accordance with which military service can be prohibited or restricted. Such restrictions include those that may be manifestations of intersex traits (such as vaginal atresia, absence of the penis, cryptorchidism, amenorrhea).[32]

See also


  1. "What's the history behind the intersex rights movement? - Intersex Society of North America". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  2. Operative Pediatric Surgery - Page 901
  3. "Let them serve: Defence drops ban on transgender soldiers". 15 September 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  4. "Gender, Sexuality and Joining the Military - Voice of San Diego". 10 February 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  5. Marom, Tal; Itskoviz, David; Ostfeld, Ishay (1 November 2008). "Intersex Patients in Military Service". Military Medicine. 173 (11): 1132–1135. doi:10.7205/MILMED.173.11.1132.
  6. "Does VA distinguish between transsexual gender-confirmation surgery and intersex surgery? - Transgender American Veterans Association". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  7. "VHA Issues New Directive on Trans and Intersex Veteran Health Care - Care2 Causes". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  8. Danon, Limor Meoded (10 April 2015). "The Body/Secret Dynamic". SAGE Open. 5 (2): 215824401558037. doi:10.1177/2158244015580370.
  9. "Haredi Hermaphrodite Banned From IDF". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  11. "Witch-hunts and surveillance: The hidden lives of LGBTI people in the military". 25 April 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  12. Dominic.O'Grady (24 September 2017). "Celebrating 25 years of diversity in the armed forces". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  13. Serving in Silence?: Australian LGBT servicemen and women Foreword
  14. Beyond Combat: Australian military life off the battlefield; - page 43
  15. "What is gender X and why it matters to government and Defence - The Mandarin". 26 September 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  18. "DEFGLIS - Defence LGBTI Information Service". DEFGLIS. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  20. The Journal of Korean Studies, Volume 19, Number 2 (Fall 2014), 366
  22. Sexuality in China: Histories of Power and Pleasure; 138
  24. Witten TM Gender Identity and the Military: Transgender, Transsexual, and Intersex Identified Individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces. University of California, Santa Barbara, The Michael D. Palm Center, 2007.
  25. Bodies, Sex and Desire from the Renaissance to the Present
  26. Saigon: A History; 46
  27. Canadian Services Medical Journal, Volume 13; Ministers of National Defence, National Health and Welfare and Veterans Affairs, 1957
  28. "NZDF - Equity and Diversity". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  29. "DEFGLIS Serving with pride". DEFGLIS. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  30. Mark J. McLelland; Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age - Page 208
  31. Afsaneh Najmabadi; Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran - Page 46
  32. "Постановление Правительства РФ от 04.07.2013 N 565 (ред. от 14.12.2018) "Об утверждении Положения о военно-врачебной экспертизе"".

Further reading

  • The Hermaphrodite, Fecundity and Military Efficiency: Dangerous Subjects in the Emerging Liberal Order of Nineteenth-Century Spain
  • Hermaphroditism, Medical Science and Sexual Identity in Spain, 1850 – 1960
  • Routledge Handbook of Social, Economic, and Criminal Justice
  • Williams Textbook of Endocrinology
  • Pediatrics, 1960-61; Robert Aaron Lyon; F.A. Davis Co., 1960
  • Teresa A. Algoso, "Not Suitable as a Man: Conscription, Masculinity, and Hermaphroditism in Early Twentieth-Century Japan". In Sabine Fruhstuck and Anne Walthall, eds., Recreating Japanese Men (University of California Press), 248.
  • Samurai to Soldier: Remaking Military Service in Nineteenth-Century Japan
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