Why words matter

Language is powerful - knowing the right words to use when talking to someone, or talking about them, is not only respectful, it can also be empowering.  However, incorrect language use can be harmful and hurtful because it can cause stigma and shame.


Intersex refers to a difference, not a deformity. 

Intersex is an umbrella term that includes the many ways that the human body's sex characteristics may vary - it reflects "biological diversity" (IHRA, 2009)

Sometimes people use different terms to talk about these differences, such as:

  • Variations of Sex Characteristics (VSC)
  • Intersex Variation (IV)
  • Atypical Sex Characteristics
  • Difference(s) of Sex Development (DSD)

Intersex is the word/term we use most.  Using the proper language when we talk about people, their bodies and their experiences is very important to us and we are committed to speaking and writing about intersex as respectfully, and correctly, as possible.  The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) published a Background Note on Human Rights Violations against Intersex People (2019). The importance of respectful 'Terminology' is discussed on page 3.        

As our attitudes, thinking and knowledge changes, our choice of words and use of language should too.  In the following two questions, our friends at interACT - Advocates for Intersex Youth explain why some terms that have been used in the past were problematic.  

Is intersex the same thing as being a “hermaphrodite?”

No. “Hermaphrodite” should never be used to describe an intersex person. Some intersex people have reclaimed this word for themselves, but it is usually considered a slur. There are many ways to have an intersex body, but it is not possible for one person to have both a fully developed penis and vagina.

The “h word” comes from mythology. It might suggest that intersex people are monsters, or not of this world. Many intersex people still see this slur used in their medical records.

Is intersex the same thing as “Disorder of Sex Development?”

“Disorder” or “difference of sex development” (DSD) is still a common medical term for intersex traits. Many intersex people reject the term “DSD” because it supports the idea that their bodies are wrong, or up to doctors to “fix.” Advocates in the United States often bring up the fact that until 1973, being gay was considered a mental disorder. Many natural human differences have been framed as medical problems, until communities fought for acceptance. interACT generally does not use the term DSD. See interACT’s statement on DSD terminology.



What is intersex in Irish?

Intersex as gaeilge = idirghnéas

Our PI, Tanya Ní Mhuirthile contributed to An Foclóir Aiteach/The Queer Dictionary

It was a collaboration between the Union of Students of Ireland (USI), Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI) and BelongTo (LGBT youth organisation).

It was launched in DCU in March 2018 with the support of Mr. Joe McHugh TD, Minister for Gaeilge, An Gaeltacht and the Islands.  For a review as gaeilge by Ali Spillane in The College View - DCU's own independently-run student newspaperclick here

This is a wonderful resource not just for the LGBTQI+ community but also for the Irish speaking community everywhere.  A full PDF version of An Foclóir Aiteach is available here.