Intersex characters in fiction

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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] This page examines intersex characters in fictional works as a whole, focusing on characters and tropes over time.

For more information about fictional characters in other parts of the LGBTQ community, see the corresponding pages about asexual, pansexual, non-binary, lesbian, and gay characters in fiction.

Intersex characters and tropes[edit]

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] Max Walker in the novel Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin[6] and Anjum in the novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.[7]

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.[8] This has been criticised as hackneyed and offensive, characterizing intersex people as deceitful.[8]

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",[9] a 2009 episode of House entitled, "The Softer Side", and Masters of Sex episode 3 in season 2, "Fight".[10]

The MTV series Faking It marked the first intersex series regular in a TV show, Lauren Cooper,[11] and also the first intersex character played by an intersex person, Raven.[12] MTV worked with intersex civil society organization interACT on Faking It; the program was praised for creating a groundbreaking character.[13] A Freaks and Geeks story has also been credited as commendable.[13] In film, the character Rebeca Duarte in the movie Both was created by an intersex woman, Lisett Barcellos.[14]

Prominent examples[edit]

Apart from the above-mentioned characters, there are various characters that stand out apart from the rest and are more prominent. One of those is Luca Esposito in Astra Lost in Space, the manga and anime of the same name. He is an artist and talented engineer on board the Astra, who was raised as and mostly identifies as a boy, and comes out as intersex halfway through the story, in the episode "Secret," not considering himself a man or a woman.[15] His characteristics imply he most likely has Klinefelter's or a milder type of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and was described by Michele Liu of Anime News Network as "unique" since Luca is a main character which is born intersex rather than "altered by sci-fi space diseases or external influence," with Liu also describing Luca as bisexual.[16] While there were intersex characters like Ryo Asuka in Devilman Crybaby[17] and Izana Shinatose in Knights of Sidonia,[18] there are three other series with notable characters. They are Crimvael "Crim" in the controversial series Interspecies Reviewers, Iena Madaraba in Seton Academy: Join the Pack!, Ruby Moon in Cardcaptor Sakura, and Stevonnie in Steven Universe. Crim is a well-endowed intersex angel with a broken halo, that has male and female genitalia, as noted throughout the series.[19] Despite his feminine appearance, he chooses to identify as male upon meeting Stunk & Zel in the first episode, to avoid them trying anything perverted on him. As for Iena, also known as Yena, she is a spotted hyena with male genitalia and is confused about her true gender & sexuality. Although she later finds out that she is biologically female, she still allows others to refer to her with either gender pronoun in episodes such as "The Wild Habits of a Troubled Animal."[20] Ruby, on the other hand, has no biological sex.[21] and Stevonnie, a fusion of both Steven and Connie, has a gender which is difficult to describe,[22] Series creator Rebecca Sugar describes it as the "living relationship between Steven and Connie."[23] Stevonnie is commonly referred to with gender neutral pronouns (such as the singular they), while male and female characters seem to be physically attracted to Stevonnie.[24]

Comics have their own intersex characters as well. For instance, Comet,[25] and Comet later began relationship with Blithe, since she loved both their forms (revealing that Blithe is bisexual).[25][26] Desire,[27] and Rebis[28] are intersex. Additionally Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III of England in Requiem of the Rose King[29] and Ystina, the Shining Knight in Demon Knights[30] are as well. One prominent character is Aggie in Go Get a Roomie!. In this comic, which explores sexual themes,[31] Aggie, Roomie's past lover, reveals she was born intersex in a radio interview.[32][33][34]

While there are very few intersex characters in film, specifically Rebeca Duarte in Both,[35] Alex Kraken in XXY[36] and Spork in Spork[37] there are various intersex characters in literature. This includes Cornelius Brunner in The Final Programme[38] the protagonist in 2312 named Swan Er Hong,[39] Ilario in Ilario, A Story of the First History,[40] and Kirsten Lattimer in None of the Above.[41] Also, Bel Thorne in the Vorkosigan Saga[42] and Max Walker in Golden Boy[6] are intersex, to give two examples.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c d 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. S2CID 41405702.
  3. ^ a b 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. ^ a b Thornton, Jeanne (May 21, 2013). "Book Review: 'Golden Boy'". Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on October 16, 2014.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b ""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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ ‘Masters of Sex’ Recap 2×3: ‘Fight’ Archived 2014-10-21 at the Wayback Machine, New York Observer, July 28, 2014.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b Peitzman, Louis (September 24, 2014). "Meet Television's Groundbreaking Intersex Character". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on May 29, 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  14. ^ Dunne, Susan (November 3, 2005). "The Taboo Of Intersexuality". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014.
  15. ^ Alverson, Brigid (14 January 2019). "Review: 'Astra Lost in Space,' vols. 1-5". School Library Journal. Archived from the original on November 16, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  16. ^ Liu, Michelle. "Best LGBTQ+ Characters of 2019". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on January 8, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  17. ^ August, Sinclair (January 17, 2018). "Devilman's Queer Representation Relay". VRV. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  18. ^ Søraa, Roger Andre (2019). "Post-Gendered Bodies and Relational Gender in Knights of Sidonia". Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research. 6 (1): 56–59.
  19. ^ Høgset, Stig (2020). "Interspecies Reviewers". T.H.E.M. Anime Reviews. T.H.E.M. Anime. Archived from the original on May 6, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  20. ^ "悩みし獣の野性的習慣-イエナとテルの話-" [Wild habits of worried beasts - The story of Jena and Teru-]. Official Seton Academy: Join the Pack! website. February 21, 2020. Archived from the original on February 21, 2020. Retrieved October 9, 2020. What is masculinity and femininity? I want to hit Hitomi-chan as it is without being swayed by such a thing! If you have a strong feeling and an unbreakable heart, you can overcome any wall! I want to say, but it's a tantrum. Because you are trying to get over it, you're a kuso hyena and a xoratelle.
  21. ^ Mehta 2018, p. 37-40.
  22. ^ "Dove Self-Esteem Project x Steven Universe: Social Media". YouTube. Dove. Archived from the original on April 5, 2020. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  23. ^ Pulliam-Moore, Charles (May 20, 2015). "'Steven Universe' Creator Opens Up About Creating Gender-Fused Character, Stevonnie". Archived from the original on June 30, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  24. ^ Payton, Naith (May 20, 2015). "Comment: Lots of children's programmes already have LGBT characters". PinkNews. Archived from the original on February 14, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  25. ^ a b Greenberger, Robert (2008). "Comet". In Dougall, Alastair (ed.). The DC Comics Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-7566-4119-1. OCLC 213309017.
  26. ^ Supergirl #60 (September 2001)
  27. ^ Bender, Hy (1999). The Sandman Companion. DC Comics. p. 243. ISBN 978-1-56389-465-7.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Moondaughter, Wolfen (2013-02-18). "Not Safe for Work". Sequential Tart. Archived from the original on November 17, 2017.
  32. ^ Chloé C (2020). "Cast". Official Go Get a Roomie! website. Archived from the original on January 7, 2013.
  33. ^ Chloé C. (w, a). "I missed you" Go Get a Roomie! (October 26, 2015), Self-published
  34. ^ Chloé C. (w, a). "Systema and intersex" Go Get a Roomie! (October 26, 2015), Self-published
  35. ^ "Lisset Barcellos film "Both" screens in San Francisco". Intersex Society of North America. May 19, 2005. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015.
  36. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 4, 2008). "XXY Movie Review & Film Summary (2008)". Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ "Ilario: The Lion's Eye by Mary Gentle". Strange Horizons. 6 March 2007. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013.
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ 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.