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Take a long, hard look at your bookshelf. Admire the spines, the fonts, the wonder that is a full shelf. How many of those are books by intersex authors? I would bet dollars to donuts that you have no idea. The next time you’re in a large (masked, vaccinated, and safe) gathering, look around. See how many people have red hair. Approximately the same percentage are intersex, about 2%, and yet so few books are by intersex authors.
Why are so few books written by intersex writers?
To answer that, we need a basic understanding of what intersex is.
Intersex is an umbrella term for a number of medical conditions that cause someone to vary from the male/female binary. This can be a change in the shape or formation of sex organs (like myself). It can also be variations in chromosomes. While XX is associated with females and XY is associated with males, some intersex people can have XXY chromosomes. Still others will seem to fit the binary until puberty, when their hormones will tell a different story. Many intersex individuals can easily pass as cisgender. Also, many of us may not even realize we are intersex until we learn the word and start to research it. Even though I always knew about my sex organs and the surgeries required when I was a toddler, I didn’t associate myself with intersex until I was 30.
While there are some books (still not many) written about intersex people and characters, there are very few books by intersex authors. Here are some of the best.
Nonfiction Books by Intersex Authors
Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria
First up is a memoir from a prominent intersex activist, Hida Viloria. Hida was born female but soon realized he/r body was different. Unlike so many intersex children, Hida’s parents did not agree to have any sort of surgeries performed on Hida, allowing he/r to explore gender as s/he grew up. This is Hida’s story.
Intersex and After Edited by Iain Morland
This is a special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies focusing on intersex people. It is a collection of essays that look at intersex activism, the medical misconceptions of intersexuality as a “disorder,” and the relationship between intersexuality and the study of sex and gender issues. This issue was edited by Iain Morland, an intersex author.
Meghan and Harry: The Real Story by Lady Colin Campbell
Why yes, intersex people can write about things that have nothing to do with their intersexuality! Lady Colin Campbell is a British socialite and writer, having written scathing (and highly criticized) books on Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II. Her most recent book was an examination of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and how they tried to change the royal system from the inside.
Poetry Books by Intersex Authors
Dear Herculine by Aaron Apps
Aaron Apps is an intersex poet writing in the persona of Herculine Barbin, martyr to an early gender-reassignment surgery. This is part love letters, part melding of bodies and consciousnesses between Apps and Barbin, two intersex bodies across time and space. It’s also a beautiful narrative of poetry.
A Word to Mother: Realisation of Reading in Between Lines by Vijayarajamallika
Vijayarajamallika is a poet best known for her collections in Malayalam. She has been an early voice in the Malayalam literary scene talking about being intersex and transgender. Capable of speaking and writing in four languages, A Word to Mother is an English-language collection that tells the tale of a loving mother and intersex baby, and how that love can be cruel.
Fiction Books by Intersex Authors
A Proper Young Lady by Lianne Simon
Daniele and Melanie were childhood friends, and maybe more, with Dani regularly playing the part of a boy in their childhood play. Dani has an intersex condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Now, she’s engaged to a man named Ethan and considering undergoing surgery to look more female for Ethan. She also cannot have children, so Melanie steps in to be a surrogate. Now, old feelings are surfacing, and Dani must decide who she loves and who she is, inside and out.
Rough Paradise by Alec Butler
Terry Tomey is bi-gender and Two-Spirit in a working-class city. The harassment they face on a regular basis wears at them, driving them nearly to suicide. Then Terry meets Darla. Their romance infuriates their families and community, even as they save each other. Separated by force, they both spend the next two decades trying to find each other and understand what drove them apart. Alec Butler pens this book as an intersex author borrowing liberally from his own experiences.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Rivers Solomon is probably the best-known author on this list, with a number of bestselling novels out in the world. Sorrowland is their most recent, telling the tale of Vern, an intersex woman alone in the woods who gives birth to two children, Howling and Feral. Now with her children, she’s on the run from the cult-like compound from which she escaped, and her own body is changing into something stronger, stranger, and more wild.
Trans Liberty Riot Brigade by L.M. Pierce
Gender assignment surgeries on intersex babies are a hot topic. Too many children are assigned a sex shortly after birth, surgically, and the doctors guess wrong, leading to horrible complications in adulthood. Pierce’s science fiction novel leans into this, picturing a world in which intersex makes someone a Transgressor, defying the law by not having surgical assignment, and Andi is one of those people. Now Andi, along with the Trans Liberty Riot Brigade, is fighting for her life as someone with illegal genitalia.
As an intersex author and poet myself, I’m always on the lookout for more books about and written by intersex authors. If you find some more, be sure to let me know!