If, through your work as a journalist or producer of media content, you are in a position to report about intersex, there are certain aspects you need to take into account. We have drawn up a list of the most important issues here.
Talk with rather than talk about
Intersex people are in the best position to talk about themselves, to explain which aspects are relevant to them and how they want to see their concerns represented. Find out about the organisations that represent intersex people, the terms that are used, the demands that have been stated and the themes that are particularly relevant for intersex people. Do not talk about intersex people, instead talk with them.
Even if many people have questions concerning the often-discussed all-gender toilets or civil status, these topics are often not as relevant to intersex people as issues such as the right to protect their own bodies and social recognition.
Terms and their effect
Avoid terms with negative connotations, such as “disorder”, “defect” or “abnormality”. Also avoid evaluative terms such as “ambiguous”, “too small/too big” or “atypical”. These types of terms enforce the idea that there are primarily “men” and “women” and that intersex is therefore something deficient or unnatural.
- You should instead use terms such as “gender diversity” or “variations in sex characteristics”; challenge binary gender norms.
Avoid drawing comparisons or confusing intersex with trans* or homosexuality.
- Make it clear that being intersex is an inborn physical characteristic. It does not mean that conclusions can be drawn about the gender identity or sexual orientation of an intersex person.
It is also necessary to avoid making comparisons with other cultures, mystical creatures or the animal kingdom in an attempt to somehow “naturalise” intersex. If you do this, you are communicating that being intersex is something “exotic” or “mystical” and nothing to do with reality.
- You should instead explain the concerns and requirements of intersex people in the here and now.
Recognition and not trivialisation
Avoid trivialising human rights violations that have been committed against intersex people.
- Make it clear that human rights violations have been committed against intersex people who have been subjected to surgical procedures without their consent which were carried out on the basis of false beliefs or because medical professionals failed to provide adequate information. At the same time, avoid presenting intersex people in a one-dimensional way so they are only portrayed as victims.
The United Nations estimates that up to 1.7% of the population is intersex. This figure is not highlighted by the media. It is therefore important to consider that by reporting in an inclusive and respectful way, you can help to support intersex people and make their concerns and requirements more visible.
The information on how to portray intersex people in the media is based on observations made by Andreas Hechler. Please click here to view an interesting article which focuses on the problems concerning the way intersex is reported and tackles the issue in a critical and concise way. You might also find the dos and don’ts for educators interesting.