What I Learned Being Out as Intersex on Dating Apps
Written by River Gallo.
Hi, I’m an intersex, gender-fluid person, and I have sex.
Intersex is a term to describe people born with a variation in sex traits—which could include genitals, chromosomes, gonads, or hormones—that don’t fit the typical binary definitions of a male or female body.
There are several intersex variations, and intersex people can identify in numerous ways—queer, cisgender, non-binary, gay, straight, trans, you name it and an intersex person can be it
In recent years, intersex issues have entered the media zeitgeist and queer discussions like never before. The dialogue is mostly focused around two key aspects: 1. Intersex visibility, with intersex people sharing their stories for the first time in public, and 2. The call for body autonomy and an end to medically unnecessary surgeries that intersex children face around the world, at the hands of doctors trying to enforce a gender binary (which the UN officially deems as a human rights violation by the way). These are the most urgent and crucial focal points of intersex discourse because there are people born intersex who have had their genitals and/or hormone-producing organs altered, or even completely removed, forever—in some cases robbing them of the ability to orgasm and feel sexual pleasure.
These realities, however, are not indicative of every intersex person’s experience. We are also everyday people who deal with the universal trials and tribulations of relationships and heartbreak — and some of us use hook up apps to get laid too.
Being intersex and navigating hook up apps geared mainly towards cisgendered people is tricky. My friend and intersex activist, Alicia Roth Weigel, uses Tinder for dating/hooking up, and since she came out as intersex she’s noticed a pattern: good first dates, but then nothing. She ends up “inevitably being ghosted or struggling to set up a second date” after she’s been Googled and her identity has been discovered. “This never used to happen before I came out and it became public domain that I am intersex,” she says.
In all the years I’ve used hook up apps—Grindr being my go-to—I kept being intersex a secret and even used more masculine photos to fit the mold of the people I saw on the app. I feared that if my sexual partners knew I was intersex and nonbinary, I’d be seen as a freak and undesirable.
In all the years I’ve used hook up apps—Grindr being my go-to—I kept being intersex a secret and even used more masculine photos to fit the mold of the people I saw on the app. I feared that if my sexual partners knew I was intersex and nonbinary, I’d be seen as a freak and undesirable. However, during my recent annual hoe phase, I decided to be open for the first time about being intersex because I was tired of hiding who I was. I uploaded a sexy gender-fluid pic, with wing-tipped eyeliner and giant hoop earrings (because you know what they say, “The bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe”). I typed in my bio that I’m intersex, pressed save, and held my breath.
To my disbelief, I was flooded with messages daily. There was no scarcity of hook up opportunities; I was talking with more guys than ever before. Here’s what I learned from my first sexcapades as an out intersex person, and the advice I’d like to share with my intersex fam, as well as gender non-conforming people, using hook up apps to get laid:
1. Intersex people have admirers!
It’s true! Yes, there were guys who asked dumb forward questions—sometimes I’d proceed to give them an intersex 101, or just block them because lord knows we don’t have the time and/or strength to always be an educator—however, by and large, I found that guys were curious, willing to learn about being intersex, and some were even turned on by it. My friend and intersex comedian, Seven Graham (they/them), had a similar experience using OKCupid to explore their intersex sex life. They told me ever-so candidly, “I’m 100% honest about who I am, including that I have an XL clitoris. Contrary to what doctors might believe, this fact doesn’t put anyone off me. Far from it. I have 1300+ likes. And the people I’ve met so far for real world fun have ALL been very excited about it! Who knew my most shameful secret would have so many fans!”
2. Beware of fuckboys
This goes without saying in the era of hook up apps, but the fuckboys I encountered were of a very specific breed. I was hit up by a lot of hunky-cisgendered-jock-types—the kind of guys I imagined fall from the sky when “It’s Raining Men” plays. However many considered themselves to be “DL”, “discreet”, and my personal favorite “straight” or “str8”. These men weren’t completely out about hooking up with trans, femme, and genderfluid people. As I met some, I realized men like this have a very fragile concept of their own sexuality and gender expression, and had expectations about the gender expression they wanted me to uphold. I was often asked to make sure that I fit their idea of femininity via ensuring them that I shaved my whole body, wore make-up, etc. At first it seemed hot and empowering to do this for a sexual partner—I never thought that my gender fluidity would turn guys on—but sometimes, especially if I didn’t feel like expressing a feminine version of my myself, I felt like I was performing femininity to please a cisgender male gaze, and it felt objectifying. This leads me to my third take away…
3. Listen to how you feel and practice self-consent.
In the pursuit hooking up with a guy, at times I put my feelings aside because I wanted to please him more than myself. In hindsight, sometimes I wasn’t even looking for sex, but rather seeking approval. This led me to send nudes or hook up when deep down I didn’t want to. Along with practicing consent with sexual partners, I learned it was imperative to practice consent with myself. This meant getting clear on my own boundaries and limits, so I could then communicate them effectively. It also meant giving myself permission to check in with myself and contemplate if I was fully onboard with the decisions I was making. Allowing time to question and think about my intentions helped me understand and get clear on my own sexual desires and needs. There is no need to ever rush into hooking up with someone, no matter how hot they are! People can get pushy and want answers right away about meeting up—let them. Be patient with yourself and your own decision-making timeline.
4. Honor your heart and your trauma.
One thing many intersex people have in common is that we carry sexual trauma to varying degrees. This is different from person-to-person based on their intersex variation and the emotional/mental support they’ve received, but we all carry some sort of trauma from the countless doctors who examined our genitals, created our puberties through hormones, surgically modified our bodies (with or without our consent), all at very vulnerable times in our lives—childhood and adolescence. I’ve been going to a therapist regularly for years, but there are still days when I feel like my non-binary body is inadequate. Some days I still get furious at the medical community and society for completely erasing our visibility. I learned that sometimes hook up apps themselves can be triggering! Being asked for pictures of my body, having sex, or even just talking about sex can sometimes bring up painful memories and feelings from as far back as when I was a kid and my doctor first told me I was intersex. I learned that protecting my heart takes practice, and some days that practice requires a bit more attention than the desire to have sex.
5. My body is perfect and sexy just as it is right now.
OMG, suddenly I turned into a cliché new-age LA hoe! However, I constantly need to remind myself of this truth. During my sexcapade, I found myself easily getting lost in spirals of doubt when a guy didn’t message me back, when I’d have really good sex but never heard from him again, or when a guy was turned off by finding out that I was intersex. Rejection stings, yes, but I realized that I cannot let my sexual partners nor sexual experience define or validate my body and identity. No one can take away your sexiness, especially not a fuckboy that ghosts people like it’s his job.
At worst, humorously degrading, at best, deliciously satisfying, my annual hoe phase was a major personal success. Not only did it help strengthen my intersex identity like never before, but it also helped clarify my sexual desires and the standards that I wish to see in my partners. Good sex with a partner that respects your identity and value systems is out there, whether it’s a hot one-night stand found on an app, or with a monogamous partner. My hope is that we continue to push and stretch intersex dialogues to include sex and reflect on our whole selves. Not to mention, continue the fight for intersex rights, visibility, and an end to Intersex surgeries across the world. I wish the wisdom I’ve gleaned can help you move forward in all your intersexy adventures.
Photos by Nova Fox.
River Gallo is the CEO of Gaptoof Entertainment, a multi-media production house in Los Angeles, which focuses on re-envisioning POC, LGBTQIA, and female– narratives. His film “Ponyboi” which he wrote, directed, and starred in, is the first narrative film created by and staring an out intersex person in the history of cinema. It is being executive produced by Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson.