An open letter to Prof. Alice Roberts on the subject of DSDs and kindness

Dear Alice,

I am writing this open letter with little hope that you will read it but with the hope that others will and will understand why your pleas to women to “be kind” demonstrate that you are doing the opposite.

I have watched you, time and time again, insist that people with DSDs are not real males or females. Perpetuating a stigma that those of us born with different bodies wrestle with every day of our lives. Taking public information backwards by about 50 years. You seem determined to perpetuate the thought that our bodies make us “Not wholy male or female” for not fitting into your platonic ideal of the perfect body.

I’ve also watched you, time and time again, block people with DSDs and ignore experts in the field, as they try to explain to you that you are wrong. That medical science understands our bodies differently and that this understanding is important to us as we come to terms with our various diagnoses. All of this, apparently, in the name of “kindness”.

I’m unclear why you think this is kind. Telling women, like myself, born without a womb, that we cannot be female because of this. It must be nice for you, with the comfort of your own children, to believe that somehow this makes you superior or more female than me. Is this your idea of “kindness”?

Did you know, Alice, that one of the biggest issues facing people with DSDs is the surgical assignment of sex? Do you know what this is and why it happens? Let me explain. The surgical assignment of sex occurs when the bodies of males born with DSDs are not considered “male enough” because of differences in how their genitals appear. This leads to the removal of the boy’s penis and a lifetime of deception, as the child is then labelled female instead. This is the idea you are perpetuating. Is that “kind” to those babies or to the parents, confused and scared, who do not understand their child’s diagnosis and are prevented from knowing the truth by vague terms like “hermaphrodite” and “sex spectrums”?

As a professor in “public engagement in science”, the lack of science in your position is beyond disappointing, it is shocking and directly harmful. What do you hope to achieve? Your interphobic interpretation of our bodies and medical conditions, does nothing to help you in your quest to prove that gender identity should override the reality of biological sex. Your insistence that my platonically imperfect body should be rejected from my sex class will not scientifically, nor indeed magically, make a platonically perfect male at birth into a platonically perfect female just on their declaration of feeling differently. It does not validate the beliefs other people hold about themselves or gendered souls. All it does is further marginalise those of us with DSDs and perpetuate the distrust many people with DSDs hold towards the medical profession. Is this really the purpose of your role?

I would suggest, Alice, that you spend some time talking to organisations like dsdfamilies, instead of only allowing the opinions of those without DSDs, who have a political motivation behind their use and abuse of us, to be your sole educators. That is not science, that is ideology. You should know better. May I suggest you also read the work of Leonard Sax and understand how you have closed the door on educating yourself, let alone others.

If you cannot take the time to do those things, then I politely request that you cease to speak on this subject. Stop using me as a weapon in your pursuit of a political, not scientific, ideology. You are not helping the intersex community. You do us more harm than good. I hope that, one day, you understand this.

Should you, in the unlikely event, read this, and wish to learn more and be a true educator of people on behalf of those of us with DSDs, I would also be quite happy to have a conversation. I am not optimistic, so, in the meantime, those of us who do care about DSDs and education will continue to pushback against your rhetoric. This is not “bullying” nor “unkind”, as you like to claim. This is our bodies, our medical conditions and our lives. It is important to us, and to all the future people born with DSDs, whose bodies we hope to protect. This is something you may like to reflect on.

Regards and go well,

Claire Graham

Join the conversation


  1. I am a Physiology PhD and a Developmental Biologist. I understand how sex determination works and how the base embryonic tissues get purposed to male or female pathways. I am also aware of many of the ways this can go wrong to various degrees.

    I will also take Alice Roberts on wrt anatomy. I’m published in Nature doing aberrant embryonic muscle anatomy (see my moniker). I can not only do adult anatomy but 4-dimensional embryonic anatomy which changes and develops.

    To occupy a position which Richard Dawkins also held and hold anti science views like she does is showing how inconsistent she is. I suspect that embedded as she is in the media world means she has chosen the path of least resistance to keep her media work coming, it must be lucrative. There’s that quote about never expecting a man whose job relies on it saying a contrary truth or recognising it. It would seem that should be made gender neutral as Prof Roberts seems to resemble that remark.

    1. Thank you for this. I completely agree with your assessment of the situation. Alice is dependent on the tide of popular opinion, but that has placed her a long way from science.

      I’d be really interested to see your take on anatomy. I’ve written a couple of posts on here about sex determination and differentiation, although I don’t have the qualifications that you do. My interest, obviously, comes from a more personal place. I’m always open to learning more and improving my understanding. It’s way more fascinating than some nebulous “spectrum” that can’t be defined. I wish more people knew about it!

      1. Thanks. I also understand things like Male to ‘female’ surgery and how it is possible. The lining of the scrotum is the tunica vaginallis because it where the tissue which forms the vagina ends up in males. So it can be repurposed with some muscle wrapped around it and ‘hey presto!’ a vagina is formed.

        Since it’s what we call a serosa, a tissue which secretes stuff inside the body. Normally in males it keeps the testes lubricated so they don’t stick together and it will do that when repurposed as well.

        Which is why things work rather better than Female to ‘male’ surgery.

        I took two second year Anatomy papers in my undergrad Physiology degree which as it happens stood me in very good stead in my research. I ‘speak’ Anatomy and recently scored a second hand reissued paperback of the original Grey’s Anatomy textbook.

        Something for us geeks to appreciate and even consult from time to time. When it comes to muscles I’m better on the mouse than in humans for eg. Though as an ageing distance runner I’ve pulled quite a few in recent years. Knowing the name of the muscle you’ve pulled makes searching the physio sites for therapy suggestions easier.

        My philosophy of such things now is if it hurts that means I need to make it stronger. In our increasingly sedentary world we need to realise: use it or lose it. It applies across our biology and anatomy.

        1. Oh wow…I’m slightly envious of the Grey’s Anatomy! I bet that’s a really interesting read.

          The difference of ease between MtF and FtM surgeries makes complete sense from an intersex point of view. The awful phrase, “It’s easier to dig a whole than build a pole” was the reasoning behind surgically assigned sex. Of course that would be the same for non-intersex people too. I don’t think many people realise that.

          1. As a developmental biologist the origins of some intersex cases has always intrigued me from a ‘how does that happen’ point of view. I would bet that some people with both sets of genitals are two people with a conjoined twin almost completely engulfed, which happens.

            This seems more likely than a full chimera, where the cells of two people are fully mixed. The first confirmed one was a guy in the States with a strange skin condition: patchy but the patches were mottled.

            Turned out he is a male/female chimera. The patches are of female cells and the mottling is due to X-inactivation as the condition is X-linked. Which puzzled the doctors. You shouldn’t see X-inactivation in a male.

            But without that mutated X nobody would suspect he is a chimera. So the extent of it is essentially unknown.

            The simple natural ineluctable unfairness of conditions like yours always strikes me.

            I’ve watched interviews with you and read a number of your tweets and support what you are doing in fighting your corner and stopping the TRA’s from coopting intersex people and silencing dissent. Very reminiscent to what they are trying to do to the lesbians. Who I support as well even as a straight man.

            The TRA’s come across to me as narcissistic, entitled men as well. To expect us to accept them as women makes that all the more jarring. They just remind me of all the boorish guys I observed when I was young.

          2. I got the Greys because I volunteer in a BHF charity shop and was sorting books. If I hadn’t taken it it would have been ragged.

            Right place, right time.

  2. Thank you for a very interesting and informative article. I doubt it will make Alice Roberts rethink but I suspect she isn’t aware how much damage she must be doing to her reputation.

  3. Centuries ago when I was a kid in a loud Yes! No! argument with somebody I remember an adult saying there was no point arguing about facts. You could just look them up.

    And now we’re in a world where facts depend on what you want to be true and looking them up is hate speech.

    Just mindboggling.

    E pur si muove.

  4. Thank you for your informative posts Claire and for sharing your personal story. The factual intersex information you provide is hard to find anywhere else. The lack of real information on intersex which noone ever talks about & is so misunderstood makes it a perfect candidate to be hijacked by the trans lobby who seem hell bent on reshaping the world to put trans people first above all others, regardless of negative consequences for women & children.

    I’m on twitter but I dont tweet and am nervous to even ” like” anything vaguely controversial. I am terrified to enter the trans conversation despite having watched the discussion and feeling very strongly that what is happening is opening up huge gaping holes & rolling the clock back decades in child protection, protection for vulnerable women & equality for women. I don’t feel strong enough or feel like i am qualified to raise my head above the parapet & have to justify my opinion as I’m just a “normal” (whatever that is) woman who hasn’t lived experience of lots of these issues.

    In small ways I try to raise awareness of what’s going on with family & colleagues – that’s all I’m brave enough for for now. Please keep writing and thank you for your bravery.

    1. Thank you. This is a really lovely comment and is the kind of thing that keeps me going. It’s good to know my writing has reach and, importantly, has impact. It sounds to me like you’re doing great, btw. Speaking to family and colleagues is already a brave move. There’s people who talk about it anonymously on social media, but not in the real world. Both are valid and important contributions. Keep fighting. And thank you, again, for the lovely comment. 💜✊🏻

  5. I posted a link to your letter on Twitter and tagged Prof Alice. She responded as follows: “I have never said that anyone at all is not a ‘real female’ or a ‘real male’. A very strange letter.”

    1. Tell her she clearly hasn’t read Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work then, which is odd as she keeps sharing it. It explicitly states exactly what I have said. If that’s her defence, it doesn’t help her. It only shows how she’s blindly, not scientifically, following the crowd, with no thought nor analysis of what she is saying or sharing. I’d like to say it’s unbelievable, but it’s par for the course with people who dogmatically buy an ideology. Also, telling that she didn’t reply here tbh. Just the standard, snidy dismissal of those of us with DSDs, who she merrily weaponises against our will.

      1. I also just shared your letter on twitter tagging the Prof & her followers. Will be interesting to see if I get a response. Won’t hold my breath tho.

        BTW you are still greatly missed in the twittersphere. So many idiots still throwing the intersex card into the debate as if its some mega gotcha ace, including Morgane ogre this week after claiming to have a female biology. *facepalm* We try our best to counter, even with no experience & limited knowledge, so the sooner you’re back the better.

        1. Ugh…The oger is a nightmare for this. I’ve been over it all with him before and he basically does not care. My lack of womb does not make his penis female. That this needs stating is amazing.

          1. I’m just working on it with a couple of other intersex advocates, who wanted to add their own thoughts. I’ll make it public once they’ve had a chance to do so. Sorry it’s a bit of a pain!

  6. Hi Claire,

    I’m unable to read your latest post as it is password protected. Is this a new thing as I’ve always been able to read and share previous posts?

    I totally understand if this is necessary, terribly times we’re living in.



    1. It’s just because some other intersex advocates wanted to add to it first, so publishing it under password protection first was the easiest way to give them access to it as a group. When they’ve added their thoughts and are happy with it, I’ll make it publicly available. I know that’s really confusing. Sorry! Appreciate the message though x

      1. Thank you for answering. Hope you are well. Wish you were back on Twitter, although it’s a cesspool at times, because you’re a wonderful writer and advocate.


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