Thursday, November 24, 2011

INTERSEX: DIFFERENT--NOT DEFECTIVE

INTERSEX: DIFFERENT—NOT DEFECTIVE

© 2011 Kristine M. Smith
THIS COMMENTARY MAY BE REPRINTED FREELY AS LONG AS THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AND THE BYLINE/TAGLINE AT THE END REMAINS IN THE PUBLISHED PIECE.
Intersex is the last “hidden shame.”
It’s time to acknowledge and celebrate what makes us unique.


Since turning 60, with recurrent frequency I’ve been asked, “Have you ever been married?” “Why didn’t you ever marry?” by friends—sometimes even by casual acquaintances who linger long enough to wonder why I never mention a husband or children.


Back in the day, I’d just lie. I’d joke, “Never found anyone I could put up with 24/7/365!” or “Never found anyone who could put up with me!” Or I’d say, more seriously, “I’ve seen too many failed marriages—or even successful ones—that I’d never want to be part of.”


The reason I lied is because I never realized, until just this past year, how many people “like me” there are in the world. As soon as I understood the phenomenon and how frequent it is (it occurs as frequently as natural red hair, which I also have; I seem to have won the Lottery of Oddities!), I thought it ridiculous that society would elect to sweep us under the rug rather than acknowledge that we’re here in number and we’re every bit as viable as the rest of y’all are.


I’m not gay. I don’t think a lot of today’s gays are actually gay. I think a lot of them were “repaired” shortly after birth because frantic parents didn’t know what else to do with an ambiguously-sexed infant and wanted to give it the most normal life possible—and, as the less-than-classy saying goes in surgical wards, “It’s easier to make a hole than to entertain a pole.” (It’s easier to excise external maleness and raise a baby as a girl so “she” never has to suffer the consequences of living with an ever-present “birth defect.”)


I’m Speculating Here


When it comes to my own birth condition, I’m speculating. When I contacted Intersex Allies to find out how to determine whether or not I was an intersex baby, I was told it would cost thousands of dollars in tests, unless I could find my medical records from infancy—but that IF I found my medical records, they wouldn’t necessarily be trustworthy, because many were altered (just as intersex infants were routinely altered until about 20 years ago, when it became apparent that assigning gender doesn’t work mentally and emotionally over the long term for most patients.)


A thoughtful, warm, concerned psychiatrist at Intersex Allies wanted to know how I would feel if I did discover I was altered at birth. I said, “Relieved.” He seemed a bit surprised. He inquired, “Not angry?” I said, “I don’t think so. Maybe a little robbed. But I know that parents want what is best for their children, absolutely. I just don’t think they always know what’s best.”


He asked if I’m depressed or negatively affected in any other way by my gender identity concerns. I said, “No. I guess at times I feel LONELY—like I’m the only one out here who’s like me.” He assured me I’m not: something like one in every 300 babies is born with the condition.


He inquired further: “What would you do about it if you discovered you were altered?” I said, “Nothing. There’s no way I’d put loved ones through the anxiety of having to relate to me in a different way—not at my age. I’ve seen what transgendered people have to put up with; I’ve watched what happened to Chaz Bono and to a friend of mine who simply had to ‘fix’ what they felt was ‘wrong’ about them. The level of hatred (ignorance, really) in this society for people with gender identity issues is intense. I’d never volunteer for that. I’m at peace with who I am, despite the isolation it causes.”


He told me, “Even if you took the tests, they might be inconclusive. So you might end up back at square one. Your internal orientation is your best gauge. If you’ve felt this way your entire life, you’re not wrong. Your experience is your experience. It’s as legitimate as anyone else’s where gender identity is concerned.”


Family Matters


After I had this conversation with the Intersex Allies psychiatrist, I began to revisit my childhood. A lot of dots began to connect. It was a dizzying eye-opener.


The fact is I have never felt female. I was appalled when my chest budded into bumps, then breasts. I was horrified when I got my period. Until these atrocities came along I was completely happy imagining I would grow up to be a cowboy, a bronc buster, a fireman, an actor. My favorite toys were trains and plastic horses. (My plastic horses were always “humping” other plastic horses.)


When my hormones kicked in, my sexual fantasies were male-on-female: I was always the male. When I started (what adults considered) “falling in love” with actors—Roy Rogers, Jack Lord, Robert Preston, Jerry Lewis, and others—my fantasies surrounding them were that I was them, that I was inside their bodies experiencing their lives from their points of view. I never fantasized them as being my lovers.


Other clues


Dad told me that when I was born, “at first we thought you had a birth defect.” When I asked why, he hesitated briefly and then changed the subject: “You weighed just five pounds [I was a full-term baby]; you lost two pounds right away. The doctor said not to name you because you probably wouldn’t live. You fit inside a cigar box. Your butt was the size of the tips of two of my fingers.” What Dad described was “small” and “at risk” but in no way “defective.”


When I was about 22 I did something (I don’t recall what, now) that made Dad enormously proud. He lit up and proclaimed, “That’s my boy!” The moment he said it, he blanched and apologized; he was nearly apoplectic! I told him, “It’s all right, Dad.”


Of course, it wasn’t all right—not then. He and Mom had raised me as a girl. Even so, I felt it was the confirmation I’d been seeking. It just felt right to be called his boy.


Now, a lot of people may say that my gender identity issues are entirely my Dad’s fault, that he must have signaled to me that he wanted a boy. I don’t think that’s it. Mom and Dad had a third child. She was named after Dad (Jack LeRoy/Jackie Lee). If anyone should have felt pressure to “be Dad’s boy,” it would have been Jackie. So as far as I’m concerned, Dad’s off the hook. I am convinced that my gender identity was established inside Mom’s womb by God.


I never asked my parents about this. Sadly, I didn’t know, before they died, how common intersex is, or I might have.


I have told my two sisters about this. One says, “It doesn’t surprise me.” The other totally rejects the notion, saying: “You’re one of the most female women I know. And Dad would never have allowed doctors to alter a son, even if it meant surgery down the road (to remove female parts].”


Really?! 60 years ago? I think Dad would have done what the doctors believed at the time to be in the best interest of his child and all concerned. (Doctors no longer respond this way to intersex births, thank God!)


These days when people ask me why I never married, I ask them if they’re ready to hear the truth or whether they want my standard lie. Most want the truth. So far, every person I’ve told has accepted it; none have ever mentioned knowing anyone else like me. That’s how hidden the condition is. I suspect every adult knows at least one intersex person; they just aren’t aware of it. People all too often assume unmarried people are gay, anti-social or neurotic. What many of us actually are never even occurs to them.


We’re often lonely—on the outside looking in—but we’re loving, funny, and completely, utterly human. Those of us who have accepted our fates are as normal and contributory as you are. Those of us who haven’t are struggling mightily.


Here’s a common quote I embrace: “Find ways to be especially kind to everyone you meet. Everyone is facing some kind of battle.”


My battle (with regard to my gender identity issue) has ended. These days I tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. And you know what? It feels good to be loved for exactly who I am. Hiding in plain sight sucked.
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Kristine M. Smith is the author of six books and a well-regarded freelance copywriter.  She is available for interviews or forums on any subject matter she writes about or has written books about. You can reach her at kristine m smith AT msn DOT com.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Kris..... I'm glad you've found the information you need to help you to know who you truly are.... as each of us is exactly who God made us to be. I worked with a young person many years ago whose gender was assigned by the doctors and parents as male, but who always knew inside that "s/he" was female. The only operation needed was to remove the male organs as the female organs were already present. Counseling was ongoing and expected to be lengthy. Thankfully, her parents were very supportive. As you said, parents want what's best for their children... and these folks just did what the doctors recommended "back in the day." Even 'tho I was a very young caseworker at the time, the case was assigned to me as I was the only member of the staff comfortable with sexual identity issues.... and considered my client just as normal as anyone else. I've always enjoyed being female - and didn't mind at all that the Lord's plans for my life led me to staying single - but I've watched several friends through the years struggle with gay and transexual identiy issues, and saw what a lonely, confusing struggle it could be. The Lord made you such a great person Kris....and gave you such talented gifts....He meant for you to travel a very unique road, communicating the truth as you see it. God Bless you always my friend... Billie Rae

Kristine M Smith said...

Thank you, Billie Rae! You are an amazing human being in so many ways I can't even count them all. God must have dnced the day you were born!