What if It’s (Sort of) a Boy and (Sort of) a Girl?
Published: September 24, 2006
This is one of the first interviews I gave soon after discovering that I was intersex. I wasn't publicly out as intersex yet and am referenced as the 20 year old DePaul student.
Excerpt: In the last several years, the Intersex Society has formed an active speakers’ bureau, and at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, after Chase addressed the genetic counselors, a young woman stood up to speak. A 20-year-old DePaul student, she was very pretty, in a chunky necklace, floral shirt and hiphugger jeans. “I found out last year I was intersex; I was in my freshman women’s studies class,” the young woman, who asked not to be identified in this article, said. Her professor was lecturing about various intersex conditions and started describing the symptoms — “No periods, can’t have children, ambiguous genitals. I called my mom, and I said: ‘What’s it called? What do I have?’ ” It turned out she has partial-androgen-insensitivity syndrome, a phenomenon in which fetuses with male chromosomes (XY) can’t properly metabolize male hormones and are born looking mostly like girls. “When she said the name I threw the phone across the room and started crying. I cried for like a week.”
A few weeks after hearing this news, at the urging of Lynnell Stephani Long, a member of society’s speakers’ bureau who happened to be giving a talk around that time to the women’s studies class, the young woman retrieved her medical records from Chicago Children’s Hospital. “They photocopied them for me and I got them hot,” she told the group of counselors. “The first page said ‘pseudo male hermaphrodite.’ Just the words ‘male’ and ‘hermaphrodite’ made me want to throw up.” Chase has since lobbied doctors to stop using the word “hermaphrodite.” Intersex, she contends, is a medical condition, not an identity, and the consensus suggests using the term “disorders of sex development.”
The young woman continued speaking, her story raw and captivating. “I grew up a girl. I was always a tomboy, I wrestled, I played softball. I had bladder problems when I was a kid, and when I went in to have my urethra fixed” — at age 3 — “they decided to give me a vaginoplasty and also a clitoridectomy,” that is, surgically reshape the vagina and reduce the size of her clitoris. “When I finally learned all this, I spent a lot of time staring in the mirror” — she pressed her hands flat against her cheeks and stretched her skin of her face back toward her ears — “going: ‘Do I look like a boy? Do I look like a boy?’ Now I think being intersex is pretty weird but kind of sweet. I just wish someone had given me the tools to be able to talk about it.”