Testimony of an Intersex person - I am me and I am O.K.
This was originally written as a paper presented at the Adelaide, South Australia ‘Feast 2002’ Gay and Lesbian Festival and is reproduced here with the author’s permission and cooperation and has not been edited or altered in any way. The author says, “It was targeted to an audience which had little, if any, prior knowledge of intersex and therefore the complexities of intersex were simplified for this purpose.”
Intersexed people defy man made classifications or models of what nature should be like. According to modern Western medicine there are two sexes, male and female. However, according to nature, there are no clear boundaries either between the sexes, genders or identities. Yet, rather than accepting the fact that sex, gender and identity exists within a spectrum of unlimited potentials, science and medicine have sought to ‘modify’ people in order to fit them into what is considered to be the ‘norm’. Even though around one in eight hundred people have some kind of Intersex condition, as a consequence of the abuse we have received from the medical profession and society in general, few of us have ‘come out of the closet’ to reclaim our space in society. Consequently, because Intersexed people have been rendered invisible, today most people do not know what an Intersexed person is.
Intersex is not an identity nor a gender, but rather it’s the biological variation which exists between the polar binaries of the male and female sex. Gender and sexuality classifications have little meaning, or relevance for the Intersexed because they are terms derived from the concept of the binary opposites – while the Intersexed themselves exist beyond the binaries. Nevertheless, many Intersexed people identify as heterosexual males or females, while others may possess identities which exist within the spectrum of the binary genders, or they may identify as being a-sexual, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or trans. I myself acknowledge my Intersex biology, but identify as being a variation of a male – or more than a male.
The existence of Intersexed people has been concealed for many decades because they threaten the man-made laws of nature, which dictate that there are two sexes: male and female. Yet, nature does not manifest in comfortable, finite boxes. Rather it exists as infinite spectrums of variation. But to our modern scientific mind this variation threatens to unleash chaos. And what drives science? The desire to control nature.
Eventually, the medical profession could no longer pretend that biological sex was confined to the polar binaries of male and female, but rather some infants presented characteristics of both recognised sexes. Yet, instead of simply accepting that anatomical sex could exist as a spectrum of possibilities, the Intersex variations were medicalised: thus requiring surgery and/or hormone reassignment therapies in order to ‘cure’ such ‘aberrations’ and ‘disorders’. In other words, the medical profession believed that they could play god and determine which sex and gender a child would be reassigned to, and raised as. And they did this, not for the benefit of the ‘afflicted’ individual, but rather to make the medical community, parents, and society in general, feel better. One of the most compelling arguments made by surgeons and therapists in order to justify their therapies was that, without intervention, these ‘sad’ individuals would be subjected to severe persecution, or that their lives would never amount to much. More recently however, researchers have discovered that Intersexed individuals who, for whatever reason were spared infant or adolescent reassignment, actually learned to cope well with their Intersex state, while many, who were reassigned, continue to suffer terrible traumas as a consequence of the reassignment therapies.
It’s no wonder therefore that few people know that we exist. The messages ingrained into Intersex children and adults was, and still is, “don’t tell your friends; don’t speak of your surgery or hormone therapy; don’t rock the boat; surgery and/or hormone therapy is necessary or else your life will be worthless; you will be rejected by society; you will be a freak….” So for decades Intersexed people have lived in silence, hiding their realities from the world and being programmed into believing that their lives were invalid.
Yet people can often tell that an Intersexed person is somehow different, even without knowing the source of that difference. Instead of viewing an Intersexed person with compassion however, the Intersex state often generates fear in people, which manifests itself in many ways. As an adolescent I was frequently beaten and bullied by my heterosexual peers simply because I was different.
Sadly, such alienation and rejection is not confined to the heterosexual community. Many queer identifying Intersexed people have reported instances of rejection and alienation within their Queer communities, and therefore have subsequently chosen to conceal their Intersex states because of these disempowering encounters. Such people sought acceptance, solidarity, community and support from the various groups within their Queer Communities, but have only found loneliness and rejection. Unfortunately, it seems that unless a queer identifying Intersexed person either conforms to certain gay stereo-typed ideals, or they present themselves as some kind of mythical exotic hermaphrodite or androgynous stage performing Diva, today much of the resistance to Intersex acceptance seems to be coming from the Queer Community itself. And because we are unable to satisfy the fantasies and conform to these unrealistic ideals, we are therefore rendered invisible and silenced in the very community which should be giving us a voice.
Most anatomical Intersex conditions are caused by a disruption in the development of the male sexual organs, during the first month or so following conception, when there was an interruption in the production, or complete absence of foetal testosterone. Other Intersex conditions are predominantly genetic, or more accurately, chromosome based. Conventional males possess two sex chromosomes, one ‘X’ and the other ‘Y’. Conventional females possess two ‘X’ chromosomes. However I possess three sex chromosomes: the two ‘X’ chromosomes of a female, plus the ‘Y’ chromosome of a male. Thus I am XXY. Physicians call this chromosomal variation Klinefelter Syndrome, but many people with the variation prefer to identify themselves as XXY’s.
Even though it’s evident that I possess a blend of male and female chromosomes, the medical and legal professions had proclaimed that it doesn’t matter how many X chromosomes a person may have, if they possess even one Y chromosome, they are legally classified as a male. Recently however, this pedantic definition has been challenged, thus enabling XXY Klinefelter Syndrome to be legitimately recognised, in some sections of the academic world, as an Intersex condition.
Anatomically, at birth, XXY’s appear male. However, in their early teens, when conventional males undergo the masculanising process of puberty, many XXY’s either do not fully mature, or they may only experience a partial male puberty, and/or their bodies may undergo various degrees of feminisation. Consequently, common medical thinking states that, in order to artificially induce male puberty and minimise feminisation, most XXY’s must undergo testosterone therapy. However it’s becoming apparent, usually from anecdotal evidence derived from personal stories of XXY’s experiences, that some XXY’s suffer greatly, both physically and psychologically, if they are administered large doses of testosterone for the purpose of artificially inducing male puberty. Some XXY’s are not diagnosed until adulthood and, while some benefit greatly from the late commencement of testosterone therapy, others, such as myself, found the experience quite traumatic.
I was not diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome until my early twenties: several years after the visible evidence of the extra X chromosome had emerged. Consequently, instead of developing the male secondary sexual characteristics puberty induces, my body became somewhat androgynous because it feminised. Consequently, rather than developing any degree of muscular definition, my hips became noticeably rounded and I presented some breast development. My face and body remained virtually hairless, which resulted in me appearing years younger than I actually was. My sense of who I was, or my ego, was moulded during these difficult teenage years. Fortunately though, it was a process that occurred independent of mind and body altering drugs – a right which is denied to any infant or adolescent who has experienced reassignment therapies.
Puberty virtually passed me by because I did not develop a strong libido or interest in sexual interaction: rather I remained essentially impotent and largely unaware of what sex was all about. I found that my attraction to people was less based on my visual senses – which, in men seems to be directly attached to their libido’s. In contrast I seem to have developed an almost intuitive ability to connect or empathise with people on a platonic heart level: a quality which subsequently became an important and essential aspect of my identity.
Around the age of 23, an Endocrinologist discovered that my body had never produced enough testosterone for me to undergo a full puberty and therefore suggested I commence testosterone therapy. Initially I resisted the pressures placed on me to undergo the therapy. Yet, eventually, I crumbled under the constant onslaught of threats and horror stories of what my future would be like if I didn’t undergo therapy, which they claimed would turn me onto a ‘real man’. It was insinuated, even blatantly stated on occasions, that my life would be worthless; that I would be a freak; that I would never achieve my potential, and that I would never have any self-esteem (apparently the self-esteem I already had was invalid as it existed outside of the pre-defined paradigm of being a real man). So eventually, from the age of 28, after about 6 years of constant threats and ‘counselling’ by my medical specialists, I began testosterone therapy. And I found it to be a horrifying experience.
Testosterone therapy generated profound and traumatic changes in me. I lost contact with who I was and thus my sense of self. I began to grow large amounts of hair, where hair had never been and I found this experience unpleasant. My voice dropped. I developed a very strong libido, but found the feelings unwelcome as they turned me into a real bastard. I lost contact with my heart and the ability to relate to people in a non-sexual manner. Consequently, the therapy turned me into someone I was not. And, because these changes were artificial, I became a very fearful, aggressive and insecure person because, on the one hand, I was trying to convince myself that life would be better on the hormones. Yet, I was also fearful that if I ceased the therapy I would, once again, become a freak who has no value or worthwhile place in society.
While it seems that most XXY’s receive some degree of benefit from testosterone therapy, my traumatic experience is not unique. Some XXY’s, who found the attempts to turn them into ‘real men’ psychologically devastating, have either ceased or drastically reduced their testosterone intake. Others feel that they are more female than male and thus have sought female sex reassignment. Some identify as being male but are content with living as nature had made them, rather than living according to the dictates of doctors and society about how they should live. And a few, like myself, discovered the term Intersex and thus, for the first time, we began to understand who we were and our place in the natural world.
So now, since turning my back on the testosterone therapy and the culturally constructed concept of what it is to be male, I live as an Intersexed person. Sadly though, most Intersex people cannot completely revert back to their pre-therapy states. I have only been able to revert back to about 75% of what I was before the therapy. Yet, even though my true self quickly re-emerged after the overwhelming and oppressive weight of the drugs had dissipated, testosterone therapy has irreversibly damaged my body. Therefore, gone are the days when I looked like a teenager, and gone is the slim build and smooth face. These days, fully dressed, I appear very much like a male. I have a deep male voice; my physique generally appears like a slightly overweight male; and I walk, talk and, for the most part, conduct myself as a male.
Yet I am more than a male. I am XXY and I have always known that I have a complex blend of male and female within my being, which has always manifested in my sense of self and also in my physical appearance. I have absolutely no interest in displaying my female attributes, either in behaviour or appearance. I do not have to prove anything to anyone. I know who I am and that is all that matters.
Since ceasing hormone therapy, my feathers have re-grown and I soar in the freedom of living and being who I am, rather than existing according to the dictates of others. My confidence and self-esteem are the greatest they have ever been. I know who and what I am simply because I have had the rare opportunity to establish a point of reference in my life. I have experienced a period when I lived an artificially generated existence; a reality based on illusion and deception; a reality that had little substance, and a foundation based on dependency on drugs. Now I live free of those dependencies, free of those artificially constructed illusions; free of the self deceptions and most of all I have freed myself from a medical profession which tried to demand that I live according to their man-made concepts of what it is to be male, or what they considered to be a valid and worthy human existence.
I now live as nature made me. I am me and I am O.K.
Michael Noble (email: NOBML001@students.unisa.edu.au)
I would be very interested in receiving information from other XXY’s who either identify other than heterosexual males, and/or have experienced adverse reactions to testosterone therapy.
All rights in this article remain with the author and it must not be reproduced in whole or in part without his permission.