This presentation was developed to guest lecture for a history class, to explain how intersex conditions and transgender people emphasize to us how images of a ‘normal’ body don’t apply to a significant minority.
This is a paper nominally written for a women’s studies class, but has a tremendous amount of personal history and description of where I am now.
Sex and Gender Studies
What am I? [this is the audience participation section]
Some find the world a lot more black and white than I do. Take sex, for instance. [now I have your attention!] Over here (far stage R) we have Male. So with our XY chromosomes we get a host of gender identity expectations. Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails. Republican politicians feel very comfortable here. They join clubs that exclude cooty-filled women, smoke big phallic cigars, pass laws to tell women what medical procedures they must have, and generally pretend to be masters of the universe. Here we find most male athletes, full of testosterone and bulging muscles, ready to rip each others’ heads off for … no apparent reason.
And over here (far stage L) we have Female. Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what the XX chromosomes produce. Well, as long as they aren’t the ‘Real Housewives’ of anyplace. Otherwise to be feminine is to be soft, loving, nurturing, barefoot, pregnant. Look at every traditionally female job, and it’s an exercise in being professionally subservient – school teacher, librarian, secretary, nun, nurse.
So this world pretended to work well for the June Cleaver era of families. Everybody has their assigned role. Everyone follows along, or they’re quickly ostracized and sent to live with distant relatives.
And who is in between the two sexes? Nobody! There’s no such thing. Look at our forms to this day. Check off Male or Female radio buttons. No other options. Period. We love our black and white world. Good and Evil. Male and Female. Believer versus heathen.
I grew up in the shadow of this world. Got to junior high, and finally had my very first choice for an elective class in school. Wood shop (run R), or home ec (run L). I was with my dad, there was clearly no choice here. Shop is for boys, home ec is for girls. Duh, that’s a no brainer. Don’t get me wrong, shop was a lot of fun. I just also wanted to take home ec, because sewing and cooking seemed really interesting, but that wasn’t really an option, was it?
As I continued to grow up, I was confused by ‘normal male behavior.’ My high school classmates claimed to get an erection upon just seeing a beautiful girl. I found girls lovely and wanted to enjoy their bodies too, but my body didn’t respond that … rudely. Were my friends lying, or was I just weird?
I heard gym coaches talking about the virtues of extreme exercise, like how admirable it was to run until you puked. I wondered to myself “am I weird for thinking that’s just staggeringly stupid?” I saw wrestlers and football players and boxers and found myself unable to imagine having the drive to behave as those sports require.
As I started dating (at the tender age of 18) I discovered that my lack of macho was a real serious issue. Women seem to want a macho asshole to treat them like garbage, in spite of fervent protests to the contrary. I can’t pretend to do that. I especially don’t do ‘macho.’ Women see that as a massive unforgivable character flaw. As I became sexually active, I quickly realized that I can’t just fuck. No matter how much my mind wants to, my body won’t cooperate, with all the painful embarrassing episodes that produces. “No honey, it’s not you.” I have to make love. I have to have some kind of emotional connection to my partner. That has to be the foundation, at least until I get comfortable enough with someone to eventually be able to fuck their brains out. Lovingly.
Years later, while married, our relationship started to deteriorate, so naturally I was blamed for it. I went off to a doctor to see if there was something medically wrong, or if I was just getting sick of my wife. One test result said I had low testosterone levels, and the doc said they were typical of a 15-year-old, not a grown adult. They gave it a fancy name of course, ‘primary hypogonadism.’
As I started to research this strange affliction, I discovered there was a whole world of people between Male and Female. Intersexed, they call it. Compared to many, my situation was easy to manage. When many intersexed people are born, the doctor doesn’t announce “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl”, instead they whisk the baby off and discuss it in hushed tones as they figure out what to call it, and how to “fix” it. This was however precious little consolation to me in my immediate situation, which continued downhill.
So I tried every medical solution under the sun. Viagra, Cialis, yup, tried them. BTW, they work by opening your blood vessels, so don’t take extra in the hopes it’ll work better. Because they open ALL your blood vessels, and you get a massive headache and low blood pressure. Sexy. Tried testosterone creams, those are fun. Let’s crank up your hormone levels like you’ve literally never seen before. What is this, second puberty?? I even tried one weird drug that gives you an erection, but the catch is you have to inject it directly in the shaft of your penis. Now doesn’t that sound romantic?
I knew the problem was mostly psychological, not medical, but I went along with trying the host of treatments to pretend the answer lay among them somewhere. It didn’t.
As I went to other doctors, some disagreed with the initial diagnosis. Apparently the ‘normal’ level of testosterone in a man is a huge range, so whether someone is ‘low’ or not is largely a matter of conjecture. Great, thanks guys. So helpful.
So am I intersexed? Maybe. Does it really matter? I am me.