Meet Max, formerly named Judy. Max is an intersexual who shared his own experiences with NOVA. He was born with ambiguous genitalia and raised female, however he encountered many difficulties from childhood on. Max grew up as a tomboy, but often felt out of place and disconnected from his own experiences in life. This included annual visits with endocrinologists and pediatric urologists, which only served to make him feel more alienated. And as quoted from the article he said, “I was a walking head.” Max relates not having a physical sense of self, and having no desire to make that connection.
As time passed Max, or Judy at that time, I was watching those around him/her grow and age, reaching and exploring puberty. For Max this change came in the form of hormone therapy treatments and only left him feeling baffled and alienated. The doctors, attempting to work with Max on the condition, only replied to questions by reassuring Max that she was simply “unfinished.” This did nothing to help the young and undoubtedly confused girl. Finally Max notes that the finishing occurred during his late teen years due to a combination of hormone therapy and vaginoplasty. His genital region was described as a mass of unfeeling scar tissue.
Further into Max’s story, he relates a sexual experience at 21 with an older woman and the pains he felt from her remarks about the oddness of his then female appearing genitalia. The attraction to women was present even then but an inability to be with those women due to the oddness of his sex caused Max a great amount of pain. Shortly after, Max attempted suicide.
Several years later Max found himself married to a man and applying for a job, only then did he begin checking into his medical records and finding notations of just why he was the way he was. He was in fact an intersexual. Today Max has chosen to have a sex change and marry a woman. He says all of it is part of who he is but he’s much happier today as a man.
For many, religious views have a huge impact on our day to day lives. This can be no different for intersexuals than for anyone else. Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, offered his views on intersexuality and ‘hermaphrodites.’ In his article explaining what he believes to be God’s view on the matter he says, “God's intention of the genders is that those born males act like males and those born females act like females.” Further on he goes to explain his view that the sin of the world causes these ‘deformities.’ Matt suggests letting the intersexual grow into one defined sexual role or the other (male/female) and believes the choice of surgery to create this outward reassignment to be reasonable.
Another similar religious view on the matter comes from Sue Bohlin of Prime Ministries. She relates the same view that intersexuals will take on one or the other primary sexual role in society. Sue also offers the idea that God will still love these individuals as with all others. She can be quoted as saying, “God wants every person, regardless of their genital or chromosomal condition, to submit his or her sexuality to Him and to glorify Him in whatever state we find ourselves.”
Beyond our religious views, our cultural views also offer some perspective on the topic. During my parents’ youth, and even today to some degree, many feel discriminatory towards intersexuals. Some of the terms they use for them are she-he's and Thai lady-boys. Others are simply uncomfortable with the ideas and so choose to ignore them and remain uneducated on the subject. Until around the time of mid- to late 1800's, most intersexuals born with outwardly ambiguous genitalia were given a decided sex at both and forced to live with those chosen sexes throughout their lives. In the 1920’s, a separation between gender role and biological sex began to form, and around this time surgeries to ‘correct’ the biological sex began to be offered.
Medical views on intersexuality seemed to have mostly been in the same purview as most religious views on the matter today. Before the late 1800’s most intersexuals went unnoticed by all authorities, religious, legal, and medical. It was during wartime medical examinations that the medical community began to truly take notice of intersexuality. Suddenly there were dozens of reports of ‘hermaphroditism’ appearing. Doctors created an archetype of standard sexual forms based on gonadal tissues; these being true hermaphroditism, and male- and female- pseudo-hermaphroditism. These were explored more fully in my previous article on intersexuality. True hermaphroditism was often not discovered until post-mortem examinations of the individuals.
In the 1950’s John Hopkins University became the first to assemble a team and turn its focus to intersexuality. They referred to their approach as the “optimum gender of rearing model.” The idea of this model was make a child growing up intersexual align to one sex or the other as completely as possible. At that time it was often easier to physical reassign an intersexual individual to being ‘female’ than male and this was reflected in the surgeries performed. A ‘successful’ subject would be stable and heterosexual in the role they prescribed to. Given the time, that view is hardly surprising.
All these views and issues facing intersexuals led to lesser known rights movement of their own. This rights movement markedly began in 1993 when Anne Fausto-Sterling began publishing articles on intersexuality and its reality. Up until this point, most intersexuals had felt abused and alone in the world. In response to Anne Fausto-Sterling’s articles, Cheryl Chase started her work in the founding of the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA).
Using the women’s and gay's rights movements as backdrops to success, Cheryl and many others like her began their battle for intersexual education and openness. When it began twenty years ago, medical professionals had responded that the previous standard of care for these individuals was necessary and justified. Some had even gone so far as to lie to their patients about their medical records. By 2001 the intersexual rights movement had been making progress. They had proven their point and gained ground.
So whether your child or you are male, female or both, and no matter the views and issues you may face, you can know that you are not alone. There are support groups and a plethora of information available today to aid you.