Between+XX+and+XY:+Intersexuality+and+the+myth+of+two+sexes

He had no idea that he was physically anything other

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Unformatted text preview: ese overtures from his mother. In return, he was spanked, jerked around the room, and tossed into a chair where he could only sit and cry until he agreed to his mother’s requests. Michael’s mother always outlasted him. Her insistence on treating Michael like a girl slowly worked its way inside of Michael’s head. He began to like the colors she picked for him, the panties and the petticoats, the dresses and the bows. “If I could please her . . . she, for a while, would be happy. And she was so much fun to be with if she was happy. If I pleased her she would primp me. And on rare occasions she would put makeup on me, but never too much . . . otherwise you might get mistaken for a slut.” Michael, of course, played along. It was the only way he could hold his mother’s attention, and he craved that attention. As Lisa May, he was loved. As Michael, it was less clear. I never knew what I was for most of my life. My father treated me like I was all boy. He could be soft, but mostly he taught me to be tough and strong inside and out. I wasn’t allowed to cry Where Our Sexes Come From 79 or throw tantrums in front of him. Repercussions were severe— from either one of them. If I acted like I did with mother in front of my father, I would get it. And it was the same the other way around—she was so feminine all the time, and father was so masculine. It was a hard balancing act being around the both of them at the same time. So, I spent as much time as I could outside hiding or, if possible, at a friend’s house. Years later, when I visited with my childhood friends and parents, it seemed they all knew what my mother did with me—dressing me up as a girl. They wondered how it would affect me later in life. They all thought I’d grow up and be a cross gender. Well, they weren’t far off. I grew up and found out I was intersexed instead. Like so many intersex children, Michael was kept in the dark. He had no idea that he was physically anything other than a boy. It would take years, and a major mistake on the part of an attorney, before Michael would learn the whole truth. Michael’s mother had had several miscarriages. So while she was pregnant with Michael, she took a drug called diethylstilbestrol, or DES. From the 1940s until the late 1960s, doctors routinely prescribed DES for complications and maintenance of pregnancy.12 Some two million women in the United States and maybe as many as four million women worldwide took the drug while pregnant. As early as 1953, studies at the University of Chicago suggested the drug had no effect on pregnancy. But doctors continued to prescribe DES until the early 1970s, when it became clear the DES was carcinogenic and closely linked to the development of clear-cell carcinomas of the vagina, endometrial cancers, and breast cancer. In the late 1980s, lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those damaged by DES. With all the coverage in the news, Michael’s mother became concerned and interested in the lawsuit. She contacted the lawyers involved with the case, and when she mentioned that her son was somewhat out of the ordinary, the lawyers expressed a great deal of interest. They were especially interested in children with cancer. 80 Between XX and XY Michael had had cancer—twice, in fact. The first tumor appeared when he was seventeen, a gonadoblastoma—one of his undescended testes had turned malignant. The doctors performed surgery after surgery, ten in all, before they finally gave up and removed the testis. That seemed to take care of things. But shortly after Michael turned twentyone, he began to lose weight fast. In a few months he dropped from 180 to 125 pounds. At first the doctors could find nothing wrong. As a last resort, they tried a needle biopsy of his remaining testis and its surroundings. They found a seminoma—a tumor of the gametes. Michael immediately went home and told his wife, who shed a few tears, went into her room for about fifteen minutes, then came out with her suitcases packed and said “Sorry, dear, I can’t sit here and watch you die.” She left, and a short while later filed for divorce. “I went crazy. . . . I took seventy-five thousand dollars out of my savings and went all over the world for three months wishing to just end my torture. I could not at that time accept being a eunuch and not knowing what was to come of me.” Finally, Michael wore himself out and landed at a friend’s house. While he was there, he met a woman who gave him the strength to go through with the surgery and the chemotherapy. That surgery would rewrite Michael’s history and his future. During the surgery for his cancer, the doctors removed what they thought was Michael’s remaining testicle. Instead, they found an ovotestis. The implications were dramatic. They offered Michael free karyotyping so they could further investigate the true nature of this man. They took a few cells and sent them off to the lab. Simple enough, but inside of those f...
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