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Unformatted text preview: duction One morning in the fall of 1998, Lisa May Stevens, then thirty-two
years old, methodically loaded her revolver. When she was done she
snapped the chamber into place, pushed her strawberry blonde hair
behind her ear, and snubbed the barrel of the revolver beneath her jaw.
The gun metal felt cool there, reassuring. Lisa May drew a deep breath,
let go of her demons, and pulled hard on the gun’s trigger. The chamber
rotated and brought the next shell in line with the barrel, and the hammer snapped down with all the finality of a slamming door.
And . . . nothing.
No explosion. No burning cordite. No shattered skull. No end to a
life that, for the moment, just didn’t seem worth living.
Lisa May was no stranger to handguns. She knew what she was
doing. Trembling, she lowered the gun to her lap and opened the chamber. There it was, the deep dimple in the primer of the shell. The hammer
had fallen and struck the shell just as it should have. But that was it.
A lot of things had come together to put Lisa May in this spot with
this gun on this morning. Things that included rape, beatings, being
shot twice, the death of her dearest love, and the ragged edge of this
world. But by themselves no one of these, not even the combination ix x Introduction together, would have left her here holding this gun. It was something
much more than all of that.
Hidden inside of each of Lisa May’s cells is a dark secret, a story so
remarkable that it nearly shattered her life and the lives of many others, so remarkable that it still changes the lives of nearly everyone who
comes to know of her secret.
Lisa May is different from most people. She has two very different
sorts of cells in her body. Some look like a man’s cells. Some look like a
woman’s cells. Because of that, some parts of Lisa May look like parts of
a man, while other parts of Lisa May look like a parts of a woman.
Just a few years ago, most scientists would have referred to Lisa May
as a true hermaphrodite (as Lisa May still does), but she is much more
than that. She is very nearly two persons become one.
But it wasn’t those odd bits of chromosomes or the mix of the male
and female that drove Lisa May to her gun cabinet and her wish for
oblivion. After all, those were just parts of who she was. In the end what
put the bullet in her hand and the barrel to her temple was a dreadful
thought filled with shame and an unimaginable sense of worthlessness,
loneliness, and despair.
All of that is behind her now. Today, Lisa May embraces her differences and her hermaphroditism. But the road to her happiness was long
and rough, mostly because of how many of us think about sex.
Most people quickly accept the fact that we differ in one way or
another from everyone else we know. In fact, this society often encourages us to maximize, enhance, and revel in those differences. But when
it comes to thinking about sex—even simple biological, boy-versusgirl sex—many of us reserve a different sort of boardroom for such
thoughts. Variations among human beings that have to do with biological sex, reproduction, or genitals invoke separate sensitivities and often
So we try to keep sex simple. Men and women come in two, and only
two, opposite forms: male and female, men and women, boys and girls.
Black and white simplicity, no gray. We understand that gender—the
ways that society molds us into proper girls or boys, men or women—is
complicated. Gender depends on lots of things—upbringing, culture, Introduction xi the stories fed to us by television and movies, hormones, and power
struggles. Throughout it all, though, sex remains inviolate to us—boy/
But that point of view doesn’t fit very well with the world around us.
This book is about that world around us and about another way of
thinking about ourselves. It began in one of my classrooms, an honors
course devoted to examining how we come to have images and visions
of ourselves. As I was preparing for a discussion about the importance
of gender in our views of ourselves, I discovered that every year more
than sixty-five thousand children are born who aren’t obviously either
boys or girls. I was amazed by that number. I was even more amazed
by my ignorance of that number. I’m a pathologist, and I know a lot
about disorders, diseases, and the things that generally make people
different from one another. And I was very familiar with many disorders
that affected far fewer people. How had I come so far and heard so little
about these children?
That began the investigation that culminated in this book.
In the process, I have discovered some remarkable things. Our history suggests that we haven’t always imagined that humans come in
only two sexes, and that things far removed from what we might call
facts have played major roles in determining our thoughts about sex.
Even today, several human societies believe in more than two sexes.
In truth, humans come in an amazing number of forms, because
human development, including human sexual development, is n...
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This document was uploaded on 02/04/2014.
- Spring '14