By: Tom & Ms G
Our crowning achievement was maintaining ourselves without any assistance from the outside world. This could be the statement of a state or nation founded in the desolation that was the early days of exploration. It could also be the glory of any number of venturesome individuals who managed to “pull the rabbit of success” from the hat of misery. As it stands it is our statement of how most people at variance with the established rules, the way it’s supposed to be, of society, culture, or identity manage to maintain themselves and learn to flourish despite bigotry, contempt, or arrogant condemnation by would be saviours, flim-flam miscreants, and other professionals mostly practising their ignorance. Some of us were lucky enough to be loved and fed, while others were abused, starved, and otherwise mistreated, but all of us were very simply not understood nor accepted as real. Whether we knew, know it now, or not, we were, and remain intersex.
We are environmental or genetic variations among a global species that chooses to pretend that it is definitively male or female. This despite thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of glaring examples of difference: wherein males tend toward females and females tend toward males and some are both or neither. This is not a look at separate genders – defined by easily stated differences that turn out to be difficult to define. Instead intersex covers all the myriad of minor and major differences that obtain from molecular sex (meiosis), cellular replication, mutation, and the further mixing of genes and chromosomes through sperm, ovum and hormonal timing from within gestation or from without.
We were born with an extra X chromosome on the twenty-third pair. (How this happens is of little import save that the extra X comes from one or the other parent.) We are XXY. Our mother had had numerous, between five and 10, spontaneous abortions and miscarriages from ’29 on, and in 1939 was given diethylstilbesterol to prevent them. I was conceived in or around mid-September of that year and born normally in May of 1940. (Telling us of the losses she explained about DES when we were 13. Needless to say, her explanation meant nothing to us at the time, 1953. Our childhood was fraught with our slender sickliness. We were susceptible to infections, bronchitis, and at age five allergies to cat dander and walnuts. We were circumcised at three years of age. The physical trauma healed in six weeks along with German measles. The psychic trauma may never fade completely. (Doctors at the time assured parents that children up to five do not feel pain.)
Additionally, our teeth were extremely soft, a case often attributed to low testosterone but we have come to believe now that low calcium uptake was to blame. Still, this is fairly common among those who are male and 47XXY. And later we suffered from slower maturation despite our growth spurt of 6 inches in four months when we were 14. Our parents conceived us to save their marriage which it probably did not do although they stayed together, our mother blackmailing our philandering father with the threat of an acrimonious divorce. We were empathically connected to their poorly hidden emotional and sexual war that was joined long before we were born. (Sad that it takes all of us norms and intersex so long to realize that we are born in the middle of many stories and we die before we find out what happens.) Empathy is the capacity to feel what others are feeling. In our culture where the expression of one’s real inner felt state is considered to be too much information, empathy is a heavy load to bear. We knew how others felt but were unable to separate our own feelings from theirs.
Childhood was a miasma of well-understood rage and anger dumped without knowledge from our parents into our internalized selves. At times ourselves would converse in different voices though it was not until we were in high school that we realized that one voice was more feminine and the other more masculine. Even at that stage, we knew better than to let others know about “us”. In many ways, while our body was not turning into the expected “male” of our dreams – at 18 we weighed 115 lbs, at 28, 125 lbs, still the necessity of dealing with our understanding of the feminine and the masculine meant that intellectually and emotionally we were often far more knowledgeable of the social dynamics implicit in our culture and between couples or among groups than most of our peers or our social science professors. They, of course, had no way to ascertain what was really going on except from outside observation or through psychological tests that were full of bias or simply prone to built-in error. Our mother, suspecting that our father or we would kill one or the other, insisted that we go to an Eastern co-educational boarding school. There we were homesick most of the time while glad to be away from our family emotional stew and, in the last two years, had an ongoing, intimate, relationship with a young woman of the same age. To all intents and purposes, we were married.
By the middle of our junior year – the school doctor, using the biology lab’s equipment determined that we were positively sterile. (His interest was peaked by our GF’s request for a diaphragm because we were having sex almost daily,) This news was met with relief and joy. Since we couldn’t get the girl pregnant we need only worry about getting caught. While we did not graduate with honours we did get accepted to U.C. Davis. College wasn’t much fun. Our preparatory schooling made our freshman year almost redundant. Our high school junior papers submitted in college English classes got A’s. Science remained a total mystery and we got D’s in Chemistry and Physics. By our second semester our high-school girlfriend had moved on to greener pastures and we were lost in the emotional quagmire of Dear John. Our enmeshment with her had been total (that empathy again) while our parents were oblivious to our loss stating instead their relief that we could now concentrate on our studies. (Given their sexual war and suppressed emotional lives we did not dare confide in them.) We went down eighteen grade points during the second semester of our freshman year. We flunked out. This was a hell of a blow to our parents who continued to war with one another while pretending to be harmonious to the world at large. Cracks occasionally surfaced when our mother would attend University functions and make “daggerish” remarks. But the façade of the happy family mostly held sway further alienating us from them and their friends. (And we’re proud to say we never mentioned us to them; what a catastrophe that would have been. Talk about under a microscope. With their advanced education they would have left no stone unturned, no therapy untried.)
We returned to Davis and continued to have difficulties with the educators – we also started building a Trimaran, married a girl of 18 and managed to finish our BA and teaching M.A. in English and Drama. By early 65 we’d moved the boat to Berkeley and ourselves and wife as well. For most of our 20’s, and 30’s, we struggled with our secret or hidden, self that found outlets in very few places other than writing and poetry which went over the heads of most people or long walks in the country. We did find a vocation in home-maintenance, house painting, remodelling, and an avocation in sailing. We also became expert at counselling distraught individuals struggling with interior distress. This last we did as a sideline having come to it through working with a Suicide Hot Line and rapport with our mostly female “handyman” clientele. While most of our maintenance work was done for couples it was the female half, the spousal wife, who was home, and cognizant of the real needs of their houses and gardens. It was through these women and others who were married to friends of ours that we began to release our inner voices and give them “house” room in our body. We got rolfed at 39, did a double century bike race at forty; got a hundred hour massage certificate, a divorce, played the field, continued advanced classes in massage and holistic therapies, and at forty-one met our wife of now 35 years married, 38 together. She and we, together, taught massage for professionals, couples, and interested amateurs while getting 1000 hour Holistic Certificates as well as becoming proficient in Ericksonian Hypnosis – the foundation of what would become the now discredited Neuro-Linguistic-Programming. There is no question but what this last endeavour, undertaken and supported by our wife, was essential in freeing our “hidden” and “frightened” selves, which resulted right off the bat in our freedom from smoking and at the same time helped us become us: Tom/Ms.G our current self-loving identity.
The hypnosis and spousal support released Ms.G and Carl Jung’s Anima and Animus the spirit or soul of men and women respectively saved her and us. (Jung believed that all men and women needed to do “the work” to access their inner spirit/soul in order to let joy and ecstatic experience into their lives and make them whole. Clearly something very lacking in our materialistic society at large, BUT, in the case of XXY’s with strong empathy, an almost unavoidable partnership from the git-go.) There were many missteps and difficulties along the way but the end result was worth the journey. It is our belief that many intersex individuals are by their nature more likely to succeed at becoming self–fulfilled persons through their struggles with their interior self or selves. If they are blessed with intuition/empathy, sometimes called sensitivity to others, they may need more support early on from others like them to support and provide techniques for dealing with this skill. The same holds for all self-realized intersex persons. Support from others including the histories of same will go a long way toward relieving the intersexed of the burdens and terrors that being “different” in a status quo culture puts upon them.
In 1988 we moved to the San Juan Islands and designed and built a small house in the woods. In 1992 we joined the volunteer fire dept. and retired a Captain in 2005. The fire service required a rather complete health exam each year and in 2005 our very low calcium levels triggered some online searching that turned up XXY as a possible cause. All the Doctors we spoke to about it said, “Take calcium!” And were not interested in any further study. We spoke to a Naturopath who said, “Let’s check out your hormones.” When those came back we did a Karyotype and voila. VINDICATION. WE WERE XXY. We were 65 and the discovery was great. It opened us to a host of others who had only within the last 10 years connected through the internet and who had had similar or very different struggles that resolved into like-minded compassion and kindness. As an intersex person we no-longer had to find justifications, scientific, philosophic, or religious for our differences; we could be ourselves in our single body and be loved and accepted. In the end, what humans want, love, respect, and compassion is not any different from what any minority of humans want for themselves and their families. This is also what we want and what defines the intersex movement: Love Respect Support
PS: In 2005 we were re-hired by the fire dept to drive trucks and tenders (water tankers0 run pumps and fill in fire ground positions, not in the hot zone. This year (2018) we retired again to care for mobility challenged wife of 83, after 26 years. What the hay, a career at last.