Five Questions With… Gwen Smith

gwen smithGwen Smith, Transmissions columnist and originator of the Remembering Our Dead project, answers five questions. Thanks, Gwen, for being willing.
1) Since you’re famous for having created the TG Day of Remembrance, what do you think is the best thing to come out of this holiday?
When I began the Remembering Our Dead Project, out of which the Transgender Day of Remembrance was born, I did it with the full knowledge that I was but one voice crying out in what seemed to be a wilderness.
I’ve long been pleasantly surprised to have been proven wrong about that, and to see the event has become as big as it has. Last year there were 212 events that I know of. There was an event in the small town I live in, that I had no direct hand in: it sprung up on its own. I simply never expected it to grow like it has.
As such, I’d have to say that the best thing to come out of this is a moment where we are all together, showing our strength, and that our community can truly be as one.
Continue reading “Five Questions With… Gwen Smith”

CLAGS Conference

Tomorrow and Friday are the CLAGS (CUNY’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies) Conference on Trans Politics, Social Change and Justice:
May 6-7, 2005
Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS)
Graduate Center, CUNY
New York, NY
Join us to for two days of plenary sessions, workshops, roundtables, caucuses, films, and performances that will strengthen activist networks, incite dialogues, share resources, and create social change.
I’ll be speaking at the 9:30 am Plenary on Umbrellas, Alliances, and Coalitions?.

Ladies' Room?

There are many meaningful things said about the gender divide vis a vis bathrooms, but I didn’t expect to be blogging about it. Still, a couple of recent articles – one in The New York Times, and the other in The NY Post – have brought up all the usual issues and complaints.
If we allow crossdressed men to go into a ladies room, the end of civilization is upon us. Pedophilia will occur at mind-boggling rates. Women will no longer feel safe.

    A few things have occurred to me.
    1) The reason women already go to the bathroom in pairs (other than a chance to gossip) is safety. So it’s apparent they already don’t feel safe going alone to the ladies’ room, trannies or not.
    2) One of our loyal bloggers actually did some research on the incidence of men crossdressing in order to assault children in bathrooms, and after an evening of making himself heartsick with horrible stories, found only one incidence – which turned out, after all, to be a mistake.
    3) It strikes me that the easy answer to this problem is to legislate that new buildings need to include one single-occupancy bathroom. Period. So that the transperson, or woman-raised-female, or child-and-parent (fathers take their kids to the bathroom, too) can use a room that is lockable and private. Other buildings could be required over a period of time to retrofit their own bathrooms for similar use.
    4) I wonder often at the people who spew such fear and hatred of strangers, or the unknown. I wonder how they ever feel safe in their worlds.
    5) The first time I shared a ladies’ room with a drag queen the only thing that upset me was that she’d remembered to stop at a mirror to freshen her lipstick and I hadn’t.

Not to make light of the situation: women are vulnerable to unprotected spaces, and getting stuck behind a locked door. But I don’t think crossdressers are the men who are going to be assaulting them, and I don’t think the average sex assailant would be willing to emasculate himself to that degree in order to assault women. Transpeople are usually just as scared as women are of assault from men.
Since stalls create the privacy, why aren’t ladies’ room doors transparent? I don’t have a problem with someone watching me put on lipstick or make sure there’s no toilet paper stuck on my shoe (and maybe the clear doors would shame more people into washing their hands – like they’re supposed to). Extra eyes help cut down on violence.
So the real issue is: why don’t women feel safe in restrooms?
My guess is that it’s because we don’t take crimes against women seriously enough – no matter who perpetrates them. They say you can judge a society by how well it treats its women and children, and by those standards, we’re not getting a passing grade. ABC reports an increase in child abuse that’s ‘epidemic’ and the stats on violence against women stay the same year after year. If women don’t feel safe in their own homes, why on earth would they feel safe in a public bathroom? And while you might say these are two different issues, the late Andrea Dworkin said:

By the time we are women, fear is as familiar to us as air; it is our element. We live in it, we inhale it, we exhale it, and most of the time we do not even notice it. Instead of “I am afraid,” we say, “I don’t want to,” or “I don’t know how,” or “I can’t.”

So why are women afraid of transfolks in restrooms? Because women are afraid. While they may not understand that transpeople are not the ones who will assault them, they don’t expect their boyfriends and husbands to assault them, either. And they do. They do. And as usual, what can be feared (because it is unknown, sometimes unknowable, and new) will be feared instead. Their fear is legitimate. Transpeople’s need for accomodation is legitimate. But once again, we’ve got this tiny sliver of pie, and no one’s getting enough to eat. The issue again is male violence – male violence against gay men, transpeople, and women. When we all realize that we’re in this together, maybe, maybe, we’ll take back the night.
Resources: The NY Post and NY Times articles can be found on the MHB Boards, and there’s some sensible legal consideration given to the issue by Michael C. Dore of

Welcome to the Re-Design

Welcome to the newly-redesigned There’s nothing missing (well nothing that we won’t add back!) but there are a ton of new features I’m pleased about.
On your right, groovy links to pages about me, the book, & the website.
Then you’ll find an interesting set of “blog categories.” These are categories I can put my blog entries into (yes, I went back and categorized all of them) so my blog can now be read. If you only want to look at pictures of cats, say, you can do that. Or, if you only want to read my thoughts about various aspects of gender and the trans community. You pick.
The search box way up top is good for looking up something specific, like “Fantasia Fair” or “shoes.”

    If you keep scrolling down on the right, you’ll find
    a recommended list of books (recommended by me, of course)
    good places to find good sex advice
    a list of links to trans resources and organizations
    a list of other organizations i like
    and the monthly archives for my blog

The cool thing is that this site re-design allows me to make changes more easily, and without Betty’s help (for the most part). So I’m hoping to make it a less static site, with more regularly-updated info.
Welcome! Feel free to look around, and let me know what you think. You can do that again, now, because I’ve got blog comments again, too.
Thanks to WordPress for great software, Betty for fixing every tiny little thing, and to all of you for making MHB a site worth re-designing.


Hello friends and readers,
This is the least comfortable request I’ve ever made, but we’ve spent way more money doing the book thing than we expected. Since we’d like to keep doing what we’re doing – education, outreach, and advocacy – we could use some help: keeping up this website, running the MHB Message Boards, getting to conferences. Contrary to popular opinion, there isn’t any money in writing books! There is, however, a lot of money spent promoting books, and attending conferences, and no-one’s paying me to hold anyone’s hand or to answer innumerable emails from people needing help, resources, a shoulder. If only! I don’t mind doing any of it – in fact, it’s one of the single most rewarding aspects of having written the book. But I’m not independently wealthy, or retired, and there’s no trust fund to be found.
Look, it’s been really expensive doing all this. It’s a LOT of time. I don’t really know any way to ask except to ask. So if you like what we’re doing, and want us to keep doing it, you can show your support by making a donation (of your choice).

This donation is NOT tax-deductible. We’re looking into how to do that, but for now, this would just be considered a gift.
Thank you so much to those who have already donated. Wow, do I hate asking people for money. I used to work as a fundraiser, and Betty has to do a lot of schmoozing for theatre fundraising, but it never, ever gets easier.
Thank you,
Helen Boyd & Betty Crow

Guest Author: LWU

Today, on the MHB Message Boards, one of our regulars, LWU, posted an insightful piece about the mysteries of being a recently transitioned woman. I found it quite in keeping with my reputation as Helen ‘Pulls No Punches’ Boyd, and so it found its way to my blog.
LWU called her post “Dirty Little Secrets: Passing.”

The Short Version:
— Don’t transition if you don’t or can’t pass.

The Long Version:

Every few weeks I have a conversation with someone who wants advice about transitioning. Leaving aside the issue about the value of free advice, or my capabilities to say useful things in this regard, a recent conversation brought up a point that forced me to clarify and distill some thoughts.

A lot of the questions in these conversations revolve around material issues such as surgery, voice, etc. In this case, though, I had a very specific thought, which is that passing may well be the single most important issue in post-transition happiness. I know that I’m covering old ground, but that’s the miracle of the Web, that everything old is new again. And again. And again.
Here’s the deal. If you transition and don’t pass, for the rest of your life, on every day that you interact with the mundane world, people will treat you like a pariah, at best. Perhaps you don’t care what they think, or how they treat you, but it’s going to affect your ability to get a job, etc.
I’ve never met any vaguely normal person who absolutely had no concern about how others perceived them. You’re not one of them, otherwise you’d be a sociopath.
Happiness for a lot of people seems to be the ability to lead a life that maximizes happiness and minimizes hassle. If you don’t pass, you’re going to get hassled. It’s not fair, and it’s certainly not just, but like Microsoft in the software world, it *is* the dominant factor in most social environments. You can’t ignore it.
Passing has a lot of aspects, of which appearance is probably the most important, followed by behavior and then voice. A lot of MTFs don’t seem to understand what it takes to pass. A fat wallet isn’t enough. I’ve met a number of MTF folks in the last few years who’ve had very expensive facial surgery, implants, hair-removal, voice training, and you know what? They don’t pass. And after a few minutes in their company, other people treat them poorly, because they’re being perceived as weirdos (at a minimum) and perverts (at the worst).
Are there exceptions? Sure, and somebody wins every single lottery, but it’s not going to be you. In fact, if you’re not sure whether you can do it, you probably can’t, at least not until you’re sure.
In my case, I pass most of the time *except* on the phone with strangers (and friends, I suspect) when I *never* pass, and this after lots of voice and social-voice training and practice. And when people call me “sir” on the phone, it makes me feel bad, although I’d like to be able to shrug it off.
My advice was, and is: Do everything possible to avoid transitioning. Others have written this screed, I know, but it bears repeating, that many people aren’t going to pass, especially late-transitioners. At the very minimum you *must* find a psychologist who specializes in gender issues *and* who will let you speak with existing patients.
You *must* have a comprehensive physical to rule out organic issues. Maybe you don’t feel like a man because you have very low testosterone. Perhaps you have a pituitary or adrenal tumor or other endocrine problem. You. Don’t. Know. If you make a decision about transitioning without investigating all these possibilities you’re doing your family, friends, and self a huge disservice.
And there’s another rub: Many, if not all of these changes take money and time. Fair? No. Just as Helen is tired of having to repeat herself about her approach to feminism, I’m tired of talking about whether the binary gender system is fair, and whether certain aspects of semi-free-market economies are fair. They’re not, Ok? And it sucks. But you still have to live with it, like it or not. Why? Because if you won’t pay attention to the outside world, you’re literally insane. I’m going to talk about resources and whining in another inflammatory post, coming soon to a MHB forum near you.
Don’t do it. Don’t transition. Do anything and everything you can to work out some other solution. If you’re depressed a few days a month because you have to be a man, would you rather be depressed for a few weeks every month because no one will accept you as a woman?
I’m much happier now that I’ve transitioned, but I’m the exception in almost every respect. I got the Lucky Sperm Club neutral facial structure, neutral hand/foot size, and enough resources that counseling, electrolysis, and surgery did not represent an insurmountable burden. I have a spouse and friends who weren’t happy with me at first, but they didn’t actively interfere with my project and many of them helped and are helping me to learn to act like the person I want to be.
In addition, I work hard at passing every single day that I’m going to interact with The Man. Makeup, shoes, clothes, behaviors that match my age and apparent social background. I’m 43, so I selected a name that was statistically likely both in terms of frequency and social group. I work with financial institutions and MBAs, so I wear makeup and clothes suitable for that environment. I’m a nerd so I also present as a nerd by carrying the appropriate amount of geer (geek-gear). If I don’t, someone will kill me with sticks, or refuse to hire me, which actually has longer-term personal consequences.

UNFPA, instead

While we’re all worried (and mobilized) on the defeat of the FMA, it turns out that Bush will be deciding on whether or not to fund the UNFPA. We’ve been successfully distracted. Here’s the word from Planned Parenthood:
On Thursday, July 15th, the Bush Administration will decide whether to fund UNFPA (The United Nations Population Fund) this year. UNFPA runs life-saving programs for women and girls in 140 countries that increase access to gynecological care and voluntary birth control, reduce infant and maternal mortality, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The United States helped to create UNFPA in 1969 and, up until recently, has played a leadership role in the program. Unfortunately, in recent years President Bush has refused to release the funds that Congress has set aside for UNFPA. It is time to tell the White House: “We have had enough!”
CALL THE WHITE HOUSE (202-456-1111) TODAY AND SAY: “I am calling to urge the President to release the $34 million that Congress has promised to UNFPA. The work of UNFPA saves lives. The President must release this desperately needed funding. Thank you.”
What’s At Stake:
On Thursday, July 15th, the Bush Administration is expected to decide on this year’s funding for UNFPA (The United Nations Population Fund). UNFPA runs life-saving programs that build healthy families and improve the health and well-being of women and girls in the world’s poorest nations. UNFPA funds programs in more than 140 countries to improve poor women’s reproductive health through access to gynecological care and voluntary birth control, reduce infant and maternal mortality and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The United States helped to create UNFPA in 1969 and, up until recently, has played a leadership role in the program. In recent years, however, the United States has been an unreliable source of financial support for UNFPA. But for fiscal year 2002, in recognition of the critical need for the services provided by UNFPA, Congress earmarked $34 million for the program. President Bush however refused to release the $34 million Congress approved in 2002 and he again refused to release last year’s Congressional appropriation of $25 million. On Thursday, July 15 the administration is expected to decide whether or not to release the $34 million that Congress appropriated this year for these vital efforts.
A recent New York Times (7/6/04) editorial stated: “One of the uglier aspects of the Bush administration’s assault on women’s reproductive rights is its concerted undermining of the United Nations Population Fund based on the false accusation that it supports coerced abortions in China… the State Department’s investigating team found no evidence that the Population Fund has supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization”
For more information on UNFPA visit:

Click to access UNFPASavetheDate.pdf

Gianna Israel article about "Transgenderists"

Transgenderists: When Self-Identification Challenges Transgender Stereotypes
By Gianna E. Israel
Copyright 1996, all rights reserved.
There has been an interesting development in the transgender community in recent years, specifically of persons who do not identify with the social and clinical definitions which apply to individuals with gender identity issues. Traditionally, those who comprise what is frequently referred to as the “transgender community” include transsexuals and crossdressers. In part, the definitions on who is a transsexual and who is a crossdresser are defined by social stereotypes and clinical literature; however they are also defined by those unique persons who have transgender experiences.
A transsexual is a person who transitions and permanently lives as a member of the opposite gender. These persons seek out sex hormones and cosmetic surgery. This includes breast augmentation or mastectomy depending on the direction of change. In addition, transsexuals are interested in Genital Reassignment Surgery or what is also known as Sex Reassignment Surgery. It is common knowledge that there is a larger proportion of individuals who self-identify as transsexual, than the actual number of people who have genital reassignment. This in part is due to the high financial, emotional and social costs associated with living as a member of the opposite gender as well as the surgical procedure itself. There also exists a number of individuals who are unable to undergo Genital Reassignment. More information about those persons will be briefly addressed later in this article.
Crossdressers are persons who temporarily wear clothing of the opposite gender to fulfill an inner sense of need or reduce gender related anxiety. Typically crossdressing is done privately, although some persons do so publicly when circumstances appear safe. Some also crossdress for sexual fulfillment, such as in “transvestic fetishism.” While crossdressers do not experience the many difficulties transsexuals face during the pursuit of transition or Genital Reassignment, they do experience emotional turbulence, social isolation, or concerns regarding privacy and whether to tell others about their secret. Like transsexuals, these factors are particularly evident when a crossdresser is unaware of transgender resources or is unable to resolve stereotype induced feelings of guilt, shame or fear. Both transsexuals and crossdressers are at risk of victimization by persons who cannot tolerate differences in others. Although, transsexuals face slightly higher risks because they are more visible than crossdressers who tend to be more hidden.
Transgenderists are persons who consistently live as members of the opposite gender either on a part or full-time basis. Some maintain their original identity in the work place or during formal occasions. Others appear in their new identity during all aspects of daily life. Transgenderists are unique because maintaining both masculine and feminine characteristics is integral to having a sense of balance. However, the outward presentation of these characteristics varies subtly depending on the individual’s needs and sense of connection to each gender. Like transsexuals, many are interested in obtaining electrolysis, hormones and even cosmetic surgery to bring their outward presentation in line with their inner sense of self. However, like crossdressers, transgenderists are not interested in Genital Reassignment Surgery.
To elaborate on this distinction, even if a transgenderists lives “in role” as a member of the opposite gender on a full-time basis, what separates them from transsexuals, is that they derive pleasure from and value their genitals as originally developed. However, in most circumstances, it is unlikely that a transgenderist who lives in role full-time will disclose such private information without good reason. Because transgenderists are not interested in genital reassignment, they should not be confused with “non-operative” transsexuals or persons who are unable to have surgery due to financial or medical hardship. Although the majority of non-operative transsexuals live “in role” permanently, most need to adjust to a period of internalized incongruency during the time they are unable to have genital reassignment, if at all. Transgenderists do not go through this period of adjustment, because they are not interested in altering their genitals.
Like transsexuals who are at the very beginning of transition, transgenderists frequently experience incongruent feelings regarding their gender identity. Unlike crossdressers these feelings persist “after the clothes come off” and the person dresses in their original gender. These incongruent feelings typically can be continuous, lasting for days and even weeks, until the individual recognizes a pattern in his or her needs. Transgenderists stop feeling incongruent when their needs are consistently met by maintaining characteristics from both genders.
Understanding a transgenderist identity becomes particularly interesting when the subject of differentiating these from other transgender persons is looked at in further detail. Upon hearing about transgenderists, many people are inclined to believe that transgenderists are actually undecided about or simply unaware of genital reassignment. Others believe transgenderists are crossdressers, who somehow have managed to arrange unique living situations, so as to live out their fantasy. While the potential for such circumstances exists, a person usually self identifies as a transgenderist because their internal needs do not meet the narrow definitions associated with transsexuals or crossdressers.
As we try understanding the process of differentiating one type of transgender person from another, it is important to recognize where transgender persons get their definitions and role models. In coming to terms with crossdressing or gender identity issues, most people consult clinical as well as community resources, so as to compare their experiences with others. Access to resources can vary immensely depending upon the individual’s location, cultural background, social status, educational and investigative skills.
For example, the standards which validates a person having a transgender identity vary greatly depending on location. In India, many transgender people have a choice between conforming to traditional gender stereotypes or becoming part of the Hijra caste. This is particularly so if they intend to live out their lives as members of the opposite gender. Within the caste, ritual castration without anesthesia is performed on new members by the caste. Also, hand plucking of facial and body hair is widely encouraged over shaving. Subsequently, while crossdressers and transgenderists may participate in Hijra activities to some extent, none are really considered a full member until they have suffered the pain of beautification and ritual castration.
These practices can seem quite removed from the experiences of transgender persons living in the North America or Europe. These individuals find out about electrolysis, coping with crossdressing, or making a gender transition through relatively similar gender clinics or organizations. For the transgenderist, information addressing their needs has come forth slowly as clinicians began documenting gender identity issues only 20 years ago. In fact, the process of disseminating clinical information about gender issues is so slow, most people are not aware that transgender persons may have specialized medical needs. They may also not be aware that having a transgender identity is not in and of itself mentally disordered, medically diseased or pathological.
Because the majority of clinical resources make no reference to transgenderists, it is important to recognize that differentiating this specialized sub-population is not much different than other transgender persons. Whereas most clinical resources use “consistency” in determining who is a crossdresser as well as who is a transsexual (and therefore an appropriate candidate for hormone administration and genital reassignment), this criterion is equally valuable in identifying transgenderists and their needs. Consistency is defined as person having consistent thoughts, actions, requests or demands for a set period of time. Professionals who utilize consistency as a factor for assessing crossdresser and transsexual treatment plans, may also do so for transgenderists. For example, within the Recommended Guidelines for Transgender Care, Dr. Donald Tarver and I recommend (in part) that “transgender individuals appropriate for hormone administration include those who have in the preceding three months consistently expressed interest in the permanent physical changes brought forward by hormones, in order to bring the body in line with an intended masculine, feminine or androgynous appearance.”
On the surface the preceding recommendation may appear vague because it does not distinguish between transgender sub-populations. This lack of distinction, however, reflects an increasing trend among care providers to encourage transgender persons to adopt a gender-identification based on their needs and experiences, rather than force clients to conform to a provider or clinic’s stereotypes. Encouraging self-determination has encouraged a relaxation of gender boundaries, which meets the needs of all transgender persons.
Because there is not an overabundance of clinical literature portraying the specialized needs and issues transgenderists face, frequently these people cannot locate or are turned away from medical, surgical and psychological services. Those given incorrect information suffer needlessly and are often at risk. For example, those believing they are crossdressers and ineligible for professional services frequently end up self-prescribing, or seeking black market hormones and substandard cosmetic surgeries. Others, believing they are transsexuals, mistakenly proceed with a full-time transition or undergo Genital Reassignment Surgery. As a result these persons end up making huge sacrifices in order to validate themselves, and those who go through with genital reassignment may find themselves regretting having done so for the remainder of their lives. Recognition by professionals and the transgender community of transgenderist needs can help reduce these types of incidents.
Frequently I receive requests for information from physicians who are uncertain about how to address hormone administration in transgenderists. Because hormone administration is a routine medical procedure, providing it to transgenderists is for the most part identical to that of pre-operative transsexuals. I always advise physicians to take into account the patient’s general health, blood laboratory testing, prescription side effects and cosmetic predisposition. The only significant differences include the possibility that the transgenderist may ask that the prescription strength does not interfere with sexual performance, or that cosmetic growth be focused on moderate development or androgenization.
One of the most exciting developments in understanding transgenderist issues, is the recognition that these their experiences can sharply differ in regard to pre-existing relationships such as marriages. Unlike transsexuals who are more likely to face divorce as a consequence of transition, and unlike closeted crossdressers who are the least likely to share “their secret” with a spouse, transgender issues become a significant dynamic within relationships. This is particularly true for those who live in role. In most circumstances the person’s spouse or significant other is clearly supportive of the transgenderist’s needs. Frequently many couples find that the relaxation of gender roles allows both persons to get their internal needs met, whereas they might not get through traditional role play.
It may be assumed that the majority of transgenderist persons deny a desire to have Genital Reassignment Surgery in order to save a pre-existing marital relationship. In some circumstances that maybe the case. However, within my counseling practice only 1 out of every 4 transgenderists state that he or she would “possibly be interested” in genital reassignment if not involved in a pre-existing relationship. Frequently, this ambiguity diminishes the more accepted the person is by others, particularly when acceptance comes from their spouse.
Other issues where transgenderists find difficulties include disclosure and isolation. Disclosing one’s transgender status to others is a challenging prospect fraught with risks. However for the transgenderist, in addition to potential rejection from family and friends, they face the possibility of being turned away by professionals and rejected by the transgender community at large. This is particularly so when transgenderists encounter crossdressers who prefer keeping their behavior hidden, and subsequently feel uncomfortable being around someone who is so visible. Likewise, transsexuals may not be interested in socializing with a transgenderist for fear of having a desire or lack of desire in seeking Genital Reassignment Surgery invalidated.
Like other transgender persons who are hidden or who have not found resources, transgenderists tend to live very isolated, painful lives. This can be overcome by organizations and professionals encouraging differences in others, even when a person’s gender identification challenges transgender stereotypes.
GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet’s most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine . Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL . Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author’s contact information remains unaltered.
GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry’s “Ask Gianna” column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at
Copyright 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.

Good Article on Intersex

Gender blending
by By Will Evans — Sacramento Bee on 28 April 2004
David Cameron feels neither completely male nor female. Born with male genitalia, Cameron began growing breasts during puberty and didn’t sprout chest hair until testosterone treatment kicked in. Instead of the typical male XY chromosomes or the female XX set, Cameron has XXY.
“I feel sort of like a blend,” says Cameron, 56, of San Francisco.
Some researchers say that’s a reasonable conclusion. Humans don’t always clearly divide into male and female categories. Some are born with abnormalities that challenge the very definition of sex. The term for them is intersex. Julia, a schoolteacher from a small town in central California, didn’t want to be identified to protect her daughter. Now 4, the girl has a condition that caused an enlarged clitoris.
Doctors couldn’t tell Julia her baby’s sex until after several days of testing. They first came to her with a box of tissues, announcing, “We have a problem.”
Julia felt hot from head to toe from the shock. She remembers the hospital bracelet that said only “baby” instead of “boy” or “girl.” She cried at the thought of her child’s future challenges. “Oh, what a hard life,” she told her husband.
The concept of intersex that links Cameron and the little girl is too blurry to yield a definition with which everyone agrees. Many people with XXY chromosomes, for example, consider themselves absolutely male and distance themselves from the intersex world.
But prominent academics and activists define intersex as anyone whose sex chromosomes, external genitalia or internal reproductive system is not considered standard for male or female.
Peter Trinkl, a computer specialist in Berkeley, doesn’t really know how he looked at birth. All he has to work with are his genital scars, evidence of surgery. His parents didn’t tell him much. In school, he was beaten up and called an alien.
Trinkl, 51, considers himself a heterosexual male, but dating brings up difficult issues, and he hasn’t tried for 20 years.
“If I’m a man or a woman, I don’t want to get too much into that,” he says.
Only recently did Trinkl summon the courage, he says, to research the intersex community and hunt for his medical records.
Some infants are born with ambiguous genitalia while others clearly look male or female and may not find out they are different until they reach puberty. Still others bear a visible difference in anatomy – an enlarged clitoris or a tiny penis – but otherwise can be determined male or female. And some have the standard chromosomes of one sex and the external appearance of the other.
Intersex activists decry the shame and secrecy caging their condition. They urge doctors to avoid cosmetic genital surgery on intersex infants until the children themselves can decide if they want it. Cameron is helping to organize a public hearing on intersex issues to be held by San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission next month.
Children frequently are born with wide-ranging genetic and physical abnormalities. Intersex conditions just happen to manifest in an area that gets at the very definition of who we are.
What defines a person’s sex – their chromosomes, their appearance or their psyche? What if they don’t match?
How can you assign a sex to a child when you don’t really know? How can you not?
What if you surgically reconstruct a baby to look like one sex and the child grows up to identify as the other? What does gay or straight mean, then?
And when everything from color-coded baby presents on out is sexually segregated, is it possible to grow up as an alternative to male or female?
The mind-boggling, gender-bending conundrum plays out in people’s lives.
Intersex people might make up as much as 2 percent of live births, with between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent of all infants receiving genital surgery, according to a scientific journal article co-written by Anne Fausto-Sterling, a professor of biology and gender studies at Brown University.
“If you look at this from the bigger philosophical view of, ‘Are there really only two kinds of people in the world – either men or women?’ – then the answer to that clearly is no,” she says.
Human sexuality, instead, can be seen as a spectrum or continuum, she says.
The medical profession has traditionally viewed an intersex birth as a “social emergency,” pushing to assign a child’s sex immediately and perform corrective surgery as soon as possible, says Celia Kaye, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Doctors want to avoid traumatizing parents and help the child grow up normally, without confusion or ridicule, she says.
Kaye helped create the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on intersex newborns along these lines in 2000. But the academy might revise its guidelines because of a growing number in the field who question whether surgery and sex assignment should take place so early in life.
A baby with an enlarged clitoris or minuscule penis, depending on one’s perspective, conventionally has been more likely to be determined a female because it’s surgically easier to make that happen, Kaye says. But it’s not clear, she says, whether that child will grow to be a happy, functioning woman. Some activists call it “genital mutilation.”
Sonoma County resident Cheryl Chase, 47, had surgery on her enlarged clitoris, leaving a “big, flat scar.” But she says the biggest harm doctors caused was “the idea that this was shameful,” telling her parents to keep it a secret.
In the early 1990s, Chase, who identifies herself as an intersex lesbian female, confronted doctors, called the press and founded the Intersex Society of North America, creating today’s intersex movement.
Because of pressure from advocates, doctors are now more open with patients and more likely to present parents with options rather than telling them what to do, says Amy Wisniewski, who does intersex research at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital.
Julia, mother of the 4-year-old girl, says one of her daughter’s doctors “bullied” her into making a surgery appointment. Some surgery is necessary when the toddler hits puberty, but decreasing her clitoris is optional and cosmetic.
Because doctors can’t guarantee a post-surgery clitoris will retain the same sexual sensation, Julia worried her consent may deprive her daughter of a vital part of life. Julia cried every day until she finally canceled the surgery.
“We’re going to leave the decision up to her and talk to her and support her when she’s old enough to make that decision,” Julia says over the phone.
How old is that? If you can delay surgery, can you also put off assigning a sex?
The questions build quickly, but most people are stuck at the first one: “What is intersex?” The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center at the University of California, Davis, held a talk on exactly that as part of its first Intersex Awareness Week earlier this month.
It’s not clear, Wisniewski says, whether rates of homosexuality are higher among intersex people. But because it shares a battle against the closet, the gay community has embraced the intersex populace, with some organizations adding “I” to the alphabet soup of LGBT.
Still, some with sex chromosome variations keep as far away from both communities as possible.
Those with Klinefelter’s syndrome, or XXY, struggle in a world that glorifies a man’s-man masculinity and sexual prowess, mocking androgynous qualities in men as signs of homosexuality. They’re already marked by that extra “female” chromosome and, for some, breast development and smaller genitalia. The last thing many want is to be aligned with the gay community.
Melissa Aylstock of Loomis is clear: Her XXY son is unambiguously male, and most men with Klinefelter’s syndrome don’t consider themselves intersex. Her son’s doctor, Ronald Swerdloff, chief of endocrinology at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, doesn’t consider Klinefelter’s syndrome intersex, either, because it doesn’t produce ambiguous genitalia.
When her son was diagnosed at age 8, Aylstock was “scared to death.” She wrote to Ann Landers, asking that a post-office box address be published for other parents to get in contact. After the letter ran in 1989, Aylstock received 1,000 letters and hundreds of dollars to start an organization. She founded Klinefelter Syndrome and Associates in Roseville.
Testosterone treatment is the norm for Aylstock’s son, now 23. In the school gym, students asked about his patch. He told them it was for nicotine addiction. “Mind you, we’re Mormon,” says his mother. “That just cracks me up. So he handled it.”
The son declined to talk about his condition in the context of the intersex community.
“So many guys are trying to be just normal,” says Robert Grace of Sonora, who found out at 39 he has XXY chromosomes. When he told people, they thought, “Oh, you’re gay,” he says.
When Grace should have been going through puberty, he watched the other boys whistling at girls and thought, “What jerks.” But he wasn’t gay.
His diagnosis popped up during his premarital physical. “I looked at my (fianc�e) and I said, ‘You don’t have to marry me.’ ”
They did marry and have adopted four children, two of whom also have Klinefelter’s syndrome.
“As a general population, we really would like to be accepted,” says Grace, a “stay-at-home Mr. Mom.” “If I sat next to you, you would have no clue that I was XXY, so why do we need another label?”
Cameron, on the other hand, embraces the other label.
Cameron’s birth certificate and driver’s license declare that “he” is male. With a 6-foot-10 build, a balding head, a deep voice and a beard, Cameron could hardly pass for female yet feels more female than male.
When faced with those annoying little boxes designating “M” or “F” on forms and applications, Cameron might check both or write “intersex.” It somehow seems appropriate that Cameron sometimes goes by the nickname “Iris,” after a favorite flower, the bearded iris.
Cameron got the Klinefelter’s diagnosis at 29 and began testosterone therapy. Where before Cameron had a “really nice smooth body,” now everywhere is hair. “I hate it,” Cameron says. “Quite frankly, I would really like the body I had 27 years ago back.”
Cameron has been with the same male partner for 26 years, though before that Cameron had a girlfriend. Earlier this month, the partner dropped to his knees and presented Cameron a diamond ring.
Cameron wants to wed but first is inquiring with civil rights lawyers because of the radical questions the act could provoke.
After all, would it be a standard marriage, a same-sex marriage or something else entirely?
Misused terms add confusion
The term “intersex,” according to advocates and academics, means anyone with sex chromosomes, external genitalia or an internal reproductive system not considered standard for male or female. Here’s what intersex is not.
Hermaphrodite: The medical definition of a true hermaphrodite is someone with both ovarian and testicular tissue. This is rare and only one of various intersex conditions. Many intersex people consider this term offensive.
Homosexual: Some intersex people are gay, some are not. One doesn’t imply the other.
Transgender: This refers to people who are born one sex but identify as the other. Some choose a sex-change operation.
Eunuch: This refers to a castrated male.
Genetic roots of intersex conditions
Intersex conditions vary in their genetic roots and physical manifestations. Here are details of a few conditions.
Androgen insensitivity syndrome: Patients have male chromosomes (XY) but don’t respond to androgens (male sex hormones, including testosterone). They have undescended testes, normal female external genitalia and breast development. Those with partial androgen insensitivity syndrome have ambiguous genitalia.
Gonadal dysgenesis: Patients have XY chromosomes, but their gonads don’t produce androgens. They have female external genitalia. Those with partial gonadal dysgenesis have ambiguous genitalia.
5-alpha-reductase deficiency: Patients have XY chromosomes but can’t produce the sex hormone dihydrotestosterone. They have testes, a penis resembling a clitoris and a scrotum resembling outer labia. They undergo some masculinizing changes during puberty.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: Patients have female chromosomes (XX) but produce excess androgens. They have ovaries, an enlarged clitoris and fused labia resembling a scrotum.
Klinefelter’s syndrome: Patients have the sex chromosome variation XXY and are sterile. They have male genitalia, sometimes with smaller sex organs, and sometimes develop breasts at puberty.
Turner syndrome: Patients have the chromosome variation of only one X. They have normal female external genitalia but can have other physical abnormalities. Because they don’t have functioning ovaries, puberty doesn’t cause breast development or menstruation.
Source: The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center
* Bodies Like Ours support group with online forums:, (610) 258-7466.
* Intersex Society of North America:
* Klinefelter Syndrome and Associates:, (888) 999-9428.
* The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center guide for patients and parents:

The Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education

Murder of Gwen Araujo Spurs Philanthropic Fund
Contact: Julie Dorf
Director of Philanthropic Services
415-398-2333 ext. 103 Date: March 8, 2004
For Immediate Release
SAN FRANCISCO – With the Gwen Araujo murder trial set to begin on March 15, Gwen’s family, community activists, and Horizons Foundation have joined forces to create the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education. This fund will make small grants to school programs that promote understanding of transgender people and issues among youth.
Gwen’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero, said, “I am so committed to ensuring that what happened to my daughter does not happen to anyone else. The hatred of others because they are different must stop, and this fund will help break the cycle of ignorance and violence – with kids in their schools and with their parents.”
Horizons Foundation is a philanthropic social justice organization that has been serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community throughout the Bay Area for more than 20 years. “As a community foundation, Horizons has a special responsibility to pull together all LGBT people in the Bay Area, through a vehicle such as this fund, to help end the kind of violence and hatred that led to Gwen’s death,” said Roger Doughty, Executive Director of Horizons Foundation. “We are proud to be the home of the fund and to work closely with Gwen’s family and other members of our community to have a real impact on youth.”
The Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education will be advised by a group of transgender and education experts, and will accept donations from the community on-line via the Horizons Foundation website and through the mail. Horizons encourages other community organizations, youth advocates, and communities of faith to consider supporting this fund.
For more information and press photos, see
Horizons Foundation; 870 Market, Suite 728; San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone 415.398.2333; Fax 415.398.4783;
Horizons Foundation is a social justice philanthropic organization serving the entire spectrum of LGBT communities. To fulfill this mission, Horizons creates strong organizations meeting the needs, advancing the rights, and celebrating the lives of LGBT people and communities; generates a diverse group of informed, generous supporters giving time, energy, and resources to the LGBT community; and educates the public about the nature and impacts of homophobia.