After much discussion, I decided to sign up for the Medifast Weight Loss Program “Take Shape For Life.” But Dr. Knight wanted to make sure there were no medical reasons that would keep me from starting the program – so her staff came in and extracted four vials of blood. She would see me in two weeks.
On September 10, I returned to Dr. Knight’s office. She came in and her first question was, “Is there something you need to tell me?” I was like, “No, I don’t think so, why?” “Well, your testosterone levels are not in line,” she said.
She continued: “Most men have testosterone levels of 600 – 1,000. Yours is 0.01.”
“So what does this mean?” I asked.
“I want to run some more tests and I will let you know in two weeks,” she replied.
September 24 rolled around and I again returned to Dr. Knight’s. She came in, gave me a hug and said, “Your lab work came back and you are a pseudo-hermaphrodite.”
She went on to explain in medical terms, but all I heard was blah, blah, blah, blah until she stated, “you my friend, are intersex.”
Now that was a term I’d heard. She continued: “In your case, what makes you intersex is that your chromosomes are male but your hormones are female.”
I heard it, was processing it, but still didn’t understand. All I really knew was I needed a shot! So I took a deep breath and asked her to explain it to me one more time, slowly.
“Your secondary sex characteristic or phenotype is different from your genotypes” she continued. “But there’s good news – because your chromosomes came back male, inside you are a boy and outside you are a girl, so there will be no need for an ultrasound.”
But there was more. Because of my hormonal makeup, I am also menopausal. So in the time span of 15 minutes I went from being an overweight gay male to an overweight, menopausal intersexual.
I am intersex. What exactly does that mean? Being intersex generally has to do with chromosomal incongruities, i.e. XXY, XYY, YY. An intersex person may appear to be male, but have female organs from birth or they may change at puberty. They may also have secondary sexual characteristics from both sexes; a beard and breasts.
Because my testosterone levels are so low, almost non-existent, Dr. Knight suspects my body has never produced testosterone. Basically my body is in a state of confusion and it needs to be corrected. She started talking about Hormone Replacement Therapy to correct this imbalance. Fifteen minutes in I asked about Testosterone Replacement Therapy.
She explained that TRT was a possibility – but the effects would be that I would grow facial hair and would have to shave regularly, my voice would get deeper and my features would become more masculine. Without hesitation, I said, “No! Let’s go with the female hormones. I don’t want to be that masculine!”
Whoa! Where in the hell did that come from? I had never even thought about whether I was masculine or feminine. I was always just Leon.
Each morning I now take Divigel, an estradiol gel (an estrogen hormone) that is a medication approved for treating menopause symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes.
Further, Dr. Knight wants me get a mammogram – immediately. I’ve yet to do this because like most of America, I am uninsured. Plus, at free clinics my fear is that most of the staff aren’t the most welcoming of people and I don’t want to be judged, sneered at or questioned. I recently experienced that when I went to get my hormone prescription filled at Walgreens. The counter nurse wanted to call my doctor because she thought I’d been given the wrong prescription. When I assured her I had not, the counter nurse just looked at me in amazement and handed me my prescription and stated, “We have to ask all women who get this hormone: Are you pregnant?”
“No, not yet,” I replied. We both laughed.
On the 5th of every month I have to do the self-breast examine. I have breasts. I have female hormones and can get breast cancer like any other woman.
Intersex. At first I wasn’t going to tell anybody and just take this piece of information on to Glory with me. But I started thinking, why was I presented with this information about myself at this point in my life? So I turned to the Internet to see if there was any information about intersexuality. There’s not a lot. However, I did find out I have had all the classic pseudo-hermaphroditic characteristics all of my life: micro penis, hypogonadism, mons pubis and genital ambiguity.
I started to get angry. Why wasn’t this caught when I was born in 1960 – or when I was at the pediatrician and he told my mom that “things” would correct themselves? At 15, I remember well asking Dr. Bryant why other boys’ wieners were getting bigger and mine wasn’t and why was I growing breasts like a girl? He just said to me “boys are late bloomers” or have “delayed puberty” and when I hit puberty it would “all correct itself.” I just had to be patient. Well my parents died, Dr. Bryant died and I just went on with life waiting for puberty to happen. Little did we know in 1975 that it wasn’t puberty, it was intersexuality.
In my Internet research of intersexuality I also found out that the terms intersex and hermaphrodite are no longer acceptable terms by some experts and clinicians. Intersex is now called DSD or Disorder of Sexual Development. Personally, I don’t like DSD because I don’t feel like there is something wrong with me – so I am bringing intersex back. (Cue the Justin Timberlake song).
There used to be a national organization called Intersex Society of North America, but it disbanded in 2008 when they changed the term to DSD. There is also Intersex International (OII), which is a global advocacy group for people with intersex traits. It is the largest intersex support group in the world. Their objective is to bring about systemic change and resist the fear, shame, secrecy and stigma imposed upon adults as well as children through both the practice of non-consensual genital surgeries and the arbitrary assignment of a particular gender without informed consultation with the individual concerned. There are also intersex organizations in United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
I am not going to lie – I have had a rough time with my new found gender mosaic. I have been to see a psychiatrist about it. Not that I am going off the deep end, I just needed someone to talk to. Sometimes I feel I am totally alone in dealing with this and have no one to lean on or make me feel like everything is going to be all right. There are times when I cry because I just don’t understand why I have to be intersex. It’s bad enough that I broke all three gay commandments: “thou shall not be fat,” “thou shall not get old” and “thou shall not do drag.” But the more I read and learn about intersexuality, the more I understand and accept it.
I have since told some close friends and they are very supportive of my idea to share my story. I think this is one of those “teachable moments.” I know that I cannot be the only intersex individual in St. Louis.
My research also pointed out that there is a strong bond between intersex and transgender people. Intersex and trans people are common allies in a struggle against the worldview of the gender binary where sex is equivalent to gender and any violation of the sex/gender binary is sin. While some intersex people identify as trans, most do not. However, some intersex people do transition at one point in their life. As of today, I have no desire to transition. I like being Leon. But who knows what tomorrow brings.
I know I have shared a lot. Probably more than you really want to know or understand. Hell, I don’t understand it all.
To that end, I have invited Dr. Knight to come to the LGBT Center of St. Louis on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 at 6 pm to have an open community discussion about intersexuality. It’s part of our alphabet. We should understand it. I am not claiming to be an expert on being intersex, nor will I go all PC on you about intersexuality or insist on having an I – Pride Parade. (But there is an Intersex Flag – a variation of the Transgender Pride Flag). I just want to pass on knowledge. As I learn, you learn. And as a community – we learn together.
Leon A. Braxton, Jr. is the Executive Director of The LGBT Center of St. Louis.
By LEON A. BRAXTON, JR.