The first faie child I met was a five-year-old hermaphrodite who had been surgically altered to female as a toddler. As was common in those days, doctors had removed her testis, streak ovary, and little phallus, and had created a vaginal canal using skin from her leg. One problem with that practice was that most children born with at least one good testis want to be boys. This girl, however, appeared to be content as a cute little tomboy.
That introduction to intersex began my involvement with a support group for the parents of children born with Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis. Hermaphrodite is a somewhat outdated medical term indicating the presence of both testicular and ovarian tissue. Intersex or intersexed is more common usage, but Disorder of Sex Development is the newest and most preferred terminology.
Faie is a Middle English word for enchanted. It was also the original title for my novel, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite. Although the book is a work of fiction, I’ve done everything I can to make it an authentic portrayal of an intersex child who escaped surgery.
In the spring of 1954, in a small Midwestern town, our faie child was born to the Kirkpatrick family. Bright green eyes dominated an adorable pixie face. The baby was tiny—just shy of four pounds—red and squalling as any other would. The obstetrician spread the baby’s legs to discover the answer to the first question mothers invariably ask—Is my baby a boy or a girl?
He’d delivered hundreds of babies, you know. But with this one he couldn’t tell. Too small a phallus for a boy, and the urethral opening where a girl’s would be. But too big for a clitoris. No testes in a scrotal sac. No vaginal opening visible either, although there might be one behind those fused labia.
Once in every few thousand births such a child is born—he’d learned that in medical school, but there was a huge difference between theory and reality, between knowing and seeing. He ordered the parents not to name the child and not to tell anyone until the sex could be determined.
Days passed. Specialists were called, tests ordered—blood work, a buccal smear. Then exploratory surgery and biopsies. For most causes of ambiguous genitals, medical expertise could determine the sex of the child. But in rare cases—in certain disorders of sex differentiation—the answers weren’t that easy.
|Jamie (a representation)|
This infant had one testis that might be viable, and one streak ovary that wasn’t. The new protocols called for removing both and performing surgery to make the child’s genitals look female—remove the phallus and create a vaginal canal. Although no long-term studies had yet been performed, the experts assured the Kirkpatricks that their child would adjust to being a girl. But no one must doubt the child’s gender. And the girl must never know of her condition.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick, however, refused to allow surgery on her child, saying it would destroy nerve endings. How could they be so certain she’d be happy as a girl, anyway? What if the child was really a boy? And Mr. Kirkpatrick objected to anyone removing his son’s only testis.
So they named their baby Jameson Isaiah Kirkpatrick and took him home. But over the next few years it became obvious that Jamie considered herself a girl. After some hesitation, her parents allowed her to live as one. At least until the school authorities showed up wanting to know why the boy Jameson wasn’t in school.
At nine, Jamie was the size of a six year old. She was physically frail, but excelled in her home-school studies. Her parents rushed back to the doctors to see about correcting her birth certificate. It was then they discovered their child had gonadal cancer. Although the testis and ovary were removed, the parents still wouldn’t allow genital surgery, so the doctors refused to help change Jamie’s legal status to female.
Rather than send Jamie to public school as a boy, they found a district that would allow them to home school Jameson under close supervision. As a boy, of course. Meanwhile, the family continued their search for a doctor who would help them correct their child’s birth certificate. By the time they found one, Jameson appeared to be happy as a boy. But did a girl still hide behind those emerald eyes?
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About the Author:
Over the past decade I’ve answered inquiries on behalf of a support group for the parents of children born between the sexes. However, as the Internet has grown, so have the options available. The Androgen Insensitivity Support Group, for instance, accepts girls with various differences of sexual development. With groups like AISSG flourishing, my time can be put to better use elsewhere.In addition to working with the parents of intersex children, I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of a number of intersex adults. As a Christian I was disturbed by the lack of understanding on the part of the Church for people born outside the normal boundaries of male and female. The kids aren’t a part of anyone’s ‘agenda.’ Even when they have gender issues related to their condition or the treatment they’ve received.My book, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, is based on a number of people I know and some of the things that happened to them growing up, all rolled up into a fictional account of a teenager’s struggle to find a place in this world. And the next. I hope y’all enjoy reading it.
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