VICKIE/ANDREA

Worcester, MA

CONTENT WARNING: mentions of suicide

What’s your name?

 

My name is Elder Andreá Boisseau [pronounced like “Andre”]. 

What are your pronouns?

 

Pronoun is “herm.”

Where do you work?

For money, I work at Showcase North doing maintenance, but actually my real work is the New England Director of Organization Intersex International (OII) [oii-usa.org] and Genesis Club, both doing peer support work.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

 

I used to love to hike up mountains, through forests… Special interests? I guess you can call me a slightly nerdy geek. Which means I love to learn new things. I’m learning American Sign Language. The nerdy part is sci-fi movies, and books. And just meeting new people and trying new stuff, pretty much. That’s what I love to do.

What do you do for fun?

 

I go to events, concerts, go to festivals… Or sit down and have a good conversation with friends. Usually something to do with gender.

How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?

 

Well it kind of depends on how I’m dressed. If I’m dressed as a guy, and people are using male pronouns, that’s fine, I don’t worry about it. If I’m dressed more feminine, like in a dress, heels, whatever – a lot of people use female pronouns, and it’s fine. It’s when I’m wearing a dress and they use male pronouns, it’s like, “Eeh, not quite.”

Me and my late wife, we kind of liked playing around with pronouns, because we saw the big list of them and were like, “Nope, nope, nope.” [laughs] “So [there’s] him, her….herm. Okay!” Just playing around, just got into it I guess. And it rolls off the tongue a lot better than ze, hir… “Hir” is actually German for “him.” So I’m like, “Okay, yeah, you’re using it wrong.” [laughs] So using [herm] would be like, “Oh, that’s herm’s cup. Did you see what herm did last night?” It’s herm/herm/herm’s. Sometimes [people] remember. Mostly I go around as a female, though tomboy-ish.

A lot of times people call me “ma’am,” “miss,” that’s fine. I’ll go with it. That’s pretty much about what I’m dressing so I’m like, yeah, whatever. It’s just like what I said, when I’m in a dress and they call me “he,” I’m like, “No.” Either I did something wrong or you’re screwing up real bad. [laughs] That kind of thing. But other than that, if I’m dressed that way, fine, whatever.

Have you had difficulties with changing your name and the way it affects you moving through the world, being recognized how you want, or being mis-gendered?

 

Actually my name was changed for me. I didn’t do anything. My birthname is Victoria. I guess mom and pop thought I was gonna be really special, so they named me after a queen. Then around 8 months old, they gave me a sex change to be a boy. So the first 8 months, I was raised a girl. As the doctors were trying to figure out, Okay, what the heck is this? Having a small penis and a vagina. They put an “X” on my birth certificate. I’m not quite sure exactly how [my parents] felt. At 8 months they changed my name to my dad’s name [Andreá]. I’m the third, there were two before me. I went from “X” to “M” on the birth certificate. They did all that. And then they raised me a boy. But then my body was like, Nope, it’s not going there.

I’m about 85% insensitive to testosterone. It’s called Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Hence the penis, the vagina… My gonads did not drop, they stayed put. They became streak gonads – a little bit of testicle, little bit of ovarian tissue. So a bit of both. So yeah, I was pretty much right smack in the middle. [laughs] Meanwhile the doctors are going, “Uuuhh, what the heck should we do here?” Well what they decided to do when I was 8 months was repair my hypospadias, which for those that don’t know, hypo- means less of, and hyper- means more of. So instead of the meatus of the urethra being at the tip – it either could be glandular, sub-glandular, shaft, or even down by the perineum, so anywhere along the side – and mine was just below the head. They tried to repair it to stick it near the tip. [That was when they changed my name to Andreá.]

My [birth] name was Victoria, so as I was dressing up – well, I guess cross-dressing, back in the 70s and 80s, they asked me what my name [was]. I was like, “Uuhh… Victoria? Vickie?” And it kind of just stuck. So I’ve been using that as my femme name. But I was trying to figure out what names. I tried Jennifer for a while, or Jen/Jenny, it didn’t quite fit. Vickie just kind of fit, for a real feminine type name. And it was my real name, so it kind of stuck better. And the name I have now – I’m French and Native Canadian, Native Mi'kmaq. So what happens is, in France it’s a guy’s name [pronounced “Andre” but spelled Andreá] with an accent on the last “a.” But in America it’s Andrea [pronounced phonetically].

What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?

Sex – intersex, male and female. Gender – genderfluid. Sometimes I’m quite masculine, sometimes I’m quite feminine. Depends on the day or where I have to go. So I guess my identity is a genderfluid, intersex person. Peer support worker. That’s what I do, that’s kind of like my niche. I kind of fell into it, like yeah, this works. I’ve been doing it for years anyway, so now I actually took the test, did that whole thing, took the course, and now I’m a certified Peer Support Worker. I just gotta get hired to do it now, at a place that pays me money. [laughs]

Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?

Usually, day to day, I tend to be somewhere around female butch-ish. Jeans, sometimes a T-shirt, sweatshirt. Or sometimes a nice shirt. Usually a bandana, because unfortunately I’ve got alopecia. So it looks a bit like male pattern baldness. My mom had the same thing. Thanks mom. I guess that’s one of the few things that went male-ish.

A lot of people, no matter what I dress, peg me for female, because a lot of the stuff on my body went female. I’ve got really tiny hands. No body hair. I’ve got a few chin hairs, that’s about it. No moustache, no beard, no body hair, nothing on my arms or legs, chest, back, nothing. Breasts, yeah, they came at puberty. So it just all went female, y’know? Even tiny feet. Try finding a size 5 men’s shoe. It ain’t happening. The body just went female. And I’m only like 5’4”, 148 pounds. So about average height and built for a female. So a lot of people will say, “Yeah, you’re female,” so I just go with it.

But the good thing for me is, as a kid, to be raised a boy, I got to watch what guys do. So I studied men. I studied what they do, what they wear, what they say, what interests they have. How they express themselves. And I’d also watch women, how they’d express themselves, word choice, body movement, hand movement. All that kind of stuff. So I became pretty much an expert on it. And not just from reading in a book or acting, no, by actually doing it. Actually going out there, wearing the clothes, talking to people, interacting. So if you put me in a men’s three-piece business suit, I’ll still pass for a woman. You put me in a dress, heels, makeup, perfect, I’ll pass for a guy. It doesn’t make any difference what you put me in, I’ll pass for either sex. Just by changing my mannerisms, changing my voice, changing body inflection. I’ll pass for whichever one you want, wherever.

It just goes by how I feel that day. If I’m doing my job, I have a uniform that I have to wear. But I usually dress more for the weather, so it’s not exactly like I’m looking pretty or anything. If I’m doing a talk, it’s more like professional type outfit. Okay, like right now, I’m wearing a suit, but it’s a woman’s suit. And I’ve usually got my bandana on so I can hide the male pattern baldness, because otherwise I just look like a guy in a dress. They see the baldness, they’re like, Okay, you’re a dude. So if I actually want to pass for a guy, I’ll let the bald head fly. So actually how I dress depends upon where I’m going, who I’m seeing, what I’m doing. If it’s just me at home, it’s like, no bra, no makeup, wearing my sweats, sitting in my Cozies.

 

How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?

The day I was born. [laughs] The day the doctor went, “Uuhh, male or female? Uuhh, yes.” All kids are like their mummy and daddy – unfortunately I’m a lot like mummy and daddy. I hit hospitals a lot as a kid with reparative surgeries I had to get done. There’s a group called Hypospadias Epispadias Association [HEAinfo.org]. I’ve been to the last two conferences they had. It was great. Years ago in Hebron Kentucky I went to the AIS-DSD’s conference [aisdsd.org]. AIS means Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which is what I’ve got, and DSD is Differences in Sexual Development. It was just for women who had AIS, but they opened it up to other people with other intersex conditions over the past 4 or 5 years. So now there are people with Hypospadias, 5 Alpha Reductase Deficiency Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, Swyer Syndrome… Pretty much runs the gambit. There’s like 40 different intersex medical conditions that pertain to the reproductive organs.

It’s not something you can really just identify as. If you are intersex, you can – I identify as being intersex – but if you don’t have a medical condition, you can’t exactly identify as it. I know one person who was at a support group who said, “Yes, I identify as being intersex,” and I [said], “Oh, great. What condition do you have and how are you taking care of it?” She went, “What?” “Well, there are some [conditions] that if you don’t take care of them, it will kill you.” And she [said], “Uuuhh.” Yeah. Then she [said], “I don’t have a condition.” The person was actually more androgyne, when you don’t identify as male or female. Or androgynous, [some people] call it. They don’t really identify as either one. Whereas intersex is, you have a medical condition, and you need to take care of it, take the right medicines for it.

Because my body is non-reactive to androgynes like testosterone, I have osteopenia. So the medicine is basically just to control the osteopenia so I won’t get full-blown osteoporosis. I didn’t take them much as a kid. The doctors tried to give me shots of testosterone each week to try and make me more of a boy and force my body to be male, and it was just more for my body to ignore. So your body tries to find equilibrium between the male hormones and female hormones – you have a lot more testosterone as a guy and a little bit of estrogen, whereas as a woman you have a lot of estrogen and a little bit of testosterone, so you have your balance. And if you have a whole bunch of one you turn into the other. So all the extra testosterone turned into estrogen, and my breasts grew, and my skin became softer, and my parents are going, “Nope, nope.” The doctor finally kicked me off the testosterone because it wasn’t going anywhere, it wasn’t doing anything, it just gave me more estrogen that my body had to make, so they kind of had to cut that off. But since I didn’t have anything for a while growing up, I got osteopenia, and now I gotta take care of that. My bones break. I’ve broken 6 bones so far. And one of them, I was just grabbing my bag, and my breastbone broke. I was leaning over the back seat to grab it from the trunk and I put too much pressure on my chest I guess, and crack. So yeah, I gotta deal with that, all the medical things.

Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?

As a kid growing up, I was in the dark. My parents wouldn’t tell me anything. In fact any time I asked my mom about that, she would just start crying. Then my dad would see that and would say, “What are you making your mom cry for?” She knew there was a lot of things that she did to me, or that the doctors did to me, that she now gets upset thinking about it. She could see the effect the doctors had on me and she couldn’t do anything about it. So there are a lot of things I had to find out on my own. Scars that I had. Where the heck did the scars come from? Then I found out, I did research, I talked to others, I listened in at the doctor’s office when my parents were talking to the doctor.

At the time it was called testicular feminization; that is the term I heard most, which is the old term for Androgen Insensitivity. Which is actually a more accurate description for what’s happening. My testicles did not make me female, it’s just all the cells in my body, their receptors did not react to the testosterone. They’re physically shaped wrong. The androgens come by, they can’t fit in. It’s like fitting a square peg in a round hole. And then of course the round ones, the estrogen, fit right on in. So hence the very soft skin. So my body reacts to the estrogen like crazy.

So my parents were trying to make me a boy, my body was going female. There’s a lot of things that I identified more with the girls at that time who were down the street than with the boys. I tried doing the things with the boys, and I was never that strong, never fast, I was the slowest runner, I was the weakest boy as it were. And my natural body’s just that way. So I honestly identified more with the girls, and the arts and crafts things… But I did love to go hiking and playing in the woods.  About a block away or so was woods, and we had nice forests. I could be me out there. I loved to climb up trees.

How I drew conclusions was, okay, what scars I had, the hospitals, what they did… They kind of tried to sew up my vagina, which I got undone. After all the failed, failed, failed hypospadias repair surgeries, growing up my urethra was so clogged up that the doctor couldn’t save it anymore, so she amputated in 2005. I couldn’t find anything for intersex people in the 70s and 80s, so I went to trans conferences, like First Event. And it was like, okay, I can understand, I can identify with what [they] are going through, trying to be a girl and such. I kind of felt that way. Whatever you’re denied, you kind of want more. [laughs] I was denied being a girl, so I craved being a girl growing up. So I’d go off somewhere and dress up, and I could identify with the guys who would go out and cross-dress or change into a girl, whichever. So I can identify with that. It was the closest thing I could get any help from.

And trying to identify and trying to understand what’s going on with me, so I’m like, “Okay, that part is true, that part is true… The surgery, well I already had some surgeries…” [laughs] You know, having a sex change at 8 months old rather than at 20 or 30. Okay The timing’s way off and the order’s way off. Usually first you see a counselor, then they put you on hormones, you then can change your name, then you have to live a year as a female, and then you have the surgery, and your birth certificate. Me, it’s like, no. Take that, reverse it. First thing, surgery. Then hormones when I hit 12 ½. Then it was some counseling on and off growing up to try and make me conform, which never works. Then living full-time – yeah, I live full-time anyways. So it’s all the same stuff, it’s just way out of order, and instead of doing it at 20 or 30 I did it at 8 months. [laughs] Change my name, changed my gender marker, changed my sex.

But yeah, growing up, I had to figure out what the heck was going on from the doctors, listening in on them, or once the Internet finally hit, looking things up. I was the subject of a whole bunch of studies growing up. A whole bunch of tests and things. Because I have such a rare condition that none of the doctors knew about it or had ever seen it. So as a kid I was paraded in front of a whole bunch of doctors, just for having a broken arm, and they wanted to see that [genitalia].

Actually one time I was going for a physical, and the doctor stripped me naked, took pictures of me, put me in front of the height chart thing and took naked pictures when I was like 12, back in ’69 or ’70, somewhere around there. Later when I was looking on the Internet for Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, the John Hopkins website came up, and there was a grid, like a tic-tac-toe grid – because there’s 7 levels of Androgen Insensitivity. Typical male, typical female, then there’s 7 levels of Androgen Insensitivity going from very mild to complete AIS. And I was right there. And there were pictures of different kids. Some places say 7 levels, some places say 5. But yeah, I saw my picture right there. Center right square. I actually did get them to take it down. That was on their website. But there is a picture of me in Man & Woman, Boy & Girl by John Money. So I’m infamous. I’m in the book. Isn’t that nice? Naked underage picture of me in the book. There’s a whole bunch of other kids too, not just me.

There’s actually a book called Hermaphrodeities compiled by Raven Kaldera. That is an intersex spirituality workbook, as he calls it, all about different religions, different spiritualities, and how they deal with intersex people. Being an ordained Elder I wrote the Christian chapter. There’s 28 instances in the Bible about us. They call us “eunuchs.” But there’s different stories. There’s one story about Hegai, which is the King’s Eunuch Esther 2:1-18.  [There’s] Matthew 19:12 – “For there are eunuchs born of the mother’s womb, there were eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by man, and there are eunuchs who have made eunuchs for the glory of God. Let the one who can receive it receive it.” And… Isaac 56: 3-5 “For those who obey me, for those who follow the Sabbath, there is a name and a monument better than sons and daughters. An everlasting name that will never be cut off.” I saw that, I was like, Hmmm, there’s a monument for me, okay. And we’re better than sons and daughters? Cool. [laughs] Okay. That works.

Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?

A big misconception is people think I’m trans. You could say I’ve had no trans operations, or you could say every one was a trans operation. So either 0 or 10, depending on how you see it. But yeah, a lot of people just think I’m a trans woman.

A lot of people think it’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle. You can choose not to be intersex. You know, in some churches, they prayed over me to try and cure me of it, to cure me of my “desire” to be intersex. I’m like, no. it’s a medical thing. You ain’t gonna cure it. You can talk to the top of my head all you want, you ain’t gonna make the hair grow. Ain’t gonna make any of the hairs on my arms or my beard grow. Ain’t gonna work. That’s the main thing. The only other thing – since I have a low voice, as you can hear, I hate my voice – a lot of people think I’m trans. So they see me that way. I go to apply all over the place and they won’t hire me because they think I’m trans. I don’t fit the “image.”

People think you can be “cured” just by praying or whatever. It’s not a lifestyle. I didn’t choose this. It’s just the way my body is. And I’ve gotta take medicine, go to the doctors, have operations, and I don’t want them. I wanted none of them, but I got a whole bunch of them. To stay alive, to be able to pee. To make sure my urethra is not blocked up. To make sure I don’t have infections or fistulas or anything like that. But I gotta do that.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?

Those are two separate things. There’s your physical sex – male, female, intersex. There is your gender identity, which could be congruent with your body or not. It could be anywhere from very masculine to very feminine, or a bit of both, or fluid like mine, it just floats between the two. It also could be who you’re attracted to, which is your orientation. And that could be someone who is masculine, feminine, androgyne, trans, whatever. I’m sapiosexual, which means I’m attracted to the person’s intelligence. It’s nice to have a nice-looking body, but it’s more important who the person is and their intellectual. That way I can actually have a good conversation with them. Gimme good conversation, something interesting. So those are totally different things, and they have nothing to do with each other. Which means if you take all those together, that’s 3 cubed, so 27 different possibilities that a human could be. That’s a lot, but society only accepts 2. Male body, male gender, likes women. Female body, female gender, likes guys. That’s it. Not the other 25 different combinations that someone could be.

How do you feel represented in media and society at large?

We’re not there in media. I see nothing about it. Unfortunately a friend of mine was killed. She was born intersex. She had Klinefelter, XXY Syndrome. She was raised a boy, transitioned socially to being female, and unfortunately she was killed. And the media said nothing about the intersex part, even though I told them. They just went on the trans angle. Because it sells more papers. So the intersex being in media, yeah, we’re not there. I see very little of it except maybe sometimes you see articles in scholarly papers or the like.

Actually a TV show called Faking It has an intersex character played by Bailey De Young. She playes Lauren, a hyper-feminine intersex woman. From a psychological point of view, I watched this character, how they walked, how they talked, what their angst is about, all that kind of stuff, and the actors and the writers, they have it spot on. Now there is an intersex person from interACT, which is a group for young adults and teenagers, and she was asked by MTV to actually help with the writing of the character. So she actually got it spot on. Everything is right there. At the AIS-DSD conference we actually recognized her and gave her an award for doing it. So I actually got to meet her and take my picture with her and the intersex person. But that sort of thing we’re starting to see.

There’s some movies. XXY is a real good movie. It’s set in Argentina. But it is about a person who was born with XXY chromosomes, and the conflict herm’s having is about whether to have or not have the operation, to take estrogen, to take testosterone, all that kind of stuff. Everything was spot on. The character, what they’re going through. 

The only thing I’d seen in the media [growing up] was a guy named Uncle Miltie (Milton Berle). He would get dressed up in a dress, and there’d be a bunch of laughs and everything, a guy in a dress, y’know, very hilarious, something to be laughed at – it wasn’t like today where we have big pride parades or anything like that. And I was like, Yeah, okay, you’re doing it for laughs, you don’t actually want to do that, do you? Also Flip Wilson did Geraldine, where he would dress up as a Playboy bunny or something sexy like that, and all these guys would hit on her, and she’d be like, “No, I have my boyfriend Killer. You don’t want to touch me.” So she did that whole skit and got a lot of laughs.

But nowadays it’s getting more and more where you’re seeing a guy getting dressed up as a girl for whatever reason, you know. Usually in comedy, but nothing really serious. XXY was a good serious movie. A real-life kind of thing about what intersex people actually go through. 

The only other movies I know of is really just documentary kind of stuff. It is starting to get up there here and there. Organizations like OII, AIS-DSD Support Group, Intersex Campaign for Equality, are starting to get out there and getting the information out there more and more.

 

What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?

Stop intersex genital mutilation. Stop doing sex change operations on babies. I have two friends. They were born boys, typical male, the only thing is their penises were a little on the short side. So at 2 days old, the doctors decided to cut off the penis and make them into girls. At 2 days old. And they didn’t get their parents’ permission. They just did it. The parents gave them up for adoption [because of that]. A lesbian couple in Canada adopted them. I’ve met them 3 years running now at the AIS-DSD conference, and they’ll come up to me and grab a leg and hug me. I’m friends with the [adoptive] parents now. It’s bad what happened to them, but it’s also cool to see them growing up and so far they like being girls. Of course puberty hasn’t quite hit yet, so we’ll see how it goes from there.

I have to take Estradiol, because my [gonads are] gone. “It might go cancerous,” is the reason the doctors said it should be taken out. Which is a lie. I have to take estrogen because my gonads are gone. Ovaries give you estrogen and the adrenal glands give you testosterone, which is usually about 50 units for a female. For someone who has Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, the adrenal gland kicks out about 100 – 150. So basically the outside of the body is very male, but the insides are still female.  

Everyone for the first 7 weeks [in the womb] is a female. At 7 weeks old, the gonads will either stay put and become ovaries, or drop and become testicles. And those of us who are insensitive to the testosterone wash that we get, they stay put and become either part ovary and part testicle, or stay gonads, or whatever. Mine are streak gonads, so they are part ovarian tissue, which is kicking out estrogen, and the testosterone part is trying to kick out some testosterone. [So when they removed my gonads I had] no hormones. And without hormones your bones are very brittle. I know a kid who’s like 12 who has osteoporosis because their body either didn’t make or didn’t respond to the hormones. Like mine doesn’t respond to testosterone, but it eats up estrogen like crazy.

[Showing group picture from AIS-DSD Conference] Everyone in that picture have XY chromosomes. Most were raised female, some raised male. Some who was raised female, went back to being male. I guess we can call them transsexuals – but not really, because they’re guys and they’re living as a guy. They just happened to be raised female. So it kind of blurs the line, y’know. Definitely blurs a line of gender. A guy who’s raised a female is generally a gender non-conformist. In my case I didn’t choose to be raised a male, but I just had to go with it. So if you’re a girl, and you’re being raised a male, you’re still a gender non-conformist, because you’re not conforming to the female body. And it’s not their choice. It’s usually the choice of the doctor, or the parent, or both.

Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

My suicide attempt. I was 15 years old. A few days earlier, I went to Hampton Beach with a female friend of mine who I used to hang out with. Well, I didn’t bring a suit. I didn’t have enough time to run home and grab one. So my friend leant me one of her bikinis. I was in Hampton Beach for the day in a 2-piece yellow bikini. And remember, I was being raised a boy. [laughs] So y’know, I had a great time, but eventually my mom found out when [my friend’s] mom called my mom and was like, “Oh, you have a lovely daughter.” Whoops. [laughs] Shit hit the fan. And I got into a big depression, just couldn’t handle it anymore, all the doctors and all that kind of stuff. So I went out into the woods, tried to think. Climbed up in a tree, and it was probably about 25, 30 feet up. And I [thought], I can’t handle this anymore. And I took the leap. On the way down, I was like, Ah, thank God. Thank God it’s all over. God, just take me, I’m ready. Flop. I hit something, like a branch or something. And blackout. I have no idea how long I was out.

When I woke up, I checked in with my body. No pain. I sat up. No pain. I stood up. No pain. There was a bunch of kids around me. They saw me flop. My brother saw me take the leap, went home, and called the ambulance. That was a turning point. Go to the third floor somewhere and hit the ground. You’re going to break a bone or something, you know. And I guess when I fell I was so relaxed I just plopped. That was a turning point. I was going from [the idea of], I’m cursed, I got this freakin’ body here, I’m a freak of nature to seeing it as a blessing.

Because I have skills that nobody else has. Like I told you before, you can put me in whatever clothes, I’ll pass for a man, a woman, it doesn’t make any difference. In fact I was at a conference with a bunch of women, and I was just one of the women. Going into the hot tub together, sleeping together (as roommates), and doing all this stuff, no problem. And then of course like a week later I was going to the Hypospadias Epispadias conference with a whole bunch of guys, and I was just one of the guys. And they asked me about my surgery so I told them about my surgeries, I told them about the amputation, and one other guy had an amputation. I was just among them as one of the guys.

Not too many people can do that. Not too many people can pass for a guy in women’s clothes and pass for a woman in guy’s clothes. Not too many people can go to the guys’ conference as a guy and be just one of the guys, and later go to the women’s group and be with the women for a whole weekend as one of the women. Without lying. Without having to deceive anyone. Just by being myself. I just told them all the truth, what happened to me, they tell me their stories. We just chit chat. Very few people can do that. I’m just being me. Being more feminine me or more masculine me, but still just me.

Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

Difficult is having all the operations, and the hospital… Being rushed to the ER because I could not pee. Trying to find a job when the only thing they see is this freakish trans girl or trans guy or whatever. That is the most difficult stuff. Dealing with the ignorance of people that think I’m just a trans woman. “You can repent from it, just choose not to be.” It’s like, you can’t choose not to have syphilis or anything else, you just have to live with it, deal with it. Hopefully people accept it, y’know.

Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?

I have a close friend who I talk with maybe 2 or 3 times a week, at least. Her name is Cynthia Brian-Kate. She was born a chimera. In the womb, [when] you have two twins, sometimes you get a conjoined twin. In this case the boy and the girl fused together completely. So you have one body. One head, two arms, two hands, two legs, one torso. The only difference is – the right arm and the left leg are from the girl, the left arm and right leg are from the boy. And she was born with 6 toes on each foot. And what’s down there is a…bit of both. She was also born very gender non-conformist. And that’s how she lives. Me and her are both cisgender. We both identify as our birth sex male and female. Unfortunately since they took all my male parts from me, I still identify as the male at times, so it’s like, okay, I guess that’s now…trans? Our words nowadays don’t quite describe exactly what it is, so I guess cisgender trans? [laughs] Which doesn’t quite work out.

How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?

I was married twice. The first marriage was to a cisgender woman. I’m a techie, I do a lot of technical things – sound, lights, that kind of thing, for theater. She was one of our actresses, so we met during a production of one of our radio plays. I saw things from the tech side, she saw everything from the actors’ side. So we were great. I told her about me on our second date, since I was still living as a guy. And she was fine with it. I was the husband, she was the wife. But when I started coming out as being intersex to some of my friends – not as being gay or trans or anything like that, I was just like, “Well, I was born with this medical condition, I have an operation coming up,” and I would tell them about the operation, and they were like, “Okay, cool.” But, y’know, they were fine with me, I was still the same person. But they started seeing her as a lesbian because she married someone who has a vagina. And she didn’t want anything to do with it. She’s not a lesbian, she likes guys, so after 15 years we went our separate ways.

But the second time, I actually met someone who was bisexual, who liked men and women. Her name was Samantha. So she liked all my male parts and my female parts. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds, as she said. She was born male, transitioned to being female. 

So I’m dating now, here and there, and I go for people who are bisexual, who will love both sides of me and understand both sides. And I’m very honest. I’ll tell them maybe on the second or third date. If the first date is going anywhere deeper, it’s like, yeah, you gotta know this. But the first date I’ll let them just get to know me before any of that stuff. It gets to be annoying, because I have no idea how the person’s going to react to it. So with the dating thing, it’s more people I know, or are in the trans groups. I’ve had a few dates here and there, but not that much.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Years ago, no, because trans stuff wasn’t covered. But I’m like, Wait a minute, I’m not quite sure. So I had to go down to D.C. because whatever is on your ID, those are the only parts that were covered. If you’re a guy, only your guy parts are covered. If you’re a woman, only your women parts are covered. There was this one woman who actually died of prostate cancer because the insurance wouldn’t cover the operation. Because women don’t have prostates so why would they cover it? And there’s been a few guys who’ve died of breast cancer because guys don’t have breasts. So only my male parts or female parts are covered. I’ll go for a prostate exam, and I’ll be male, then a few weeks later I’ll have a breast exam or whatever so I’ll be female. So it’s back and forth.

I had to go down to D.C. to talk to Congress on that. New York has got it right. Same thing as AAA, no matter what car you’re in, you’re covered. If you have the body part, it’s covered. So if you have breasts, breast exams are covered. If you have a prostate, prostate exams are covered. So nowadays here with Mass Health, Tufts, all the body parts I have are covered. So no matter what happens, my medicine is taken care of, my hormones are taken care of, operations that I have in Massachusetts are all covered. I had to go fight for that down in D.C. I had to do that just to get all my parts covered. I went to them, told them I had a medical condition. That I’m not trans, and I went on that. And they [said], “Yeah, you’re right.”

All senators and representatives down in D.C., they have local offices up here. I went to them. I talked to them. So I laid all the groundwork up here, and then when I went down to them and actually saw their office and talked to them. Y’know, if you go down there with a problem, they go, “Oh, I’m so sorry about that.” But if you give them a solution, or something to do, now they got something to act on. [I got the law changed in Massachusetts.] I kept “trans” way off of it, so I went on the intersex angle, [and] they actually [said], “Yeah, this stuff should be covered.” And [that law ends up working for trans folks anyway too]. So now all my parts are covered. And all your parts are covered.

How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?

I can’t find a job, so my worth on that angle is bad. I feel like I’m a loser because I can’t even get a decent job. And it’s due to my medical condition. I volunteer at genesis Club. They wouldn’t hire me. But I still go there, I volunteer, I help people in the Membership Unit. They’re a great place to help people that are suffering from mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, bipolar, PTSD. I have PTSD and depression from the doctors growing up. Isn’t that nice? I can’t go see a doctor without a bodyguard for fear of what they’re gonna do to me again. So usually [my wife] came with me and I was fine.

But in intersex circles, all the speaking engagements I do, conferences, I’m up there. I’m one of the chief people. One of the experts. I do interviews like this. I just did one on an intersex study with intersex people and school. I recently gave one at Yale University to their medical student. I used to be forced to be in studies as a kid, but now as long as you’ve got my permission, yeah, I do them. But I choose to do them or not. So my worth on that area is up there, it’s great. I just need to do that and get paid, which is the hard part.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Hang in there. Learn all you can. Study all you can. You’ll find love. You will eventually be an expert. You’ll be the one others go to for help. So hang in there. Study. Learn. Explore, Love. And don’t forget to smell the flowers once in a while.

What are your concerns for the future?

Political – Trump. Or I should say Number 45. Because he has gotten rid of everything that we have strived for. He’s cutting all that out. All the gains we had through Obama, through the other presidencies, he’s getting rid of them all. A guy is a guy and a girl is a girl, and that’s it. That’s what he thinks. That’s my concern for the future.

My concern is that intersex babies will continue to be mutilated when they’re still babies, and forced to be something they’re not. Which unfortunately there are a lot of suicides, like me. Then having to have a sex change operation just to be the person who they were born as. And having to go through all that. Those are my concerns. Right now, Malta, Chile, I think now Germany, and Australia – they have laws that you can’t do any sex change operations on anyone without the informed consent of the patient.

So they let the child grow up and discover if they’re more masculine or more feminine, or they want to be a boy or a girl – you can’t choose it, you discover it. So let them discover it. Let them find out if they like or hate dresses or love short hair or long hair or whatever, y’know. A mixture of anything and everything. Let them discover it. And if they want an operation, remove this or add that or whatever, let them decide. Let them figure it out without pressuring them.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Hopefully finding someone. Hopefully getting a good job where I can use my peer support skills to help other people. Have a good place to live. Not have to worry about money. And hopefully be in a world where people are accepted for who they are. Whether it be dark-skinned, light-skinned, coming from Egypt, Europe, whatever. That we should, instead of hate everyone for being different, love the person for being different. Me, especially growing up as a kid, if someone was different from me or came from a different place, it was like, “Oh, cool! You’re from Egypt? Tell me about it!” I like that. I like exploring, trying out different things. I tried haggis. It was good, it was great, I loved it. I was on a food high for the next three hours. People kept saying, “Eeww!” and here I am loving the stuff. Hey, whatever.

What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?

The successes – being in Hermaphrodeities compiled by Raven Kaldera, being the New England director of a worldwide organization, being able to talk to people around the world and help them. There’s one person in Italy who – we talk on Facebook, and that person is going through a bunch of bad things and I’m helping that person out. There’s other ones in Italy, there’s England, one person down in Australia, and I get to talk with them and help them go through their journey, like I’m going through my journey. That is cool. I actually went to England for 6 weeks on a study abroad program so I actually got to meet with the England and Scotland OII people. That turned into a peer support group. [laughs] Talking about operations, how they grew up… We’re still in contact with each other. Y’know, being able to do that for someone. Being able to understand the stuff that they’re going through, because I’ve been through it. That is a great accomplishment, to be able to be there for people and do that for them.

[Frustrations] – dealing with society, the binary, being forced to be one. [I know a lot of people who say things like], “We don’t care if you’re a guy or a girl or masculine or feminine, just pick one! And stay there!” I can’t pick one. I’d be denying half of me. That is frustrating. Not getting a job is frustrating. People thinking that I’m a transsexual. “You can be cured! It’s a life choice!” Having to deal with all that kind of stuff. Having to deal with not having long hair, because I love long hair, but having alopecia, that is a big frustration. Having trans women actually be so jealous of me that they pretty much hate me. Because I don’t have to shave my arms or anything. I’ve always had tiny hands. I can pass for a woman in a men’s three-piece business suit. And they get dressed up in heels and makeup and everything and they still can’t pass for a woman. I do nothing, I pass for a woman. It’s just natural. Passing for a girl just by doing nothing. I can’t help it. It’s just the way I am.

Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?

When I was a kid, I was raised Roman Catholic, and my mom was very, very religious. Hence the, “You’re a guy and that’s it, I’ll pray over you.” All right, mom. So I went seeking other religions. I’ve been to a mosque, I’ve been to a Jewish Synagogue, I’ve been to Greek Orthodox, I’ve been to Pagan circles, and my life philosophy actually comes from Pagans. And this I follow. This and one other I got from Vulcans from Star Trek.

The Pagan Golden Rule is: “Do what ye will. See thee harm none. Less in your own defense it be.” In other words, you can do whatever you like, as long as you don’t harm anybody else, or harm yourself through either action or inaction. The other one is from the Vulcans, their EDIC: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” In other words, there’s not one kind of flower, there’s hundreds of different types of flowers. There’s not one skin color, there’s various shades of skin color. There’s all kinds of languages. There’s all kinds of people in all different combinations. And to see the beauty in all of that. That is what I live by. Those two [ideas are] my philosophy.