Guest post by Green
Trigger warning: self harm
This is the final post in a series about my experience as a diagnostically intersex Mormon. (The first post can be read here , the second post can be read here and the third post can be read here. This is simply my experience, and not intended as a critique of the church, of-non-intersex people, of intersex people, or otherwise. It is my story only, as a woman with an intersex condition who has always identified as female. I am ready to share it.
October 26 is Intersex Awareness Day.* It is also a Monday: Family Home Evening. Thus, if you are looking for an extra reason to have a special dessert for FHE theme, please bake a cake and toast to those you know or do not know who may be intersex.**
I want to offer my profound gratitude to Segullah for making a safe place for me to share and explore this part of my life. This series has been therapeutic and even fun for me to write. Nonetheless, it has also been deeply personal and at times, difficult to address. Completing the series has taken much longer than I imagined, but it has helped me to process everything, including going to my first support group meeting.
Yes, I made it. Read on….
The support group meeting place was at an inner-city café that was literally located in a back alley. It was an über trendy café, always had low lights and was the perfect spot for never running in to anyone you might already know. It was also a central location for all who planned to attend, which meant about an hour’s drive for me.
I considered driving. That way, if the meeting was uncomfortable, I could easily slip away—a trick I learned by sitting on the end pew at church. And if I didn’t feel like going, then I could just do some shopping in the area. As I puzzled this in my mind, I decided that I needed to make a commitment. Meeting Penny was one of the best things that had happened to me in finally healing my body with my spirit and my heart. Wouldn’t even more Pennys be even better? It would take longer going by train with all of the stops along the way, but I could avoid parking- which would also mean less stress. I contacted Penny and arranged to meet her on the train.
On the morning, my heartrate was higher than normal, but I still felt good standing on the train platform. Unfamiliar with the Saturday timetable, I was early, and found myself meandering, rather than pacing. I wasn’t overly anxious, but I was nervous. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the site of my ward Primary President, Joan. I inwardly rolled my eyes. “You have to be kidding me!” I thought to myself while probably shaking my head.
Joan and I were not friends. We weren’t even frenemies.
When a State Legislative Act aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage was being politically debated in our state a couple of years earlier, she and I had found ourselves opposite sides of the political divide. I was in support of progressing LGBTIQ rights, and would honestly tell people my position when asked. I did NOT tell people that I was one of the “I”s in the LGBTIQ synthesis, but rather that I do not oppose the marriage of compliant adults who love each other. After all, it simply made sense to me that people who wanted to marry, should marry.
Because of my Mormon background, and some conservative associates, I generally refrained from Facebook debates or in-person action. I only discussed it when I was with allies—allies who were yet unaware that I was an “I” in LGBTIQ. Joan was not one of these people. Joan was combatively and loudly opposed to anything positive/progressive/loving toward anything LGBTIQ. She had been welcoming to me when I first arrived in the ward, but the Mormon grapevine being what it is, and my owning my tolerance of gay marriage, Joan stopped even touching any food I brought to ward potlucks. Though we had extraordinarily little interaction at church anyway, and I am a pretty good cook, I became dead to Joan. So I wasn’t happy to see her, and likely neither was she happy to see me.
“Should I be Christlike and say hello?” I thought to myself. “Maybe asked her where she is going?” I almost laughed out load at my own thought. “Sure… I’ll just tell her that I am going to an intersex support group, because- by the way- I am intersex, and therefore the epitome of all your nightmare here in person.” Ugh. No. She’d probably push me in front of an oncoming train!
I decided against my “Christlike” impulse to go and say hello. I had enough anxiety about the day already. Thankfully, she soon as she saw me, she grimaced slightly, then looked elsewhere. Anxious to physically further myself from her, I stepped away and moved towards where the back of the train would stop—assuring myself that this would be a better way to see which car Penny was on. Although I had been praying almost nonstop that morning, I began praying that Joan would not get in a car where Penny was seated.
As the train blew in, my prayer was answered. I could no longer see Joan or where she got on. Even better, I readily found Penny. Penny greeted me with hug as I took the seat she had saved for me and began chatting away. We talked about the weather, some of the other women who would be at the lunch, funny things that we had experienced when taking the subway, my passion for diet coke and her passion for green tea.
Before long, we reached our destination and began navigating narrow back roads to find this voguish café. Penny sited it first, and we made our way in. She had been to these lunches and meetings before, so knew who to look for. The café was bustling and full of life- quite a different scene from the stillness by the outside entrance. Music was playing and patrons were laughing and talking- it was loud, but not in a way that you could discern what other diners were talking about. Another win. Penny found our group and introduced me. Within seconds, I was at ease.
We ordered food and drinks, and soon were laughing the way people who have been friends for decades laugh. Because our type of intersex often comes to light during puberty, we each had distinct memories of that time period in each of our lives. It isn’t easy waking up one day and being told that you might be a different sex. “When I was diagnosed, my mother sent to me talk to a priest—and we weren’t even Catholic!” guffawed one of the women, and we all joined in laughter. “My doctor thought I was the only person in the world like this,” shared yet another, “and when he found out that there are other people like me, he told me he was disappointed so he wouldn’t get published in a medical journal!” We laughed with her at her doctor’s stupidity. “My mother blamed herself for giving birth to me and became a gluten -free, dairy-free vegetarian so she would not give birth to anything like me again!” giggled another. “Are you vegetarian?” someone else asked when the laughter subsided. “Look at my plate!” she sassed back, showing us a very carnivorous dish. We all roared with laughter again.
The conversation became more serious, with us talking about where we were on our journey of discovery, and mistakes we had made along the way. “I became a midwife so I could experience birth as best as I can,” shared one. “My father told me that people like us should be lined up and shot,” shared another. “My doctor thought I was so freakish that he wrote an article about me in a medical journal without my consent,” shared yet another. We became still when we talked about these parts of our lives. And for the first time in my life, even though some of what they said had not specifically happened in my life, I knew these feelings. I had lived these feelings. I was not alone, and neither were they.
Even then, and though I felt safe, I did not tell them that my mother forced me to have a blessing from the bishop, side-stepping my father because the bishop was “better.” And that I ignored the blessing because I knew it could not fix anything. And that my mother decided I did something evil in the Mormon pre-existence so demanded I stop taking the sacrament and pray for repentance. And then how she fasted to change me, terrified that she was Mormon-sealed for eternity to an… it. Or maybe she wasn’t. And since fasting did not change anything, she gave up.
And then, this feeling- of having one’s mother give up on them- created an eternal emptiness. Because if I told them, I would have to explain the ugliness of Mormonism, and that our church had a handbook that directs male church leaders to require my bishop to write to the First Presidency and ask them what they thought my sex is (my bishop didn’t do this. God bless him). And then, I would explain that now things are a little bit better, the handbook had changed a little and now you only need to ask the first presidency what your sex is if your genitals are non-binary on the outside only. Because apparently you need your private parts to look right in order to … what? I did not know. I still don’t. And then I might start tripping my words over the horrific Family Proclamation which decided that I am supposed to be only completely male or completely female, and because I am not … sigh. I would vomit trying to explain it all. And crash. And cry. And cut myself. And want to claw my own eyes out because cutting myself did not release enough pain. And then I’d want to do all of those other things that took decades of counseling to stop thinking or doing.
So I could not share this. Because if I told them this, the conversation would die, and no one would understand why I was still a Mormon. Because sometimes even I am not sure why.
So I didn’t. I did not share a breath of this. BUT I did share, and even imitated the look on the face of the woman who drew my blood to test to see if my chromosomes were XX or XY or something else. They had seen that face before, too. Different phlebotomist, same tortured, shocked, disgusted look. And somehow laughing about it with these friends took away the self-shame I had been carrying with me when speaking with medical professionals. I also told them how I refused to pay a medical specialist’s bill when I spent the entire time explaining my condition to him. “Good for you!” They squealed, “I’m telling all of the new group members to do that, too!” And they chided me when I told them that I lied to my doctor and would say I had normal periods and had a recent pap smear someplace else. “If we lie about it, nothing will change. We have to educate them,” I was admonished, but another quickly added, “but not at your own expense.” It was a revolutionary idea. And I loved it.
The lunch went for a good three hours, and noting the time and our travel distance, Penny and I made our apologies, and thanked everyone. Before we left, I excused myself to the ladies’ restroom. And all of those women, knowing me, the real me, didn’t flinch when I chose the door with the sign that said “women.” I felt free. I felt good. I felt accepted and understood. In parting, instead of saying goodbye, one said, “nurture you.” And those words nurtured me.
I soon found myself struggling to stay awake on the train. It was only about 4PM, but still. I had been carrying that emotional load for much, much too long. Penny allowed me the window seat. “Of course you’re tired,” she comforted me. “I was you a few years ago. Rest. You’re safe. I’ll make sure you get home.”
* Intersex Awareness Day is celebrated mostly in English-speaking countries on October 26. The Intersex Day of Remembrance is primarily recognized in Europe and is celebrated on November 8. Some countries, such as Australia and South Africa, mark both events and the days between as “14 days of intersex.”
** As per the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex individuals “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.” This is a wide net—it includes women born with only one ovary, men born with only one testicle, women born with testicles, men born with ovaries and testicles, women born with two uteruses, persons born with atypical chromosomes and as many internal and external variations as you can imagine, plus many you simply can’t imagine. Around 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits – comparable to the number of people born with red hair. (I suggest reading this from Amnesty International as a great FHE discussion activity.)