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  • Standing at the Intersections: Navigating Life as a Black Intersex Man
  • Sean Saifa Wall

As I sit down to write this narrative, my mind is reflecting on the past year. This year has seen numerous protests against state–sanctioned violence with the declaration that “Black Lives Matter”. As a Black intersex man, I have witnessed the impact of state–sanctioned violence on my family and my community, both from the police state and medical community. I charge the police state and the medical community with state– sanctioned violence: Each targets non–normative bodies—the former through incarceration and execution, and the latter by means of surgical and hormonal intervention. As a Black intersex man, I stand at the intersection bearing witness to how this violence has incarcerated my friends and loved ones as well as being subjected to medically unnecessary surgical intervention. Although this is where I stand now, both socially and politically, I have not always existed here.

I was born in the winter of 1978 at Columbia–Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. I was the youngest of five children and one of three children in my family who were born with an intersex trait now known as androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS). At the time, AIS was referred to as “testicular [End Page 117] feminization syndrome.” Upon receiving my medical records years later at the age of twenty–five, I noticed scribbling and a barrage of notes indicating the process by which the doctors assigned my gender as female. Although I had ambiguous genitalia, which caused some initial confusion among the doctors, XY chromosomes were not enough for me to be raised as male. My mother was told I would be raised as a girl and, according to the medical records, “function as such.”

Unlike my sisters who were also born with AIS, my mom was not swayed by the surgical recommendations doctors made about my body. As a matter of protocol, my sisters’ gonads were removed in infancy, however, my mom made the decision that my testes would remain with me until they had to be removed.

Because of intense pain in my groin area, my testicles were removed when I was thirteen years old. The pain that I felt following the surgery was perhaps the worst pain that I have experienced in my entire life. After surgery, my pediatrician prescribed estrogen and Provera as a hormonal replacement regimen. Fatty deposits changed the shape and contours of my face. Once robust and chiseled thighs now harbored cellulite. The beginnings of facial hair and prominent body hair became wispy and nonexistent. What was hard and defined became soft.

At no point did anyone ask me what I wanted to do with my body.

I actually missed the effects of my natural testosterone such as a deepening voice, increased hair and muscle mass; when I asked if I could take both testosterone and estrogen after surgery, my mother remarked, “You would look too weird.”

The hormone therapy was coupled with intense social conditioning. I feel as if the social conditioning for young women raised with AIS is suffocating. When doctors prescribed hormones for me to take, my mother constantly reminded me how “beautiful” the little yellow pills would make me. As a means of reassurance, my pediatrician told my mom that “a lot of fashion models” have AIS and that I would most certainly be beautiful. In our dominant US culture, gender norms can already be oppressive, but for women with AIS, there is the impact of gender norms and the underlying fear that women with AIS are not really women since they have XY chromosomes. I did not succumb to the pressure to be more feminine, but actually gravitated toward masculinity. Before transitioning to live as a man, I considered myself a butch woman. When I came out of the closet at fourteen years old and presented as a masculine young woman, I never felt safe. Because I dated women who were more feminine than I, my relationship with these women seemed threatening to men who repeatedly reminded me through harassment and threats that “I was not a man.” Of course, I wasn’t trying to be a...


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pp. 117-119
Launched on MUSE
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