Friday, September 08, 2006

Being Different And Fitting In

By David Cameron

OII-USA Spokesperson for Human Rights

Visit OII-USA's new website at:

Visit our international site: The largest intersex organisation in the world

Organisation Intersex International

I can’t believe I’ll turn 60 next year. I’m amazed I’ve lived this long and survived my life as a queer person of sorts. It has never been an easy journey; in fact, it’s been very difficult, being different and trying to fit in, not only in the two-sex/two-gender binary system at large, but also in the ever-evolving gay culture. Most people when they see me read me as a “tall masculine guy,” but that wasn’t always the case and in some ways still isn’t. I’m still seeking a welcoming community where I feel comfortable and accepted for who I am.

One’s sex is different from one’s gender identity. Both are different from one’s sexual orientation. The religious right likes to meld us all into one, as if we were all the same queer species. Gay men/males come in all colors, styles, sexed anatomies, expressions and sexual experience. We need to celebrate the diversity that we bring to our irreplaceable and special world.

We are diverse gay men! But what do we mean by “gay men” and, in particular, what do we mean by “male” or “man”? We know the stereotypical characteristics that all gay males/men are supposed to possess: hyper-masculinized appearance, an adequate phallus/penis size (hopefully something over 3 inches when erect), and being able to stand to pee. But what else should we possess in the sexual anatomy department? Well, I guess we’re supposed to have two testicles in a scrotum that produces sperm and testosterone (and some estrogen so we act nice occasionally). And we need sex chromosomes, which are XY for the standard-looking male.

Can a gay male/man have any other sexual anatomy than what we presume to be standard or normal? There are many boys born with micro-penis, and in the past century many were reassigned female and given vaginoplasties. Yikes! Doctors seem to think a man needs an adequate penis only for vaginal sex. Some people are born with ova-testis and others with blind vaginas. People come in all sorts of sex chromosome variations too: XXY, XXX, XYY, XXYY, XXXY, XO, XY females (known as androgen insensitivity syndrome) and XX men, XY/XXY and all sorts of other mosaic patterns.

Can any of these persons be considered males/men? It depends on how they identify, if they are not aborted first. Although most people on the planet come in the two standard-sexed bodies, many of us do not. Depending on how “intersex” is defined, variations exist in anywhere from 1 in 150 to 1 in 2000 births. Doctors still perform infant genital surgeries (and hormonal interventions) five times a day in the USA. I guess they feel pressured by our binary-addicted culture. How can a doctor decide what is best for a child’s future sex life? What if that child were destined to grow up into a gay man?

When I was 13 and puberty came, I knew I was different from other boys. I still hadn’t developed like others, and I was often teased for having small testicles, and I had gynecomastica (breast growth in a male). I was also very tall; by 15, I was 6’ 9”. My energy was very low and I was a shy, awkward, emotional, self-conscious and sensitive “feminine” kid. My parents were concerned about my lack of development. They were told by the family doctor I would grow up to be “normal” and be able to have children.

I experimented sexually a lot with boys starting in junior high and struggled with my sense of gender and sexuality all through college. I was told by religious leaders that the feelings I had for men were just a phase and that I would eventually turn heterosexual. I tried to be bisexual and had a few girlfriends. In my mid-twenties, I enjoyed dressing up in drag and discovered a whole newworld that was exciting and creative. I came to hate traditional gender roles with a vengeance! And I wasn’t sure what world I really belonged to. I knew I was different, and I wanted to fit in somewhere.

When I was 29, I went to an infertility clinic because I wanted to find out if my body produced any sperm, since I had my doubts. (I remembered reading in a high school biology text that giants were usually sterile.) Although I treasured my difference, I wondered why I had small breasts, big nipples and a smooth feminine-looking physique, never having developed a musculature like other guys my age. After several tests, I was informed that I had XXY sex chromosomes, 10 percent of the standard testosterone production levels for an XY male and no sperm. I was offered breast reduction surgery and testicular implants but refused. I’ve since learned that this anatomical variation happens 1 in 500 “male” births, is called Klinefelter’s Syndrome, and exists within various creatures in the animal kingdom.

I was OK with the body I was born with but my endocrinologist apparently was not. He prescribed 300 mg of synthetic testosterone to be injected every two weeks for the rest of my life. He never told me what was going to happen, offered me no counsel, and told me to consult a medical journal for more information. I went through puberty again in my 30s. I only enjoyed the high sex drive induced by the treatments because I had never experienced being horny when I was a teenager. What wasn’t explained to me was that my body was going to masculinize. My once hairless body became covered with hair (much to my disgust) while I started losing my beautiful auburn hair to baldness. I became quite strong and trim. My voice dropped from a first tenor to a baritone. I also became HIV positive within the first five years of injecting testosterone. That is another story.

I had always felt caught between the sexes without knowing why. Emotionally and spiritually, I have always felt more feminine. During the first few years of testosterone replacement therapy, I felt that my female persona was dying. It was a time of overwhelming confusion, yet also a time of discovery. My sexual orientation hadn’t changed; I was still attracted to men. I didn’t understand why I had been chosen to have this experience, and I often wondered whether I should have stayed who I was. I knew that being “caught between” would be my life challenge and that would be OK since I felt whole with all my unique parts. I have since gotten back in touch with my female side, and I have realized that I never completely lost her. In the end, because I was so tall, I decided to find out what being male was like. I guess I’m still finding out.

For many years I was filled with shame and a sense of freakishness, and was told by my parents to keep my secret. I didn’t learn until 1995 that what I had was an intersex condition, that who I was originally was OK, and that I never had to take any hormones to change the way I looked. I like the term “intersex” because I prefer more choices than male or female. I think there is a continuum from male to female, like shades of grey between black and white. If only I had always known it was OK to be different and that I didn’t really need to fit into our binary system, I think I would have been a much happier person. I might have avoided some of the pain that I’ve had to endure to fit in. It’s been hard to feel like I belong to a community, any community.

When others look at me, they probably see a big, hairy, bearded, and very tall man. In many ways, I look and act like a typical San Francisco gay man. I guess most people see me like that and don’t think anymore about it. But I know that the truth is much more complicated. If you see a guy who looks “masculine,” just remember you can’t judge a book by its cover. And not all of us were created to populate the planet into extinction.

I was fortunate to meet a wonderful male partner who helped me through my transformation and has continued to love me just the way I am. We’ve been together for 28 years.

I want to be a part of a healthy and caring LGBTIQQ community where “difference” is seen as an attribute, not a detriment. We are all diverse. We belong to many different communities. We are not all the same. Many even in our community feel pressured by our binary-addicted culture. And many of us feel like we don’t fit in. I decided that telling the truth of my story and educating others about who I am is the only way to go. I think as gay men we are always trying to figure out what it means to be a man. And many of us are looking for a community to belong to. My journey is maybe just a little more unusual.

David Cameron was born in Canada, and grew up in Pleasant Hill, CA. He is a former international teacher, having taught in Thailand and Egypt. He met his partner, Peter Tannen, at a bisexual potluck in Sunnyvale. David had a home and garden renovation business prior to going out on AIDS disability and currently volunteers at the STOP AIDS Project. In addition, he serves as an appointed member of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission’s LGBT Advisory Committee and is a Coordinating Committee member of the LGBTI Health Summit to be held in Philadelphia in March 2007.

No comments: