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Judy in college and Max today Judy in college and Max today
My Life as an Intersexual
by Max Beck

When I was born, the doctors couldn't tell my parents what I was: They couldn't tell if I was a boy or a girl. Between my legs they found "a rudimentary phallus" and "fused labio-scrotal folds." They ran their tests, they poked and prodded, and they cut open my belly, removed my gonads, and sent them off to Pathology. My parents sat in the hospital cafeteria, numb, their hearts as cold as the Manhattan February outside.

All they had wanted was a healthy baby. That's all anybody who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant wants, right?

"Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?"

"It doesn't matter, so long as it's healthy."

My parents had struggled for years to have children—my mother had suffered through three miscarriages and a stillbirth—and all that time, through all those tears, they prayed and prayed for a healthy baby. Too late, they realized they'd meant normal.

I was healthy. Medical records from that grim period describe me as "a well-developed, well-nourished infant in no acute distress." Every mother's dream.

After five weeks of study and surgery, they weren't any closer to the truth; mine was a fuzzy picture. Not even the almighty gene provided any clear answers, since it was discovered that I was a mosaic, with some cells in my body having the XY genotype and others having XO. The decision was made to raise me female.

Judy at 2 years Judy at two years

Could my parents do that? Could they ever hope, after all they had been through, to "raise me female?" What sort of instruction is that anyway?

"Feed the baby every two hours, burp well after feeding, and raise it female."

Who gives a thought to such things? You have a son, you have a daughter, you take him or her home, and you get on with your life, period. Consciously, deliberately "raising me female"—it's like consciously, deliberately breathing.

So they took me home, named me Judy, and did whatever it was they did, whatever it was they knew how. I grew into a rough-and-tumble tomboy, a precocious, insecure, tree-climbing, dress-hating show-off with a Prince Valiant haircut and razor-sharp wit who was constantly being called "little boy" and "young man."

I never gave a thought to what went through my mother's heart and mind every time this happened, this common misperception-that-wasn't. What did she see every time she looked at me? Did she watch my entire childhood, every developmental milestone, every triumph, every tear, through a darkening lens of gender? I imagine memories of me, all those special Kodak moments, all captured in my mother's mind in eerie photonegative. I don't know how my father felt or feels about it; he has never spoken about it except to reinterpret my mother's feelings.

Judy at 13 years, with her father Judy at 13 years, with her father
I quickly came to understand that that tomboy—the gender identity with which I had escaped childhood—was less acceptable in adolescence. Yearly visits to endocrinologists and pediatric urologists, lots of genital poking and prodding, and my mother's unspoken guilt and shame had all served to distance me considerably from my body: I was a walking head. In retrospect, it seems odd that a tomboy should have been so removed from her body. But instead of a daily, muddy, physical celebration of life, my tomboyhood was marked by a reckless disregard for the body and a strong desire to be annihilated. So I reached adolescence with no physical sense of self, and no desire to make that connection. All around me, my peers and former playmates were dating, fooling around, giving and getting hickeys, while I, whose puberty came in pill form, watched aghast from the sidelines.

What was I? The doctors and surgeons assured me I was a girl, that I just wasn't yet "finished." I don't think they gave a thought to what that statement would mean to me and my developing gender identity, my developing sense of self. The doctors who told me I was an "unfinished girl" were so focused on the lie—so invested in selling me "girl"—that I doubt they ever considered the effect a word like "unfinished" would have on me.

I knew I was incomplete. I could see that compared to—well, compared to everyone!—I was numb from the neck down. When would I be finished?

The "finishing" the doctors talked about occurred during my teen years—hormone replacement therapy and a vaginoplasty. Still, the only thing that felt complete was my isolation. Now the numbness below my neck was real—a maze of unfeeling scar tissue.

Judy in high school Judy in high school

I wandered through that labyrinth for another ten years, with a gender identity and desires born of those medical procedures. I began to experience myself as a sort of sexual Frankenstein's monster.

Not that I was having much sex. I was incredibly inhibited about my body, the scars, the mysterious medical condition and history that I—the patient!—knew next to nothing about. Sexual experiences were few and far between. At 21 I found myself, a college dropout and a runaway, in bed with an older woman, my second sexual partner and the first naked woman I had ever seen or touched. The differences between our bodies were staggering. Too numb and shaken to even be embarrassed or shy, I showed her what worked, how much pressure to use, what to touch, what not to touch. She listened and learned, and gave me similar lessons in her anatomy. And then, one night in bed, she whispered playfully in my ear: "Boy, Jude, you sure are weird."


When I boarded the plane that would take me back to the East Coast, back to the angry family and the patient university I had fled via Greyhound bus weeks earlier, I carried the knowledge that I was a lesbian. No single thing I had ever learned about myself could feel as important, carry such weight, or offer such healing. Everything that didn't make sense in my tortured world—even the scars—blossomed into perfect clarity when viewed through that lens: I am a lesbian! My nerves sang.

Continue: Another Truth

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