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Judy in college Judy in college
My Life as an Intersexual
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But I also carried another truth, a terrible corollary to the first secret: I cannot be with women. For being with a woman revealed what I wasn't—"finished," a girl, normal—and (so much worse) revealed what I was—a freak, a monster, an anomaly.

While my single male partner had been relatively nonplussed about my manmade parts, my single female partner couldn't help but notice and comment on the fact that I was different. I used these ridiculously inadequate sample sizes to draw the painfully obvious, jaded, bitter conclusion: Men wouldn't care or comment on my scars; focused only on having someplace to "stick it," they would barely notice any difference between me and other women they might have had sex with, since they simply wouldn't be paying that kind of attention. Women, on the other hand, would notice immediately the dreadful gulf between normal and me and run the other way.

Not surprisingly, I tried to kill myself.

In the days before Prozac and HMOs, recovery from a suicide attempt meant three months in a community mental health center, time I used to resign myself to a meaningless life with a man I couldn't love. Once released, I continued to take my self-loathing to therapy, bedding down with (and eventually marrying) the next guy to come along.

Judy and Tamara Judy (right) and Tamara in Philadelphia, October 1994

At this time, during a routine check of my immunization records for a job I was applying for at a hospital, I obtained some old medical records and learned things my parents and doctors had never intended me to know. Desperately confused, my therapist and I had sent for and received the neonatal surgical records that outlined the medical history described above. What had been an embarrassingly large clitoris was suddenly revealed to have been a hideously deformed penis, and the possibility of ever being with a woman became even more remote; the wondrous, wonderful identity that had lasted all of a plane flight from LAX to JFK—lesbian—was robbed again, seemingly forever.

Now fully convinced I was a monster, I stayed with my husband, certain no one else could ever love or want me. Until, thankfully, I met Tamara. With all the force and subtlety of a tsunami, she flooded my senses, roared through my heart and my bed. I found myself swept into divorce, scandal, debt, and—such unimagined bliss—her.

Coming out as a lesbian was the single most powerful act I had ever undertaken. Despite social and family pressures, despite a mountain of shame surrounding my queered genitals, I did it, and my liberation—I thought—was complete. I wasn't an "unfinished girl"—I was butch!

But a proud butch identity and a powerful femme at my side weren't enough; Frankenstein's monster would not be propitiated. After the "honeymoon" period of our relationship, the old self-loathing returned, self-loathing and self-destructiveness. How could I be a butch if I was "really" a man? How could I call myself "lesbian" when I wasn't even a woman? I felt like an imposter, a fraud, and now more than ever, a freak.

Max in 1997 Max in 1997
Another hospitalization for depression—a shorter stay this time, thanks to the advent of antidepressants and HMOs. A dark chrysalis period, focused on another, deeper coming out: coming out as intersexed.

Tomboy, unfinished girl, walking head, Frankenstein, butch—these were all just so many wonderful/terrible, sharp/ill-fitting suits; the body wearing them was and is transgendered, hermaphroditic, queer. And an important, even essential element of that queerness was the trauma that accompanied it, the medicalization, the scars, the secrecy, the shame. I was born a tiny, helpless almost-boy, but the way my world responded to me is what made and makes me intersexed.

In March of 1998, after over a decade of therapy, I decided to switch to testosterone and transition to male. Since 1996, I had been an active part of the intersex community, and by deciding to transition, I thought I was copping out. I felt like a deserter, a coward, fleeing the frontlines of the gender war. As a politically aware intersexual, I felt it was my duty to be as brazenly androgynous, as visibly hermaphroditic as possible. But to return to the body/suit metaphor, I was starting to feel very naked and very cold. My "naked" body was scaring little old ladies out of public restrooms, making seemingly simple tasks, such as shopping, surprisingly difficult:

"Is this your mother's credit card, young man?"

So I've found a new suit—a different name, the "other" hormone, a different letter on my driver's license—that fits better, that's tailored to me.

Max and Tamara on their wedding day Max and Tamara on their wedding day, February 12, 2000

Tamara and I have been together for seven years now, despite my—now "our"—continued struggle with my issues of shame and anger, my muddled, muddied, fuzzy gender. We married in February 2000 and now have a baby girl, Alder, whom we conceived using Tamara's egg and a donor's sperm. We both still identify as lesbians, so "becoming" heterosexual is not without its challenges. Tamara constantly feels she is masquerading and must explain and challenge those assumptions. In fact, my change of clothes has forced her to re-examine her entire wardrobe—both literally and figuratively.

Looking in the mirror every morning, I am reminded of just how outward outward appearances are. Moving through the world, I'm just a guy: a husband, a father, a computer geek, a manager, looking forward to becoming a grandfather and a sage. Does the Y chromosome in (only) some of my cells and the facial hair I'm growing make me any less a girl, a tomboy, a lesbian, a butch, a woman? I have worn all of these identities, so surely they are mine, even if they no longer fit, even if they were never my birthright, never mine to wear. I cannot undo my history, and I am sick to death of regretting it, so those hard-won honorifics will have to stand. When I look in a mirror, I see all of them.

Max with Alder Max with Alder
Max Beck is a self-described computer wonk who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and baby daughter, and strives to stay true to his curving path in a linear world.

Photos: Courtesy of Max Beck

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