At support group meetings and seminars, I’ve met hundreds of people who have some physical difference of sex development. Intersex, if you will. I don’t even mind the word hermaphrodite when applied to me. Whatever.
There are hundreds of things that can happen during sex differentiation and development. Some of the variations are grouped into syndromes named after the practitioner who ‘discovered’ them—Swyer, Turner, Klinefelter. Some have names a bit more descriptive—Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis, Androgen Insensitivity.
What I’ve never seen, however, is a condition that results in someone having both sets of genitals. Why? Because the same bit of tissue that becomes a penis in a typical male becomes a clitoris in a female. Another bit of flesh becomes labia or scrotum. Want to know what intersex bits really look like? The Quigley Scale is used for describing degrees of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. The Prader Scale is used for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. This site has some illustrations of degrees of hypospadias. Those are the variations you find in most cases of intersex.
The condition I have is caused by having some cells with a Y chromosome and some without. That led to confusion during fetal development. Hence the differences—not just reproductive system, mind you, but heart, kidneys, brain, metacarpals, fingernails, eyes—everything.
I went to a new dentist today. One of the technicians commented on how small my jaw was. She was concerned that I might not be able to get the digital x-ray thing into my mouth. I explained that it was a genetic thing. I’m mosaic for Turner Syndrome. The condition resulted in micrognathia—a smaller than average jaw—which gave the lower half of my face female-typical proportions.
Which do you think had a greater impact?—a feminine face or genitals that weren’t quite right? The same medical condition—Disorder of Sex Development, if you must—caused both. And much more.
If you meet someone who has a difference of sex development, don’t be surprised if they’re not a two-headed monster. Or obsessed about sex. Or gender. Most of us aren’t. Really. We’re more like you than we are different.