Galileo's Middle Finger

Galileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger Read Free Book Online

Book: Galileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alice Dreger
losing it, breaking down crying. In the medical literature, all of these people were “lost to follow-up.” They had dropped out of treatment and were invisible to medical surveillance, so what few outcomes studies there were (and there were almost none into adulthood) did not count them. No one really understood what these people had been through. I mean, a few people had heard these individuals’ stories one-on-one, but no one except maybe Bo and a couple of other intersex people had heard how this population had suffered collectively.
    There was Martha Coventry , who had had most of her “enlarged clitoris” cut off when she was six, because her parents were worried about gender confusion. There was David Cameron Strachan , who as an adult had been diagnosed with Klinefelter’s syndrome (XXY chromosomes) and had been shot full of testosterone by a doctor who maybe had thought that upping his sex drive would turn David from gay to straight. (Instead, it had made David uncomfortably hairy and horny, and he’d headed right to the San Francisco Castro District, just as HIV was arriving there, too.) There was a woman whom I’ll call Beth Lawrence, who had learned that she’d been born with testes when she had opened a sealed envelope that a doctor had told her not to open but to give straight to her next doctor. Beth had opened it in the parking lot outside her doctor’s office and found a medical journal article about her, her sisters, and her cousins, none of whom had been told they had testes. The article featured a large photograph of Beth as a teenager, standing naked in a medical setting, with her head cropped off—I suppose to keep her from being recognizable as Beth Lawrence.
    Of course, the pose and the crop also kept her from being recognizable as fully human. Beth still had that journal article, which she kept in the original envelope. Sitting in her backyard with her and Bo and looking at the article, I realized something bizarre: When we’d first met, I had insanely expected that Bo would walk up to me naked in black and white with her eyes blacked out. That’s how the medical journals had led me to think of contemporary intersex people. Even though I had been conversing with Bo by e-mail, I had subconsciously expected her to show up naked with a helpful grid behind her, her arms and legs splayed so as to show off her proportions to the medical student gazing upon her in the book .
    The fact that intersex adults actually meet you in full color, with their clothes on, with families and lives and mortgage debt and a lot of pain and trails of therapists who didn’t even believe their unbelievable histories—this all just made me more and more upset. Pediatric endocrinologists and pediatric urologists came to my invited academic lectures and told me they felt sure
their
patients were all doing fine. That just made me disoriented. Where are these happy patients? I asked. They told me they could not say. Privacy prevented it, they said. Ask your happy patients if they will talk to me confidentially, I said. Oh no, they said. We wouldn’t want you upsetting them. “But,” one assured me, “I know my patients are doing great because I get invited to their weddings.”
    “That’s sweet,” I answered, trying to hide my sarcasm. “How many have you been invited to?”
    “Um . . .” He hesitated. “One, I guess.”
    Bo also introduced me to a few people she’d found who had grown up with ambiguous genitalia, having gone “uncorrected” for various reasons. There was one woman whose sexually sensible mother had decided there just wasn’t any good reason to follow the doctor’s advice to shorten her young daughter’s noticeably long clitoris . There was another who had been too sickly as a child to be sent into elective surgery and so had escaped, growing up unharmed and ultimately pursuing a career in medicine. A third I met because she came to hear a talk I was giving in her town. This woman

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