Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interview With the Hermaphrodite: The many faces of Lynn Harris

"Harris is a man. Sort of. He is also a woman. Sort of. He is both, although it could be argued that he is neither, or that he is a third sex. Harris is a hermaphrodite, or intersex, possessing both a vagina and a penis that is, he says, about 2 inches long when erect. He has female chromosomes with male genetic patterning, male hair patterns and skeletal structure, and no breasts. He urinates from beneath the base of his penis. He has some mixed ovarian and testicular tissue. His voice is an eerie, androgynous purr. If you met him on the street and he told you he was a man, you’d believe it without question. If he told you he was a woman, you’d probably believe that, too."

"Historically speaking, hermaphrodites have had it rough. While there have been hermaphroditic gods in the religions of India, Egypt, Mexico and other cultures (even some translations of Genesis describe God as being “of both sexes”), people have been far more comfortable with mythical hermaphrodites than they’ve been with flesh-and-blood ones. In Greek and Roman times, a hermaphrodite birth was considered a bad omen, and they were usually drowned. In the Talmud, they got the worst of both worlds. Like the fellows, they weren’t allowed to shave or be alone with women; like the girls, they couldn’t serve as priests or inherit their father’s estates, and they had to stay isolated from men while they were menstruating. In medieval Europe, hermaphrodites were required to decide on a gender and stick with it, with dire consequences if they strayed outside their chosen role; in the 17th century, one Scottish hermaphrodite who lived as a woman was buried alive after impregnating a local lass."

"Desperately seeking an identity, the young Harris threw himself into acting, where he could hide behind costumes, makeup and characters. He performed in a batch of school plays, usually playing parts—a butch female Army colonel, for instance—with a prophetically androgynous twist. In just a few years, he won 14 acting trophies. He worked hard at being a great actress, almost as hard as he worked at being the proper, pretty young lady his mother wanted him to be. Harris subjected himself to a drag-queen-like daily regimen of two hours of makeup, shaving and padding; he waxed himself so often and bathed in so many toxic depilatories that he now says it’s a wonder he has any skin left. To keep his body hidden in gym class, he changed clothes in bathroom stalls and always took care to shower alone."

"He began appearing in LA theater productions, supporting himself with beauty retail and other work. Finally free to see his own doctors and learn what was really going on with his body, he began taking estrogen in an attempt to regulate his menstrual cycle and increase his bustline. In 1972, still in his early ’20s, he began experiencing hot flashes, fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, rapid weight gain and other symptoms of menopause, symptoms that weren’t alleviated until one of his doctors suggested “reverse therapy”: a course of male hormones. Desperate for answers, in 1973, Harris checked himself into La Mirada Community Hospital for three days of tests and exploratory surgery. The doctors there eventually diagnosed him with what they called “a hermaphroditic situation”:Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, a congenital condition that affects one in every 10,000 births. They warned him that his body would continue to “masculinize” over time, adding that there was little he could do to stop it."

Lynn Harris: Gender Variant Biography



  2. Did you send them to the correct address?

    It's "".