by Gene Manne
This time, you tell yourself, maybe you can explain it without them squirming in their socks. Maybe this new approach will work.
You tell people you are just a guy, that all your parts, pieces, and inclinations are one hundred percent male. You reassure them, you are anatomically and biologically a man. You tell them if you stripped buck naked and performed cartwheels, they would see nothing before them except a guy.
Where they may notice a difference is in a classroom, you impart, because your brain processes thoughts differently, which means you learn in an unusual way. That’s why talking about the difference is important, you say, to raise awareness and help other people who learn differently understand and explore how they learn, to better connect with teaching, and to live better.
You mention middle school, when we were all taught that XX means girl and XY means boy. They nod along, remembering. You tell them how that isn’t actually the whole truth, that other chromosomes such as XXY also means boy, and the nodding stops. Their eyes move around in a semi-circle, searching for exactly what, they seem to be unsure. They appear to become uncomfortable.
You tell them all of this to make sure they do not somehow transmogrify your difference into the concept of you being intersex because of your XXY chromosomes, and still, somehow, you can hear their synapses squirm as they make that incredibly long and incorrect science-fiction leap anyway.
You know, at that moment, they are uncomfortable because they’ve just imagined you have two sex parts in your pants. Clearly, they have watched too much Alice in Wonderland. On something. You hesitate to disappoint their anxiety with the fact you have only the man part.
Still, you wonder why? Why would most people make that illogical leap?
Is it because they just turned reality into a misconstrued math equation, multiplying XX by XY to equal XXY? You tell them that’s not how it works, but they don’t seem to hear you.
Maybe it’s because we were taught incorrectly about what constitutes a human at an impressionable age? Or because we protect our beliefs, inserting knowledge pride in place of objective thought?
Did they do a Google search for “XXY” and see the XXY movie that misrepresents XXY as intersex? Or did they encounter the XXY misnomer “Klinefelter syndrome” that the more informed doctors regard as never having been real?
You can see in their nervous eyes, squished cheeks, and contorted lips, they’re still squirming. You wonder if this is because they are now imagining you are the key to asexual reproduction in humans, as if you could somehow impregnate yourself? You shudder at the thought.
You want to put their panicking mind at ease, so you reassure them that XXY is just another iteration of male. You tell them you are and have always been completely male in every way – physicality, inclinations, and so on.
Success! You can see and hear their squirming stop. Their eyes rest. Their face and posture relaxes. All is right in the world.
Even though you are not intersex, for you sport merely a penis betwixt your legs and you appreciate and enjoy its sexual purpose, which for you happens to mean you like women, you wonder how it is that the concept of intersex human beings is so threatening to peoples’ own identity in the world?
You wonder, “Is it because we have intricately wrapped the idea that love leads to the realization of our sexual desires around our own identities as men and women?”
You think back to when you learned about your difference during a routine physical for college athletics, the fact of you being there for that purpose itself perplexing for the doctor.
The doctor said, “I’m afraid you will be unable to compete on the cycling team because of your chromosomes.”
You said, “I don’t understand—I’ve been competing for years already. Why would this change anything?”
“Well,” the doctor said, “I suppose you could participate, but you won’t be competitive against XY men, and I can’t advise it.”
“But I’m already winning races,” you told him. “I’ve been a varsity runner, a podium half-marathoner, and now a bike racer. I just won a race on the velodrome last week.” You don’t mention you used to play soccer too.
You watched the doctor shaking his head in disbelief. This is who teaches us about the human body.
You were evidence to the contrary of XXY research standards sitting right in front of him. You watched several drips of sweat fall from his forehead onto the marbled white linoleum squares beneath him. You couldn’t tell if his trembling was caused by his nervousness or by being forced to recite oppressive medical fiction to you. He said, “Huh,” and you watched him smile lightly to himself and shake his head. You noticed the buzz of the fluorescent lights.
It almost seemed he thought he was delivering a death sentence as he said, “You will never be able to father a child.”
Your nineteen-year-old mind saw this as a good thing. Latex always caused shrinkage and burned your skin anyway. “Are you saying I have built-in birth control? Do you mean I don’t need to wear a condom with my girlfriend?”
The doctor raised his eyebrows in surprise. You watched as the sweat streamed off his head, making him not only nervous but also self-conscious.
“W-w-well, y-y-you’re having sex?” you heard the doctor say, as if he thought it impossible. “N-n-no, y-you should still u-use birth control, to be sure.”
“So then, I can have children?” you asked.
“W-well, um, hm.” The doctor pursed his lips and raised a spread hand to cover them. He lifted his silver eyebrows and dropped them again, squinting in thought. You heard a quiet splat as a drip of sweat dropped from his head onto the paper on his clipboard. He draped the sleeve of his white coat over his forehead to sop up his nervousness and wiped away the wet spot on the paper. You heard him murmur under his hand, “I’m not entirely sure.” He looked at you hoping you did not hear him.
You asked, “Can you sign my paper or not? My university requires it for me to compete.”
You watched the doctor shake his head again in disbelief as he said, “I guess I can. You know, it says here that you aren’t supposed to be intelligent, so, um, you’re in college? Huh.”
You silently muse, “If the doctors are blinded by their own standards, maybe they are teaching everyone else to be blind too, like Pied Pipers.”
Doctors failed to make you think less of yourself. You defied their documented standards in every way. You upset the apple cart, and you’re not the only one.
All these years later, you smile when a woman calls you handsome in a class you’re visiting. Flattery will get you somewhere.
Now, to figure out how to keep people from assuming you are intersex when you talk about the difference? How to keep them focused on what matters?
You tried writing about it as though you made a great discovery that doctors missed. Then you realized it wasn’t a miss. It was eugenics. You felt a duty to expose the medical mistake they are making. You talked about the termination rate of XXY fetuses, and people mistook your stats for a pro-life argument. You tried boiling the concept down to its most basic reality, and people still made the weird leap. You did your part.
You realize you are just a man. You can’t change how people think. You can only relate your stories. You define you. Everybody has the right to define themselves and their own reality.
How difficult it must be for people who actually are intersex or are somehow different from the medical archetypes learned in middle school.
“Who changed my thinking,” you wonder. “Who most influenced my thoughts?” and you know it was your best teachers. You remember them all. Mrs. Noel in fifth grade, who noticed your aptitude for poetry. Polly Hobbs in high school art classes who noted your ability to draw in perfect perspective, taught you formal calligraphy, and instilled a lasting confidence in your talents. Your undergraduate advisors at Antioch Seattle, who collectively taught you to see the world differently and encouraged your writing. All the MFA advisors and professors at Antioch Los Angeles, who taught you to be a better writer and person. They taught you profound lessons in writing and life, changing your thinking. In their own unique ways, they taught you to recognize and believe in the concept of love again.
Maybe you could learn to be a teacher? You enroll in Antioch’s Post-MFA in the Teaching of Creative Writing, where, through unknown wonders of the world, you somehow land in Kathryn Pope’s class as her assistant. There, you witness a kind of heretofore-unknown brilliance in the arc of a creative writing class. When considering the program, you thought maybe seeing writing from the teacher perspective might change your writing, and within a month it already has. It’s changed you too.
You wonder if, together, we can toss out the human archetype notions? Isn’t it time? Maybe, if we play with the concept, talk about it. Maybe, if we put a little love into each of our efforts.