Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Interview with Lianne Simon

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Lianne Simon, an American Christian writer, social activist, housewife, and the author of “Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite”. Hello Lianne!
Lianne: Wow! Hi. Thank you so much for asking me. I’m amazed at the number of interviews you’ve done. You go, girl!
Monika: It has been two years since the release of your debut novel titled “Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite” about an intersex teen named Jamie who must ultimately choose between male or female. Were you satisfied with the readers’ acceptance of the book?
Lianne: The book was very personal to me since quite a bit of it was drawn from my own childhood. I wanted to show people, especially fellow Christians, what it felt like to grow up between the sexes. I was a bit disappointed that no major Christian publisher would consider a book about intersex.
However, the reception by readers has been encouraging. I’ve had positive feedback from a wide variety of people, including conservative Christians and LGBT book critics.

At Easter, with a tea set in her basket.

Monika: Are you working on another book now?
Lianne: Yes. I have a fantasy short story due out later this year, and I’m working on my second novel. The main character this time is a girl with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. A clinic is able to harvest spermatogonium (immature sperm) from her gonadal biopsies and use them to fertilize human eggs. So she’s in a situation where she’s engaged to the man of her dreams, but she’s also the biological father of the babies in her best friend’s womb.
Monika: This is my first interview with a person who suffers from Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis (MGD), a disorder of sex development. Could you elaborate more on this disorder?
Lianne: At conception, I got an X chromosome from my mother and a Y from my father. During the first few cell divisions, one of my cells lost a Y chromosome. Like the rest, it kept reproducing, but only cells with no Y chromosome.
Ordinarily, a fetus with an X and a Y in each cell turns out male. A fetus with only an X in each cell becomes female, but with Turner Syndrome. So my development got all confused, and I ended up between the sexes and have a number of the medical issues common to Turner Syndrome.
Sometimes my genetic variation results in a baby with one testis, one ovary, and ambiguous genitals. That’s the asymmetric form, called Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis. Most kids with MGD, who have one good testis, want to be boys, regardless of what’s between their legs. I have the symmetric form—my two gonads were a mix of testis and streak ovary. It’s not uncommon for us to have a feminine gender, even though our genitals tend to be more masculine than those with asymmetric forms.

At nine, the size of a six-year-old.

Monika: What is the MGD treatment like?
Lianne: It used to be standard procedure to remove both gonads, perform feminizing genital surgery, and raise the child as a girl. Surgery, however, is no guarantee of gender, and many of the children considered themselves boys regardless.
Today, more families are delaying surgery and allowing their children to determine what gender they are and what surgery they want if any.
Monika: When did you start feeling that there was something wrong with your gender identity?
Lianne: Actually, I think other people noticed first. As a child, I was always the smallest of my peer group and had a cute pixie face and pretty eyes.
I have visuo-motor and spatio-temporal deficits, so I got hurt when I played rough and tumble games. I wanted to be a boy sometimes—tall, strong, and agile, but I knew I wasn’t. I liked dolls and dresses just as much and wanted to be a mom when I grew up. But I knew I wasn’t a girl either, because they wouldn’t let me grow my hair long.
Monika: How did your parents react to your problems?
Lianne: For years my parents were afraid of losing me, so they didn’t seem to care about my gender. Dolls and other “girl’s toys” were okay, and I never got punished for borrowing my sister’s dresses. It wasn’t until I was nine that my health improved, and they started worrying about my gender. Dad never punished me for ‘acting like a girl,’ but it clearly made him sad. Especially my wearing dresses.
Fifth grade was the first time anyone in my classes was smaller than me. Karen and Linda and I used to play together during recess. Mostly hopscotch, as I was never any good at Jacks. When I was twelve, the principal led me over to the baseball field and talked some of the boys into helping me learn to play. They even signed me up for their Khoury League team. I was excited because it meant I might get to be a real boy.
But I had the body of a nine-year-old, was hopelessly uncoordinated, and was competing with twelve-year-old boys. In the first inning of the first game, a pitch hit my bat, then my head, and knocked me down. When I was playing outfield, a ground ball took a hop, went right between my outstretched hands, and hit me in the face. Mom didn’t like my getting black eyes, so I quit.

At twenty nine.

Later, one of the boys told me he loved me. I dreamed of being his wife and having his babies. My family moved again then. My parents let me babysit, but dresses and boys were not permitted. Dad kept my hair in a buzz cut because he said I looked like a girl otherwise. I left home for college at eighteen and returned with long hair and breast development.
Monika: Your endocrinologist faced a dilemma whether to provide you with estrogen or testosterone…
Lianne: Looking back on that visit still brings a smile to my face. I went to see the guy for hormones, and he spent the first ten minutes lecturing me about anorexia. He said if I didn’t gain weight, I’d die. If I didn’t agree to come back to the office once a week until I gained fifteen pounds, he wasn’t going to treat me at all. Period.
Then he recommended testosterone, anabolic steroids, and an exercise program to bulk me up. Give me facial hair. Broad shoulders. A deep voice. Muscles. And a raging sex drive. 
I kept on growing through college. I’m five feet six inches tall. After being so small as a kid, I felt like I’d become a giant. Why destroy the rest of me? So I told him I wanted estrogen instead. He didn’t think I’d have any trouble being accepted as a girl, and estradiol would help me gain weight. So he agreed and gave me my first shot.
I puked every day at work for the next two weeks. One of the guys insisted I’d gotten myself knocked up. I cried. For any reason. And for none at all. My nipples hurt. I started growing pubic hair. And no matter how much I ate, my stomach insisted on more. But I finally got my puberty.
Monika: What did you feel after the gender reassignment operation?
Lianne: The twenty-five pounds I gained on estrogen all went to the right places. I wore a loose-fitting shirt to hide my breast development and switched to junior size hip-hugger jeans. My depression vanished. But after a year on hormones, I was still working as a boy. 
When my parents divorced, they sold the house, and Mom sent me a check to pay for surgery. So I got my hair styled and boarded a plane to San Francisco—as a girl. When I arrived, someone in Dr. Brown’s office told me I had to wear a dress to my appointment with the psychologist. And to pick out a girl’s name. And use it.

At thirty two.

There was a pain for a long time after surgery. But none of it mattered. Alejandra (another patient) and I went ice skating as soon as I was well enough. We shopped. We flirted with college boys. We went grocery shopping.
I don’t think it was the surgery so much as my first time living as a girl. People accepted me. Some of the boys thought I was pretty. They were nice to me—not like when I was supposed to be a boy. For the first time since I was a little kid, I fit in.


All the photos: courtesy of Lianne Simon.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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