Sunday, September 20, 2009

One Woman’s Fight against the Intersex Stigma

By Mary Beth Sammons

Thea Hillman, who has fought the label "hermaphrodite" for most of her teen and adult life, says she was “heartbroken” Friday morning when she heard South African runner Caster Semenya could be banned from competing as a woman after new tests showed she is a hermaphrodite, having both male and female sex characteristics. Semenya, who reportedly had no idea prior to these tests, has made a very personal discovery in front of the whole world.

“My heart goes out to her and her family, because it is an awful stigma,” says Hilman, 38, of Oakland, CA. “It’s shaming and hurtful. For her to now have to think the whole world is focused on her genitals is so wrong. She is a scapegoat for people’s anxieties around medical gender issues that are confusing.”

Hillman tracks her own “coming out process” as an “intersex,” and her medically chaotic childhood and teen years, in her book Intersex (for Lack of a Better Word.) (Manic D Press.) “I can completely feel the pain of her family,” says Hillman. “People make you feel like a freak. I spent my childhood going from doctor to doctor, always knowing I was different and that something was wrong.”

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