An intimate introduction to an intersex life

An intimate introduction to an intersex life

intersex flag

“If I can play my part in talking about my labels, then people like me can demonstrate you actually can have a gender that is outside of male and female, and that is outside of the binary.”

Lor said this to me in our recent conversation about her life as an intersex person. Keep reading to find out about how she feels in relation to her identity labels, her body, and her hormones.

Meet Lor

Lor wants to remain anonymous and, at the same time, to share some of her personal and intimate experiences of being intersex. Lor has signed off on this article and I feel very lucky and honoured to be able to share this with you.

For context, Lor is an attractive, forty-something, highly successful entrepreneur and business person. Most people who know Lor know her as a woman. But when I asked what her pronouns are, this was her response:

“I’m going to be fun and use ‘him’ and ‘her’. ‘They’ feels like too many people to me, even though I am non-binary.” And laughingly added, “I’m not confused, but I expect that’s going to confuse a lot of people who know me.”

So, in the rest of this article, I use ‘he’ and ‘she’ interchangeably to refer to Lor. If one person having multiple pronouns confuses you or you don’t see why pronouns are worth discussing, I invite you to read this article.

Being Intersex

Lor is intersex, which means he has hormones and genetics that fit outside of the accepted gender binary of male and female. There are currently around 40 different recognised intersex variations, which you can find out about here.

I learned there are approximately as many intersex people as there are ginger people, from Mx Anunnaki Ray, a leading American intersex advocate. The chances are, you have already met at least one intersex person, even if you didn’t know it. For another personal exploration of intersex life and art history, I invite you to listen to this compelling podcast episode.

Lor’s variation occurs in around 1 in 150,000 people. His chromosomes are XY (typically male) and his body shape is, in his own words, “very androgynous”. But, he generally looks female, for reasons you’ll discover shortly. 

Physical presentation in the intersex community can be internal, external, or both. Lor’s phenotype (the way his body physically presents itself) is both female and male. 

Lor's labels

Lor was assigned the gender of female at birth and didn’t find out she was intersex until her forties. Her gender expression is androgynous. Lor’s gender identity is non-binary but she adds, “I’m still finding my way with it as I’m still working this out”.

In relation to Lor’s sexuality, she is attracted to, and dates, women, and has called himself a lesbian most of her life. However, she’s now questioning her sexual orientation label as either a lesbian or possibly something else, as she very much identifies as non-binary or at least not female. Lor was excited to share that she’s also trying out demiboy, as that currently feels like a good fit. (A demiboy is the gender identity of someone who is partly a boy or male and partly something else, which can be female, non-binary, metagender or agender).

Lor is of the opinion that, now that all the emotions and confusion about who she is are in the past, she feels she can drop all these labels and just be herself. That said, she understands that she’ll probably need to wheel the labels out to help other people understand who she is.

Baffling bodies

“When I was growing up I always knew I was different. I knew in my body that I felt totally different to other people. I felt I was in the wrong body.”

As a child, Lor didn’t like to wear dresses, play with girls’ toys, or do anything girly, and describes himself as “feral”. The problems started when Lor was supposed to be going through puberty, but didn’t. Medical tests showed he had a hormone imbalance and he given hormones to kick start his puberty as a girl. Up until this induced puberty, on the inside, he didn’t have any type of discomfort or unease about his body – because it hadn’t changed yet. However, it quickly became clear that everything he felt about not being a girl growing up was actually true despite what the synthetic hormones were doing to his body.

Listening, I had a sense of the anguish, loneliness, and confusion this must have caused, taking Lor further away from himself rather than feeling more at home in his own body. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough already.

Lor became very uncomfortable with the various parts of his body that changed but didn’t know why. As part of the hormonal process, he grew breasts. When I asked how he felt about his breasts now, he shrugged, “I can take them or leave them, really. They don’t really feel like mine”. Looking forward, Lor reckons he will probably reduce or remove his breasts, but is not rushing into any surgery just yet.

Baffling bodies

I asked Lor if taking puberty-inducing hormones helped her feel more like herself, as many trans people say they do. Lor vehemently shook her head, explaining,

“Definitely less like myself, as I was given female hormones. So it was a constant battle. My body physically didn’t accept the treatments and emotionally it was really hard and amplified how bad I felt about myself.”

Earlier in the year, Lor stopped taking hormonal treatments, after a 10-year medical menopause. The induced menopause had been really horrible for her body and she’s really happy to be done with it. She’s also really enjoying watching the changes in her body and wondering where it’ll settle.

When I asked if she had ever felt like herself as an adult, her answer was that it’s almost impossible for her to know. But, she thinks that she’s feeling more like herself than ever before, now she’s off all the hormone treatments. So she’s ready to start sharing her story and telling the truth about who she really is.

Let me conclude by saying a huge thank you to Lor for sharing. If you enjoyed reading about Lor’s life and experience of being intersex, please leave a comment. You can read the next instalment here. This includes his biggest challenges with being intersex, the horrors of intersex corrective surgery, and his bold plans for the future.