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Mighty Hermaphrodite Author on Being Intersex

Hida Viloria, author of the upcoming book Mighty Hermaphrodite, has an inkling of the pain Caster Semenya's going through. Like the South African runner who was tricked into having her sex verified (she's now in hiding and on suicide watch), Viloria is an intersex person.

Formerly known as hermaphrodites, intersex people, says Viloria, are hard to classify either as male or female. Intersex is a group of conditions where there is a discrepancy between the external and internal genitals and the normally corresponding chromosomal makeup. For example, an intersex person can have female chromosomes and ovaries but have male genitalia. Or, they can have male chromosomes and either ambiguous male genitalia or female genitalia. These are just a couple intersex variations. Hear more about Viloria and what she has to say about Semenya.

Unlike Semenya, who, along with the whole world, learned that she didn't have ovaries, Viloria has ovaries, menstruates, and can get pregnant. How is she different? She has a larger than average clitoris and probably more testosterone than your average woman. (She says she remembers being more aggressive than most girls at school.) Because she was raised female and didn't quite realize her body was different until she began dating girls, she evaded the painful "remedies" that many intersex teens have to undergo, like corrective surgeries or hormone therapy.


Viloria recalls an interview on 20/20 in 2002, during which she was disheartened to be featured with a urologist and expert on intersex conditions who supported corrective surgeries in part because society otherwise has a hard time accepting intersex people. (By one estimate, more than 2,000 children are born every year with intersex condition or a disorder of sex development.) "Intersex folks are not some new invention that people need to be 'ready for,' " says Viloria in response to the urologist's attitude. "We exist and always have. Resistance to accepting us has created the mess that Semenya now finds herself in."


Join The Conversation
staple-salad staple-salad 7 years
skigurl, for a long time, in the back of my mind I thought I was a girl trapped in a boy's body because I look different from the porn stars and health class diagrams (small boobs, and a fatty bulge... I look like I have a man's package in tight pants). I never saw a picture of male genitalia until I was in my late teens. I'm 100% female (XX chromosomes, and I have my chart to prove it and my pants are what they "should" be), but... to sheltered people even what it's "supposed" to look like, or "not supposed" to look like can be a mystery...
thisideup thisideup 7 years
Since the only difference between her vagina and others was an over-large clitoris, she probably thought nothing of it until seeing just how large it was in comparison. If she was confident in her self image it's easy to see how she wouldn't realize there was a "problem"
skigurl skigurl 7 years
sorry, to further explain, i don't mean genetics - obviously i don't know about my chromosomes, but i knew my vagina was normal and still know it's normal even though i've never dated a woman i'm only saying this in reference to the following from the story: [she] didn't quite realize her body was different until she began dating girls
skigurl skigurl 7 years
guys, i know sometimes you can't tell but if it's THAT different that you can tell as soon as you see someone elses, then it's different enough to visibly see the difference...then my point is, i've seen enough in my life (god knows where but tv, internet, friends, etc. random stuff) to have been able to compare BEFORE i became sexually active
elizabethsosewn elizabethsosewn 7 years
yeah skigurl, you don't know. Luckily with the internet people have a lot of resources to information and things that their parents would show them (diagrams? maybe even pictures of the real thing since there is so much porn out there) so even if you didn't know, you could get a general feeling of how "relatively normal" you are. and pippins is totally right. How would you know your specific genetics? I can 100% honestly tell you that I ASSUME i am 100% female, and not intersexed. As far as I know i don't have any unusual non-female characteristics, but I've never taken a genetics test. Have you?
pippins_halfling pippins_halfling 7 years
skigurl - people can go their entire lives without knowing they're intersexed. sometimes, their genitals really don't stray from the norm, and they don't realize they're intersexed until they get tested and find out they have an extra (or are missing) chromosome.
skigurl skigurl 7 years
i find it hard to believe you'd never realize your privates looked different how do i know mine look normal when i've never dated a girl? i just know...?!
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
I agree, Chouette.
Chouette4u Chouette4u 7 years
"if she was White, would they have questioned her sex?" Yes. The Soviet Union had quite a few athletes competing as females, but there was much suspicion that some were actually male, and they were white. This led to mandatory gender tests for all female athletes for a period of time If she was male, would they have questioned her sex? Men are naturally faster runners than women, so being female would not be an advantage if she was a female competing against males. Why would anyone want to question her gender if it meant she had been competing (and winning) despite being at a disadvantage?
pippins_halfling pippins_halfling 7 years
I think it's awful that Semenya had to get tested for her sex with the whole world watching. In my personal opinion, the whole mess was racist and sexist; the whole thing makes me wonder: if she was White, would they have questioned her sex? If she was male, would they have questioned her sex? I'm 99.9% sure that the answer to both of those questions is no. It makes me angry.
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