Years ago, when I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and started getting regular blood tests including hormone panels, I found out that I have very high levels of testosterone for someone afab (assigned female at birth). High levels of testosterone is actually quite common for afab people with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), and this high level manifests in me as male-pattern sweating and intense facial hair (which I sometimes care about and sometimes don’t!).
As I’m wont to do when I find out something medically intriguing about myself, I did some research and discovered that sometimes high levels of testosterone means an afab person has testes, not ovaries, even if the external genitals are female-presenting. People with this “condition” tend to find out when they reach puberty and don’t begin to menstruate.
I found a whole slew of other “conditions,” none of which is in any way life-threatening or really life-altering – just facts of existence that don’t align with society’s binary of sex or gender. Some “conditions” (which I’m putting in quotes because it’s not like it’s a disease, after all, it’s just a state of being) are discovered when an afab person is trying to conceive and finds out she can’t. There are a number of ways a person’s sex organs can be configured, and some of them preclude biological reproduction.
For a hot second, as I Googled and contemplated these results, I was ecstatic – would this mean that I no longer have to grapple with my lack of desire to have children?? Do I now have an excuse so I no longer have to justify myself to others, and to myself?
But of course, by that point in my medical journey (which is long and complex) I had had many ultrasounds of my ovaries, and they are in fact ovaries. Plus I got my period really early and had been menstruating for about ten years at that point…
I was still frum (religious) at that point (wouldn’t begin to seriously dream of leaving for at least another three years after that), and wasn’t yet comfortable with ideas about cis / trans – but this brief foray into communities of intersex individuals (as the sites and support groups I looked at called themselves) was illuminating and exciting.
I no longer identify as fully female. I’ve been calling myself femme-fluid most recently, and that feels right. The journey to discover myself will continue, likely for a long time still – but knowing that “biology” and “nature” is not an excuse for maintaining a binary which is supremely uncomfortable to me is absolutely liberating.
A couple of easy-to-read pieces about biological sex: