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Uploaded:2013-07-03
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Lindsey continues her interview with Eden Atwood in the supersized edition of Sexplanations. Here, Eden talks about her life and how being intersex has impacted that.

Check out http://www.interfaceproject.org/ to learn more about Eden's work with the community.

Hank's Vlogbrother's Video about Sexuality and its Complexities: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXAoG8vAyzI
You can ask Lindsey Questions at:
http://twitter.com/elleteedee
http://tumblingdoe.tumblr.com

Host: Dr. Lindsey Doe
http://www.youtube.com/sexplanations

Directing/Filming/Editing: Nicholas Jenkins
http://www.youtube.com/thelonelydirector

Titles: Michael Aranda
http://www.youtube.com/michaelaranda

Executive Producer: Hank Green
http://www.youtube.com/hankschannel
[title card]

Dr. Lindsey Doe: How do you become a sexual minority?

Eden Atwood: That's a great question, because I'd never thought I was. In my experience of being an intersex person, I didn't know I had an intersex condition until I was 14 years old, and even then what I was told was not the truth. I found out the truth about what intersex is and what my own intersex condition is in stages, because it was all kept under a lot of, like, cloak and dagger secrecy and shame because people were so afraid of it, and the real big fear was that I'd kill myself if I knew the truth, because the understanding -- the general, broad understanding -- is that there are two options, and if I wasn't one of them then I'm gonna be asked to leave the big giant hokey pokey of life. So until I was about 15 years old, I didn't think I was a sexual minority, and of course I didn't even know that word, because when I was 15 it was 1985.

Lindsey: And we didn't have the concept of sexual minorities?

Eden: You're right. The concept of sexual minorities wasn't there. I mean, I think really... And then even after I knew, even after I found out that I had an intersex condition, because I had been lied to, and been given that cloak of shame, I put it on for myself, so I didn't ever talk about it. I kept it under big wraps. I lied about it -- when I got into sticky situations I would just lie about it. I didn't wanna be a minority. Who's, like, waving their hands and going, "I, I wanna be a minority, pick me!"?

I made a decision on a record that I made in 2002 and I decided "I'm just gonna put it in the liner notes", because I'm still like a recording artist, where you have actual liner notes (jazz). So anyway, I wrote... I put it in the liner notes. I said to the writer, "You can put it in there -- that Eden Atwood had a genetic condition at birth, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. You can put it in. Make a kind of vague and oblique." So I'm brave, but I'm not really that brave. Hm. I'm brave enough; I'm brave-ish.

And nothing happened. No catastrophic thing happened. Nobody called me any names, nobody was ugly to me, nobody wrote anything awful... so then I took another little step and another little step, and then I did a national prime time live interview. I did a big step, and still nothing bad happened to me.

I moved to Chicago when I was 19, and very luckily got this incredible gig that very quickly turned into four nights a week, and the shi-shi-ist club in town... gold star stadium bar. It was in the Playboy building in Chicago and it was gorgeous.... But the whole idea of the jazz thing, or the femme fatale, the chanteuse is this feminine ideal, right? I mean, that's the way I played it. I felt like I had this incredible secret, this incredible secret: I have typically male chromosomes. I had testes inside my body that were taken out when I was 14. What would happen to this ideal that I'm promoting if anybody knew that?

So, couple of years after that, I got a job on a soap opera and flew to New York and was taping this soap opera, but the soap press (from like Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Weekly, Soap Operas Anonymous... all the, whatever, their magazines), they would be downstairs and there would be photographers and journalists. And they started this... there was some rumor going around about an actress on a different show: that she was really a man. I was like, "That is so dumb, but if they find out about me, I'm screwed!" So I quit, 'cause I was too -- plus it sucked --

Lindsey: They don't, they don't know, they don't know what intersexuality is.

Eden: They don't know it. They don't know what "intersex" is, they don't know what "sexual minorities" is. I had never even heard the term "sex positive" until 30 seconds ago (no, that's not true), from your first video.

Lindsey: So, going back to you as an infant. You're born, they identify you as female,

Eden: Yup.

Lindsey: You grow up, you're beautiful, modelling, talented, singing...

Eden: Except that, along the way, I became an intersex activist and started talking about really, you know, difficult things to talk about -- stuff that's really rooted to a lot of past trauma, too. I mean, before the Internet, I found out about my intersex condition and then spent the next 14 years never talking to another person.

Lindsey: How did you find out you were intersex?

Eden: Oh, well, that's a horrible story but I'll do it fast and rapid fire!

So, I was 14. Everybody got their period but I didn't, and I heard there was a shot. You could get a big, huge, like, horse tranquilizer shot of estrogen and it would make you have your period, and I didn't wanna be left behind. It was weird and I felt bad, and so I got the shot but nothing happened. And then they took blood from me, and they were like, "Wow, this kid has a lot of testosterone and very little estrogen (though some testosterone converts to estrogen)." So I did have secondary sexual characteristic development, though not much -- not like now.

So, um, that's when they started having, like, private conversations, where I'm out in the waiting room and they're talking to my mother and then she comes out with really red eyes and looks very unhappy and can't look at me. So my mother decided "we're gonna take her to the very best place in the world; we're not gonna go to St. Jame in Butte" (though I love St. James). We went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the take more blood, and then they develop the story that they've told to all these other girls too: "she never needs to know, so we'll just tell her that she has cancerous ovaries, we're gonna take them out, she'll never have biological children, she's gonna have to take hormone replacement for the rest of her life, and go have a good life".

So, but the truth has a way of seeping out, doesn't it.

So then my relationship with my mother's horrible, because we have an attachment disruption. She has a secret that she's keeping from me, and I feel it but we're not talking about it so it sucks.

So I run away from home. Took the bus down to Mississippi to live with my father, and he was divorcing his fifth wife, who, in a bid to kind of get back at him, told me one night, "You know they lied to you. Your parents lied to you. The truth is, you're really half man, half woman." And that was the first time I ever thought about killing myself, because I thought [snaps fingers] that's it, it would have had to have been that big of a horrible secret for everybody to be acting so weird.

But this was still the time when you could dial 411 and you could say, "I need the number of doctor BLEEP" and you could get their phone number. So I got flown back up to the male clinic, and my mother met me there, and then they gave me a very convoluted, big, gigantic explanation that really went over my head.

But it'd already been done! They'd already made me feel ashamed about my body because they lied to me the first time. That was a bell that can't be unrung. That's like surgery on infants. You can't unring that bell.

Lindsey: Okay, good job.

[clapping]

What do you want people to know?

Eden: I want people to know that intersex exists, that it's always existed, that it will always exist. That there isn't a strict binary, there never has been. That you have more options than you think you have.

I loved Hank Green's video because thinking about, like, a gillion different boxes, enough for everybody on the planet. I think that's so freeing, and I think people don't know that. So, my contribution to that is to say, um, is to combat the shame that was given to me when I was a child, even though it still rankles me sometimes and it's still hard sometimes. I was nervous coming here today -- even though I've done so much performing, it's still nervous-making.

To know that you can be exactly who you are.

[credits]

Lindsey: That was beautiful!

Eden: Wow. I am 44; that's the age of wisdom.