By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
As he was showing me out, Harris handed me a copy of an enormous yellowing bundle of paper; it was his autobiography, I, the Hermaphrodite (or More Lives Than One). He told me he had been shopping it around to publishers for years, but so far, he'd had no serious offers. Given the fantastic tales he'd been spinning all night, I couldn't imagine how any publisher would pass on Harris' story. Christ, his life should have been a best-seller, a miniseries, a major motion picture. But once I began to read the book, it didn't take long to figure out why no mainstream press had picked it up. Written in a style equal parts William Burroughs, Jackie Collins and Ed Wood ("There was little to say to the young man who inadvertently had managed to provide me with a few minutes of carnal delight but which fell short of any consummate gratification"), I, the Hermaphroditeis a book of wonderful, transcendent strangeness. It is also so exhaustingly lurid that reading a single page can leave you feeling like you've just attended a noisy, all-night orgy. In the course of the book, Harris has dalliances with an award-winning playwright, a married minister (and the minister's church organist), a top studio set designer, a "Marine-on-leave porno star," a variety of television and film personalities, a Lebanese smuggler, and many, many more. While I can't help but wonder if more than a bit of artistic license was involved in the book's creation, I've learned that where Harris is concerned, the more impossible something sounds, the more likely it is to be true.
What follows is the most accurate portrait I can offer of a unique individual who wears many faces and never stands still.
A LIFE IN PINK (AND BLUE)
When Lynn Harris was born in an Orange hospital in 1950, he was pronounced female by a doctor who he now says must have been "half-blind." As he grew, Harris was neither an extreme tomboy nor a girly girl; he and his younger sisters played with dolls, with Harris invariably taking on the daddy role. He climbed trees and loved to play games, although he disliked the "rough sports." He took an interest in woodcarving, as well as ballet. The only thing about him that was obviously unusual was his intelligence; by age 3, he could recite Shakespeare.
But early on, Harris knew there was something strange about his body. One day, when he was about 5 years old, he lifted up his dress and tried to ask his mother about the strange thing that was growing between his legs.
"Put your dress down," she hissed, "and don't look at it!"
In many ways, that moment set the tone for Harris' future relationship with his mother. Today he describes her as a "very moralistic Roman Catholic," and when he speaks of her, you can hear a lifetime of hurt and frustration in his voice. Harris grew up dreading his mother's harsh words and worshiping his glamorous, remote, character-actor father. Harris' parents separated when he was still a child, and Harris stayed in Costa Mesa while his father worked in Hollywood, coming down for all-too-infrequent visits. The arrangement left Harris in the hands of his mother, who steadfastly refused to accept his claims that there was anything strange about his body. In a strange way, this was a fortunate turn of events for Harris; had his mother taken him seriously, he probably would have ended up being surgically "corrected." As it happened, Harris pleaded for years until his mother finally took him to an endocrinologist when he was about 11. The doctor performed a brief exam on a fully clothed Harris. Without seeing Harris' budding penis, the doctor agreed with Harris' mother: further diagnostic tests were unnecessary, and treatment was not indicated; the child was clearly a girl. It was another lucky break, although it sure didn't seem that way to Harris at the time.
"You see," Harris' mother gloated. "I told you it was all in your head! Now stop all these wild imaginings!"
But as his teens progressed, it became increasingly difficult for Harris to believe that his problems were simply wild imaginings. He began to grow facial hair, and his voice dropped until it was lower than that of the boys in his class at Newport Harbor High School. His breasts and hips stubbornly refused to blossom, and he had no real periods; every few years, he found a bit of blood in his panties, but that was it. Perhaps most troubling of all was the question of Harris' vagina; he couldn't find one, not even when he looked with a mirror.
Desperately seeking an identity, the young Harris threw himself into acting, where he could hide behind costumes, makeup and characters. He performed in a batch of school plays, usually playing parts—a butch female Army colonel, for instance—with a prophetically androgynous twist. In just a few years, he won 14 acting trophies. He worked hard at being a great actress, almost as hard as he worked at being the proper, pretty young lady his mother wanted him to be. Harris subjected himself to a drag-queen-like daily regimen of two hours of makeup, shaving and padding; he waxed himself so often and bathed in so many toxic depilatories that he now says it's a wonder he has any skin left. To keep his body hidden in gym class, he changed clothes in bathroom stalls and always took care to shower alone.