Interview With the Hermaphrodite

The many faces of Lynn Harris

Feeling he had nothing left to lose, Harris took the advice, and almost overnight—"cold turkey," he says—he gave up the womanhood he'd been fighting so long and hard to hold onto. He let his beard grow in, bought a male wardrobe, and changed his middle name from Elizabeth to Edward. (He didn't change his first name, feeling that since the feminine form of Lynn usually ends with an "e," his name was already masculine enough.) He embraced his new role so thoroughly that he even decided to have his name and gender changed on his birth certificate. The Los Angeles Superior Court agreed with his request, but the bureaucrats in Sacramento balked because Harris' petition was not accompanied by the customary affidavit from a doctor stating that Harris had undergone sex-reassignment surgery. Harris complained and was issued a new birth certificate that stated his middle name as Edward but still gave his gender as female, a development that Harris says drove him to "suicidal feelings." He persevered and eventually received a new Certificate of Live Birth for Lynn Edward Harris, male. Harris believes that his case set a precedent for the first legal sex change without surgery.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, Harris has worked a variety of jobs (until recently, he was working as a film-production bookkeeper, although as I was writing this story, he was laid off) while devoting most of his energy to representing the hermaphrodite community. He has appeared frequently on television and radio, as well as in magazines, newspapers and books, and he has become a prominent speaker and essayist on intersex issues. He says he does it partly to educate people about intersexes and partly as a response to all the years of denial and repression he endured.

Although he has reached something of an understanding with his father, Harris and his mother didn't speak for 10 years; it's only now that they are making the first steps toward understanding.

BOTH SIDES NOW

One of the wackier Greek myths involves a Theban named Teiresias. During his youth, Teiresias came upon two snakes coupling, and, perhaps repulsed by the sight of all that wiggly snake love, decided to separate them. Separating a pair of snakes mid-screw sounds like a dumb move under any circumstances, but Teiresias was especially foolhardy, as the ancient Greeks believed that snakes were creatures with strange, magical powers. As soon as he brought his staff down upon the female of the pair, Teiresias found himself transformed into a woman.

He spent a few years that way, until one day when he was out for a stroll, and he came upon the same snakes again. This time, he struck out at the male (apparently he still hadn't gotten over his issues with snakes having sex) and promptly found himself changed back into a man.

Not long after, Zeus and his wife, Hera, were debating whether men or women enjoy sex more. Zeus felt sex was better for women, while Hera believed men got more out of it. They called on Teiresias, since he was the only person who could answer the question from firsthand knowledge. Teiresias responded that women experienced 10 times more pleasure than men, a reply that so infuriated Hera that she blinded him on the spot.

Like Teiresias, Harris has looked at gender from both sides. And like Teiresias, he has come away from the experience with attitudes that are bound to cause controversy.

"Women today are getting greedy," Harris says. "They bitch and moan about maternity leave, and then they bitch and moan if somebody doesn't open the doors for them."

Harris is quick to admit that some of his anger with women is based on envy. "Look, I never asked to be a man, and I do miss the accouterments of womanhood. . . . But these girls today, sometimes I feel like telling them to just shut up and realize how good they've got it."

In his book, Harris describes himself as bisexual, but today, he seems to have little sexual interest in women. "Women are decorative, like pretty statues. I like to look at them, but psychologically, mentally, there's nothing there I'm attracted to."

Harris lives as a man and has relationships with men, but he takes pains to point out that he doesn't consider himself gay.

"I do not understand the gay lifestyle," Harris says. "Most of it seems so warped and distasteful. Those terrible parades and the bathhouses and things like that . . . These gays are beset by vice addictions and social disease, and that all has nothing to do with me. I'm much more mainstream. Besides, I'm still involved with the same gender I've always been involved with, so how could I be gay?"

After years alone, Harris is now seeking someone to share his life with. In recent months, he has placed some personal ads, but so far, the response has been disappointing. "These men see an ad for a hermaphrodite, and they expect some beautiful woman with a penis. They see me, and I'm like a little boy with the wrong equipment. I spoil their fantasy."

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