Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stella Walsh

Paul Farhi wrote a really sensitive and smart column about Stella Walsh, IS conditions, and gender testing at the Olympics.

Walsh had no access to steroids in her day. And since her male organs were nonfunctional, Reiner says, she probably had partial or complete androgen resistance, which makes the body unable to produce or use the small amounts of testosterone that most women have. So it's even possible that Walsh was at a disadvantage compared with her competitors.

Interesting reading, and a nice companion to Jenny Boylan's op-ed in The NY Times a few weeks ago.

To fill out your gender Olympics reading, try Zagria's bio of Dora Ratjen.


edith said...


This article reminds me of how many times I have heard the expression GG used. When I hear that expression I am reminded of the character played by Audrey Hepburn in her first major role, Gigi. I wonder how many of us can meet the standard someone like Audrey Hepburn sets for womanhood.

I have avoided this term for a long time now. It sounded hip and respectful the first few times I heard it until I had the opportunity to become more informed of the realities of sex and gender. I would like to continue in a personal way because I am one has departed from what standard gender designations imply since birth, but I read the following critique from a person I consider much better qualified to speak on these issues.

I want to point out a few things before I paste up the following critique of Paul Farhi's article. 1. I don't believe Paul Farhi has a perspective from which an intersex person would be able to speak. 2. I don't believe Dr. Reiner or Eric Villain have such a perspective, either. I don't think any one of them could write as sensitively on the subject of intersex as someone who has lived the life of an intersex person. The person who wrote the following critique is from an intersex background. He gave me permission to use his commentary.

Here is the commentary:

on "A Blurry Line Can Divide Male and Female Athletes"

*A Blurry Line Can Divide Male and Female Athletes*
UPDATE: 3:28 PM, Friday, August 22, 2008
Article located at:

* Comment:*
The title of this article underscores the basic problem, the blurred vision
of medical and legal authorities who define people according to sex
characteristics. Male and female are the two official sexes and for some
reason, the rest of us blur the lines between these pure people. The rest
of us are suffering from abnormalities, are impure, disordered and the
experts in this article, Reiner and Vilain, are two of the main proponents
perpetuating this blurred vision about anyone who deviates from the purity
of "total male" or "total female". Athletics, especially the Olympics has a
long history of racism and sexism. The current debate going on is based on
sexism and intersex people are being used and abused in this debate by a lot
of people who have agendas which have nothing to do with advancing human
rights for intersex people and in fact, what they are doing is a conflict of
interest to the advancement of human rights for intersex people, in my

* Quote from the article:*
Walsh, he wrote, had had a mixture of male and female chromosomes. She had
no internal female reproductive organs, and possessed an underdeveloped and
non-functioning penis, "masculine" breasts and an abnormal urinary opening.
Gerber said that Walsh's sex was likely ambiguous at birth, and that she
could have been raised a boy or a girl. But perhaps mindful of the charged
environment, he added that Walsh "lived and died a female. ... Socially,
culturally and legally, Stella Walsh was accepted as a female for 69 years."

* Comment:*
What an offensive way to describe someone – like a piece of dead meat – who
had "masculine" this and "feminine" that. Abnormal this and abnormal that.
Ambiguous this and ambiguous that. Could have been raised as a boy or a
girl. How many people are described like this? This is so offensive and
disrespectful of Walsh that it is painful to read this.

* Quote from the article:*
People who knew Walsh acknowledged they had been aware of her abnormalities,
and that Walsh had privately harbored doubt and shame about them for years.
"When she grew up, a couple of blocks from where I live, other boys and
girls knew she had these physical deformities," longtime friend Casimir
Bielen told The Washington Post shortly after her death. "She was ridiculed.
... It was common knowledge that she had this accident of nature. She wasn't
100 percent pure female."

* Comment:*
Ah! There we have it. "She wasn't 100 percent pure female." She was
deformed. She was abnormal. How does this type of discourse help anyone
who is born intersexed?

* Quote from the article:*
Another friend, Beverly Perret Conyers, said Walsh mentioned the issue to
her once, albeit briefly and somewhat vaguely. "She asked me if God did this
to her," Conyers said. "I said, 'No, it was a mistake.' "

* Comment:*
It is so nice to have a friend tell you that God didn't do this, that it was
just a mistake. That really is a boost to one's morale.

* Quote from the article:*
Perhaps the most startling, and startled, reaction came from Harry Olson,
who was married to Walsh for about two months in the 1950s. Olson, estranged
from his wife for many years, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "I feel
stupid as hell for marrying her. ... I'm very shook up about all this." He
said he and Walsh had had sex only "a couple of times, and she wouldn't let
me have any lights on."

* Comment:*
Well, I do agree with Olson. He probably is stupid as hell.

* Quote from the article:*
Walsh's condition is uncommon but not unheard of. Severe cases of sexual
abnormality — "testicular feminization," in which a genetic male has some or
all of the characteristics of a female — occur in about one in 20,000
births, according to the National Institutes of Health. Milder sexual
abnormalities, such as an undescended testicle, occur in about 1 percent of
all births.

* Comment:*
How patronizing! How unscientific! "Genetic male"???? What is a "genetic
male"? The National Institutes of Health is responisbile for the program in
the United States which is getting all of these disorders slowly categorized
as congenital birth defects and Vilain has stated that one of the goals of
the new DSD terminology is to discover the genetic cause for each and every
deviation from pure male and female and that will make it easier to weed
these "impurities" out of the gene pool via eugenic abortions (although he
does not state that.) He has stated on many occasions that there might be
ways to "cure" this before birth.

* Quote from the article:*
These abnormalities occur in the developing fetus and go by various medical
names: congenital adrenal hyperplasia and androgen insensitivity syndrome,
among others. The labels for children with mixed anatomical or genetic
characteristics are ever-evolving and much more imprecise: "mosaics,"
"hermaphrodites," "intersex."

* Comment:*
Ever-evolving indeed and Vilain is the main geneticist who thinks that
"disorders of sex development" is PRECISE. It is clear to me that he is

* Quote from the article:*
Parents of intersex children then had few options; they essentially chose
their children's sex and raised them accordingly. In the 1950s, parents
began sending such children to surgeons for genital reconstruction
procedures. But the children often suffered from sexual identity issues as
they matured.

* Comment:*
I wonder why these children "suffered" from sexual identity problems. It
seems that all we have read so far has been about other people constantly
identifying these children as male this or female that, as ambiguous,
abnormal, deformed, "genetically male", etc. As long as medical and legal
authorities continue this binary imposition and prescriptive definitions of
all people, then I don't see any solution to the dilemma facing those of us
who are not "pure" according to the people in charge of the definitions.
Then, we are treated to something that looks very favorable from Reiner and
Vilain, two of the proponents of DSD and the protocols established by the
Chicago Consensus.
This article is a little puff piece for the very people who are in charge of
defining us out of existence.
The sports community, just like the medical community, continues to talk
about all these different "conditions" (never do they consider being male or
female a "condition"). As long as intersex people are defined as having a
medical condition, then I see a very serious conflict of interest in trying
to get rid of gender verification testing. All that could possibly happen
is that the same people, those who don't meet the pure male or pure female
test, won't have to undergo a "gender test" and be humiliated, they will
just rename the test and the same athletes will have to be subjected to
"medical tests to prove they have a certain medical condition" or what is
now called a "disorder of sex development".
This is not the path I want to go down to advance human rights.

This commentary was written by:

Curtis Hinkle
Founder, Organisation Intersex International

I took the opportunity to use Curtis' commentary because I thought his analysis looks at these things from the inside, not as someone observing human beings for the purpose of furthering research which they have used to build their careers on. I told him I didn't think I could write anything as incisive as this.

Here are a couple of interesting articles on the subject of the accuracy of the methods commonly used to determine sex designation:

I am not a sophisticated person. I don't even know if the links I have pasted here will work. If they don't the addresses can be used by anyone interested enough to paste them into their web browser. I am merely a person who has taken an interest in issues of sex and gender in order to determine how I fit or don't fit in with the rest of humanity.

Edith Pilkington

helen_boyd said...

I prefer "women raised female" myself.

edith said...

Is there a catchword or phrase available to describe someone, say, who was one of the thirty percent from Johns Hopkins assigned male, but grew up feeling they weren't? I don't think it would be fair or accurate to describe them as transgender if that would imply having a gender identity disorder. Do you? I think to do so would further marginalize and,much worse, pathologize anyone who identified as female after they already had been exiled. I wonder how many women after being told they weren't what they knew themselves to be, and then raised male would consider it a privilege?

helen_boyd said...

I'm not really clear on your question, Edith. I think Stella Walsh would be referred to as intersex.

edith pilkington said...

Hi Helen,

I wrote that late last night and woke up this morning wondering what I meant. It sounds full of pathos. I question my feelings, wondering how genuine they are and ask myself how much of a right I have to them. I should probably leave it there, otherwise this could get way more complicated than I might have the time for.

Anyway, my question was more or less hypothetical. I don't think it is very well known that there were as many surgical sex reassignments that took place among those born intersex that involved male assignments. The slogan "it's easier to dig a hole than build a pole" is misleading from what I have been reading. There are people available to tell you that it is far from hypothetical and, also, that they believe there wasn't any privilege that arose from their male assignment.

I also think that there is a continuum, but the most profound analysis I have heard of is, that privilege doesn't exist along a line with polar opposites at each end, but that it is "multi-axial". Makes sense to me but you probably heard all this way before I came along.

As far as Stella goes, I got the impression she thought of herself as a woman. No?


edith pilkington said...

I guess you will probably never be able to understand how I got myself in the middle of all this. A friend of mine wrote yesterday asking me if I had a copy of I'm Looking Through for her book group. I had let her borrow my copy of She's Not There a few years ago. I was looking for Jenny Boylan's post about the session she went to in Cork City to send to her. She books a lot of traditional Irish music acts and I thought it would be interesting for her to look at that before she read the book. I think I overwhelmed her.

I saw your post about the article on Stella Walsh and couldn't pass up commenting about it. I am worn out with worry over what I had gotten myself into here. There are so many different and opposing ideas about sex and gender identity. Why are things so complicated?

I'll make sure I tell her about She's Not the Man I Married. I'll work up to that slowly, however. I think I have given her enough to digest for the time being.



starith said...

my god edith...

you are one crazy mofo with way too much time on her hands... umm hummm.!!!

why do people feel a need to eat at an innocent article? I was like wow this bitch is crazy... ummm humm!!! Im so gay,,, like soo gay... and dont take any offence to at all.. I thought it was a nice little read actually... whateves

I think that u r some woman in her mid 30 - 40 who is just over sensitive to everything? cool the fuck off... (by the way im doing a paper on your blog. lol)

edith said...


Why don't you take a slow boat to China. Bring a camera with you. You will then be able to take pictures of the horizon to prove that the earth really is flat, after all. I am sure someone with the powers of analysis you possess wouldn't be fooled by anyone who told you otherwise.