Pete: Full Interview


This full interview is provided in the format of a written transcript, which can be accessed by clicking the button below. 


Interviewed by Ray Larman
30th March 2019

RL: This is Ray Larman for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It’s the 30th of March 2019 and I’m here with Pete, who is gonna introduce themselves.

P: Hi, I’m in my mid-40s. I’m an intersex person, with something called 49-syndrome, which means I have more chromosomes than normal. I identify as intersex, non-binary, and queer. I have seen quite a lot of change in acceptance, as part of the intersex community, which is quite small – we’re very grateful to the trans community for taking us under their wing, and making sure that we get some publicity and some awareness... I – which wasn’t there five years ago, let alone 10 or 20 years ago. I’ve been active as an activist now since I went to college in the early 1990s. I know then that we used to have a stand at the student union, and there would literally be a semi-circle of people trying to avoid us, around the stand, not coming anywhere near. It was like we had a disease. It was – it was that bad, and that was for the entire rainbow, that wasn’t just for intersex, and to the point that people would say that we didn’t exist – people still say that we don’t exist, which is fine until you have to take your passport or your birth certificate and use it for any kind of ID, because it says male or female and there’s a tick box, and mine says ‘undetermined’. With passports, 20 years ago it was a male passport, cos of what – I look more male, and when I lose weight I do look more male. And now it’s a female passport, and that is literally a civil servant just looking at the photography, phoning me, and saying, ‘could you deal with being female on your passport?’

RL: What does that feel like?

P: It’s – at least they’re now asking. The first time I tried to get a passport, cos I was on a children’s passport and it was because I had to leave the country, not that I was coming in – it took two years before I could get a passport sorted out, because of the problem over the fact that they could not decide whether I was male or female, and it’s going through medical tests, it’s going through things that now they get in trouble for doing to people if they did it, you know… it was – that took two years, but next time it took six months; last year it took nine days, so it is coming on, and thankfully I’m already in the system. But you’re thinking, y’know when you come to renew something, you think, oh my God, you know, here we go, y’know, now what’s going to be thrown at me. Especially, I think – because of the trans community there’s an awful lot more awareness of genders that don’t conform to the typical binary now. So you still get people who get aggressive or defensive – ‘oh you must pick one or the other’, and you’re thinking it’s a biological impossibility actually, I can’t, and I can’t actually show it on my ID, but… there are some people who sort of say, ‘oh yes, I’ve got a daughter like that’, and you’re thinking, ‘you probably haven’t, but at least you know of it in society’.

RL: Pete, could we go back to your childhood? Do you want to say a little bit about that?

P: When I was born – and really until quite recently – the feeling with intersex births was… y’know, Mum never had no idea she was going to have an intersex child, it was like, it’s a boy or girl, and in my case it was they’d have to get back to her because they didn’t know. It caused a huge amount of depression for my mother, and quite a lot of strain within the family. It’s something that we don’t discuss; if it was discussed at all I was told it was dirty, you don’t discuss it, you don’t tell anybody about it. It’s extremely isolating, and I was told that I needed – and I was in hospital for the first eight years of my life, and unfortunately having the extra chromosomes puts quite a lot of load on your internal organs, so I did need to be in hospital, but once they were doing – looking after that they were also changing my body to look more female. The quote that they had then was that it was an awful lot easier to dig a hole – dig a hole instead of craft a pole, which is quite telling of how surgeons had contempt for intersex people, and intersex people are actually 90% male. So they didn’t do a scan – I have a prostate gland, I have internal testes, and I have an internal ovo-teste as well. Y’know, it would of been obvious if they’d done the scan that I was male and not female, I mean, I haven’t got a womb, for example. But it was a case of, we can fix this, and it’s a case of whether you should do something instead of waiting until the child can actually tell you that actually they’re male or female.

Now, in 2015, it was decided – I think it was the EU that decided, that everybody with my syndrome is male. Now, it’s fine, and they did a study, and they included people who hadn’t been operated on or people – and they showed us as a very male group, which is how they want us to be recognised in the future, and of course anybody born after 2015 are recognised 1) as a person, and 2) who they’re meant to be. But it doesn’t help anybody before, born before then. I know from about the year 2000 that they have started doing surgeries on infants that were found to be internally male, to make them look more male externally, but it’s still a fight to the finish. We’re still having systems where I had some operations earlier this year, and only when I was discharged did I realise that they’d taken samples, which they hadn’t asked me to do. And when I challenged it I was told that as an intersex person I don’t actually get any say, I don’t have any personal autonomy, or physical autonomy, to myself, it’s like we’re a biological object or biological subject, we’re not a person. So, and when I pulled this up when I was back on the ward, they looked aghast at me, because they said there was no way in hell they would go for consent, until they checked it all and realised that they didn’t need to go for consent, so that’s why I hadn’t been asked. It was on my discharge notes that they’d taken all these samples. So, it was like, ‘okay!’ The thing is, had they asked, I would’ve let them [laughs] for the studies, but just felt that, a little bit like we are made to feel like we don’t exist, and we shouldn’t be here.

RL: So what are your thoughts now on what happened as a child, about the medical interventions?

P: I wish they hadn’t done it. Nothing will change the fact that chromosomally I’m intersex, and I’m stuck right in the middle of gender and, and biological sex. I wish that if I was of a mind now and I wanted to be ‘him’, I would be allowed to do it. But as it is, my voice is very light, and very high, and it’s basically a non-broken male voice. I can grow a beard – I can grow a beard in the same time that it probably takes most men to grow a beard. I’m very hairy; I’m also incredibly tall, although I’ve got sclerosis – the average age – the average height for us is 6 foot 2, so y’know, we don’t fit in. We’re invisible in the medical records, but we are very visible in public.

RL: How were your teenage years?

P: My teenage years were quite difficult. My family, unfortunately, is quite homophobic and I identified as gay, actually I identified as bi. And I got into relationships with women, and when you have been told that you’re a girl – although I was quite open that, y’know, I’ve got this thing as well – and you are with your partner, and your partner looks – is… female from birth, and they look absolutely nothing like you, I mean, it looks like someone’s taken a, like a hacksaw to you and sewn things in and pumped you full of hormones and sorted this out and… it’s – like you’re a collage of a person, not a real person. They really freak out. They really, really freak out… and… it’s… you get… I got an awful lot of homophobia from the straight community for being gay, but then you get an awful lot of backlash from the rainbow community because they don’t know what they’re dealing with.

RL: Do you want to talk about the activism you’re involved in? You mentioned the college activism when we were talking earlier.

P: I actually ran the, what was called the Rainbow Club at one of the Welsh university colleges in the early 1990s. And I think up to a point I was trying to fit in, I think I was building a group to fit into, and I still didn’t fit in. Still heard people at that point, and sometimes now, saying that, ‘y’know, you don’t exist, you’re not in the bible’ – which quite frankly is one hell of a relief cos they can’t hate you if you’re not in the Bible [laughs] … it’s, y’know, it’s a feeling of being… I can always remember a conversation with friends saying, y’know, ‘you’re a bit odd’, and I thought, ‘yeah, there’s a reason for that’, and then they’d say things like, ‘y’know, you’re really quite aggressive for a woman’. And you’d try… y’know I can’t be a person that I’m not. I’m me, and I’m a person, and I’ve always had to deal with people saying, ‘is that like a bloke or a woman?’ And you basically want the earth to open up and swallow you. Cos for English there isn’t actually a correct answer. I’d rather they didn’t call me ‘it’, but some people have, and I’d rather they weren’t rude. And when people – want to know if I’m male or female I think the best one I’ve ever been told and that was a friend who told me, was ‘say you’re a tree’.

RL: How does that go down?

P: It goes down quite amusingly [laughs] They usually drop it at that point and realise they look a bit silly, y’know, hopefully they drop it at that point. You… I am quite used to people misgendering me. I mean, I think unfortunately people are going to misgender me and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s probably better that people call me by something that they can relate to than, rather than what I can relate to. As long as they’re not being rude [laughs] or aggressive.

RL: So you wouldn’t correct people if they didn’t say the right thing?

P: I wouldn’t correct people because I don’t actually identify as male or female – I can’t.

RL: You mentioned invisibility earlier, can you say a little bit more about that?

P: There’s a huge amount of gender norm; it’s enforced, it’s binary. I think because there are so few trans people, and even less intersex people, it’s – unless someone has actually learnt about it at school, so the younger generations are an awful lot more knowledgeable, but the older ones aren’t. I think it’s a case of you just fit in. I can remember talking to my mother when I was a child saying, ‘I want to be a boy’, and being told I couldn’t tell anybody or I’d be locked away. It was y’know – it’s been – it’s seen as a mental hea- not a mental, a psychiatric issue, when actually it’s a purely biological one.

RL: What is the relationship between kind of the trans community and intersex community?

P: We get on, quite a lot. There’s a lot of support for both communities within both communities… Not all trans are intersex, and not all intersex are trans, I mean, I think that – they’ve done studies now and they’ve found that about – basically they’ve actually managed to talk to us – about 10% of intersex people identify as trans. That’s not because they had an operation and they… don’t agree with the identity they’ve [been] given. They move out of that identity when they realise they’re intersex. An intersex person identifying as trans is an intersex person who’s non-binary identifying as a binary. So it’s the absolute opposite from the trans community. So we can, from time to time, rub each other up the wrong, the wrong walls when we’re actually all trying to, y’know we’d rather not have surgery, but from a trans point of view they’d rather have surgery, I’m all for it, each to their self-determination, you have a right to be who you are and who you want to be, and y’know, please be happy, and please live your lives, but – from time to time, things can get a little bit lost in translation.

RL: Is that on kind of online discussion or is that kind of more face-to-face that these disagreements occur?

P: It’s – the disagreements tend to occur online. There do tend to be people gatekeeping. You don’t know whether you’re dealing with a troll who the next week is going to have a go at somebody else. Unfortunately the intersex community picked up a couple of people who were very vocal of the TERF [trans exclusive radical feminist] community. They really have no place within our community, and in some cases we’re not entirely sure that they are intersex, so – but they’re under the banner, and obviously, without going into the biology of things, and their own medical records, we can’t tell these people, so they hide in that gap. Now, it’s not that we would want to go into their medical records because there’s a certain level/amount of respect – if you say you’re intersex, you’re taken as said, but – I think that… our existence is used as a positive for the trans community, but it is also used as a negative as well, so we tend to be a bit in the middle, and it can be open fire [laughs].

RL: When you were talking before you mentioned about the diversity of Leeds when you lived here in contrast to where you are now, I wondered if you could say a little bit about that?

P: I lived here for 15 years, I lived and worked in Leeds.

RL: When was that?

P: That was up to about five years ago. I – and I’ve come back to do this event, and I actually came back to be able to write on a piece of paper, that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to come back to do this event and have a story recorded. I think in a very diverse city like Leeds, with the diversity there, if you’re part of that diversity yourself you’re an awful lot more accommodating of other people who are part of different diversities around you. The problem with more countryside aspects of Yorkshire is that there isn’t that diversity, and it could be, it can be very much ‘us and them’, to a point where you don’t actually mention you’re in ‘them’ because you don’t need that grief. It’s not cowardice, it’s self-preventi- it’s safety prevention – safety – self-preservation.

RL: Could you tell me your experiences of work, of being in the workplace?

P: I think, now they say you take your full identity to work with you. I think, even five years ago, you couldn’t. I [pause] I did suffer quite a lot of comments. Quite a lot of rumours that were totally untrue, because people couldn’t place me into a binary. I didn’t – I wasn’t involved with the social side of the work, and there was quite a large social side, but I was never included, because they couldn’t include me within the scheme that was there, y’know. And this wasn’t because they knew what the problem was, it was just that I fell outside it. And I missed an awful lot of things because a lot of my colleagues, they’d get married; they’d have children. Intersex people can’t have children, and actually under the UK law we can’t get married, still. Although our existence was used to get the bill through five years ago [the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013], but we’re left out of it, so we – I – I think because we don’t have the protections under the law, we don’t have any protections under the law, we don’t have – as I’ve said earlier – a right to our own body or say what happens to our own body or stop operations or anything like that, and that’s still happening – I’ve got a friend that I’m, I speak to that’s got an intersex child living in Canada, and she says, ‘every time I end up in hospital with the child’ – cos the child’s got problems with breathing – ‘they’re undoing her nappy and looking in her nappy and it’s like you’ve got to stop that’. And that’s like, in Canada, in 2019.

RL: The medical staff are doing that?

P: This is the medical staff, like it’s, y’know, an oddity… It – it does play merry hell with your mental health, and – because you don’t feel like you’re in control of your life. And it’s… [sigh] I think that – I think many people think that when you tell them that you have a chromosomal disorder they think it’s like Down’s Syndrome, and up to a point, it is. But, we’re – we have – I have a degree, y’know; we’re a different kettle of fish to that. I think when we do get discussed by people, when – even if they’re in the know, they discuss us like we’re not in the room. They can be stood next to us, and it can be perfectly fine to have a conversation about somebody who is stood next to you, but they can’t come back to you, and you can say whatever you like. It’s difficult. I mean, admittedly, most of us have very thick skin [laughs].

RL: What do you think – you mentioned mental health before – what do you think the impact has been on your mental health?

P: I think it’s been catastrophic, actually. I mean, I’ve had anxiety since I started school. I was told I was a little girl, went to a convent school and then stopped doing all the girls’ activities, but couldn’t do the boys’ activities either. I was told it was something medically wrong and that I was being protected.

RL: Who was telling you that?

P: The system, the teachers, and my parents. I think… this weird thing about bathrooms has been with us for about – well it’s been with me for 45 years. It’s… I think – it’s like the sticking point. It’s like, you’re here, we want to support you, but we can’t because all the rules – all of the rules – everything else is set up for the majority, and that’s not you.

RL: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

P: Thanks for giving me a voice.

RL: My pleasure.

P: Because no one gives us a voice.

RL: Okay, I have one more question: are you involved in activism now? And if so, what are you – what does it involve?

P: I am – at the moment I have a cousin who’s transitioning, male to female, and because of my family set-up, thankfully her parents are not my parents, I’m very supportive of her. I’m involved voluntarily with the mental health of people who are going through, being attacked, or who are maybe going through the difficulties that I’ve been through. Slightly different context. Thankfully I’m now hearing that, actually people are beginning, at least in the trans community, to be protected under the law. That people are taking them seriously now. I, then I do things like the Trans Remembrance Day, and I do the intersex – the International Intersex Awareness Days and keep that going. I did do, about six years ago, about a year of activism, but then I had to stop because it gets to a point where you’re just being hit from all sides.

RL: Thank you very much.

P: Okay [sounds relieved]