Phil: Hey, this is Phil aka Corinne.
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you are listening to The I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
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Alex: On today’s podcast we are talking about being intersex. We heard a story from Maria Tridas, who identifies as both a lesbian and as intersex about how she kind of came to terms with her identity and started talking about it and owning it in a more public way.
Maria: My name is Maria Tridas and I’m from St. Petersburg, Florida. When I was 12 years old, I started taking hormone replacement therapy because my parents just kind of matter of fact, told me that I wasn’t built like other girls. So when other girls were starting to get their periods and really starting to grow into what it means to be a woman, I kind of matter of fact got these pills that I was to take every single day. That’s the way I was created. There’s nothing wrong with that but that was who I was. Six years later, I’m in the same doctor’s office that I visited every month growing up until that point. Except this one felt a little bit more serious. Both my parents were there and were sitting in the doctor’s office. I knew something had to be different.
The doctor sort of just starts to tell me that I have XY chromosomes and starts revealing all these little bits and pieces that I couldn’t exactly tell you now what she told me. But something that I would later find out which meant that I was intersex. The doctor told me that I was born with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome. So after I found out that I in fact had XY chromosomes with little to no knowledge of how to discuss what was going on in my body, I went to college and decided that I was going to be the best girl that I knew how to be. And that was for me, was joining a sorority. And I thought that if I joined a sorority and spent time with a group of women, and I was the most feminine girl that I could be, the clothes and the hair, and that would kind of, the outer shell of feminine Maria would sort of sink to chromosomal level of XY intersex Maria.
But then I realized also that I like women. And so my journey in college began as this ultra feminine straight woman, and ended with me as coming out and being a super proud lesbian and sort of really beginning my journey into queerdom. I definitely used being a lesbian as sort of a distraction because I had to come out and come to terms with being gay and getting everyone in my life caught up to speed on who I was as a lesbian. But that all sort of changed when I met this girl in grad school and things started to get serious. I knew that I was going to have to eventually tell her and lesbians talk about everything. The question of why I didn’t have a period came up quickly. So with the bits and pieces of information that I gave her, she was able to put together her own Google search.
She rightfully had questions about the things she read on the internet. And at that point I knew that not only did I need to give her some answers, but the way that I needed to do that was learn about myself and face this beast head on and just learn and finally take this time to actually learn about who I am. My parents and I sat down at my kitchen table. I felt like I was doing my middle school homework. I had a piece of printer paper and a pencil. And I wrote down intersex, colon, definition and basically made a flow chart of what happens when a baby’s conceived, how a baby develops, what happens when you respond to certain hormones that your body produces when you don’t respond to certain hormones, how a body is created. I sort of had my first biology lesson in learning about and, like a really good test that I studied for. I got in my car and we lived about a half hour away. So I drove the whole way thinking exactly what I was going to say to her.
I pulled up to her house and I get out of the car. She’s already waiting for me. And we just went on a really long walk. The conversation luckily went way better than I ever imagined it would have. For as nervous as I was, it was not necessary because she learned about it. And then we were able to kind of just move on. It was calming in how matter of fact she took the news. She didn’t really care. That sort of kick started my confidence to want to learn more about it. In being with her, while everything maybe wasn’t always as very good, the best thing she ever did for me was help me begin my journey of being a confident intersex woman.
I’ll talk about it all the time now. Not that I’m, “Hey, I’m Maria, I’m intersex.” It would just be, “Hey, I’m Maria and oh yeah, I happen to like girls. I happen to be intersex. I happen to be a Latina. I happen to eat pizza.” Once you educate yourself about what it means to be intersex, you realize that it relates to the larger picture of the world and that everything so diverse and that humans are diverse. Gender is diverse. It’s all on a spectrum. When you give yourself the knowledge about who you are at your core, it allows you to build your outer shell, that person that you are presenting to the world in the most beautiful, honest and confident way.
Alex: Today, she’s back to catch up. Please welcome Maria Tridas.
Maria: Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here and to talk about the story. I was really nervous to come up with a story back when I was first asked. I was like, “What story relates?” That was the one that just stuck out the most. Because I think so much of the journey is a little bit rough. It’s hard to like tell those stories sometimes.
Alex: Absolutely. This story was recorded in 2017. A lot has happened since. How are you doing these days as we talk to you considering the strange state of the world?
Maria: Overall, I think net positive. 2017 was so far like in the past. We were a year into the craziness and… I’ll say it again, net positive. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself since that video. I think I stand behind everything. But I’ve learned even more about myself since then. It’s been good. It’s not been without its challenges, but collectively we’re all kind of going through it at the moment. We’re never alone in that.
Phil: So true. It’s interesting to have the video for you to look back on and just realize how far you’ve come since then. Because you’re right. 2017 feels like ages ago. So it’s an amazing day to look back and go Wow. Do you have any fun memories from the day that you recorded with us in 2017?
Maria: I was really nervous. I think I had kind of recently moved into my apartment too. It’s really small. I wasn’t familiar with the noise levels that are here. I’m in Bushwick in Brooklyn and there’s like a cement truck factory around the corner. It’s loud. And I work in film production too. So I was nervous that I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t providing a space for video creatives to come in. And then I was like, oh my gosh, what am I going to talk about? I think that was before I had AC in my apartment maybe, and it was hot. Like I said I was nervous…since 2017, I’ve become a lot less nervous to talk about these things, talk about myself. I was nervous, but everybody made me feel really great. And it felt really good to tell that story. And to talk about, to be a little bit vulnerable I guess. It felt good to be vulnerable. So yeah, it felt like a unique experience.
Alex: Speaking of being vulnerable, you really unpacked so many different aspects of your story. When you kick off your story, you’re talking about being 12 years old, going on hormone therapy. And you say that your parents told you that you weren’t built like other girls. Take us back to that moment. What were you feeling as your parents were talking to you about this?
Maria: I’m surprised the video was only six minutes long because I feel like, I was getting my haircut yesterday and talking to the person who was cutting my hair about being intersex and I told them you either have to give the 30 second [inaudible] or it’s like a 15 minute spiel. Good that we cut it down to six minutes. At that time when I first found out, I didn’t really have a thought because I feel like as a kid, I had a good relationship with my parents. They were like this is how you were made. We tied a lot of it into religion. So it was like God made you this way. We weren’t like religious, but it was an easy way to say God made you this way.
I didn’t really question it at first. And I started hormone replacement therapy and it was just sort of something that I was told that I needed to do. I definitely felt different as a kid. There are probably a host of reasons for that. But I think that was like the beginning of it and just not having answers as to why I felt different. And knowing that things that happened to me in the past, like surgeries that I had gotten when I was younger and things like that, all kind of were connected to this thing that I didn’t really know about so I have unpacked that in later in life. So it’s like hard to say what I was feeling back then. But it’s just feeling different and I think we’ve probably all felt that it’s just not knowing why you feel so different.
Phil: I totally understand. I know that there are people listening who don’t know what being intersex means. And I know that people have Google and I expect them to do their research and sort of look this up. But can you sort of explain to people what it is?
Maria: Sure. Yeah. And sometimes Google can be a little bit more confusing than from someone. So intersex is an umbrella term for individuals who don’t fit the typical definition of what it means to be male or female. And that can be for a variety of things like individuals born with XY chromosomes. That have ambiguous genitalia, different hormone responses, and different hormone productions. It’s basically a different way to express gender. And it’s a naturally occurring thing. Our variation in humans.
Alex: Again, we encourage all of our listeners to go to Google and seek out different resources to better understand what this means. And also not to go around asking people about their identities. But for the sake of this context, again, to understand your story a little better, Maria, one of the things you talk about is that you said the doctor told you that you were born with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome. Would you just mind explaining what that means?
Maria: There are over 30 different variations of intersex individuals, and I guess it’s important to note that when we’re talking about intersex people, 1.7% of the population is intersex. And in a big comparison that people give is that the same number as naturally occurring [inaudible]. So complete androgen insensitivity syndrome is one of the variations that fall under that 1.7% of the population that identifies as intersex. And that just means that my body has certain parts. I have XY chromosomes. I had ambiguous genitalia. I was operated on as a child, which is something that we can probably dive into later. But it’s just one of the variations of intersex individuals.
A funny thing that I’ve discovered since 2017 was I was out to lunch with another intersex person. And they actually think that I’m not complete androgen insensitivity syndrome. But that I’m actually partial androgen insensitivity syndrome because of some of the characteristics that I show, like I have more body hair, people with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome tend not to have body hair. That’s just one of the characteristics. It’s funny to be self-diagnosed. But oftentimes intersex people know more than doctors do because of the way that it’s taught in medical schools.
Phil: It sounds for your story that your parents were very supportive and ready to help you cope in whatever way they could. They wanted to support you make sure that you were okay. And by the end of your college years, you realized you were a lesbian, how did they take that news?
Maria: They took it pretty well. I think for them, they were like, well, is this tied to her being intersex? And that was before I knew a lot about it. It was kind of a thought that I had too. And it was a before I had a better understanding of what gender identity, sexuality, how those coexist or not, this is back in 2012, when I came out as a lesbian. I think it was not harder for my dad. It was just felt more different for my dad. But overall, I think it’s been a really positive experience. They were super supportive and I’m really grateful for that because I know not everybody has that kind of support system from their immediate family. As I’ve come out as being intersex and kind of discovering my gender identity. Those conversations have been almost more difficult just because gender identity can be so complex, I think. And sexuality also can be complex, but it’s a little more digestible I think for them.
Alex: One of the things that you say in this video, how through a relationship and research about your own body, you found a path to being what you call at the time, a confident intersex woman. How did you find that confidence? One of the things you also said was that gender is very complex. I know it evolves all the time. So I don’t know. I don’t want to presume that you are still identifying with exactly those terms, but how did you find that confidence? How are you thinking of this all today?
Maria: Honestly, it was through validation. I got a lot of confidence through the validation and I think getting the confidence to initially tell my partner at the time, I think was just understanding. And I think trying to do the research myself and having those initial conversations with my parents was really helpful. And I guess feeling the validation from them, I think the support from them helped a lot with the confidence and just… I think I’ve always been kind of a confident person and trying to understand who I am, to be happy, I guess.
I feel like I’ve always, even as a kid, strive to be happy. And I feel like in doing that, discovering myself, I think is the ultimate path to happiness, like discovering who you are. And since then, that confidence has led to discovering more about my gender identity and learning more and changing my pronouns. I now use she/they pronouns. And I think that my relationship with my pronouns has grown and my, just how I see myself. So the confidence has continued again, not without its hardships, but…
Phil: Two part question for you. What are some of the common misconceptions you hear about being born intersex, and also what are the real life ramifications of these misconceptions?
Maria: I guess it’s less of a misconception and more of just a total misunderstanding. Losing bodily autonomy at a young age without your consent. What does that do to a person, from not only the physical ramifications, but the mental. And I think a lot of times when I feel grief, I feel misunderstood. And I think we all feel misunderstood. And so I feel good in that, but then sometimes it just feels like a deeper hole. You’ll never fully be seen because people can’t fully understand part of you. And so that’s why part of my activism is talking about my identity and being open to that because I want people to not misunderstand who we are. And understand that people are people. I think a lot of world issues could be solved with like having a little bit more empathy.
And then the ramifications from the misunderstanding leads to larger issues of intersex people being left out of conversations. The same bills that are targeting trans people, harm intersex people. It’s usually language included in those bills that then get swept under the rug and then intersex people get left out of the conversation. Not only by straight people, but even people in the queer community because it’s misunderstood. Because it does take a lot to actually educate yourself on it. The discussions when you talk about being intersex it’s so medicalized. Sometimes I feel like if I’m not super focused, I can be a little bit all over the place when I’m talking about my self and it’s hard to be like on it all the time when you have to talk about yourself.
Alex: One of the things you mentioned is the loss of autonomy that happens to lots of intersex children, which just made me think about the absolutely barbaric medical intervention that intersex kids are subject to. And actually the resource partner for your original story was interACT, which is a nonprofit that legally advocates for the human rights of children born with intersex traits. Many intersex children are subjected to surgeries with little regard for their own identities or how it’ll impact them later on in life. You mentioned that you, as well, experienced this. What are the consequences of these procedures? Where do we stand with the efforts to stop these procedures from happening?
Maria: Certainly since 2017, there have been like really large strides. I think intersex visibility on social media and whatnot. But, I think the medical community is seeing it. There’s no room for dogma in science. It’s hard for doctors to change what they’ve learned from 50 years ago. But it is outdated. Interact is still on the ground doing the thing, like really a great resource. Intersex Justice Project was started by a couple of intersex individuals of color who are, they’ve been activists for years and super vocal. They themselves are a really great resource. I think intersex activism on social media overall has been really incredible. The folks at Intersex Justice Project successfully protested, or, gathered outside of Lurie children’s hospital in Chicago, and they actually changed their policy. It’s come a long way, I think, but obviously still room for improvement.
Phil: Maria what advice would you give to a young intersex person looking for a community?
Maria: Social media is a great resource for finding community. For anybody, I think anybody can find their little on the internet. And there are a lot of resource groups. Interact is a great resource. As I said earlier, it can feel really isolating sometimes to be intersex. And so just to have people that understand you. Another piece of advice I would give is to take time and understanding yourself, the cliche, “It gets better” – it really does. Find your community, even if it’s digital, it’s good to have people online to look to and see yourself.
Alex: One of the things you said earlier in this conversation is that even within the LGBTQIA+ community, there’s a lot of misunderstanding or oftentimes intersex voices just are not at the table. How would you like to see more intersex voices be part of the table and be a louder part of the conversation?
Maria: One of the things I said earlier was I think if everybody could have a little bit more empathy, I think that’s the start. Just seeing people and meeting people where they’re at. And I think it’s important to include intersex folks when you’re talking about trans and non-binary people. I think so often when people, even activists are talking about trans issues or non-binary issues, they’ll say trans and non-binary. These are the exact same that are affecting intersex people. And it feels like a lot of intersex people are trans and a lot of intersex people are non-binary and I think we can say, oh well, they are lumped in there. But when I see a big non-binary activist going viral and not including intersex people, it just feels like, I almost feel bad because I want to be happy for these things that are being talked about, but it’s just including intersex people in the conversation is really important.
Another small thing is when you’re writing LGBTQ+ include that I include the “I” as much as I can. Having someone at the table to be there for those conversations, because our experiences are unique and can really only be told by an intersex person. Like so many other stories that are being told. I think it’s really important to have that kind of point of view.
Phil: We talked a lot about what it means to be intersex. But, where would you like to see the focus and conversation go next when it comes to intersex issues?
Maria: I think I just want to see the conversations around gender identity be a little bit more real and honest. Obviously I think number one is to end intersex surgery on infants and young children, number one. And I think doing that, there’s a variety of ways we can get to that. And I think it takes, all types of activists and there’s so many great intersex activists doing the work. I talked about this in my Driftwood video that we’re all kind of on a… humans are on a spectrum from top to tail. No one has the same nose, no one has the same eyes, no one has the same genitals. And chromosomes and the way that our bodies behave are all different, every single one of us.
I think just having a better understanding of the variety of life and that intersex people are such like an important part of that. Much like queer people in general, are such an important part of the variety and spice of life. I think intersex people are, you can see it in our genetics. I should say, not all intersex people identify as queer, but I feel like my queerness is shown on a medical report which is weird and also important.
I used to be like identifier as intersex lesbian, but now I think I’ve switched lesbian to dyke. I’m an intersex dyke. That is my title now. So I’m still sitting in the same living room, different couch though. But the story is still the same. It was interesting. I re-watched the story and I was nervous about it at the time, but I was actually really proud of it. Like looking back and watching it, I was really nervous. I don’t get nervous about talk about it really anymore, but like back then, I was so nervous that I wouldn’t say the right thing. And I don’t know if whoever runs a YouTube channel monitors the comments or whatever, but they’re all very positive. So, actually I know, shocking that they are positive. And so I’m like, I’m going to use this as an ego boost if I ever need it, just go read these like really comments. So it was great to re-watch the video. I feel like I’ve also come a long way since 2017 when it was filmed, so… in a lot of ways. Yeah.
Alex: Hear, hear! Well, as we start to wind down, are there any resources that you can let our listeners know if they are intersex and looking for support and or information, if they’re trying to support an intersex pal or family member, anything like that? I know you named some organizations earlier.
Maria: Instagram is… is a great… is one of the best resources. I think… it’s like quick facts, you can find intersex activists. You can find organizations. Yeah. And interACT. InterACT is a great resource. There are a lot of – I’ve done a few podcasts myself, so there are a lot of podcasts. YouTube is a great resource. There is an intersex activist named Emily who does a Ted talk on being intersex. And I think that is probably the best piece of intersex content out there, actually. It’s really great. They’re an amazing speaker. The internet. The internet is your best resource and your best friend. It’s a lot less scary to Google intersex now than it was back in 2012.
Phil: I can’t believe you didn’t mention the video you did. You did a video yourself.
Maria: Okay. Well.
Phil: That one was so good. It was so good for their magazine. You did a fantastic video for that magazine. And I would encourage people to look that up on YouTube.
Maria: That is… I’ve had a couple people reach out and say, I Googled it and that was one of the first things that comes up. So it is one of the first things that comes up as a video that I did, and it’s basically the definition… the definition of intersex and kind history of it. And it’s a pretty good starter. Thank you, that video’s a good resource too.
Phil: Awesome. So before we say goodbye, where can our listeners find you? Where are you on social media? Where can they find you online?
Maria: Follow me on Instagram. That’s probably where I’m the most active. I’m not huge on social media, but at Maria Tridas which is my name for both Instagram and Twitter. Instagram’s the best way, please say hi. I love talking about this kind of stuff.
Phil: Maria, it was so wonderful talking to you today.
Alex: [crosstalk] You’re the best. Thank you so much for joining us. Always a delight.
Maria: Thank you both so much. This is great. I really appreciate any time I get the opportunity to talk about this stuff, especially on such a cool platform. So thank you both. This was a really lovely chat.
Phil: The I’m From Driftwood Podcast is hosted by Phil aka Corinne.
Alex: And Alex Berg. And is produced by Anddy Egan-Thorpe. It’s recorded as a program of I’m From Driftwood, the LGBTQAI+ story archive.
Phil: Its mission is to send a life saving message to queer and trans people everywhere. You are not alone.
Alex: I’m from Driftwood’s Founder and Executive Director is Nathan Manske. Program director is Damien Mittlefehldt.
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Alex: The stories you heard today are available in their entirety, plus thousands more at imfromdriftwood.org.
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Phil: This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Alex: In partnership with the City Council.
Phil: Additional funding is provided by the Humanities New York SHARP Grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Alex: Thanks for listening y’all.