It was one of those messages I get occasionally, this time from a man who had suddenly realized we were just a few blocks away from each other. The writer’s father was at a nearby Northwestern hospital, suffering from a terminal cancer.
“While trying to pass some time I went to ISNA’s Web site only to discover that it was no more. [The Intersex Society of North America] basically saved my life. Wonderful people such as yourself, Cheryl Chase, Anne Fausto-Sterling, etc., have no idea how much of a difference [you made] and how many lives you have deeply affected. THANK YOU! It would be an honor meet you and shake your hand.”
I offered to meet the next morning at the local tea place. And then I started wondering, as I often do with these out-of-the-blue communiqués, if this message was a fake. Was I being set up? Jim’s message made me suspicious because he was obviously a man and yet he said that he was a survivor of androgen insensitivity syndrome.
AIS is a condition in which a human with XY (male-typical) chromosomes and testes develops along a feminine or intersex pathway because his or her cells lack receptors that ordinarily respond to androgens, the masculinizing hormones. Almost no Americans living with AIS were raised as boys. People with complete AIS (cAIS) are born essentially female – female in genitalia, and even less masculinized in terms of their brains than average women like me, since average women produce and respond to the androgens from our adrenal glands. So people with cAIS are inevitably raised as girls.