Hida Viloria is a pioneering writer, intersex activist and founding director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality. Though s/he was raised as a girl, Viloria realized early on that he/r body was different, eventually discovering the term, "intersex," at age 26 in a San Francisco newspaper. Upon reaching out to other intersex individuals, s/he learned that many, if not most, had experienced some type of trauma, both physical and psychological, from treatments intended to "correct" their bodies.
Driven by he/r desire to do away with these unethical practices, Viloria decided to publicly come out as intersex, on both a national and international scale, telling he/r life story in a new book, Born Both: An Intersex Life. Throughout the text, Viloria reflects on he/r experiences as both a lesbian and intersex individual. In an exclusive OUT excerpt from Born Both, Viloria writes about navigating gendered bathrooms and having h/er gender presentation criticized in a gay club.
Read the preview, below, and purchase Born Both, here.
“Oh dear,” the elderly woman who’s just walked into the restroom says, looking at me, “I guess I didn’t look at the sign.”
“No, you did,” I say.
“I’m a woman,” I say. “Don’t worry.”
She stares at me in disbelief as I walk past her on my way out, and I decide that that’s the last time I’m using a women’s restroom. I’ve been using men’s public restrooms about 90 percent of the time, and it’s been a lot easier than I imagined, since men don’t stare at each other the way women do when they’re in the bathroom. The only challenge is when there are only urinals, in which case I bail.
It works, but it is pretty weird for someone who has been female all her life and isn’t taking testosterone. It’s been three months since I stopped dressing like a girl, and I don’t bother correcting people when they call me “he” or “sir” anymore. I did it every time at rst because I felt compelled to broaden their idea of what women can look like. But now that it’s starting to sink in that I might not be a regular woman anyway, it seems a little strange to force people to say “she.” Especially when even my own girlfriend doesn’t see me that way.
Christina and I are officially an item by now, and I’m heading over to her place tonight, as usual. When I get there, her gay roommate, Jeremy, answers the door. He’s wearing magenta stretch pants and a striped tank top.
“Hey, do you guys wanna go to Litterbox tonight?” he asks me. “Suzy can drive.”
Suzy is his straight raver friend, and she pops out of his bedroom a second later. She’s wearing a turquoise jumpsuit and a gigantic sunflower necklace.
“Hey, you!” she shouts when she sees me, popping a bubblegum bubble and handing me a giant balloon. “You wanna whippit?”
“Sure,” I answer.
“Where’s Christina?” I ask as I exhale.
He points my head toward the kitchen and runs off. I hear him talk her into going out tonight as I oat off to giggle land with Suzy. A half hour later we all head to Litterbox in Suzy’s car.
After we arrive, and as we’re squeezing our way past dozens of glittery, sweaty bodies to get to the back bar, I notice an unusually straight-looking woman eyeing me. She’s wearing a little black dress, stockings, heels, and full makeup under a well-groomed blond bob. She stands out like a nun at a strip club in this place, and I register the look in her eyes as one of total intoxication.
We finally get to the bar, and Christina and Suzy handle the drink orders, leaving Jeremy and me to our own devices. We’ve scarcely made our first catty observation when the woman comes over.
“Hi. Are you two gay?” she asks.
“Yes...” we answer hesitantly, surprised to be asked this question at a gay club.
Then she leans her face in close to mine and says, “Does that mean you’ve never been attracted to a woman?”
For a moment I don’t understand what she means. Then it hits me: she thinks I’m a gay man too. For years I’ve had straight men trying to convert me into a straight woman, but I’ve never had a straight woman try to convert me into a straight man.
I look over at Jeremy, who seems equally amused.
“Well,” I say, deciding to get it over with, “I actually am a woman.” “Ha!” she says, bursting out laughing. “You are not!”
“Yeah, I am,” I assert.
I notice another woman hovering behind her.
“No, you’re not. I’m a woman,” she continues. “I have breasts.”
“I have breasts too,” I say. “They’re just small.”
“Oh my god, you do not!” she says loudly. She reaches her hand out and runs it up and down my chest to check.
I’m taken aback that she just felt me up. If she were a guy, or a more intimidating woman, I might even feel violated.
“These are breasts,” she then says, grabbing her own and pushing them together for maximum impact.
Apparently feeling me up hadn’t changed her perception. “Look, I don’t really care what you think,” I tell her, “and I don’t even know why you’re here. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a gay club.”
“I am gay. I’m a lesbian and that’s my girlfriend,” she says, pointing at the woman lurking in the background.
We’ve both been fooled because I would never have thought she was a lesbian. But if she is such a lesbian, why is she hitting on someone she thinks is a gay man? I presume it’s one of those weird acting-different-when-you’re-drunk things.
“Okay, you’re a lesbian, whatever,” I sigh, my patience wearing thin.
“Yeah, I’m a lesbian and I’m a real woman. I can have babies.”
“I can have babies too,” I respond, hoping to burst her bubble of self-righteous ignorance.
She’s yelling now, just inches away from my face. I catch a few choice words as I watch her unravel before me.
“I have a womb...”
“Real women can...”
Her arms are flailing on either side of me as she rants on furiously. She’s too close and too angry and it’s freaking me out. Before I realize what’s happening, my hands fly up to her throat, clasp around it, and I hear myself yelling, “Back off, bitch! You’re starting to really annoy me!”
In an instant the color drains from her face. I didn’t squeeze her throat—I just held it—but I quickly let it go and allow my hands to drop to my sides. My words hang in the air like a bubble before it pops and disappears.
I suddenly remember where I am when I see Jeremy’s face, and her girlfriend’s, frozen in expressions I can’t quite place. Shock? Fear? Concern? A combination of all three?
Other faces are staring as well. I realize how bad this must look to someone who didn’t see the buildup, regardless of whether I look like a man or not.
“Okaaay...” she says, backing away slowly toward her girlfriend.
I turn to Jeremy and we stare at each other in wide-eyed amazement.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“I can’t believe I did that. I put my hands around her neck. And I called her a bitch. I hate that word.”
“I know, but she was in your face freaking out on you. I think it was just a reflex to make it stop.”
“Yeah, I guess, but I’m freaked out now. I didn’t even realize it was happening until I heard the words coming out of my mouth.”
Christina and Suzy reemerge with our drinks, totally oblivious. Jeremy reenacts the whole thing for them, and it takes on epic comic proportions, which helps me calm down. But I can still hear the girl talking to her girlfriend just a few feet away.
“I can’t believe he was so mean to me,” she’s saying. “Why was he so mean to me?”
“She still thinks I’m a guy,” I marvel to Jeremy. “I almost want to ash her my pussy, but that might just add to her confusion.”
“Girl, you just gotta face it: you’re a full-fledged androgyne. You’re the child Bowie and Grace Jones would’ve had.”
“Thanks, that’s flattering,” I say, laughing, “but what am I supposed to do if even lesbians think I’m a man? Even after feeling me up?”
Looking like this is making people think I’m something I’m not, but what are my options? Go back to girls’ clothes, even though I’m enjoying wearing men’s? Throw on some dangly earrings just so peo- ple will identify me as female? That would feel stupid; plus, I’m not really a regular woman anyway. The problem is there is no way to show people what I really am.