Friday, July 04, 2008

Real Orlandos


In Virginia Woolf's novel 1928 Orlando, her hero-heroine had the rare privilege (and curse) of living for 100 years as a man, then for 100 years as a woman. Orlando's soul remains the same, but his body inexplicably changes overnight. He/she is able to experience the world from two vastly different realms, with all their unique delights and hindrances.

The novel was based on Woolf's dear friend and sometime lover, Vita Sackville-West, a happily married woman who in middle age went out of her way to look masculine. (Even Woolf grew appalled by her unplucked brows and bristly moustache.) Like Orlando, Sackville-West was denied ownership of her family's ancestral estate in Kent because she was not a man.


In 1937, one of Vita Sackville-West's servants gave birth to the illegitimate son of the chauffeur at Sissinghurst Castle. The boy was named Gordon Langley Hall, and raised by his grandmother. As an adult, he emigrated to the United States, became a noted author of biographies, and became a woman.


Gordon had begun to menstruate in 1968, and doctors were shocked to discover that the man was actually more woman - he had underdeveloped ovaries and only a rudimentary penis. So Gordon underwent one of the nation's first sexual reassignment surgeries to become Dawn Pepita Hall ("Pepita", interestingly, being the name of the ballet-dancer grandmother of Vita Sackville-West). Once she became a full woman, it seemed the flamboyant writer had never been anything other than a Southern belle.

One year later, however, she deeply offended her South Carolina community by marrying a black mechanic; it was the state's first mixed marriage, and violent acts followed the nuptials: Someone firebombed a crate bearing their wedding gifts, poisoned their dogs, and fired on them in the street.


In 1970, Dawn Langley Simmons did the seemingly impossible by giving birth to a daughter, Natasha. A local promptly broke into the Simmons home, tried to murder the infant, and raped Dawn before throwing her from a third-floor window. The family finally fled South Carolina for New York. The brutal racism that Dawn Langley Simmons faced for a large part of her life is far more shocking than her sex change.


Today, an Oregon man born as a woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl, after sensationalized appearances on Oprah and Larry King Live. He was called the world's first pregnant man. Thomas Beattie's wasn't the first intersex pregnancy, though. In 1999 Matt Rice, born a woman, had a son via artificial insemination. He and his male partner - also born a woman - have raised their son Blake together.


This all raises the question: If you have a uterus, are you really a man? In the cases of Beattie and Rice, the answer is an unequivocal yes. They identify themselves as men and live as men. They are not women. They are not the Third Sex revered in Hinduism. But they are a new kind of man, willing to embrace both aspects of their sexuality and use them for all they have to offer. They are the true Orlandos among us.

10 comments:

Vest said...

He must be a yank, small noddle and noodle sized doodle.
Happy Independance day. x.

The Zombieslayer said...

Well, my mother was a Medical Technologist. She's told me all the stories, of babies being born with tails, both gonads, extra fingers, extra toes, spare parts, you name it.

So nothing's shocking hearing her stories. the thing I can't get out of my head from her stories though was the light bulb someone had put up their anus. A light bulb? Why? Makes the gerbil people seem relatively normal.

SME said...

OMG, between the lightbulb and the tails I think I might be havin' some nightmares tonight...

;D

The Zombieslayer said...

Tails are actually a lot more common than we realize. They just get cut off shortly after birth.

Bridget Jones said...

OK you guys are scaring me.

Thank heavens I'm well out of childbearing years.

Vest said...

Hey Bridget. Just recently an elderly lady in India, 70 plus gave birth to her first child....Hope springs e.......

Vest said...

There is a ban on the removal of canine appendages within our state,(NSW, OZ).(not Testemonials)
I am certain the rule does not apply to humans, otherwise there would be many people, such as men of the cloth, pollies and advocates sporting them, like that of old nick - long red with an arrow head.

Beware of ass scratching Lawyers.

Vest said...

Vest said...
My reply on Tshsmom post "MY CANDIDATE.
Most probably it is because we all are, other wise we with all the answers would be doing their job and being disliked as much as those we dislike now.
Too bad that all the people who know how to run a country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.

7/06/2008 5:40 PM

tweetey30 said...

This book actually sounds pretty good. Interesting if nothing else.

Vest said...

Oh I forgot, Working in Grandma's Restaurant.