Cheryl Chase (activist)

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Cheryl Chase
Cheryl Chase.jpg
Intersex activist, Cheryl Chase
Born (1956-08-14) August 14, 1956 (age 57)
New Jersey
Nationality American
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1983);
Sonoma State University (2008)
Occupation Intersex activist
Known for Founding the Intersex Society of North America
Spouse(s) Robin Mathias
Website
http://www.BoLaurent.com
This article refers to the intersex activist; for the American actress, see Cheryl Chase.

Bo Laurent, better known by her pseudonym Cheryl Chase (born August 14, 1956), is an American intersex activist and the founder of the Intersex Society of North America. She began using the names Bo Laurent and Cheryl Chase simultaneously in the 1990s and changed her name legally from Bonnie Sullivan to Bo Laurent in 1995.[1]

Early life[edit]

Chase was born in New Jersey with ambiguous genitalia that baffled doctors. According to the New York Times, her parents originally named her Brian Sullivan, noting that "Chase is XX, and the reason for her intersex condition has never been fully understood."[2] Other sources state her original name was Charlie,[3][4] since until recently Chase preferred to use pseudonyms when referring to her early life.

Chase told Salon she was born with "mixed male/female sex organs"[5] and after the discovery of ovaries and a uterus, a clitoridectomy was performed to remove her oversized clitoris when she was aged 18 months.[6][7] Her parents, as advised by doctors, moved to a new town and raised her as a girl, Bonnie Sullivan. Although she had begun speaking before the operation, she fell silent for six months afterwards.[2]

She told Salon that she developed ovotestis at age 8[3] (later clarified as "the testicular part of her ovo-testes").[8] She found out about the clitoridectomy aged 10, and at age 21 succeeded in gaining access to her medical records[4] (some sources say this occurred in her early thirties[9]).

Education and career[edit]

Chase graduated from MIT with a B.S. in mathematics in 1990. She then studied Japanese at Harvard Extension School[2] and at Middlebury College’s Intensive Summer Language Institute. In 1985, Chase was working as a graphic designer.[10] She then moved to Japan as a visiting scholar at Hiroshima University. She later started a computer software firm near Tokyo.[11] While in Japan, she also did translation work. "I was good at all the hard stuff, the non-emotional stuff that’s considered more masculine."[9] Upon return to the United States, Chase began working as an intersex activist. In 2008, Chase received a M.A. in organization development from Sonoma State University.

Activism[edit]

Chase had a "nervous breakdown" in her mid-30s.[12] She told Salon she once contemplated committing suicide "in front of the mutilating physician who had rendered her genitalia numb and scarred."[5] When she was 35, Chase returned to the U.S. and badgered her mother for answers, then embarked on a search for a fuller understanding of what she had learned. Chase contacted many academic researchers and people with personal experiences of intersex conditions. In 1993, via a letter to the editor published in The Sciences July/August issue, she founded the now-defunct Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) by fiat and asked for people to write to her under her new name, Cheryl Chase, the beginning of the movement to protect the human rights of people born with intersex conditions in the U.S.[13] In the 1990s, she began using the names Bo Laurent and Cheryl Chase simultaneously, sometimes in the same publication.[14] She is the creator of Hermaphrodites Speak! (1995), a 30 minute documentary film in which several intersex people discuss the psychological impact of their conditions and the medical treatment and parenting they received.[15]

In 1998 Chase wrote an amicus brief for the Colombian constitutional court, which was then considering a ruling on surgery for a six-year-old boy with a micropenis. In 2004, Chase and the ISNA persuaded the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to hold hearings on medical procedures for intersex infants. Chase has published commentaries in medical journals[16] and has criticized feminist writers, including Alice Walker and Katha Pollitt, for not putting intersexuality on the feminist agenda, despite their condemnation of female genital cutting in Africa and elsewhere.[17] ISNA was honored with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's 2000 Felipa de Souza Human Rights Award.

Cheryl Chase and Robin Mathias married in California in 2008.

Chase’s activism was a factor in the urology and endocrinology disciplines’ reopening of their consideration of intersex conditions. Chase advocates a more complex view of intersexuality: in particular, that difficulties cannot be eliminated by early genital surgery. In August 2006, Pediatrics published a letter signed by 50 international experts, including Chase, titled "Consensus Statement on the Management of Intersex Disorders". The statement, however, does not discourage surgical interventions, but does emphasize caution:

The surgeon has a responsibility to outline the surgical sequence and subsequent consequences from infancy to adulthood. Only surgeons with expertise in the care of children and specific training in the surgery of DSD should perform these procedures. Surgery should only be considered in cases of severe virilization and be performed in conjunction, when appropriate, with repair of the common urogenital sinus. Because orgasmic function and erectile sensation may be disturbed by clitoral surgery, the surgical procedure should be anatomically based to preserve erectile function and the innervation of the clitoris.[18]

Chase herself believes that surgery should only be done on patients who are able to make an informed choice; that children should be assigned a gender at birth, but parents should be ready to permit gender transition as the child grows; and that parents should be open with their children about their condition. Nevertheless, many medical professionals believe that few parents will make this choice. She also lobbies for the abolition of the word hermaphrodite in favor of disorders of sex development. Among the doctors supporting Chase is Melvin Grumbach, who had cared for her as an infant and later became a leading American pediatric endocrinologist.

Chase has written about being openly lesbian since her 20s.[19] Chase married her partner of five years, Robin Mathias, in San Francisco in 2004. They live on a hobby farm in Sonoma and remarried in 2008 following the In re Marriage Cases.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cheryl Chase (Bo Laurent), Intersex Society of North America (2008). Retrieved July 25, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Weil, Elizabeth (September, 2006). What if It’s (Sort of) a Boy and (Sort of) a Girl? The New York Times Magazine
  3. ^ a b Lehrman, Sally (April 5, 1999). Sex police. Salon.com
  4. ^ a b Phillips, Jen (May 2003). Born Between Two Sexes. Girlfriends
  5. ^ a b Hyena, Hank (December 16, 1999). The micropenis and the giant clitoris. Salon.com
  6. ^ Whites, Robin (November 28, 1997). Intersexuals (interview with Chase). All Things Considered, NPR.
  7. ^ Berreby, David (Sept. 11, 1996). Quelle Différence? Slate
  8. ^ Nataf, Zachary I. (April 1998). Whatever I feel... New Internationalist
  9. ^ a b McDonough, Victoria Tilney (November 23, 2006). Between the lines. Missoula Independent
  10. ^ U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1986). Intellectual property rights in an age of electronics and information, OTA-CIT-302. U.S. Government Printing Office, April. ISBN 1-4289-2303-9
  11. ^ Ward, Fred. "Images for the computer age." National Geographic Magazine vol. 175 (1989). 718-751.
  12. ^ Liu, Shirley. Cheryl Chase. Curve
  13. ^ Chase, Cheryl. Letters from readers. The Sciences July/August 1993, page 25.
  14. ^ Laurent B (1995). Sexual scientists question treatment. in Chase C (ed.) Hermaphrodites with Attitude Fall/Winter 1995-1996, p. 16 ff.
  15. ^ Humpartzoomian R, Rye BJ (2000). Hermaphrodites Speak! (Review). Journal of Sex Research, Aug2000, Vol. 37 Issue 3, p295-298.
  16. ^ Chase, Cheryl. 1999. Rethinking treatment for ambiguous genitalia. Pediatric Nursing 25 (4):451-5
  17. ^ Newitz, Annalee (July 27, 1999). They Wrecked My Genitals! When doctors try to fix what ain't broke . Gettingit.com
  18. ^ Lee, P. A.; C. P. Houk; S. F. Ahmed; I. A. Hughes (2006). "Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders". PEDIATRICS 118 (2): e488–e500. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-0738. ISSN 0031-4005.  open access publication - free to read
  19. ^ Eloise Klein Healy, "Looking for the Amazons," Lesbian Ethics, Spring 1986, 2(1):50-64
  20. ^ Rahimi, Shadi (June 17, 2008). Just Married. The Press Democrat

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