“Autogynephilia” activist Kiira Triea (Denise Magner) appeared on the GenderTalk radio program on March 20, 2000, where she fabricated an intersex medical history that was later independently confirmed to be false.
Once Magner’s lies were exposed, she attempted to minimize her presence on the GenderTalk site. Below is a record of the changes made, and a transcript of her segment. Magner’s false statements are in bold.
Original program summary:
Kiira Triea, activist and writer, on intersexuality and her own mis-treatment by the psychohormonal research unit at Johns Hopkins in the ’70s.
Altered program summary:
[name removed by request], activist and writer, on intersexuality and her own mis-treatment by the psychohormonal research unit at Johns Hopkins in the ’70s.
Original program notes:
66:06 Kiira Triea, intersexual activist and writer, who works with the Coalition for Intersex Support Activism and Education and does education with academic and clinical folks “translating our world to them.” Kiira talks about her treatment by the psychohormonal research unit at Johns Hopkins in the 70s, and what she feels are the important issues in dealing with intersexuality.
Altered program notes:
66:06 A historically interesting interview on trans medical mis-treatment.
- Kiira Triea, guest
- Nancy Nangeroni, host
- Gordene MacKenzie, host
- Hal Fuller, announcer
Nancy: Kiira Triea is an intersexual activist and writer who works with the Coalition for intersex Support Activism and Education. And she is someone who was at the Psychohormonal Research Unit at Johns Hopkins in the 70’s and is an activist today. Kiira, Welcome to GenderTalk.
Kiira Triea: Hi, Nancy.
Nancy: How are you doing tonight?
Kiira Triea: Fine, thanks.
Gordene: Hi, Kiira, how are you doing?
Kiira Triea: Hi Gordene.
Nancy: So let’s see, you’re an activist and a writer, and it sounds like you went through some hell with John Money back in the 70’s?
Kiira Triea: Ah, well, I’ve written some stuff that has been described as fairly brutal, I guess.
Gordene: I think it was brutally honest. (laughs)
Kiira Triea: Yeah, I guess it wasn’t as brutal as it could have been.
Nancy: So you were an intersexed person?
Kiira Triea: Yes, I was at the Psychohormonal Research Unit at the age of 14. My syndrome was called Progestin Affected Female.
Nancy: What does that mean?
Kiira Triea: It means that my mother was given a drug called Progestin to facilitate and not have an abortion while she was carrying me. It has progestin, which is a synthetic estrogen and has the effect of causing the virilization of the genitals depending on the timing effect in some female fetuses.
Nancy: OK, so you’re going to have to explain that to me again. What does virilization of the genitals mean?
Kiira Triea: Well, it means that it can cause development of the genitals that lie somewhere between an enlarged clitoris to something that looks more like the normal genitals of a male, except lacking of course descended testes and so on.
Nancy: So this acts on what would otherwise have been a female fetus, otherwise a male, or—
Kiira Triea: Well—
Nancy: Or is it hard to say?
Kiira Triea: It primarily, as far as intersex syndromes go, it affects someone who would not have been intersex had she not been exposed to progestin.
Gordene: I see.
Kiira Triea: So um, I was raised as a female until I was two years old, I was raised as a male between the age of two and fourteen. At the age of 14 I began feminizing puberty, because my internal organs are female.
Nancy: So wait a minute, was this an undiagnosed condition?
Kiira Triea: Ah, not really.
Nancy: That’s right, because they switched you at two years old.
Kiira Triea: It was diagnosed, but I was born in 1960 in the Philippine Islands, I’m a Navy brat, so you know, one of those not-so-rare instances where I was treated outside of the treatment methodology, and kind of fell through the cracks until I was 14.
Nancy: There’s a part of me Kiira that just want to—I, my mind is like trying to polarize, I’m… You went from living as… They raised you as a boy for two years, then raised you as a girl, no they raised you as a girl for two years, then as a boy until age 14?
Kiira Triea: Yes, Mm hm.
Nancy: Why did they switch you over?
Kiira Triea: Pardon me?
Nancy: Why did they switch at age two?
Kiira Triea: Well, who knows. (laughs)
Kiira Triea: The histories of many intersex people are very murky, and it’s not at all an unusual history amongst our population. I can think of a number of people who had similar histories.
Kiira Triea: And may of us switch sex at least–
Nancy: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable about this.
Kiira Triea: No, I’m not uncomfortable.
Nancy: OK, good. Please, don’t let me do anything to make you uncomfortable. I mean, not that you control what I do, but—
Gordene: So at age 14, Kiira, then you went to Johns Hopkins?
Kiira Triea: Right, I actually lived in Baltimore.
Kiira Triea: So I, it was very convenient for them. They like their, ah, patients to be close by and sometimes coerced families to move to Baltimore.
Nancy: Oh dear–
Kiira Triea: Or in the area so they could have them close by.
Nancy: Oh boy.
Kiira Triea: So it was very convenient for the Psychohormonal Research Unit that I lived here.
Nancy: So you went there when you began feminizing at 14?
Kiira Triea: Right, right.
Nancy: OK, and they, um, so we’ve got 15 minutes here. What did they do?
Kiira Triea: Well, the interesting thing about Progestin Affected Females is that we are kind of valuable, or we were valuable to Money and his theories in the 70’s, because one of the kind of accepted wisdoms about progestin is that it doesn’t virilize the central nervous system. In other words, to put that colloquially, it doesn’t produce boy brains (laughs).
Nancy: Virilize, is that like masculinize?
Kiira Triea: Yes.
Kiira Triea: So you could have someone with what’s called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or an XX female with CAH, who had equivalent genital virilization, and she might very well want to identify more as a man. Or at least someone who is a bit more genderqueer, but I’ve never met myself any progestin affected people who want to transition and live as men.
Nancy: So in other words you were sort of, without the intervention of this Progestin, you would have proceded to term, been born as a girl, declared as a girl, and raised as a girl, lived as a girl.
Kiira Triea: Yes, yes.
Nancy: But with this virilizing or possibly masculinizing hormone that your mother was given to prevent a spontaneous abortion, I guess?
Kiira Triea: Right. And it doesn’t do that, by the way.
Nancy: Of course not. Y’know, most of this stuff doesn’t work. So that caused them to decide to raise you as a boy, but they waited until age two for some reason to make that decision, but for whatever reason they decided to raise you as a boy.
Kiira Triea: Well, I was kind of in-between. I wasn’t definitely male or definitely female. And these things in the 60’s were pretty arbitrary at times.
Nancy: And than at age 14 when you began feminizing–
Kiira Triea: Then I was at the Psychohormonal Research Unit.
Nancy: How did that feel to you when you were feminizing? Was that welcome or unwelcome?
Kiira Triea: (sighs) You know something, that’s really too complex a question to answer in any real kind of dichotomous way.
Nancy: So there were some aspects that maybe were OK and some aspects that weren’t?
Kiira Triea: Well, it’s something that could be answered if intersex people had access to knowledge about themselves and were raised in some kind of meaningful way as far as their gender and sex identity goes. But when you’ve had the facts of your biological status hidden throughout your entire life, it’s hard to come to a real firm decision about well, is this good or is this bad?
Nancy: I understand. So perhaps in the context of the ways you were misrepresented, it was disturbing to sort out the false ideals that you had been taught, would you say that? The false ideals of gender?
Kiira Triea: You know, I really think that it’s really kind of hard to map intersex reality into a kind of dichotomous gender identity reality.
Nancy: I was just trying to get at how you felt about it as you were entering—
Kiira Triea: Well of course it was confusing, and I tried to hide the fact that I was menstruating for like three months. Finally, I just refused to go into gym class and—
Nancy: That must have been very, very difficult.
Gordene: Because you were in a boy’s gym class.
Kiira Triea: Yeah, I was in a boy’s gym class, and my breasts were developing.
Nancy: Oh my, what a conundrum you were in!
Gordene: And when you got to John Money, it seems that there was a real confusion about gender and sexuality and some of the messages he gave you sound like they were pretty disturbing to you.
Kiira Triea: Well, see, as far as the Pyschohormonal Research Unit goes, and John Money’s theories, it would have been very beneficial to them if I had accepted assignment as a male, that would have been in accordance with his theories about intersex kids or human children in general–
Nancy: That the environment—
Kiira Triea: There was a tabula rosa [sic] for gender identity.
Nancy: And that gender is entirely environmentally determined. So, Gordene was telling me that Money did some absolutely crazy things here, I mean really questionable stuff?
Kiira Triea: Well I believe that’s all part of the cultural attitudes toward intersex children, and it’s partly incorrect to simply demonize Money and say that he was completely nuts and he did those things. He was not exculpable as far as his responsibility toward intersex children goes, but he also was more or less expressing the cultural kind of othering, what I call pseudospeciation of intersex children, by behaving that way.
Nancy: So what you’re saying is that we shouldn’t go after Money for what he did but rather we should consider it symptomatic of the overall cultural attitude.
Kiira Triea: In general, yes.
Nancy: I think that’s entirely fair. I think that’s very reasonable, We all function in the environment and culture that we function in. But that culture did create an environment in which it was OK for Money to do some extraordinary things with you at age 14, like show you a pornographic movie?
Kiira Triea: If you were a child with autism–
Nancy: Is it OK that I’m going here with this?
Kiira Triea: Pardon me?
Nancy: Is it OK that I’m taking this here?
Kiira Triea: Yeah, it’s OK. Sure. And if you were some other child you’d be very concerned as a parent if your child came home and said, “Well, uh, a world-famous therapist cursed at me today, showed me a pornographic movie and took my picture in front of a tile wall without any clothes on.” But because of the weird sort of cultural positioning of intersex people, this is acceptable behavior. And because of Money’s position in our culture, as a preeminent expert about intersexuality, he could, he was free I believe to kind of get out of control as far as confusing his professional life with his personal life.
Nancy: Kiira, you are so intelligent on this, I am kind of, I’m definitely impressed. Let’s talk about the cultural positioning of intersex people. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Because this is the first time I’ve heard that term.
Kiira Triea: There’s a lot to say here. One point I often make is that it’s probably conceptually incorrect to think of intersex people as being strictly ambiguously sexed or in-between sex, or especially expressing bioessentialism, saying well, we’re intersexed, therefore we’re intergendered. I prefer to remove this discourse away from these sorts of cultural memes of sex identity and gender identity into the real world of the actual lives of intersex people and define our cultural positioning in terms of how our culture views us as having been born with not “intersexed” genitals, but different genitals. Because there are lots and lots of intersex people who are not at all between sexes. Some are and some aren’t, but it’s a very big blurry kind of cultural taxonomy. And I prefer a definition that includes everyone and not just someone.
Nancy: In other words, you’d rather be described as someone who was born with genitals of a more unusual variety?
Kiira Triea: Yeah, kind of like someone whose genitals’ configurations falls toward the outside of the bell curve.
Gordene: Well then, what happens, and I don’t know if it’s happening now, though there are some changes, what happens with the medicalization of that in the hospital? What—you said you were confronted with many choices like many young intersexul children are…
Kiira Triea: I’m not sure I quite understand your question—
Gordene: I’m sorry—You were saying on your article, I’m looking at your article that you read, Kiira, that they injected you with testosterone first?
Kiira Triea: Oh, sure. Um.. you know—that.. when you’re in a large teaching hospital and you’re an intersex person, unless your parents protect you, you’re going to have some kind of surgery—you’re going to have either phalloplasty and masculinizing surgery, or at least this was true at the Psychohormonal Reseach Unit where I was.
Nancy: That’s changing today and we know there are people working on that.
Gordene: Not fast enough. (laughs)
Nancy: Sorry, Kiira.
Kiira Triea: I just call it the PRU, but mostly people don’t know what I’m talking about.
Nancy: What’s the PRU? Sher it with me, I don’t get it, what the press release—
Gordene: No think about it P R U, like Toys R Us…
Nancy: Very good, Kiira, very clever.
Kiira Triea: I like that! I never thought of that.
Gordene: I think one of the things you said that really powerfully moved me again in your article on all of this is you said, Why did these people invest so much energy in my genitals? That maybe they were so profoundly awed by them that they started this elaborate treatment stuff…
Nancy: They were in such awe (laughs) that’s great.
Kiira Triea: It’s all so funny, I know
Nancy: Well there are people out there who kind of wish there was more excitement in their life, and having different genitals is certainly interesting.
Gordene: But in all seriousness this is a very mutilating, oftentimes very painful procedure that people go through that takes a long time if ever to recover from. Kiira, what do you have to say about something like that?
Kiira Triea: This is really a profound and upsetting part of my daily life. I consider myself to be pretty well—not recovered, but I have achieved at least some balance. I do a lot of resource and support work with CISAE and my online and real-life support group InterAct. And people who are subjected to this are occasionally will fall down on my doorstep and they are in very, very bad shape. And they can’t go back to Hopkins, and they can’t go back to Columbia Presbyterian, because they’ll be further traumatized. Really, at this point… I’m working with someone here in Baltimore, trying to find a therapist or a counselor, and she’s just going out of her mind. And at times it makes me very angry because the medical community will not address this…
Nancy: It’s interesting that doctors make a fortune, doctors are among the most well-paid professionals out there, and yet–
Kiira Triea: And they make their careers on it.
Nancy: Yeah, exactly, they make their careers on body of people of difference, but when people are hurting, it’s like they’re not there.
Kiira Triea: And in the absence of any empirical evidence whatsoever for the efficacy of this treatment methodology, it continues– even into this new millennium it continues. I was kind of hoping that seven years ago when I came out that we’d have a slam dunk by the year 2000, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.
Nancy: So there’s no proof that this does any good whatsoever, but they’re still doing it.
Kiira Triea: There’s no long-term study. There are very few studies whatsoever on following up intersex children, that shows it has any efficacy other than traumatic sequelae.
Nancy: As Dreger’s book, and certainly John Colapinto’s recent book have pointed out, too, it’s just absolutely happens without the person’s consent, so frequently, and the parents are almost blackmailed into it, terrorized into it, and there are many operations that are secretive, and there’s such a sense of secrecy and shame and pain shrouded in the whole procedure, that it’s remarkable to think that people can get through it. I mean, it’s hideous.
Kiira Triea: Alice’s book was a bright star in my heavens.
Nancy: And it’s opened up the dialogue.
Nancy: For all the listeners out there, it’s called Intersex in the Age of Ethics, by Alice Dreger, and it has Kiira’s article.
Kiira Triea: Seven years ago I was writing dozens of letters and being ignored, being kind of reviled in print myself and other activists were frequently excoriated in print by world-famous doctors. And to finally have Alice’s book come out and see our words be next to such renowned clinicians and academic writers was just—it brought tears to my eyes.
Nancy: That’s wonderful, Kiira.
Nancy: Well, Kiira, we’re down to just like 30 seconds. Is there anything you haven’t said that you’d like to say quickly?
Kiira Triea: No, just thanks so much for having em on the show. I wish we had a little more time.
Gordene: I’m sorry we got to you so late. Sometimes that happens. I apologize, but we’ll have you back again, OK?
Kiira Triea: I’m hip.
Nancy: All right.
Gordene: You keep up the good work!
Nancy: You are, you are. It’s wonderful to hear someone speak with such depth of understanding about this stuff. It’s terrific you’re out there doing this work, Kiira. We’re happy you’re with us.
Kiira Triea: Thanks for the opportunity, y’all.
Gordene: Ok, you take care.
Kiira Triea: Bye-bye now.
Gordene: To crawl out of the wreckage of what medicine–
Nancy: To her credit, she’s not wanting to slam–
Gordene: Because she’s saying it’s a symptom of the culture.
Nancy: Yeah. And se’s working to change things. Good for her.
Hal: A point that I wanted to make but there wasn’t time was how much the doctors’ perception of her sexuality dictated his treatment of which way the child should go.
Gordene: She even says in her article, she talks about John Money asking her if she would rather be F—ed or would rather F— somebody, and those were some of the determining factors at 14 years old, and then she says that John Money showed her a pornographic movie which frightened her—she said what if they showed me a movie of people being soft and tender and loving each other—
Nancy: Now if somebody did this, if somebody in the queer community showed a movie like that to any child anywhere, and it was gotten a hold of by anybody on the right, there’d be hell to pay for it.
Hal: Oh yes.
Nancy: But because the person is supposedly legitimated as a doctor–
Gordene: And they way that intersexual bodies are treated.
Nancy: And you know what, this is still going in, It’s not John Money at Johns Hopkins any more I’m sure, but there’s still people out there doing it. We have to go!
GenderTalk program #250, March 20, 2000.http://www.gendertalk.com/radio/programs/200/gt250.shtml.
Triea K (1997). Power, orgasm, and the Psychohormonal Research Unit. Chrysalis, 2:23-24. (PDF)
Triea K (1997). Interview with Dr. Arika Aiert. Chrysalis, 2:13-15. (PDF)