Today's post is from Matt Kailey, the author of Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide the Transsexual Experience (Beacon Press, 2005), the editor of Focus on the Fabulous: Colorado GLBT Voices (Johnson Books, 2007), and the managing editor of Out Front Colorado, Colorado's oldest and largest GLBT publication.
The online teaser was intriguing: '"Human monsters" a reality.' Having lived through the first few years of the 21st century, I wholeheartedly agreed. But when I clicked on the link, I discovered that it led not to a story about current political figures, but to a CNN article about an '80s Olympic athlete who was unknowingly given steroids by her coaches in order to enhance her performance.
East German shot putter Heidi Krieger thought she was taking vitamins, but later discovered, as her body began to masculinize, that she was being given the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol, a drug that, according to the article, "changed a woman into a man." As Krieger continued on the steroids, she noted changes not only in her physical appearance, but also in her feelings.
"I felt much more attracted to women and just felt like a man. But I knew I was not (a) lesbian," Krieger told CNN.
Good thinking, because lesbians don't feel like men. But I digress.
In 1997, Krieger had a "sex-change operation" and became Andreas Krieger. Details of this particular "operation" were not made public, and I would like to know more, because I find it fascinating that there is one magical "sex-change operation" that will do the trick. But I digress. Krieger is now married and runs an army surplus store. He says he does not want to be seen as a victim, but he presents himself as quite unhappy with his situation and with the circumstances surrounding his "sex-change operation."
To say that what happened to Heidi Krieger is extremely unfortunate would be an understatement. No one should be given anabolic steroids or any life-changing medication without that person's knowledge and consent. But something in the CNN story didn't add up.
While the photographs of Krieger that were shown in an accompanying CNN video definitely showed the masculinizing effects of the steroids over time, they did not appear to be so pronounced that Krieger could not have continued to live his life as a female had he chosen to do so. Some—but definitely not all—of the changes that masculinizing steroids make in a female are reversible, or at least mitigated, by discontinuing use.
Another East German female athlete was interviewed for the video, and she was unmistakably female. She had numerous health problems, many of which were probably caused by the steroids, and she deserves compensation for what she had to go through, as does Krieger. But she experienced the same thing that Krieger did, and she didn't change her gender. Why not? Why was Krieger compelled to undergo gender reassignment when other female athletes given the same steroids were not?
Enter a New York Times article that cleared things up for me. The Times reported that "The taking of pills and injections of anabolic steroids created virile features and heightened confusion about an already uncertain sexual identity (italics mine), Krieger said, influencing a decision to have a sex-change operation in 1997 and to become known legally as Andreas."
An "aha" moment, to be sure. In the Times article, Krieger goes on to discuss his early struggle with his gender identity, something that is not brought out in the CNN article. In fact, reading the CNN article by itself, one would think that the steroids alone caused Krieger's decision to undergo gender reassignment. In fact, this was not the case, and is simply a sensationalistic way to present Krieger's story.
Krieger does feel, however, that the involuntary administration of steroids took away his opportunity to explore his gender issues for himself and make his own decisions, an observation with which I completely agree. Some of the East German athletes who were tricked into taking these steroids are filing suit, as well they should. They should be compensated for their past and current health problems and for being used as human guinea pigs by their coaches in order to win Olympic medals at the cost of their physical and emotional well being. And if Krieger decides to file suit, his prior gender issues should not be taken into account. He was robbed of his ability to make his own decisions about his own body. He continues to suffer from health problems because of the steroids—a risk that transsexual people knowingly take on when they begin hormones, but one to which Krieger did not give his informed consent.
Krieger was wronged, and while he might not see himself as a victim, he certainly deserves compensation for being an uninformed participant in some athletic experiment designed to win at any cost. But to present Krieger as a poor woman who was forced to become a man—as if any woman taking steroids or testosterone for any reason will lose her womanhood, whether she chooses to or not—is unfair and uncalled for. It is frightening to women who must take such medications for health reasons, and it is a sensationalistic reworking of Krieger's own situation.
But what about the "human monsters" headline that caused me, and probably so many others, to click on the link to CNN's story to begin with? Thankfully, no one is saying that Krieger, or any of the misled East German athletes, are "human monsters." The CNN story addresses the potential for "gene therapy" in the future—where the body itself could be programmed to make the changes that are currently made by steroids. Sports physician Willi Heepe told CNN that, if this happens, "the human monster will be a reality."
With all due respect to Willi Heepe, such gene therapy, when perfected and safe, could be a boon to transsexual people everywhere, allowing them to live their lives without having to constantly self-administer hormones and suffer the associated expense and health risks. Far from creating "human monsters," it has the potential to save lives. We should not dismiss it out of hand. And to use the term "human monsters" in association with such a potential development infers a connection to transsexuals today, including Andreas Krieger—and me. The last time I looked, I was only really scary first thing in the morning, before my shower. I don't appreciate being put in the same category as Frankenstein for the sake of drawing readers to a story.
You might also be interested in Matt Kailey's previous posts about gay families raising "normal" children; the dangers of reparative therapy for transgender kids; and Thomas Beatie, the man who recently gave birth.