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by Emi Koyama
February 23, 2002


It was very nice to meet you, he said. It was nice to meet you too, I said, shaking his hand. The hand covered with blood, and with tears, that only I could see. Actually I wish I had never met you in fact I wish no intersex children ever met you. But I didn't say what was really on my mind.

My right hand poisoned, the poison traveled first through each of my fingers, then my palm, and then arm and shoulder. It went through the entire right half of my body in a matter of three seconds that I was holding his hand. First to melt was my skeleton. Then my skin. Stripped of what was holding my body together, I almost fell. But not in front of him. He did not need to see how vulnerable he could still make me feel. I do not remember what I chitchatted.


Surgery is an operation or procedure involving the removal or replacement of a diseased organ or tissue. I was born diseased, abnormal, queer, freak. I do not however remember my surgery except that they were doing everything they can to make me normal, but it only made me feel even more abnormal.

What I remember is lying on the examination table surrounded by four or five or maybe six doctors at a time, my upper body covered but not my lower body. Then I heard the large noise of some metal objects hitting each other, in otherwise oddly silent room. Looking at their eyes, sensing their pity and disgust wrapped up in sympathy, I gazed away. I was trying to stare at the fluorescent light above me when the first wave of mechanic violation crept in.

Sometimes I still feel the plastic silence of the small examination room, the blinding brightness of the fluorescent light, and the numbing coldness of the stainless specula between my thighs. And the flash light of the Polaroid. I did not know the phrase "gang rape" at the time.


Last summer I sat down with a friend who had been extremely angry for an entire decade over what had been done to her. We kept telling each other how badly we wanted to simply live ordinary lives, how badly we wished to go through our lives feeling happy and sad and joyful and angry like everyone else without it always having to do with being intersex. Then we thought about faces of five children who would go under surgeon's knife today, and countless more who would lie on the bed feeling lonely and scared. How can we heal without completely numbing ourselves to the world?


I saw the doctor's hand holding mine, and ironically felt the urge to cut my wrist, deep. I fantasized cutting my arm apart really deep, then hand the knife to the doctor, smearing my blood all over his suit. But didn't. This was all about politics and I could not afford to be seen as anything but civil and restrained.

As I held his hand, I thought about my mentor, the late Dr. Gerrit tenZythoff, who bribed the guards who had imprisoned him to obtain a set of Nazi uniform, necessary to escape without being interrogated. I thought about how he must have felt as he saw his own reflection in the mirror dressed in full Nazi uniform. After he became free, he joined the Resistance in hope of finding and liberating his family. He was never able to take back what he had lost, but helped to liberate many others.


On the large screen projecting a PowerPoint presentation, I saw a close-up photo of a baby's unmutilated genital area. This picture shows an extreme case of a virilized 46XX infant, I heard the doctor explain, parents cannot deal with seeing this every time they change diapers. His voice was filled with the same familiar mix of pity and disgust, disguised as a genuine concern for the child's well-being.

I did not think that there was anything horrifying or diseased about the body that had not received any scars yet, but I began panicking because I felt that everyone around me was thinking about how my private parts looked like. Once again I felt I was on the hard examination table, pierced by the coldness of the stainless steel.


I talked to a friend that night, and we discussed how we are going to get our revenge. First we talked about the most obvious: we fantasized how we could kill more than one doctors responsible for all this before we were caught or killed ourselves. But we could not think of enough violence, enough bloodshed that could ever compensate for the countless nights we spent crying or contemplating suicide.

Eventually we decided that we will get our revenge, but it is not through vengeance that will ultimately vindicate us; it is through making the history. And I don't mean history in the sense it will happen 50 or 100 years later - I mean 5, 10, or 15 years. It will happen in my lifetime, and in the lifetime of the doctor whose hand I shook.

My revenge is about becoming the antidote that we crave. It is about carving the doctor's name into history along with Nazi doctors and all those responsible for other historical medical atrocities. It is about knowing that someday they will spend sleepless nights and I won't even feel sorry for it. It is about inscribing ourselves back into the history, a history of our own revolution, a revolution for our own survival. And after we get our revenge, after the revolution, we will live our beautiful, creative, extraordinary ordinary lives.

The author would like to thank Dan Athineos, Thea Hillman, Eli Clare, Cheryl Chase, Morgan Holmes, and Dr. Gerrit J. tenZythoff for inspirations that went into writing this piece.