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Transsexual describes female-to-male transformation
Knight Ridder Newspapers
What makes a man a man? How much of our sex differences are cultural, how much hard-wired biology? Who better to ask than Max Wolf Valerio — a 49-year-old man who was once a woman?
You're probably asking yourself the same questions everyone asked me when I said I was writing about a female-to-male transsexual: Did doctors attach a penis, and does it work? We'll get to that, but, as Valerio discovered, maleness is not nearly as phallocentric as Freud would have us believe.
Masculinity, Valerio says, is hormonal and injectable. Testosterone alone was enough to take him most of the way through his one-way journey to manhood, which he chronicles in "The Testosterone Files," to be released this month by Seal Press.
Born as a girl named Anita, she thought she was a boy and only reluctantly accepted being a very tomboyish girl. She grew into a tall and exotic redhead — part Hispanic, part Blackfoot Indian — who favored black hair dye and motorcycle jackets.
Now, as Max, he says, no one ever thinks he's anything but a guy. When he goes to transsexual meetings, people either don't know why he's there or assume he's trying to become a woman. He wrote the book, he says, to offer his perspective on the nature of masculinity and femininity, culture and biology, and the war between the sexes.
Valerio had always been attracted exclusively to women. But living in San Francisco, she realized over time that she was different from other lesbians. "I thought all lesbians really wanted to be men," Valerio says. She didn't like to be touched sexually because she needed to fantasize that she was a man. And unlike her lesbian friends, she was turned on by traditionally feminine women who wore high heels, makeup and short skirts.
Still, friends thought she was crazy to consider a sex change. Few had heard of female-to-male transsexuals in the early 1980s. She was good-looking, they insisted. Why risk ending up looking like Julie Andrews in a fake mustache?
But at 32, she started injecting testosterone directly into her thigh. In the next few months of injections, her jawline and waist filled out, a beard grew, and her muscles hardened and bulked up. She developed a ravenous appetite, and her voice changed to a natural male one.
Living as a man, he eventually had his breasts removed. Seventeen years later, at 49, he still has had no surgery on his genitals. The hormones enlarged Valerio's clitoris so much that it grew to the size of his thumb when erect. He says it looks much like a penis now, and he uses it to have intercourse with his girlfriend.
Testosterone does make the clitoris grow, and using it for sex this way is "increasingly typical" for newly male transsexuals, says Marci Bowers, a Colorado surgeon and expert on sex change. A few opt for surgery that constructs a penis from a tissue graft, she says, but it's an expensive procedure. Others have a simpler operation called a metoidioplasty, which extends the clitoris and makes it more penislike.
When Valerio was still Anita, she and her lesbian friends thought men's leering, lustful behavior was nothing but posturing. Now, he's felt male lust for himself.
Scientists have studied transsexuals seeking clues to male-female brain differences. Ruben and Raquel Gur of the University of Pennsylvania worked with a female-to-male transsexual, also named Max, and found that as the testosterone kicked in, he improved on spatial-skills tests but got worse in verbal fluency.
Their findings back up larger studies from Europe, offering tantalizing hints to our inborn differences. Valerio's transformation also points to where we are the same — in our creative drives, intellectual curiosity and humanity. Despite all the changes, he says, "I'm still basically the same person."
Faye Flam's Carnal Knowledge column appears Wednesdays
in The Seattle Times.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company