Over the last few days, the internet has been rife with stories about Taylor Lianne Chandler, the woman who the media is calling the girlfriend of Olympic Swimmer, Michael Phelps. Chandler has also publicly shared that she is intersex.
The unfortunate headlines immediately began, most with some variation on Hollywood Life’s report that Michael Phelps’ girlfriend was “born a man.” The backlash towards Chandler has been harsh and intense, as the media publicly struggles to figure out what intersex actually means.
To use the definition given by the Intersex Society of North America, “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”
A person could be born with an undersized penis and no scrotum, for example, or a large clitoris but no vaginal opening. They could have mosaic genetics, where some cells have XX genes, and some have XY. Not every intersex condition is noticed at birth; sometimes, intersexuality isn’t discovered until puberty. Some people live their entire lives without being aware that their genetics do not clearly define them as male or female.
All of this is completely separate from any discussion of gender, and completely separate from any discussion of what relationship may exist between Michael Phelps and Taylor Lianne Chandler.
On November 21st, Chandler wrote on her Facebook page, “My name and the term ‘girlfriend’ was put on me the night of the DUI. I have never said either.”
When Laverne Cox became famous for her role on Orange is the New Black, much valid criticism was made of the media for asking questions about Cox’s body, wondering what surgery had been completed. These same criticisms can be made about the media’s treatment of Taylor Lianne Chandler. By all accounts, she and Michael Phelps met on Tinder, and enjoyed each other’s company. What her genitalia looked like at birth, when she chose to have surgery to make her genitalia match her gender, and what she has chosen to do since then are absolutely no one’s business but hers and her doctors.
While Chandler bravely took to Facebook on November 13 to explain the background of her medical situation and attempt to set the record straight, one might remember Cox’s response to Wendy Williams in June.
“Off camera, I can talk to you, but I’ve chosen not to talk about any of the stuff I’ve gotten done, because I think so often when trans people’s experiences are talked about, we far too often focus on surgery and transition, so I don’t talk about that. But I’m very happy with the situation.”
Whatever did or did not happen between Phelps and Chandler, the reporting on this story has called one thing to attention: We still have a long way to go before intersex and transgender persons are understood by most people.
[Image from Hollywood Life]