interview by Michael McCarthy
Yesterday we brought you an in-depth interview with the uber-talented singer/songwriter Dalea, during which we focused on every aspect of her music career, especially her incredible new album Visitor. There is more to Dalea than her music, though. In addition to communicating with the world through her songs, she also gives inspirational talks about Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and diversity. She even has her own inspirational campaign called Girl Comet. Among her accomplishments, she has been a speaker at NYU and was even featured in Cosmopolitan magazine. In the following interview we discuss these things at length. I hope that you will read it with an open mind and take what she says to heart.
MM: You were born with a genetic marker called ‘Androgen insensitivity syndrome’. Can you explain what this syndrome is? The definition I read states that the person is geneticially male, so does this mean you consider yourself transgender, since we know you as a female?
D: Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome or AIS manifests in different levels, from full AIS to Partial AIS, yet the key factor is that during gestation, the unborn child develops a resistance to androgens (or male hormones), is what helps build both males and females in the womb. AIS women are born with XY chromosomes, a female appearance, and internal gonads (they could be called testes). AIS variations go from being completely undetectable on the outside at birth, to visible variations on the genitals when the androgen insensitivity is partial. This means, on one side of the spectrum, that a body can look completely like a regular female, and on the other side of the spectrum there are noticeable anatomical differences. Because my syndrome, my “Y” chromosome is in essence only serving as decoration. For example, I have little body hair, I don’t produce body odor, and while other regular women have a percentage of testosterone in their bodies, I generate none; if you were to give me testosterone, my body would convert it into estrogen by a process called aromatization. In my case, my AIS makes me hyper feminine.
To answer your second question, no, I don’t consider myself transgender, medically, because of my AIS, I am considered an intersex woman, but I consider myself simply a woman.
I will tell you this, I don’t even think that transgender individuals (in the current strict sense of the word, where genitals are of the opposite sex than that of the mind) are actually simply trans. What I am about to say opens up a can of worms, but I must say it because I believe it wholeheartedly, it makes perfect sense to me. I consider every single trans child, men or woman to be intersex. Why? because the brain is an organ of the human body -perhaps the most important organ- and if this organ is of the opposite sex as that of the rest of the body, then to me the child, teen or adult is intersex, period. The medical community needs to catch up on this; I am confident with time, they will.
MM: You’re open about being intersex. I looked it up and learned that intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Could they tell you were intersex when you were born or was it only discovered when you hit puberty (if you don’t mind my asking)?
D: Yes, there were some visible variations when I was born, but we did not dig deeper until my pre-teen years, when I began having black outs.
MM: I’ve read that parents often have quote unquote corrective surgeries on intersex babies to make them one sex or the other. Did this happen to you? If so, what sex did they decide you should be?
D: My difference of development where not severe nor life threatening, mother, being a nurse, decided not to do anything to my body; it was only in my teens that I got my corrective surgery.
As far as what happens in general with babies that are born with severe differences of genital development, yes, these so called necessary surgeries on innocent children are still being performed. They are injustices; in essence doctors are performing sex changes on kids! And this happens mostly because the parent or doctor is uncomfortable with the temporary non-binary status of the child, rarely is it a life saving surgery. Many activists around the world are working really hard to change this, and it is changing, only at a snail speed.
MM: Were you raised as a male or a female? If you were raised as a male, how old were you when you realized that you were actually a woman?
D: I had periods living as a tomboy child/teen, mostly my mother wanted to protect me from predators. I was kind of a pretty girl and stood out a lot, by the age of 11 was developing fast and already looked like a blossoming teenager young lady, except my mind was that of a clueless child, very dangerous situation. My tomboy clothes hid and protected me. By the age of 16, my corrective surgery was performed; life became more regular for me, my spirit and courage began to strengthen. In the midst of all, I always knew I was a girl. But because of all the misunderstandings, ignorance, abuse and bullying, I can definitely say I experienced a trans experience.
MM: Are intersex women able to get pregnant?
D: Depends on the case (there are many different types of intersex diagnosis out there) For AIS girls, we are not able to get pregnant currently. For instance, I was born without a uterus, but I hear medical advances are moving fast, so I am excited for other AIS girls being born now, they may have the chance, if they choose to.
MM: You do a lot of diversity awareness activism. When did you start doing this? How did you get started with this?
D: I began my awareness and inspiration campaigning in May 2014, when I decided to come forth about my story via Girl Comet. I did this for teens and others like me, I wanted and want to be the woman I so needed when I was growing up. It was a difficult decision; one that I knew would impact everything in my life, including my music career. I was scared, but did it anyway. I think we are all most frightened to be our true-selves, after all, if your true self is rejected, what else is there?
MM: Have you participated in any protests? If so, what are some of the things you’ve protested?
D: I don’t participate in any protests, I only participate when there is a pro-cause attached. I believe in the forces of the universe, and this dictates that whatever you place your attention, that “wherever” will get stronger and multiply. So I rather offer my support to pro-causes, they are more in line with my spirit. So, no, I have not participated on any protests.
MM: You have your own diversity awareness campaign called Girl Comet. What can you tell us about that?
D: Yes, Girl Comet a diversity awareness and inspiration campaign founded by me. As I mentioned earlier, I first shared my story through Girl Comet, and continue sharing content intended to feature diversity and to showcase the best in the human spirit. I have a lot of plans for Girl Comet, I just need to find the right partners so I can have more means to do it; at this time, all Girl Comet operating costs are financed by me, I also manage and created the content.
MM: I read on your Girl Comet page that you were bullied when you were growing up. Was it because you were intersex or was it just general bullying? Can you tell us about any of these experiences, if they’re not too difficult to talk about?
D: Yes, at first, I was bullied due to my shyness and looking different, then it became about my intersex situation becoming known. The worse incident happened as I approached 15 years of age. My mother had a friend that she knew for years, and she confided in her regarding my AIS. This woman had an older son, about 17 or so, and she told him about me. He then went on and told others, and others told others, just like a forest fire; I began to be bullied with more cruelty, daily.
Then one day, he and his guy friends were waiting for me outside school. My heart sank as soon as I saw them staring at me. They followed me and screamed horrible things, including that they were going to undress me in front of everybody. I ran without looking back, and hours later I reached the edge of my town. I found myself at an abandoned building and went in, walked up to the third floor and stood on a window, ready to jump and end my pain. But then, inside me a voice told me, “If you jump, it will be all over. You will no longer feel pain and you can end your story here. But if you decide not to jump, you will learn that there is a whole world for you to see, but you must fight and give life everything you’ve got, you must go on to fulfill your destiny.” I chose life and happiness, but never forgotten that day.
MM: Do you know if there is there any especially high suicide rate among people who are intersex?
D: I don’t know exact numbers, but judging my personal experience, it must be high. Not only for Intersex humans, but for anyone who is different in any way. This is why being visible is so important, because one can become hope for someone out there.
MM: North Carolina recently passed its infamous law that forces transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth, which many people, myself in included, find outrageous and discriminatory. What are your thoughts on this?
D: This law is based on ignorance and misinformation, but still it is discriminatory and hateful. I have a Y chromosome, would that mean that in North Carolina I should go to the men’s bathroom? Can you imagine that? It is simply ridiculous.
MM: Some bands and solo artists have cancelled shows in North Carolina as a means of protesting against this law. Do you think this is the correct decision? I think it might be better for them to still perform and use their concerts as a platform to say that they’re opposed to the law and to encourage others to oppose it, too. Plus, it’s like they’re punishing the fans when they cancel these shows and the fans aren’t the ones who passed the law.
D: You are absolutely correct! Cancelling performances in North Carolina as a way to protest this law punishes the fans more than anyone. Yes, it makes a small dent in the state’s economy, but this is not the way to change. As I said earlier, we, people living in this planet, are better off supporting what we believe in and giving our energy to that cause, so it magnifies. Instead of cancelling performances, touring artists should create concerts in North Carolina that are geared to supporting the trans community, information and activism to press for the reversal of this preposterous law.
Extra special thanks to Dalea for sharing her story and enlightening us. Cheers to diversity!
Girl Comet on Dalea’s official site: http://www.daleamusic.com/girl-comet.html
Girl Comet FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/girlcomet
@MyGirlComet on TWITTER: https://twitter.com/mygirlcomet
@GirlCometOfficial INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/girlcometofficial