First-Person Stories: A Secret Life

Real People

A Secret Life by Steven Hammond

Steven Hammond, born with a genital sexual birth defectMy name is Steven Hammond. I was born with a genital sexual birth defect. Because it was undetected at birth by both the doctor and my parents, I was raised the wrong sex. Alot of things in this life are hard to understand, but I think I have endured one of the most difficult things I can imagine to endure.

Children are born every day with different types of congenital birth defects. Some are born with no arms and no legs, some are born blind or deaf, or mentally retarded. It is hard to understand why these things happen, but in my case there were two things that happened. The first was being born with a sexual birth defect, which I now accept as just that. The second was being raised the wrong sex and having to change my whole life.

Only the God of this universe knows what I have had to endure both mentally and physically. He is the one who created me to be who I am, and he alone can understand my circumstances.

I'm sure that all the other people who have lived with birth defects must feel the same way. I hope that my story will enlighten people about sexual birth defects. Sexual birth defects are in a category of their own and are not to be confused with homosexuality, transsexualism, cross-dressing, or any situation where a physically normal person makes it their own choice to be different.

Steve Hammond is an ordinary guy. I drive a Jeep Cherokee pickup. I built the house where me and my wife, Sara Jane, live. I get up every day and go to my job at a warehouse in Berea, Kentucky. I wants to adopt a child and provide stability for my family. Like most of us, I dream of getting a little extra out of life. An ordinary guy. But I have an extraordinary story to tell.

Looking Beyond the Mountains by Steven Hammond, born with a genital sexual birth defect

Looking Beyond the Mountains
A book written by Steven Hammond.

Here is the story of how Linda Jean Hammond became Steven Hammond after surgery to correct a genital birth defect. Labeled female at birth, Steven Hammond lived for 25 years as a female -- a boy imprisoned in the trappings of a girl. This is the story of the life of Linda Jean and the birth of Steven at age 25. Click here to order Looking Beyond the Mountains.

Surprise

Linda Hammond, 22 years oldIn 1981, Linda Jean Hammond (I was known as "Linda Jean"), 25, stepped into the Richmond office of Dr. William P. Grise a few minutes after he had opened. "It was the first time I'd revealed myself to a doctor. I'd been to a doctor for an ear ache and an infected hand but had never had a complete physical. I was very embarrassed and scared. I knew my secret was going to be revealed, a secret I'd held in all my life. "I figured he would know without asking me so many questions. That first time, I had a hard time talking." Grise remembers single-word answers to nearly every question, chipping away at Linda's wall of protection. Then came the examination.

Born Different

Linda Jean Hammond was born with a birth defect June 2, 1956, in Mary Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine, Ohio. Dr. John B. Traul is listed as the physician. He has since died. If he or his nurses noticed anything unusual about the infant Hammond, they didn't press hard to do something about it. Linda went home untreated.

Six weeks later, my mother, Christine, and father, Floyd, moved our family of five children to Jackson County, Ky. Floyd's sister noticed "Linda used the bathroom funny" when she diapered the baby. She wanted to take Linda to a doctor. She told my father, but he wasn't around much. There wasn't money for the essentials then, much less medical help. A few years later, my parents divorced. My mother tried to raise the family the best she could, but there was barely enough to eat.




Linda, the tomboy at 12 years oldThere are memories of the poverty: "We woke up sometimes bleeding - me on the toes and my sister from the head - where rats bit us. We lived in houses with dirt floors. In the winter, it was always cold, so Mamma put us all in one bed together and covered us with a feather mattress so we could keep warm." I cried alot during those first years. My mother often thought something was wrong but couldn't pinpoint it and never said anything about it to me. I took comfort from my younger brother. Me and my younger brother Michael were the closest. I always wanted to play with his toys more that mine. He always had the guns. I always got the dolls.The Tomboy

Linda at 10 years oldPhotos of Linda at the time (this one at age 10) show a cute, cheerful child, a little girl with chestnut hair cut in a pageboy. But all was not right. School was boring. There were school chums at Sand Gap Elementary School, but mostly Linda wanted to stay home alone, play softball or shoot basketball. Linda seemed a bit of a tomboy, but it only provoked a little teasing. By seventh and eighth grade, Linda became a cheerleader. "I wanted to be a part of the boy's basketball team, but I couldn't play. That was the only way I could be part of the team."

When I was 10, my mother married John R. Johnson. Life got much better. "He loved us alot. I have a biological real dad, but to me he is my real dad because I didn't know my other dad. He (Johnson) ran a filling station and taught all of us, but I guess I was the one most interested in electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, and mechanics. Mostly, he taught us alot of common sense."

What is Normal?

In Jackson County, where I grew up, pictures of naked men and women were hard to find, nor had I ever seen a naked man or a naked woman. So how could I know about normal development and about what male and female body parts were supposed to look like? At 11, I did tell my mother, "I get hard down there." I made my mother swear she wouldn't tell "John R.", as I called I my stepfather.

When I started at Jackson County High School in the early 1970's, the vague feelings got worse. Girlfriends talked about developing breasts and having menstrual periods, but I didn't develop. Periods never came. The anatomy was wrong, and it scared me. My mother wanted me to go to a doctor. I was terrified and refused.

Girls normally reach puberty between the ages of 11 and 17. My mother thought things would either get better or I would get sick and have to see a doctor. But my birth defect meant that wouldn't happen. I bullied Mamma into ignoring it.

Impulses of a Man

Linda went to work as a shipping clerk in a 13-acre warehouse. In one particularly striking photo from that time, Linda's hair falls well below the shoulders. Linda wore padded bras. Still, Linda's frustration kept building. Linda transferred from the clerk's job to loading trucks. To co-workers, Linda was "L.J. - the strongest woman they ever had to work with."

The guys on the dock didn't bother me much, and after work there was always softball. The trophies filled a room. By then, the frustration had become a full-fledged battle between the spiritual side of Linda and the angry person who wondered why God would make such a person. I was troubled by an attraction to women.

A co-worker said to Linda, "Jesus will save you." And the "big old tomboy who was always laughing and carrying on" grew quiet. I attended services in a white cinder block Baptist church. One day the preacher seemed to speak directly to me. He said the Bible said men shouldn't wear women's clothes and women shouldn't wear men's. My face burned. That was one of the last times I wore a skirt.

My attraction to women increased. A female friend became convinced my impulses were those of a man and urged me to visit a doctor. To do so, I had to show a body that had been hidden for so long. "Here I am, and I think I know what's going on but I'm confused. I think I could be both sexes, and I'm scared they're going to find out."




The Reason Why

I didn't get a quick definitive answer during my first visit to the Richmond doctor. Dr. Grise called surgery and a specialist in urology at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. Dr. Grise told me, "When you feel like it, come in and let's talk about it. But I'm going to have to send you to somebody else." I tried to ignore it.

Thinking I was both sexes was one reason I'd rebelled and quit going to church. How can a person survive being both sexes when there's just male and female and that's how God created them? How could that person ever have a life?

When I didn't come back, Dr. Grise thought he'd lost his patient. More that a year passed between my first visit to the Dr. and the first trip to Lexington, Kentucky to see Dr. J. William McRoberts.

I drank some and bills piled up. There was a feeling of disarray. I wanted a home, a life. The confusion was more painful than the fear of exposure. Finally, the will to do something won out.

I was still really in mystery, and was looking forward to seeing Dr. McRoberts. First they took a long history of my life. There were several exams by different doctors until McRoberts arrived. But this time, there was no lying on the back, legs spread and feet in stirrups. It was very embarrassing for me, and I think that's true with anyone, but I found hope. Dr. McRoberts diagnosed my problem right away. Tests followed, but they were only to make sure nothing had been missed. The cause of my lifelong confusion was a birth defect.

Linda Hammond was born male. He had male sex organs. But his development had been incomplete, and at birth he'd been confused with a female. The male hormones produced by male glands had given him normal male desires.

Dr. McRoberts explained the medical term was male pseudo (or false) hermaphrodite. The term has caused much confusion. It simply means that Linda was male, always male, but that his untreated appearance could be confused with someone who had the characteristics of both sexes.

Confusing sexual characteristics occur in perhaps one in every 1,000 births, Dr. McRoberts said. Some of the causes can be explained. For instance, a malfunctioning adrenal gland can cause a female to develop genitalia that look like those of a male. Other causes are not as well understood, and with the exception of the reproductive system, the patient is otherwise normal.

Most of the time, these problems are detected at birth. The problem is corrected, the baby goes home either a boy or a girl. Sometimes the birth defect is discovered later. As a surgeon specializing in urology, Dr. McRoberts had seen babies with confusing sex characteristics hundreds of times before, but rarely in anyone over the age of 8. Only once before had he seen it in a teenager. At 26, I was the oldest patient with such a problem whom Dr. McRoberts had ever seen.

The Confusion and the Courage

The confusion began before my birth. A developing embryo has the potential to be either male or female. Each embryo has wolffien ducts - a tube with the potential to form the male reproductive system - and mullerian ducts that can develop into the female reproductive system. The sex chromosome - contributed by the father - causes secretion of the hormones that determine whether the wolffian male duct or the mullerian ducts will predominate. An embryo becomes male because of the secretion of a hormone (testosterone) that develops the wolffian ducts and inhibits the mullerian. All the hormones and all of the events must be just right.

For me, the final stage was incomplete. I had all the normal male equipment, but my testicles remained inside my body and produced male hormones. My penis was covered by the folds of skin that normally join together to form the scrotal sac. The urethral opening to my bladder was malformed. But enough was right so the condition could be surgically corrected to give normal male sexual function.

But for those first few weeks after my visit to Dr. McRoberts, I didn't worry about the four operations to come. I was relieved that my confusion was over. I knew Id always been male.




Dr. McRoberts signed statements to substantiate the fact. With the help of a lawyer, Linda Jean Hammond became Steve Hammond. I had no trouble accepting it myself. I knew I'd be headed for a hard road, but except for the surgery, I never did take off work, never did have mental help. I look back on it and wonder, "How did I ever have the courage to go through it?"

Steven at age 12 with motherI called my mother, the only one who knew my secret. She remembered that as a child, I'd had boyish behavior and boyish hands and feet. Still it surprised her. My mother said, "I guess it was my fault letting you have your way (not seeing a doctor). But when your were a baby, there was no way you could tell. I don't know, I guess you accept children the way they are."

John R., my stepfather, cried when he found out - not because he was ashamed, but because he remembered how Steve had helped him in the garage all those years. He sensed the embarrassment I would face in explaining my new identity and how some would refuse to understand. "'What do you reckon happened to Linda?' they'll ask. 'What went wrong?' I'll explain it and tell them all I know about it and then, maybe three months later, they'll ask me to explain it again", my stepfather said. "There's just no use trying to explain it to some people. They just hear what they want to hear."

My mother told my brothers and sister. They seemed to accept my new identity. They never asked me about it. Right after the doctor said I was a man, it was like God was waiting for me to do this all my life. My life really unfolded like a page.

Afterward

I woke up after the first operation in the hospital's gray-and blue tile recovery room. There was Dr. McRoberts sitting next to me in a wooden rocking chair writing his surgical notes, wearing a paisley surgical cap and a blue surgical scrub suit. "Dr. McRoberts, I believe God has blessed your hands," I told him. Medical insurance paid most of the bills. And the good doctor waived the rest.

I have distanced myself from the first 25 years of my life. I threw away my softball trophies and many other reminders of my past. Then I had to convince others that I was a man. As Linda, I had used the women's bathroom at work, and now I would have to use the men's. I had to prove to the personnel officer that I was a man and had changed my name.

The first time I walked into the men's room, there were 10 men inside, some of them snickering. Generally, my co-workers were supportive. But once a man cursed me, called me names and tried to get me to fight. I, determined to respond as a Christian, wouldn't answer, wouldn't fight unless I was hit. My response so affected my tormentor that he, too, became a Christian. Some co-workers have said I'm one of the strongest people they've ever known because I had the nerve. But one man still calls me Linda. My friends knew what I was going through and gave their prayers and help.

Getting Married

wedding day photoSara Jane Van Winkle and I first met when she accompanied a friend who dropped by my apartment. The friend was worried "about all that Steve was going through" and wanted to check and see if I was all right. Sara Jane is from Rockcastle County and never knew me as Linda. Sara Jane said, "There he was, just another guy in a T-shirt and sweat pants. He seemed a little bit shy. I did most of the talking. But he was open and honest about things.

Steven Hammond and Wife, Sara JaneI always admired that in people. We just talked awhile, got acquainted and that was it." As our relationship developed, I explained everything to Sara Jane. I told her I could have sex but was sterile. Most of her friends accepted me without question.

I married Sara Jane in 1983, a few months after my visit to Dr. McRoberts. I was 26. She was 27. I decided to tell my story because I want people to know this problem was a birth defect - not a sex change. I want to help anyone who may be going through what I went through. I'm planning to write a book about my experiences.

Looking Beyond the MountainsLooking Beyond the Mountains
A book written by Steven Hammond..

Here is the story of how Linda Jean Hammond became Steven Hammond after surgery to correct a genital birth defect. Labeled female at birth, Steven Hammond lived for 25 years as a female -- a boy imprisoned in the trappings of a girl. This is the story of the life of Linda Jean and the birth of Steven at age 25. Click here to order Looking Beyond the Mountains.

 



next:   Guide to Medical Intersexuality Vocabulary
~ all inside intersexuality articles
~ all articles on gender

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