Cheryl Chase (activist)

This article refers to the intersex activist; for the American actress, see Cheryl Chase.

Cheryl Chase (born August 14 1956) is an American intersex activist, and the founder of the Intersex Society of North America.

Early life

Chase was born in New Jersey with ambiguous genitalia that baffled doctors. According to the New York Times, her parents originally named her Brian Sullivan, noting "Chase is XX, and the reason for her intersex condition has never been fully understood." However, other sources state her original name was Charlie."

Chase told Salon she was born with "mixed male/female sex organs" and after the discovery of ovaries and a uterus, a clitoridectomy was performed when she was aged 18 months. Her parents, as advised by doctors, moved to a new town and raised her as a girl, Bonnie Sullivan. Although she had begun speaking before the operation, she fell silent for six months after the operation.

She told Salon that she developed ovotestis at age 8 (later clarified as "the testicular part of her ovo-testes"). She found out about the clitorectomy aged 10, and at age 21 succeeded in gaining access to her medical records (some sources say this occurred in her early thirties).

Personal evolution

Chase later moved to San Francisco and began to live as a lesbian. Chase graduated from MIT with a degree in math and later studied Japanese at Harvard University. She moved to Japan and got a job doing computer and translation work. "I was good at all the hard stuff, the non-emotional stuff that's considered more masculine."

Chase told Salon she once contemplated committing suicide "in front of the mutilating physician who had rendered her genitalia numb and scarred."

Chase had a "nervous breakdown" in her mid-30s. When she was 35, she returned to the U.S. and badgered her mother for answers, then embarked on a search for a fuller understanding of what she had learned.

Chase married her partner of five years, Robin Mathias, in San Francisco in 2004. They live on a hobby farm in Sonoma.


In mid-life, she contacted many academic researchers and people with personal experiences of intersex conditions. In 1993, via a letter to the editor published in The Sciences July/August issue, she founded the Intersex Society of North America by fiat and asked for people to write to her under her new name, Cheryl Chase, the beginning of the movement to protect the human rights of people born with intersex conditions in the U.S.

Chase is the creator of Hermaphrodites Speak! (1995), a 30 minute documentary film in which several intersex people discuss the psychological impact of their conditions and the medical treatment and parenting they received.

In 1998 Chase wrote an amicus brief for the Colombian constitutional court, which was then considering a ruling on surgery for a six-year-old boy with a micropenis. In 2004, Chase and the Intersex Society persuaded the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to hold hearings on medical procedures for intersex infants.

Chase has published commentaries in medical journals and has criticized feminist writers, including Alice Walker and Katha Pollitt, for not putting intersexuality on the feminist agenda, despite their condemnation of female genital cutting in Africa and elsewhere.

Chase was honored with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's 2000 Felipa de Souza Human Rights Award.

Largely due to Chase's activism, the urology and endocrinology disciplines have begun to reopen their consideration of intersex conditions. Chase advocates a more complex view of intersexuality: in particular, that difficulties cannot be eliminated by early genital surgery.

In August 2006, Pediatrics published a letter signed by 50 international experts including Chase titled "Consensus Statement on the Management of Intersex Disorders" arguing this position, without making a specific recommendation for parents of intersex children. Chase herself believes that surgery should only be done on patients who are able to make an informed choice; that children should be assigned a sex at birth, but parents should be ready to permit sex transition as the child grows; and that parents should be open with their children about their condition. Nevertheless, many medical professionals believe that few parents will make this choice. She also lobbies for the abolition of the word '' in favor of disorders of sex development''. Among the doctors supporting Chase is Melvin Grumbach, who had cared for her as an infant and later became a leading American pediatric endocrinologist.

External links

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