| Apr 13, 2009
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“No. Are you?” — Reputedly Marlene Dietrich’s response
to a reporter asking if she was really a man.

For those of you not immediately familiar with this, go ahead and Google it. We’ll wait.

Welcome back. My, but this is one persistent little rumor, so let’s get straight to the facts. First we’ll examine the eyewitness testimony verifying Ms. Curtis’ alleged intersexed condition:  _________________________

Well, that was easy. Still, intersexualism is a physical condition so no investigation can be conclusive without hard medical evidence. Here are the names of all the lucky doctors who physically examined Ms. Curtis and confirm the intersex rumor: _______________________________________________________

And here’s all the expert medical testimony proving Ms. Curtis’ intersexualism: ___________________________

You know, I wish all columns were this easy to write. So let’s recap: we have (1) absolutely no credible eyewitness evidence and (2) absolutely zero medical evidence, credible or otherwise. The Jamie-Lee-Curtis-is-intersexed hearsay embodies all the elements of the classic rumor: nobody knows where it came from; nobody can quote a valid source, yet everybody who hears it tends to accept it at face value. Even college professors who should know better sometimes blindly cite it as fact. There’s also false testimony — respected intersex expert Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling has been falsely quoted as supporting this rumor, a claim she has vigorously denied.

Like computer viruses, rumors also tend to spawn variations of themselves, in this case “Jamie-Lee-Curtis-is-a-hermaphrodite,” “Jamie-Lee-Curtis-has-androgen-insensitivity-syndrome,” and “Jamie-Lee-Curtis-is-a-transsexual.” So far there doesn’t seem to be a “Jamie-Lee-Curtis-is-a-crossdresser” rumor (yet) but the century’s still young.

Why pick on Ms. Curtis? Some speculate this rumor sprang from her being one of the first female stars to highlight bodybuilding as a method for keeping fit, starting with her 1985 film Perfect. It’s taken the public a long time to accept muscularly developed women (witness the kafuffle over Michelle Obama’s biceps) so perhaps it’s continuing backlash from that. But that’s how it is with most rumors — nobody ever really knows.

But the rumor did receive a kick start courtesy due a of 1996 article in Baltimore Sun titled: “What Are You: Male, Merm, Herm, Ferm or Female?”  by William O. Beeman, an associate professor of anthropology at Brown University.  It contained this little observation: “The film star Jamie Lee Curtis is one well-known individual who is genetically male, but phenotypically female.” Yet Beeman was forced to later delete the statement which had no attributed sources, saying attempts to track down the plastic surgeons allegedly involved were “totally unsuccessful.” (Gee, makes you wonder what else in his article was based on unsubstantiated gossip)

Unfortunately, the old truism still holds true: a bell can’t be unrung. Take a trip online and you can find well written accounts debunking this rumor on and — but you can also find Beeson’s original unedited text as well.

In truth, there’s also no evidence Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t intersexed but that’s hardly the point. One of science’s guiding principals is that you don’t prove a negative. Look at it this way: if you can’t prove you’re not an axe murderer does that prove you really are one? For this to be true it must be conclusively shown Ms. Curtis is intersexed and not the other way around. Aliens might be visiting Earth’s cornfields; the Mafia might have killed Marilyn Monroe; Elvis might still be alive; heck, robots might be stealing your luggage. But accepting anything without question is always dangerous. There’s no infallible source for information (including this column) and that certainly applies to unsubstantiated rumors and anonymous emails. Anytime you hear something that sounds incredible that’s when the skeptic in all of us needs to rise up and say: “OK then, where’s your proof?”

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Category: All TGForum Posts, Transgender History


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  1. Michelle Michelle says:

    Thanks for the kind words, both of you. Especially the “killer body” part, Dina. But’s going on in those cornfields where you live? At least now I know where to find Elvis…

  2. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    Great article!

    A friend of mine from college who eventually went to med school told me Jamie Lee was mentioned in some of the the books she read.

    But then, again, I don’t think she actually told me this. I think her husband mentioned it. And I never asked for citations. So, that falls squarely in the “a friend of a friend” told me so, so it must be true.

  3. dina dina says:

    Very good analysis of pure rumor-mongering. Even if I do believe that aliens have traveled millions of light years just to mess with our corn crops. (What advanced alien life-form wouldn’t?, We have great corn crops here on Earth.)
    But the Jamie Leigh evidence is hard to argue against: short hair, killer body….she must be one of us…just like all of us on TGForum.
    Nuff said!

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