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28 June 2008

Lynn Edward Harris (1950 - ) actor, bookkeeper.

Lynn Elizabeth Harris was born in Orange, California, south of Los Angeles, with ambiguous genitals. She was not surgically ‘corrected’, and was raised as female. Her father was a character actor, who left when she was a young child. Lynn was an intelligent child who could recite Shakespeare at age 3.

Around age 5 she pulled down her panties and asked her mother to explain the strange growth between her legs. Her mother told her not to look at it. Her mother’s denial allowed Lynn to grow up without medical ‘correction’. Into her teens, she did not menstruate, she grew facial hair and her voice dropped. She took up acting at school, often playing androgynous parts, and won 14 acting trophies.

She also used makeup, shaving, depilatories and padding to pass as a girl. For gym class she always changed in the toilets, and took care to shower alone. She did this so well that she won several beauty competitions. She was the first Costa Mesa Junior Miss in 1968, which came with a college scholarship. But she was also asked on the street if she were a man in drag.

She left home at 19 to be an actress. She worked in the Los Angeles theater, supplemented by beauty retail work. She visited doctors and started taking estrogen in the hope of growing breasts. This also caused hot flashes, blood-sugar fluctuations and weight gain. A doctor suggested male hormones instead, and in 1973 he spent three days in hospital for tests and exploratory surgery. The diagnosis was Stein-Leventhal Syndrome,otherwise known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which affects 1 in 10,000 births. They told her that she would continue to masculinize further with age. She reacted by feminizing herself further.

She tried to talk to her parents, but they continued in denial. Lynn acted in small parts in obscure horror movies, such as Mother’s Day, 1980, and Big Meat Eater,1982. In theater she was being cast as middle-aged mothers, although she was only in her late twenties.

She found a counselor who pointed out that she was unhappy. How much worse could it be to live as a man? Lynn changed, almost overnight. He let his beard grow, bought male clothes, and changed his middle name. ‘Lynn’ he kept as it is also a man’s name. After four years, he applied to have his birth certificate re-issued. This was rejected because he did not have a doctor’s letter attesting genital surgery. However he persevered and is the first legal sex change without surgery in California.

Since then he has worked as a film-production bookkeeper, and has become an activist for the intersex community. His mother did not speak to him again for 10 years. He has relationships with men.

*Not the novelist E. Lynn Harris.

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