Jamie Lee Curtis Hasn't Confirmed or Denied Being a Hermaphrodite
The rumor in Curtis’s case is that she is a hermaphrodite, or some variant claim.
If you start to type “Jamie Lee Curtis” into Google, the first autocomplete suggestion is just “Jamie Lee Curtis” by itself, but the second is “Jamie Lee Curtis Hermaphrodite.” That gives a pretty good idea of how widespread the rumor is and how popular a search it is (as well as telling you something about the public’s priorities).
What is a Hermaphrodite?
“Hermaphrodite” is used more in nontechnical contexts now than as a medical term, and is usually used to describe someone born with ambiguous genitalia-they either have elements of both a penis and a vagina, or they have only one but it’s the reverse of the one that would match their chromosomal gender. In the medical field, the term “intersexual” is used more often now.
Intersexuality is more common than probably most people would guess. An estimated 1.5%-2% of people are born intersexual to at least some degree, meaning they don’t fit completely in the unambiguously all-male or unambiguously all-female category. Perhaps one-fourth of that 1.5%-2% have some actual externally visible characteristic such as a combination of both male and female sex organs. The rest appear to be all one gender externally.
An example of the latter would be some people with androgen insensitivity syndrome. Such people are chromosomally male (one X and one Y chromosome), but they are resistant to androgens, the hormones that are responsible for male sexual development. The more resistant they are to androgens, the more female their external appearance will be. If they are highly resistant, they may have a vagina and developed breasts as in a female, but internally they have no uterus, do not menstruate, and cannot get pregnant.
There is no one consistent version of the Curtis rumor. Some versions say she has a penis, some say she has both male and female sex organs, some say she was born with a penis or with both but that she was surgically altered as an infant, some say she has always had only female sex organs externally but is chromosomally a male with some degree of androgen insensitivity syndrome, etc.
What Evidence Has Been Offered That Curtis is a Hermaphrodite (or is Intersexual)?
* Curtis’s parents gave her a first name that could fit a male or a female, because when she was born they didn’t know which she was.
It’s true that “Jamie” is used as a diminutive for boys named James and is also used for girls, but so what? A huge number of people have names that are used for both genders. Obviously they aren’t all intersexual. Nor is it even clear a disproportionate number of them are intersexual compared to the general population.
Besides, if Curtis’s parents wanted to deny or keep secret her condition, why not just give her a name that fits the gender they intend to raise her as? This “evidence” seems to suggest that the parents needed to decide on a name immediately, and then take their time and decide some time later what gender to attribute to their child, perhaps with some surgical assistance. Maybe, but there’s nothing compelling about this suggested timing.
For what it’s worth, Curtis’s mother, the actress Janet Leigh, has directly addressed the matter. She acknowledged that they intentionally chose a gender neutral name, but claimed that that was because they chose the name before the baby was born and that this was before sonograms could have identified the gender in advance.
Leigh noted that they did the same thing with Jamie Lee’s older sister Kelly, by the way. So is she a hermaphrodite too?
The name factor turns out to be a pretty trivial piece of evidence.
* Curtis has never borne children. The children she has with her husband Christopher Guest are adopted.
This is true, and as evidence carries a bit more weight than the gender-neutral name.
But it still doesn’t get us very far, unless we’re going to say that every woman who adopts a child but has no biological children is a hermaphrodite. In reality, there are many reasons a woman who is not intersexual at all might adopt.
Perhaps she is incapable of having children for some other reason. Perhaps the issue lies with her husband instead. Perhaps they would have been fully capable of having biological children and simply chose to adopt instead. (People do that, after all.)
* Curtis is “mannish” looking.
Obviously this is subjective. It’s probably true, by most people’s perceptions. Especially when she chooses to wear her hair short and wear little or no makeup, Curtis has a bit of a “butch” look to her.
But again, this is a pretty minor piece of evidence. Not every woman, or even most women, who don’t have an ultra “girly girl” look are hermaphrodites.
* It’s widely known in the medical community that Curtis is a hermaphrodite.
This is an interesting one. There is a fair amount of evidence that the claim about Curtis being intersexual is often made in the medical community. That’s not insignificant, but what does it really tell us?
Doctors and other medical professionals are still human, and still do things like gossip and repeat rumors. Just because a doctor (who has never examined Curtis, or had access to her medical records) makes this claim, they aren’t infallible. They may well be repeating something they’ve heard, in the same way that a truck driver or beautician might.
If it’s so “widely known” in the medical community, then where are the print references to this fact? Is Curtis cited as an example in medical textbooks? Is her case written about in medical journals? No, at least not that anyone has been able to track down.
Actually there is one known print reference by a physician to this claim about Curtis. But when asked, he said he had merely assumed it was true because he’d heard it said a lot, and he withdrew the claim.
My personal experience with this is that many years ago one of my best friends went through medical school and told me that Jamie Lee Curtis was indeed mentioned as an example of a hermaphrodite or intersexual person by the professor.
However, the specifics are worth noting. As I recall it, what he said the professor actually told the class is that people with a certain form of intersexuality often develop an appearance that, perhaps paradoxically, heterosexual males find at least as attractive as someone who is more unambiguously all-female. He said they tend to be taller than average, have firmer muscle tone, are lean with less body fat except often bigger than average breasts, and have androgynous facial features. He cited Curtis as a Hollywood sex symbol who had that general look. He didn’t say she was or wasn’t a hermaphrodite, just that certain intersexual people tended to look at least vaguely like the Jamie Lee Curtis-type of sexually attractive woman.
It may well be that many of these doctors and medical school professors and such supposedly confirming that Curtis is a hermaphrodite are really making a point more like that, that she has a general look to her that is of the same type as some intersexual people, and that it’s possible she herself is intersexual.
If you think about it, how could they be in a position to say much more than that? Yes, they’re more knowledgeable about such matters than are laypeople, but without examining her or having access to her medical records, they can’t know. Their speculation would be more informed than mine would, but it would be far from definitive.
* Curtis herself has openly admitted being intersexual.
This appears to be flat out false.
It’s interesting how often a perusal on the Internet finds not just people repeating this claim, but stating matter-of-factly that they saw it themselves. “This is true-I saw her talk about it in an interview,” “I read this about her in her autobiography,” “I was watching Oprah when she admitted this,” etc., etc.
All quite intriguing, since she’s never written an autobiography, and in this day and age any interview on radio or television with something as explosive as this would be all over the Internet. If she had actually said what people claim she said, we could go watch her say it on YouTube right now. Or even if it was on some sort of copyrighted show that did not allow clips online, at least it would be widely known specifically when and where she said it, rather than just the occasional random anonymous civilian popping into a message board with “I saw it on Oprah awhile back.”
The fact is Curtis has consistently declined to dignify the rumors by commenting pro or con.
So Are the Claims About Curtis True or False?
If we use the broader sense of intersexuality, we’re starting at already a 1.5%-2% chance that some person plucked at random out of the general population is intersexual. Then we can add to that according to the five pieces of evidence cited above.
Let’s add zero for the last claim, that she herself has admitted it, since there’s no record of her in fact having done so. And let’s add only a smidgen for the gender-neutral name factor.
The other factors-her adopting children rather than having any of her own, her somewhat androgynous appearance, and the fact that the scuttlebutt seems to exist in the medical community as well-all deserve a little more weight, but not a huge amount. Individually none of them bumps up the probability all that much. Taken together, though, they do make the claim considerably more plausible.
There is nowhere near enough evidence to state for sure if the longstanding “Jamie Lee Curtis is a hermaphrodite” or “Jamie Lee Curtis is really a man” rumors are true or false. Instead we’re talking about degrees of likelihood. And in those terms, I think we can say that the chances that Curtis has at least some degree of biological gender ambiguity or whatever term you prefer are substantially greater than 1.5%-2%.
How much greater? I don’t feel comfortable putting a number on it. I suppose I’d say something like “It’s very plausible,” or “It would not be a big surprise,” but I certainly wouldn’t say “It’s true.” There simply isn’t sufficient evidence to draw that conclusion.
Also, though, let’s think about another angle to this. Isn’t it odd-as evidenced by Google search statistics and such-that this issue is as important to people as it is, and furthermore that it’s considered something negative or scandalous, something to be “admitted” or “confessed”?
Some people are anatomically different than the majority. I think most of us would say that having a cleft palate surgically repaired as a child, or having Morton’s toe, or for that matter being left-handed, are not conditions fit for rumors, are not things to be embarrassed about. Why should intersexuality be any different?