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July 13, 2004

Guessing Game

A scurrilous gossip website this week asks the question “which Oscar-winning Hollywood superstar’s doctor claims she was born a hermaphrodite, with undescended testes where her ovaries should have been? (and no, it’s not Jamie Lee Curtis)”.

From the description, this sounds like a case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (aka Testicular Feminisation). (It’s a genetic condition, so this is relevant to GNXP, OK?) People with AIS are genetically male, with XY chromosomes, but have a genetic defect which makes their cells wholly or partly insensitive to testosterone. The developing embryo has testes which produce testosterone, but this fails to trigger normal male development. The resulting phenotype may appear externally completely female (though lacking female internal organs), or have a variety of intersex conditions. ‘Females’ with AIS are often tall and boyish in physique, but can still be beautiful, by usual standards. It is said that AIS is relatively common among fashion models, where a tall boyish physique is an advantage, and among aspiring female athletes, until they have to take a sex test. And a medical website (medhelp.org) claims ’there are at least two well-known American movie stars who are XY women, according to researchers in sex differences, although neither of the actresses wishes her condition to be made public’.

Of course, the gossip may be false, and in any case it would be inappropriate, irresponsible, and offensive to speculate about who the ‘Oscar-winning Hollywood superstar’ might be.

On the other hand, it can surely do no harm to say who it is not

As women with AIS have no uterus, they cannot become pregnant, even by IVF, so we can rule out anyone who has ever been pregnant.

The following information is mainly from biographies at imdb.com.

Among the last ten years’ ’best actress’ Oscar winners, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt, and Gwyneth Paltrow have all had children, while Julia Roberts is currently pregnant, and Nicole Kidman reportedly miscarried during her marriage to Tom Cruise.

Frances McDormand has an adopted son, which does not count, but I’m not sure she would be described as a ’superstar‘, fine actress though she is. Among the remaining three, Hilary Swank might seem the obvious candidate, but I doubt that someone with AIS, and who wanted to keep it quiet, would have taken the lead role in Boys Don’t Cry.

But it may be barking up the wrong tree to look just at ’best actress’ winners. ’Best supporting’ actresses would also count as ’Oscar-winning’. ‘Best supportings’ are usually talented actresses rather than ’superstars’. Of those in the last ten years who might fit the latter description, we can exclude Kim Basinger, Juliette Binoche, Jennifer Connelly, and Catherine Zeta Jones, who have all had children.

This only leaves four or five candidates from the ‘best actress’ and ‘best supporting’ categories combined, and going back further than ten years would not greatly extend the field. Most Oscar-winning actresses since the 1970s have had children, even if some of them, like Jodie Foster, took a while to get round to it.

It is interesting to reflect that all of the leading candidates are considered highly attractive, and at least three of them feature in lists of the world’s most beautiful and/or sexiest women. But if the gossip is true, one of them may well be genetically male!

Posted by David B at 04:45 AM