Viloria & Pagonis on how Pulaski would not have become American Rev. War hero with today’s intersex surgical interventions + Research Examined
Note: Pressing work on legislative and educational advocacy prevented us from sharing the article referenced in this post, which ran on April 4th, at the time of its release.
Our E.D. Hida Viloria and intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, founder of the Intersex Justice Project, were nterviewed for the article “Was Casimir Pulaski Intersex?“, in the April 4th edition of the Chicago Reader (pp. 16-17). The article reports on the upcoming Smithsonian Channel documentary “The General Was Female?” (airing April 8th), which documents years of research which make a compelling case for speculation that Casimir Pulaski, revered as a Revolutionary War hero and the Father of the American Cavalry, may have been intersex, and born with XX chromosomes and the non-life threatening, or simply-virilizing form, of Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH). See “About The Research” in this post for an analysis of the evidence examined in the documentary.
We are thrilled about all the attention that the extensive press coverage of the Smithsonian Channel documentary has been able to bring to the issue of why it is critical to end IGM and allow intersex people to grow up as who we are, and we thank everyone involved in the documentary’s creation as well as the researchers whose work brought this information to light!
Viloria, whom appears in the documentary, spoke extensively during a phone interview with article author, Nico Lang, about the fact that Pulaski, if indeed a person born with XX CAH, would today most likely have been subjected to medically unnecessary genital surgery (a.k.a. IGM) in an attempt to make him female, and raised as a girl, pointing out that he would not have been able to serve in the military during his lifetime if this was the case, thus robbing the nation of the Revolutionary War hero whom is believed to have saved George Washington’s life. S/he also discussed the fact that the documentary findings provide further evidence that some people born with XX CAH grow up to be men. This evidence debunks false claims made by the parent led organization CARES–which opposes California’s proposed legislative ban on IGM, SB 201–that all XX CAH born people grow up to be women.
Article author Lang did not quote Viloria on these statements, sharing that no one was quoted because Pagonis and Victor Salvo, founder of the Legacy Project (both interviewed along with Viloria for the article), also discussed how Pulaski’s life might have been different. Fortunately, however, he did include some of the perspectives shared with him, as well as Pagonis’s addition that America “would still have been a colony” were Pulaski subjected to today’s practices, in the article (see excerpt below).
Although Pulaski lived as a man, many children born with CAH are assigned female and subjected to invasive sur- geries to “correct” any perceived variance in their genitalia. This practice, which originated at Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s, has been condemned by the United Nations and three former U.S. surgeons general. Johns Hopkins says it no longer performs intersex surgery, yet the procedure remain common.
Pulaski was born before such medical inter- ventions became an option. Had he been alive two centuries later, his life could have been very different. As a woman, Pulaski wouldn’t have had the opportunity to volunteer for the Continental Army and aid in the reform of the American cavalry. He wouldn’t have led Wash- ington through an escape route at the Battle of Brandywine, when he otherwise would have faced certain death.
Without an intersex person at the front lines living as themselves, Chicago-based intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis says, the reality is that America “would still be a colony.”
“The father of the American cavalry was not even male by our scientific definition,” Viloria adds. “It’s a powerful testament to the fact that biology doesn’t dictate who we are in terms of our lived gender, our perceived gender, and our ability to thrive as any gender.”
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The analysis of how Pulaski would not have been able to thrive as the man he was and contribute to the formation of the United States as a military soldier, had he been subjected to IGM, as well as how his living as a man reflects on SB 201 and false claims made by CARES, were also shared in depth by Viloria on April 7th in a live morning interview on Chicago Out Radio (beginning of the second hour, at 53:00).
These views, along with Pagonis’s point that America might still be a British colony were Pulaski subjected to IGM–as so often happens today–were echoed by InterACT E.D. Kimberly Zieselman in a later New York Times article about the documentary. They were also explored in part in Viloria’s interview in The Advocate and he/r essay in OUT Magazine–which also calls out Dr. Lane Palmer, head of the Societies for Pediatric Urology, for using false information to oppose SB 201–and in other press coverage.
We are honored and proud that our E.D. Hida Viloria was able to participate in the Smithsonian Channel documentary. We note that its creators approached Viloria to appear in it because they loved he/r advocacy and he/r memoir, Born Both: An Intersex Life. They appreciated the fact that, although born with some biological sex traits considered female and reared as a girl, Viloria spent years of he/r life living as a man, during which s/he used male restrooms, took down an officer twice her weight as a skilled martial artist when attacked during a non-violent protest, and was offered a position as a firefighter in the San Francisco Fire Department despite he/r small stature.
About The Research
Many have asked about the science that led to speculation that Pulaski was intersex, and so we share this information, from the Smithsonian Channel documentary, below.
When the skeletal remains believed to be Casimir Pulaski’s were exhumed, DNA evidence demonstrated a match to one of Pulaski’s relatives buried in Poland. The DNA results on their own do not definitively prove the remains exhumed from Georgia are Pulaski’s. However, no other relative of Pulaski’s is known to have traveled to America from Poland. Moreover, examination of the skeletal remains aligned with an injury that Pulaski incurred, namely, a right hand fracture. Results from the skeletal examination also aligned with Pulaski’s known height of 5’4”, age of death at 34, and hip joint and femur anomalies common among those who regularly ride horses.
Skeletal examination of the remains also revealed that the facial structure and pelvis were typical for a female. However, baptismal records show Pulaski was baptized a boy, which would not have been the case if he presented as female at birth. If Pulaski was born with XX CAH, the excess testosterone his body made could have left him with a typical female skeletal structure and external genitalia that looked typically male. This conclusion would align with Pulaski’s known external characteristics such as facial hair and male-pattern baldness—both an outcome of testosterone production atypical for a female.
Without a definitive DNA test there is no way to conclusively prove Pulaski was born intersex. Although DNA testing was done to determine that the skeletal remains matched a Pulaski relative, the DNA needed to verify an intersex variance is typically not available from skeletal remains. However, the available evidence makes a compelling case that Pulaski was born with XX chromosomes and CAH, and lived his life as a man.
https://www.chicagoreader.com/pdf/2019/040419-small.pdf (pp. 16-17)
This is great! It’s so important to keep using historical evidence to highlight the ways in which intersex people have lived healthy, productive and happy lives throughout history when we haven’t been treated like monsters. If the forensic historians had not entertained the possibility that he might’ve been intersex and instead pretended that the only possibility was the skeleton buried in his tomb was female science, history and his tomb would’ve been sacrificed to a very wrong “belief” that all anatomies are absolutely male or female with no overlap, and nothing in between. Putting an end to that kind of error is long overdue. I hope this essay makes it far and wide.