University of Central Florida associate lecturer Irene Pons and her legal studies class are striving to help a Central Florida woman revise her birth certificate.
Why does Juleigh Mayfield need legal intervention in order to complete such an ordinary task?
Because her story isn’t so typical.
Neither Male or Female
Although Mayfield lived four decades of her life as a man, she was technically born intersex, meaning she possesses both male and female biological characteristics. Intersex is a naturally occurring variation, and while children are assigned a legal sex at birth, sometimes they later learn their gender does not match that selection.
According to InterACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, experts estimate that as many as 1.7 percent of people are born with intersex traits, which is about as common as being born with red hair.
At the age of 17, Mayfield was diagnosed 47, XXY with Klinefelter syndrome. 47, XXY is a genetic variation that results when a baby is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome. Klinefelter syndrome develops at puberty and has the potential to adversely affect genital growth, which can lead to a lower production of hormones.
At age 43, after experiencing a number of medical complications linked to her variation — including lupus, osteoporosis and a hysterectomy — doctors at the National Institute of Health advised her to take estrogen for a better quality of life.
“I said, ‘What if I go home and I don’t go on anything?’ Because I knew that the estrogen would heighten all the feminine aspects of my life and cause a full transition,” Mayfield says. “And the doctor said, ‘We believe that if you go home and you do nothing, you’ll be dead in five years.’”
She chose the estrogen, the surgery and her life.
But with the decision to become female came a new set of issues.
Battle for a Birth Certificate
Her Alabama birth certificate list male and her former name, James Bradford Mayfield. In Alabama, a court order is needed to change the gender on a birth certificate, but there is no form or process available to obtain one. Without an updated birth certificate, Mayfield struggles with presenting legal documentation for things like loans, employment and updating her passport.
“It’s hard to understand that a piece of paper impacts so much of what we do,” Mayfield says. “I travel a lot for advocacy, and I need to be able to say, ‘This is who I am.’ I don’t want to have to hide. Nobody should have to hide.”
So Pons, who maintains her certification as a lawyer, and her intercultural legal competence class offered to step in. Pons first met Mayfield in the 1990s when they both worked at Walt Disney World. She offered her services pro bono once she learned of Mayfield’s predicament.
First on the list was a legal name change. It was a simple process, and Pons was able to easily find a name change form on the court’s website.
A form for a gender change, however, didn’t seem to be available — anywhere. Pons’ class focuses on diversity and inclusion cases, and Mayfield’s case suddenly presented an opportunity to immerse the students in a real life example. Twenty one undergraduates found themselves with a very important new assignment: create a petition for a gender-marker change.
The team at The XXY Project offer our best wishes to Juleigh Amanda in achieving the recognition she so rightly deserves. God Speed!