The Vittitow Twins Face the Taunts and Trauma of a Sex Change to Become Males
05/31/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
When Carolyn and Marilyn Vittitow attend their next reunion at Vandalia (Ill.) Community High, they suspect their classmates might think that they've changed a lot. It's not that Carolyn and Marilyn have gained weight, or started to wear glasses, or changed their hairstyles. Instead, they have changed their names—and gender. They are now Michael and Marcus Vittitow, twin transsexuals on their way to becoming men.
The 25-year-olds, both nursing home workers, have "cross-dressed" as men for five years and have had mastectomies. "The thing I hated the most about my body was my breasts," says Marc (Marilyn). They take male hormones, which have lowered their voices, shifted their weight and, Mike (Carolyn) says, "contributed to beard growth and all that stuff." They plan to have complete hysterectomies and then phalloplasties to construct penises. Another procedure will be necessary to make intercourse possible; however, they can never father children. "No matter what kind of surgery we have," says Marc, "it will not be 100 percent." Yet as soon as he legally becomes a man (the state must issue a new birth certificate under court order), Mike plans to marry his roommate of two years, a divorced woman with a 7-year-old son. Marc lives alone and likes to go bowling and fishing.
Psychiatrist Paul Packman, a gender identity specialist at Washington University in St. Louis, has counseled the twins. Packman feels that transsexual problems are biological in origin, though they have psychological symptoms. "I think people are born this way," he says. "Patients with gender problems want to be the opposite sex even before they understand the difference between male and female."
The third and fourth of Joseph and Mary Sue Vittitow's eight children, the twins say they had "a pretty good childhood" despite their unease as girls. Mike claims, "We knew in kindergarten or first grade that we would rather have been boys. We liked to do all the things that boys do—play army, wrestle around—and anytime we got dolls and stuff like that for Christmas, we'd just shove them aside. Sometimes we'd tear up the dolls because we did not want to play with them. My parents did their best to make little girls out of us," he continues. "My mom always dressed us in identical dresses." The twins decided they were different when at 5 they watched The Mickey Mouse Club reruns. "We had a crush on Annette Funicello," Marc recalls. "We had fistfights about her."
At first both thought that they were gay. "Most people feel that if you have a feeling for someone of the same sex, you are automatically a homosexual," says Mike. "But it goes much deeper because we have sexual feeling for females and primarily want to be men."
In high school, Marc says, "We were ridiculed because we didn't have boyfriends." Mike later tried lesbian dating, but Marc complains, "I want the kind of woman who goes to the PTA and takes the kids to Little League. There are not too many gay women like that." They also experimented unhappily with heterosexual sex as females.
In 1977 they saw a TV documentary on transsexuals and experienced a shock of recognition. "We were suicidal for a while because we had such a need to be men," Mike says. "We knew we would have to face our family and the town we lived in. Vandalia is a very prejudiced place." Says Marc, "I remembered the one thing that Mom bestowed on us before she died. She said, 'The older you get, the less you worry about what people think.' " In 1978 they started to become men.
Two years ago they moved to Belleville, Ill., a larger town near St. Louis, but they remain close to their family. Their mother died six years ago, before they realized they were transsexuals. Their father, a retired electrician, had trouble accepting it. "Just put a dress on," he once told them, "and that will change your mind."
The Vittitows' four younger brothers were teased about the twins' sex change in school, but now all their siblings seem resigned to it. "Life is too short for them not to do what they want to do," says their sister, Paula Craig, 29. "I will never turn my back on them and I am not ashamed of them. They are my flesh and blood."
About 6,000 Americans have undergone similar transformations, and an equal number of men and women request surgery. The Vittitows' medical fees will ultimately reach $15,000 apiece. To help defray those costs, the twins are writing a book about their lives. Telling all about their metamorphosis to masculinity does not bother them. "I like the publicity if it's done right," Mike says. "It makes people understand we are not freaks. We are human."