New Jersey politics series
Born in Buffalo, NY, in the 60s, doctors were unsure of what gender Betsy Driver was based on what they saw. Simply put, she was born with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.
Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not so simple.
You see, Betsy was born with a condition where there are congenital differences in sex characteristics, often affecting hormone production, metabolism, and the immune system. Betsy explains in a recent Now This interview that people in the medical community often feel the misguided need to surgically reshape the bodies of people who are born intersex. Many surgeries that Driver underwent as a child, she did not discover until she was in her thirties. Upon discovering these details about her medical journey, she went into action. Driver is now the Mayor of Flemington, NJ. She raises awareness of what intersex means, and how people who work in the medical community must immediately cease the practice of mutilation of infant genitalia, which is a common strategy of doctors who play “Guess the Gender” with those born with this condition.
Her story? Fascinating. Her mission? Pertinent to our community as LGBTQIA people.
So, Pride 2019, the 50th anniversary at Stonewall. You are celebrated as a community hero for being one of the first intersex elected officials in the US. What did it feel like to be recognized?
Betsy Driver: It was amazing. I generally avoid big crowds. I have never really gone to New York City Pride. To be on that float, going through, passing millions of people left me speechless. [It was] an amazing experience. The honor of being recognized for what I’ve done in the world of intersex advocacy really validates some of the struggles that people with sex variation deal with, and also validates some of the work I’ve done going back to 2000.
To have started your organization Bodies Like Ours in 2001, it must have been scary to embark on such a journey. Tell us more about that project.
BD: In the late 1990s, I was in my thirties and I finally got a computer. One of the first things I did was look up Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. After a lifetime of being told that CAH was incredibly rare, I discovered that there were a ton of women out there dealing with the same things. I’ve always known my body was different. There were many medical exams, but I just never quite knew how or why.
My mother would ask doctors, “Are there any other families out there dealing with this?” I would say, “You know, it would be really cool to meet somebody else with CAH.” We had been told that there was never anybody else out there with a body like mine. When I got that first computer and discovered that there were many, many people out there like me, I realized that all of us have been told the same thing. I met another woman who also lived in Hunterdon County. And we decided to start this organization for people with intersex variations to meet others and to converse with others throughout the world.
I don’t know if I gave any thought that it was a scary thing. I had been a journalist so it just seemed natural to get out there and share my story. I was telling other people’s stories for decades. The organization grew and it grew. It gave birth to many of the very well known intersex activists that are out there doing the heavy lifting today. This was before Facebook. I used an internet messaging service to bring people together and it really changed the entire landscape.
What kind of social advocacy work are you doing in Flemington or elsewhere?
BD: I share my story frequently and I tell people about it. I used it as a campaign piece when I was running for town counsel in 2017, talking about Intersex Awareness Day. Being mayor gives me a huge platform to share that story, to share my story and other’s stories. It gives me a seat at the table. I hope as mayor I’m able to use it in the future to perhaps change some of the laws that permit non-consensual surgery on the genital reproductive organs.
I lived in your county for a long time. I always heard people say they were “fiscally conservative, and socially liberal” If I’m honest, it always drove me nuts. How do you handle that crowd?
BD: You know, Flemington is the county seat. The politics here are kind of funny. Flemington has been a traditional Republican town. It is shifting a little bit as the population has changed. To win and become a council member and then mayor in the county seat of probably the most conservative county in New Jersey is pretty amazing. Especially because I was out about who I was. And I did that very intentionally. Anybody who Googles me, the first thing that comes up is my Intersex advocacy. There was no hiding. I wasn’t going to hide it. I was able to use that platform to educate people as to what it is.
How do you think your impact has changed your community?
BD: When I was on Council, I introduced the resolution for declaring June to be Pride month in Flemington. That was unheard of. The groups claiming to be seen as socially liberal, fiscally conservative folks realized they were not nearly as socially liberal as they thought they were. I’m hopeful that as mayor, with a couple of progressive Democratic Council members, we can get Flemington out of those conservative dark ages, making a more socially welcoming place.
Today’s political climate has, well, a lot of opportunity. What message of hope can you give our readers that we’re going to get through this?
BD: Just keep telling your story, own your story. When people know your story, you become a real person. If you don’t, somebody else will do it on your behalf, and it might not be the story that you like. In today’s political climate, you have to keep telling your story. The actions in Washington have real impact on our lives. Hopefully that will lead to a change of what overall is going on. I’m grateful that I live in a state like New Jersey that is resistant to political nonsense. Hopefully the dark ages of the Trump administration will be passed us soon, I hope.
So, where is Betsy Driver driving to next?
BD: I ran to be the mayor because I wanted to help my community. And I didn’t want to be mayor as a stepping-stone to something else. I just want to make Flemington a better place. I just want to do what I can to make it a better place to live.