UCF associate lecturer Irene Pons ’98 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 as 47, XXY and with Klinefelter syndrome. 47, XXY is a genetic condition 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.
For the next six years she took a high dosage of testosterone daily, but a prostate cancer scare forced Mayfield to stop the supplement.
At age 43, after experiencing a number of medical complications linked to her condition — including lupus, osteoporosis and a hysterectomy — doctors at the National Institute of Health advised her to take estrogen for a better quality of life.
“The doctor said, ‘We believe that if you go home and you do nothing, you’ll be dead in five years.’” — Juleigh Mayfield
“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.
“I never would have imagined this opportunity to be able to work on a real case, especially this unique of a case.” — Patrick Davanzo, UCF senior
“I never would have imagined this opportunity to be able to work on a real case, especially this unique of a case. It definitely went outside the boundaries of the lecture classroom,” says Patrick Davanzo, a senior legal studies major who is also minoring in music. “Discrimination is a very big issue, and everything that we can do as students to help tackle that issue — to get everyone on the same playing field — is such an amazing experience; even if it just starts with a gender-marker form.”
They analyzed policies in other states, namely California and New York, where they could find readily accessible material online to help construct the language of their form.
The students drafted the one-page document themselves in a one-hour class. Pons says she was there to supervise and help them with ideas.
“I was really proud of the language that they chose, and the way they analytically thought about which details to include,” Pons says. “They’re learning to think like lawyers.”
Not Over Yet
The petition was heard for the first time on Jan. 15 in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. Many of the students from the class who worked on the case during the fall semester sat in the courtroom at the Osceola County Courthouse in support of Mayfield and to see the outcome of their work.
Pons presented the facts of the case before turning to Mayfield to provide testimony. Judge Michael Kraynick, who indicated he had never presided over a case of this nature before, said that he could not find a provision in Florida Law that provided specific guidance for gender marker change. He decided he needed more time before he could make his ruling, asking Pons to consider supplementing her documentation with the additional case law examples she referenced in her courtroom presentation.
“This is an interesting topic and I want to make sure we come to the right decision,” Kraynick said.
Pons says there are 109 law cases she and her current class will sift through before Jan. 22 to see if any precedent can help Mayfield’s case. After Pons submits her supplemental material Jan. 22, they will wait to hear from Kraynick, who has no set deadline to make his ruling.
If the petition is approved, Mayfield’s next step will be to take the court order to Alabama and hope the state deems it as sufficient documentation to update her birth certificate. Mayfield will also use the use the documentation to update her Florida Driver’s License, which indicates her new name, but a male gender marker.
If the petition is not approved, Mayfield says she will likely file to appeal her case.
As for Pons, she hopes a future class of her students will take steps to make the petition — once accepted — a resource for the community at large. She’d like to see it become more accessible to other individuals seeking a gender change.
Whatever the result, Mayfield says she has found her purpose in raising awareness about intersex and XXY individuals, and this particular moment is another milestone in that journey.
“It seems like a small blip on the radar to me, in my mind, of what I’m doing and what’s being done. But if Judge Kraynick approves this document, it could be just like that stone in the lake with the ripples — 20 or 25 years from now, it could be a really big deal, and this could have been the start of it,” she says. “It’s important that people know about intersex individuals because we deserve the same kind of treatment that everybody else does. The fight is not so black and white. It’s not. There are a lot of people that say, ‘You can only be female, or you can only be male.’ And I’m proof, and so many other counterparts like me are proof, that’s not the case. We’re meant to be here, too.
“We are all very unique, and we all have very many differences, but the only way we can grow and move forward is to embrace every aspect of life and learn from it.”