If you’ve never heard of complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, you’re not alone. It’s one of 44 intersex variations which, although they affect up to 2 percent of the population, are rarely talked about. Jackie Green wants to change that. As a competitive runner (and Tina’s teammate) at Ferris State University, she kept quiet about having CAIS. But she came out publicly five years ago and now uses her platform as the reigning Mrs. America to advocate for intersex youth.
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Jackie discovered running when she ran a mile race in fifth grade and did “okay.” She had never participated in a sport, and thought that running might be the one for her. It was, and became an important part of her life. “I made my friends that way and my team felt like my family and it was something I never wanted to have to let go of,” she says. “Going from high school into college, I wasn’t the fastest runner on my team; I was top five maybe. And I wanted to keep running in college. And I remember everyone said, ‘Why? You’re not running 17-minute 5Ks. Why do you want to keep doing this?’ I just couldn’t imagine a life without it was really what it came down to.”
That was part of the reason why she wouldn’t tell anyone that she had CAIS. She was born with XY chromosomes, but her body can’t respond to testosterone and instead converts it into usable estrogen. Without testosterone, the body develops female externally, but doesn’t have internal reproductive organs. As a result, Jackie didn’t menstruate, and at school she made up “outlandish stories” about why she didn’t. Doctors and her family had told her that it “needed to be kept very, very quiet because the school might not be comfortable with me competing,” she recalls, and she thought, “What if they take all this away and I don’t get to be on the team because of this condition?”
Even if it didn’t prevent her from competing, she says, “I was always afraid of not being accepted or having someone misconstrue, like something was wrong with me for having this condition.” She was well aware of the backlash against Caster Semenya, and wondered, “What would they think of me having these chromosomes that don’t match what we think we know about men and women?” One podcast attacking Semenya “just ate at me like, oh my gosh, all those fears I had about, ‘If you learned I had this’ are real, because look what happens if I was really good; that’s what would happen.”
Especially after she underwent surgery at age 15 to remove the estrogen-producing testes in her abdomen, she found herself trying to seem “hyper-feminine.” Pageants were the ideal arena to demonstrate her femininity. Jackie had competed in pageants, with baton twirling as her talent, since she was 12 years old. “I liked being on stage and I liked the fashion and I liked doing talent and I just liked that stuff. I just always was drawn to it. I watched the pageant on TV. It was something I wanted to do, but I think I also had something to prove in the back of my head.”
She quit pageants when she went to college, but after she got married, she discovered “Mrs.” pageantry. “This is gonna sound crazy and it’s hard to explain it to people who don’t do pageants,” she says. “I feel more accepted and strong in a pageant in my body than I do running, if I’m being honest. Runners are the most critical people of each other and of themselves. I cringe when I think about the things I told myself or the things I let my teammates say about themselves, based on what they thought they needed to do to accomplish a goal, and you don’t hear that in pageants.”
Jackie acknowledges that in collegiate running, there’s more talk about accepting different body types than there was when she was in school. But in pageants, she says, “I always felt very strong because when you model in your swimsuit, we’ll say, on stage, they read a bio you write. I’d always write about running and how I’ve run in the last three years, four marathons, and I ran each one for a different organization. I’ve run for Purple Community, I’ve run for intersex youth, I’ve run for Kids Food Basket, and I’ve raised thousands of dollars for those and run thousands of miles, and I think that’s pretty cool that I can stand up here in a swimsuit knowing I did that. I know I’m by no means the thinnest woman up there or the most muscular, but I think that it’s a good way to tie in, ‘Look how much our bodies did.’”
A few years ago, Jackie went to a conference for people with intersex conditions. “I think meeting people like me made me feel normal, which is something I’ve always looked for. If I met someone else, especially an athlete going through what I went through, I just would want to tell them it’s all gonna be okay and that you’re blessed to just be here and be alive.” Last November Jackie was crowned Mrs. America 2022, giving her the opportunity to do exactly that.
If you’re in west Michigan, you can hear Jackie hosting the morning show on 105.3 FM from 6:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., Monday through Friday.
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“Thank you” to Jackie. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.