The Amazing, Heartbreaking Story Of Tony Briffa, The World’s First Openly Intersex Mayor

At birth, Tony Briffa’s doctors couldn’t determine his gender. He had a rare intersex condition known as Incomplete Testicular Feminisation that made his gonads release estrogen even though he genetically tested as male. So on his doctor’s advice his parents raised him as a girl named Antoinette—they painted his room pink, gave him dolls at Christmas and made him wear frilly dresses to school.

The frequent hospital visits for hormone therapy and surgery made him feel like a freak: his parents had him castrated at age seven and even though he told his doctors as a pre-teen that he felt like a boy, they ignored him and continued administering female hormone therapy, something that filled him with desperation and thoughts of suicide as he entered his teenage years.

As an adult, Briffa married his first boyfriend, but the marriage didn’t last long. Because Briffa was raised a woman and felt attracted to females, he thought he might be lesbian, but his not-completely feminine body made him feel uncomfortable with that identity too.

He eventually became a full-time foster parent to two loving siblings—a 15-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy—and decided to go into Australian politics. And though he lost a federal election in 2000 and a state election in 2002, he recently got elected as the mayor of Hobson’s Bay, Victoria. As such, he’s the world’s first ever openly intersex mayor.

Though Briffa said he looks forward to serving his city with enthusiasm and pride, National LGBTI Health Alliance Board Member Gina Wilson says:

“Tony is an inspiration and a role model for a whole generation of intersex people, both those who have suffered early interventions and those who have come to their differences later in life.

“We share Tony’s hope that his election will break down taboos associated with intersex differences. Tony is a wonderful example of how intersex people can overcome the devastating and unnecessary medical treatment meted out to so many intersex children, and go on to become champions of human rights and cultural diversity for everyone.”

Life as a man has not been easy for Briffa. He has suffered repeated hospitalizations due to infections associated with his ongoing testosterone treatments. And because he cannot sexually function as a heterosexual male, he has avoided relationships with heterosexual women altogether, preferring instead to focus on his kids and community.

On his website, he writes:

“I feel very comfortable having accepted my true nature. I am not male or female, but both. I am grateful for the years I lived as a woman and the insight and experiences it gave me. I am still ‘Antoinette’ and have now also incorporated and accepted my male (‘Anthony’ or ‘Tony’) side. I feel whole. I’ll continue to live as Tony but I feel I am now at a point in my life where I can celebrate being different.”

In his community, Briffa has distinguished himself as a hardworking, resilient pragmatist with a sense of humor and an affinity for diversity and environmental issues. And even though only 1 in 113,000 people ever experience Briffa’s intersex condition, he offers a encouraging story for anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in their own body, suffered years of abuse or felt confusion about their gender.

Image via Tony Briffa

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  • Ryan

    I thought he was elected mayor of Hobsons Bay near Melbourne, not Melbourne itself…

  • Marriage Equality

    elected mayor of HOBSON’S BAY (outside of Melbourne)… NOT Melbourne.

  • ewe

    “I am not male or female but both.” We should all be so conscious of that very true fact.

  • Panserbjorne

    Regardless of whatever political office he might win, Tony Briffa is an inspiration. Thank you, Queerty, and Mr. Villarreal, for posting this.

  • Mike in Asheville

    Wow, Daniel and Queerty, two great posts in a row!

    And aren’t we all both male and female? Great story.

  • amo

    Wow, it’s so nice when queerty writes something non-asshole-y.

    Not a fan of the the word “openly” in regard to QQUILT*BAGs though. “Out” is better.

  • Zoe Brain

    6 comments, and no-one’s chimed in about how Intersex people are riding on GLB coat-tails, that it has nothing to do with sexual orientation, we should fight our own battles etc ?


    Things are improving. And apart from a minor glitch re mayor of 10,000-pop Hobson’s Bay not 4 million pop Melbourne, accurate and sympathetic. Well done, Queerty. And thanks.

  • Interesting

    @Zoe Brain: Well, give it enough time, someone will chime in with just that sort of comment.

    On the positive side, this is a great story. Its sad that societal norms will do things to people that they even have to overcome like this.

  • Riker

    @Zoe Brain: Intersex people are a tiny minority of a tiny minority, and so there aren’t nearly as many activists, bloggers etc. They also acknowledge that their problem is purely medical and they have a real medical disorder. They realize that they are somewhere between male and female, and they don’t want people who DO fall on one side or the other to create special rules for them or change what we call ourselves. They don’t rant about rich white cis trans-exterminationist gay male privilege.

    So no, I have no problem at all with intersex people. None at all.

  • Angela Erde

    @Riker: Intersex people a “Intersex people are a tiny minority of a tiny minority”… since when is 4% of the human population worldwide a “tiny minority”?

  • Angela Erde

    @Riker: Intersex people a “Intersex people are a tiny minority of a tiny minority”… since when is 4% of the human population worldwide a “tiny minority”?

    Intersex, Riker, is also most certainly NOT a medical disorder. It is a range of natural biological variations.

    This may help:

  • Aiden

    @Riker: A lot of trans people haven’t don’t say those things either, but don’t let me stop you from generalizing.

  • Interesting

    @Riker: <classic example of the Jim Crow south analogy where the whites would say 'we don't have a problem with the niggers. just the one's that complain." And before you say it, no, there is no difference in terms of the value of the analogy between the situations other than one that you will now try to create.

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