Believe it or not, there are a couple of instances in the past few years in which Turner Syndrome was portrayed, fairly correctly, in pop culture. Personally I am glad to see it. Let’s start with the book.
The protagonist of Jennifer Haigh’s 2008 novel The Condition, Gwen, has Turner Syndrome. While the “condition” of the novel supposedly refers to Turners, it really, at the end of the novel, represents the human condition. I won’t go into detail about Gwen’s family, all of whom are much more screwed up than she is, other than to say the entire novel is about family dysfunction and the million little ways in which we hurt each other.
For a time, I felt conflicted about the book. For every woman with Turners who felt the book accurate, there were just as many who saw it as inaccurate. From my perspective, it is fairly accurate; it just uses the physical and social characteristics associated with Turners to full effect. After reading the book a second time, I still find it hard to fairly review the book. I suppose in some ways it describes various aspects of Turners a little too well.
There are a few scenes in the book that I could directly relate to as a woman with Turners. The scene in which Gwen is compared to a female cousin approximately the same age breaks my heart, as did the scene in which Gwen begs her Mother for a new bathing suit. I could relate. I have a slightly older female cousin who happened to wear women’s sizes long before I could. I distinctly remember feeling left out, never able to catch up, and plain envious. Jennifer Haigh captured the situation well, but I wish she would’ve included more from Gwen’s perspective, even if she was a child at the time.
One of the most perplexing and complicated relationships in the novel happens to be between Gwen and her Mother. Again, I found I could relate to their relationship, unfortunately. Gwen seemed to have the need to become her own woman, in spite of what her Mother thought best. While I have a better relationship with my Mom than Gwen had with hers, I do feel she doesn’t even begin to understand where I am coming from at times. While that may be true for many mothers and daughters, I do think a diagnosis of Turner Syndrome strains that particular relationship. How can mothers help their daughters deal with almost certain infertility, especially at a young age? I was diagnosed at age three and knew about infertility by age ten. I don’t think there is an answer and I don’t think most moms know how to even begin to address it.
Most of the action in the novel pertaining to Gwen revolves around her finally finding love and happiness. The details pertaining to the reactions of her family members, some of which are just plain awful, seem a bit far-fetched. Then again, many people just do not know what to make of women with Turner Syndrome at times, especially when it comes to romantic relationships and sex. While the book ended on very positive notes, the ending seemed forced. I must say that I highly approve of the life Gwen created for herself in the end. What more can anyone ask for?
Below is a video of Jennifer Haigh discussing The Condition. I suppose I’m left wondering if she understands the role hormone replacement therapy plays in helping women with Turners Syndrome develop secondary sex characteristics, but I digress.
It is now time to move on to TV. Several years ago I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of my favorite TV shows, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, dealt with Turner Syndrome. In the episode Clock, teenager Janey Speer, who has Turners, disappears with a classmate while on a field trip. While Benson and Stabler first believe Janey to be the victim in the case, it isn’t so clear cut in the end.
I won’t give away the plot – and Turners is central to the plot in this case – but there are a couple of things I found quite amusing about this episode. First and foremost, this episode portrays Turners girls and women as extremely stubborn. I certainly fit that stereotype, as does most of my family. The amusing part is that most Turners girls and women I’ve met over the years also fit the stereotype. We are a feisty bunch. My theory is that we had to be stubborn even to survive in the womb. As 98 to 99% of fetuses with Turner Syndrome are miscarried, we can truly say we are the 1%.
The episode focuses on just how young Janey looks at 17. In many ways I take exception to the portrayal of Turners girls and woman as always looking much younger than their true age. That certainly isn’t always the case, although it would come in handy say at age 40. What got me is the reaction from the cops to Janey’s relationship with her boyfriend. He really did get treated shabbily. One detective even tried to get him as pedophile. While it would be easy to find that offensive, there was enough humor and humanity in the characters throughout the episode to put things in perspective. Maybe I’m just partial to Turners girls and women being portrayed as stubborn. Of course we are!
- The Condition by Jennifer Haigh (bookjourney.wordpress.com)