Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Another Lap for Michael Phelps’s Self-Proclaimed Girlfriend

Another Lap for Michael Phelps’s Self-Proclaimed Girlfriend

Taylor Lianne Chandler is getting another 15 minutes of fame, as the now 42-year-old sign-language interpreter — whose claim to have dated Olympic swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps remains unsubstantiated — embarks on what she’s calling a “media tour.”

Chandler was in New York this week to make what’s billed as her first in-person appearance — celebrating her birthday at a strip club — and to grant more interviews. She declined an interview with The Advocate, citing weather-related travel delays, but agreed to answer written questions. 

One was about the extent of her relationship with Phelps, which she says has now ended: “I was intimate with him several times,” Chandler told The Advocate. “He is a great lover. There is not one part of my body he does not know.”

Her body is at the center of most of the sensational and erroneous tabloid reports that labeled the Washington, D.C.-area woman as having been “born a man.”

That oft-repeated, medically impossible headline and variations of it have sparked criticism of media coverage, the likes of which have not been seen since Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera schooled Katie Couric when the talk show host focused her interview on their anatomy.

A more accurate explanation would be to describe Chandler as intersex, a term that she herself uses. According to the Intersex Society of North America, “intersex” means she was born with genitalia that don’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.

The Washington Post reports that she was born without testicles and without ovaries, but with both a penis and a uterus. Chandler also gave an interview to The Daily Beast, published today, in which she described her body at birth:

“Being born in the ’70s, normally what doctors would do is whatever was most predominant and easiest to repair. So for me, they look down and they see what appears to be a penis, but on the backside of it it’s open like a slit. So they close that off. They just assumed my testes hadn’t dropped, not thinking for whatever reason that there just weren’t any. And it’s not like they do an x-ray or MRI on a child that’s just born to see if they have a uterus. So they hand me to my parents and say here’s your baby boy. So before I could talk, no one knew anything different.”

She always identified as female, she added. “As soon as I was able to communicate, I never said I wanted to be a girl. I just knew I was,” she told The Daily Beast. “And I was very vocal about it. I dressed as a girl, lived as a girl, acted as a girl, and that was that.”

That’s in keeping with other statements Chandler has made. “I was never a man, never lived as a man,” she wrote in a statement on her Facebook page November 13. “No one can say they knew me as a man or produce a photo of me as a man.”

She also cannot produce a single photograph of Phelps (who has recently been in rehab following a DUI arrest) that she took, or even one that shows them together. Chandler told the Post last week that’s because she “sort of thought something like this would happen, getting outed, so that’s why I didn’t want anyone to see us together.”

Thus far, a review by The Advocate indicates Chandler has not been outed as intersex by anyone but herself, in interview after interview with a variety of both popular and bottom-feeder media, from Entertainment Tonight to TMZ to gossip websites, and now in written answers to questions posed by The Advocate.

So her desire to avoid being seen with Phelps is surprising, given that for their first date, she says in her Facebook statement, she accompanied Phelps to the most crowded venue in Baltimore: a home game played by his hometown’s NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens, on September 21. 

In her Facebook statement, Chandler claimed that they met on Tinder, reportedly in August, and she described their relationship as “like a teenage love affair.” She went on to write that Phelps “was the first man I ever had intimacy with and felt comfortable and all woman.” 

Despite that intimacy, Chandler wrote that she was guarded about her past, telling Phelps it was because she “grew up with a famous father.” But ultimately, she said, the threat of the media finally exposing her as intersex is what prompted her to reveal her secret to Phelps and to the world.

“I was born intersex and named David Roy Fitch at birth,” Chandler wrote in her Facebook statement. “In my early teens I was medically diagnosed and went on testosterone blockers, at 15 estrogen enhancers.” That would have been 1988, and a rare medical intervention for its time.

Chandler's Facebook post when on to detail her brushes with the law, including her own arrest for DUI as well as check kiting and the fact that she went to jail in Maine after pleading guilty to a charge of extortion at age 19. Chandler also tells a horrifying tale of jailhouse rape.

She also noted that in the early 1990s, she briefly assumed another name, Paige Victoria Whitney, to publicize the cause of gender rights, but says she changed her name once more in 1993, to Taylor Lianne Whitney.

Chandler says she then underwent what she called “corrective surgery” to remove her penis and construct an artificial vagina, a procedure called vaginoplasty, commonly known as one part of gender-confirming surgery. The effect, surgeons and post-operative patients agree, is a reconstruction of the genitals so that they are indistinguishable in appearance and sexual function from those of someone born with a vagina.

When the Post asked Chandler if she had some way to verify her relationship with Phelps, the newspaper’s Terrence McCoy reported that she boasted she had “forensic” proof. “My phone with the messages between Michael and I is locked up in a safety deposit box in Florida,” she said. “I also have a 17,000-page forensic report showing everything — all the geo scans, the cellphone tower signals, the pings. And they’re coming from his phone.”

But Chandler said Phelps has yet to use that phone, email, or any other means to contact her, now that he is out of the rehab facility where he spent most of October and the last few weeks, following his second arrest for DUI in a decade.

In an online video (see below), Chandler has accused Phelps and his aides of deserting her. She also told The Daily Beast that she and Phelps are no longer together, and the reason is for him to disclose if he chooses.

Some reports say Chandler was the woman with the 29-year-old Phelps at the time of his arrest, early in the morning of September 30, including some on tabloid websites such as The Hollywood Gossip. Those reports described her as a cougar and focused on her looks and her build. Subsequent reports included her name and referenced the difference in their ages, but not that she is intersex. She told The Daily Beast, though, that she was not with Phelps when he was arrested, but instead saw him later the same day.

Chandler told The Advocate that was the last day she saw Phelps face-to-face. But they “kept in touch by phone and text and other apps” up until November 12. That’s the day she revealed to him her secret, the day before she announced to the world she is intersex via Facebook. She described their contact since then as “a one-way conversation” via email. Chandler also attempted to contact one of Phelps’s sisters, Hilary, but that ended badly.

Hilary Phelps tweeted, “I'm a BIG believer in #karma // The lies people will tell for their 15-minutes are unreal.” Chandler said the sister blocked her and accuses her of “attacking” her.

Phelps himself has yet to comment publicly, and appears to be focused only on his sport. He was reportedly back in a pool practicing Monday. An official from his training base in Baltimore told NBC Sports that Phelps is working toward his goals for next summer. The statement came as the official accepted the Male Athlete of the Year award on Phelps’s behalf at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles event Monday night.

Phelps’s camp has not responded to The Advocate’s repeated requests for comment, but one report says the swimmer is “embarrassed” by Chandler’s public declaration. The Hollywood Life website claims a source close to the gold medalist says he just wants it all to go away. “He is completely horrified and embarrassed,” the source is quoted as saying. “He is cutting her off cold turkey and doesn’t want to talk about it to anyone at all. He wants it to go away as fast as possible.”

Chandler has used Twitter to say she’d like to see the hurtful headlines go away, claiming she got physically ill seeing items like “Michael Phelps ‘Embarrassed’ He Didn’t Know Hookup Girl Was a Guy,” just one of the dozens labeling her a man.

The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, has been among the select few journalism outfits that has elevated the conversation beyond the puerile, and used the news about Chandler to educate its readers about intersex individuals.

On Bustle.com, writer Kat Haché explains, “This discouraging miscategorization was how many people were exposed to the story, and this willful disregard of her identity is yet another example of media outlets using transphobic sentiments to drive traffic."

Like myself, Haché is openly transgender, and writes that although Chandler doesn’t identify as trans* she does count transwomen among her supporters. (The asterisk following the word "trans" indicates its use as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of identities, including transgender, transsexual, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary, among others.) Chandler frequently posts items in support of transgender women in her social media accounts, including that she attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance in Phelps’s hometown the day after the tabloids picked up her story.

Haché points out, “Chandler’s example in particular illustrates the frustrating unwillingness of our society to allow transgender and intersex individuals to define themselves on their terms.” Chandler told The Advocate she reached out to Redefining Realness author and trans activist Janet Mock for support “after being outed as [Phelps’s] girlfriend” and says Mock wished her luck and told her “I had to do what was right for me.”

But to skeptics and Phelps’s fans, the very fact that Chandler redefined herself as a “Public Figure” on her Facebook page was reason enough to question her motives and her claims.

And once she admitted she had kept Phelps in the dark about her past, as she had others, for decades, many angry Phelps fans attacked Chandler online. Her reasoning, according to her Facebook statement: “The problem is I have made friends that I never told and dated and married people that knew nothing of my past.” As for Phelps, “I never lied to him,” Chandler told the Post. “We were together for such a short period of time, I never had a chance to tell him about my life.”

But her life remains largely a mystery, one that stretches back long before her alleged relationship with the Olympic swimmer, and what we know is based largely on her Facebook postings, tweets, and her website.

The Post confirmed she previously lived in Cape Coral, Fla., and had been married in Lee County, Fla., to Daniel Patrick Chandler. They broke up in 2012 and have no children.

The divorcee didn’t publicly reemerge until late October, when the former Mrs. Chandler, now of Washington, D.C., created that “Public Figure” facebook page. It is there that she declares (in the third person) that her life changed “when her relationship with Michael Phelps, was made public.”

Her social media presence is not much more than a curious collection of selfies, stock pictures of Phelps, and press clips about her, Phelps, and transgender people. Many of the comments that appear there note that all of her photos of Phelps come from public sources and news media websites.

Within a week of going public, Chandler gave exclusive interviews to the National Enquirer (the Enquirer article is available only in the print edition) and to Radar Online. She has stated over and over, and her publicist maintains, that going public was her only option, to tell her own story before the tabloid media did.

Notably, virtually all the articles currently online and in print since Chandler's November 13 revelation of being intersex were either written with Chandler's cooperation or liberally quote her statements and interviews with other media outlets.

Only one website, called TheDirty.com, reported that TMZ posted, then deleted, images of Phelps and Chandler together, and that she was negotiating a settlement with Phelps’s publicist, Octagon Sports Management, “to keep her 6-week love affair with Michael quiet and not expose the pics of them together or him naked.” Chandler told The Advocate that TMZ did remove the pictures but denied she was “negotiating a settlement to keep quiet.”

So, if there ever was a tabloid story waiting in the wings to expose Chandler, it appears she's either successfully quashed it, or it was all part of the publicity machine she has constructed. Her publicist told The Advocate Chandler's only goal now after telling her story is to get back to work as a sign-language interpreter. But Chandler said opportunities for that work “just stopped coming for the most part. My career depends on privacy and confidentially and to be invisible. I am obviously none of those things now :( ”

Is there a memoir in her future? “There have been many offers that run the gambit [sic],” Chandler told The Advocate. "A book will definitely happen, but it will be about my life, which is an incredible story. It won't focus very much on my time with Michael.”

First though, it’s time for her to focus on her “media tour,” including a Tuesday birthday party thrown by Headquarters, a Manhattan "gentlemen's club" — more commonly known as a strip joint. She told The Advocate, “I needed some fun after the last 8 weeks,” and tweeted to her followers in advance of the event that “VIP tables are still available:-)” and “I have a bevy of beauties to entertain you…”

That lines up perfectly with Chandler’s effective media saturation strategy thus far, in which she has teased interest and revealed only what she wants everyone to see and kept the rest hidden from view.

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