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Many of my friends claim that the wife of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, is a transgender woman.

In 2014, comedian Joan Rivers made the claim in a street interview:

Rivers: You know Michelle is a tranny.

Reporter: I'm sorry? She's a what?

Rivers: A transgender. We all know this.

Alex Jones repeated the claim in 2014, and also suggested that she had a "chromosome abnormality" based only on her appearance.

Was Michelle Obama born as a woman?

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    The story started in 2011 at christwire.org/2011/06/… - though Wikipedia says Christwire is a satirical website that publishes blog-style articles intended to ridicule excesses of American Christian conservatives. Recurring topics include homosexuality, atheism, Hollywood, and other purported threats to American culture. Like similar satirical websites, Christwire's stories have sometimes been erroneously taken at face value. – Henry Apr 13 '16 at 10:19
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    Warning: This is a topic which is politically sensitive, potentially libellous and could easily tread into highly offensive territory. Remember that all answers or comments should remain respectful, or they will be deleted. – Oddthinking Apr 13 '16 at 14:26
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    @GeorgeChalhoub Not really. A negative result in a valid experiment is evidence, whereas not performing an experiment can't possibly increase our overall knowledge of a subject. – Sklivvz Apr 14 '16 at 1:50
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    I was hoping I didn't have to say "You realize comedian Joan Rivers is a comedian?" – DJClayworth Apr 14 '16 at 11:34
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It's pretty obviously a conspiracy theory rooted in transmisogyny and racism.

Now, your question is a bit vague on what exactly the claim is. "chromosome abnormality" seems to indicate that Michelle Obama is intersex, while most of the rant from Jones as well as the comments from Rivers seem to indicate that Michelle Obama is trans.

Proving the absence of something isn't easy, so instead let's look at the proof given for these theories.

Origin of the theory

The first appearance of the theory seems to be from around June 2011, and it seems to have originated from Christwire.

The proof they give are:

  • "medical experts" (unnamed) say Michelle Obama has broad shoulders
  • the story of an unnamed "former member of the First Lady’s personal staff"
  • Michelle Obama once wore a belt and danced
  • a poorly photoshopped image

The proof seems ridiculous. That is because Christwire is a satirical website.

They do however create a complete backstory for Michelle. For example, they say that she was "born Michael LaVaughn Robinson", that she played football, and that she "underwent sex reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins" in 1983.

This backstory and the fake image are important, as they are later used as proof by conspiracy theorists.

Spread of the theory

The theory doesn't really take off until 2013.

In August 2013, a website called knowthelies.com started their own theory (it seems to be independent of the Christwire article, as it doesn't reference it, nor does it include the photoshopped image).

Their proof:

  • Michelle's look ('"Michelle" Obama's face is not handsome. It is very ugly and not feminine at all.', 'Michelle really looks like a man dressed up in drag.').
  • a couple of images of Michelle Obama where her dress and pants show folds.

Now, the theory seems to spread further. In November 2013, junglesurfertv made a video showing the same images as the above article and in October beforeitsnews.com repeats the statements from knowthelies.com, but doesn't add any new proof.

Up until now, there is no proof to the theory, just some meaningless images and opinions about Michelle Obama's looks.

Michelle Obama's Children

If Michelle Obama is trans, and Barack Obama is not trans, they could not have children. Or the other way around: That they did have children is proof that Michelle Obama is not trans.

There is a conspiracy theory that Michelle's and Barack's children are actually adopted. It seems to have been started by someone named Eowyn on beforeitsnews.com.

The proof is that there are no baby pictures and no birth records. On their own blog, Eowyn had to admit that there actually are baby pictures, so their theory is not currently based on any facts.

Joan Rivers

In July 2014, Joan Rivers picks up the theory. Her proof is "We all know it".

While before only a handful of right wing fringe website posted about the theory, more and more websites talk about it after Rivers mentioned it (for example, CNN mentions it, but calls it a joke).

Now, the original article by Christwire is rediscovered and treated as a real report containing real facts, not the satire it is. Examples are atlanteanconspiracy.com, beforeitsnews.com, galacticconnection.com, and madworldnews.com.

In addition to the non-proof provided by a satirical article (the made up backstory and the obviously fake image), the proof from 2013 (Michelle's looks, and some unfortunate images), and the proof that Michelle's children are adopted (because there are few images of them), additional proof is now found:

In a speech in 2011, Barack Obama refers to someone as "Michael". "Michael" is the name that the Christwire article claims Michelle Obama had. In context, it is obvious that Obama is referring to Michael Edward Mullen, not to Michelle Obama.

Conclusion

There is no actual proof for the theory that Michelle Obama is trans.

The rumor started in 2013 with no proof, and was widely spread by Joan Rivers in 2014. Joan Rivers still had no proof for the claim, but with its wide spread in 2014, conspiracy theorists used a satirical article from 2011, which contains no actual facts, as proof.

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    I don't usually comment on this Skeptics area, although its always an interesting read and see the rubbish that needs logic to pull it apart. This Michelle Obama thing is quiet ridiculous, and I agree with your answer. However I don't think this originates from transmisogyny (whatever that is!?...I looked it up, looks like it deserves its own question) or racism, in fact this is like labour supporters in the UK calling the PMs wife horse-faced, or calling the PM a pig-f*****, its mere degradation of the out-group, based on political affiliation. – Comte Apr 20 '16 at 16:19
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    @Comte It's transmisogyny (hatred of transgender women) in the service of degrading the opposition. For it to be degrading, you have to consider "she's a trans woman" to be an insult. If there is nothing "wrong" with being trans, there is no "bite" to the story, even if it were true - it would be like finding that her birth name was "Rachel", but she didn't like it, i.e. "so what?" – IMSoP Sep 14 '16 at 13:51
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    @Comte Your two examples are very different. "Stupid" has a clear negative meaning, whereas the fact that boys consider "girl" an insult is down to their attitudes to gender (that they think being a girl would be worse than being a boy). If you have green eyes and I call you "blue-eyes", would you consider it an insult? I would guess no, because there is no stigma attached to blue eyes. "Hatred" may well be too strong a word, but if nobody cared at all, this conspiracy theory would have no shock value. – IMSoP Sep 27 '16 at 13:54
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    @Comte Sure, my bias is that I've been a boy, and among boys, and you did say "and vice versa". I guess really my point is just that in an ideal world, nobody would care if a woman was "manly", or intersex, or trans, or whatever, so it would be a non-story. Clearly, you see it as more objectively defensible than that (based on "influence on cognition", or whatever), but I think we'll just have to agree to disagree and stop cluttering up the comments thread. :) – IMSoP Sep 27 '16 at 15:27
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    @IMSoP The comment section is here to make the answer better, I don't see how this conversation deviates from that. I do not want to be misunderstood, I am not defending the insult. I am merely pointing out that the insult is simply a means of denigrating the group associated with Obama. People seem to jump to labelling such things as misogyny and racism, it is neither of those things. It is merely and ad hominem on the associated group not on trans people, although they may choose to find it insulting as the terms trans is being used in a negative context. It is distasteful, but not hateful – Comte Sep 27 '16 at 15:44

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