For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to fit in, to be “normal” and be a part of a clique or group of people who accepted me. There was a point in my life where my desire to be accepted by others outweighed my desire to live, a point where I gave up my values, interests and ideas— just so that I could fit in. Well I have always been different. I was the girl that listened to rock music in a Black township where most teenagers listened to house music, hip hop or Kwaito (a South African style of popular music similar to hip hop). Having taste in music that is considered “white” in an African black township is not the coolest thing to do. I was the girl that preferred to go to the library while everyone went partying; being a nerd is also not easy in the township.Being intersex just made things worse and my attempts to fit in were sabotaged by my clearly androgynous appearance. I had to deal with daily whispers and comments such as, “Is it a boy or is it a girl?” My refusal to undress in front of other girls further ignited the curiosity from others regarding my sex and gender.
I hated the fact that I am intersex, I hated my “ambiguous” genitalia, and I hated the fact that I could not wear a tight fitting bikini like other girls or have honest conversations with them about periods. My only desire at that time was to have surgery because I imagined stepping out of the operation room and my life instantly transforming into a state of bliss. The information that I received regarding genital reconstruction surgery for intersex people only painted a positive picture and left out any mention of the detrimental effects it might have on me. At this time I even started to hate my parents because they previously refused surgical procedures on me. Even if they had signed off on surgery, I was frustrated because doctors in public hospitals did not have any experience on how to deal with my case and we could not afford private medical care. I began to think that my only option was suicide, but I couldn’t even take my own life because I kept thinking that once I am dead I would have to be undressed at the mortuary and the world would know my secret.
After meeting with many intersex individuals and seeing the detrimental effects that childhood surgeries had on them, I now consider myself privileged that I did not have to go through early genital reconstruction. I have seen the pain and trauma that unnecessary and non-consensual genital mutilation has had on the lives of intersex people and now I am grateful that my parents chose not to have any surgery done on me as a child. I am grateful that the decision to have or to not have surgery rests with me—the owner of this body. If I were to decide to have surgery I would have to live with the consequences knowing that I made an informed decision. At this time I can say that I no longer want to have genital reconstruction surgery. I have learned to love myself. I have learned that we are not all the same—we cannot be. I have learned that I will never completely fit in anywhere and the more I try to—the more I stick out like a sore thumb. If nature wanted me to be like everyone else then we would have all been born exactly the same. A world without diversity is a world not worth living in.
Unfortunately we live in a world that does not celebrate or respect diversity, a world where people are obsessed with fitting you into neat little boxes of norms and stereotypes. Any contradictions to these rigid norms are quickly eliminated. A world where everything is in black and white. Grey areas are not approved of. The grey areas are often painted over in solid black or white and it is hoped that no one sees beyond the surface. I am now at a point where I have to fight to keep my “difference”. Every trip to the doctor becomes an argument and battle about what is “right” for me. My doctor keeps telling me about how having different looking genitals will lead to personal distress. He read this in some medical journal and refuses to hear any other opinion. The fact that I live a perfectly happy life as an intersex person without any surgical intervention clearly bothers him. They told him in medical school that every intersex person should be operated on as an infant or else they will grow up traumatised and confused. My life refutes that statement and that is why I believe he is obsessed with trying to get me to undergo genital reconstruction surgery even though I have had no health complications. I often tell him of the negative effects of early, unnecessary and non-consensual surgeries on intersex bodies and he responds by saying that he is a doctor and therefore knows better and that surgeries are for the “good” of the child. Before you misunderstand me, I am not against surgery but I am against IMPOSED surgery on intersex persons. I am against NON-CONSENSUAL surgery and I am against UNINFORMED and UNNECESSARY surgery on intersex people—especially if their intersex variation has no immediate life threatening implications. I have to go on a mission to find a new doctor since my current doctor and I can’t seem to agree on anything.
The right of bodily integrity and self-determination of intersex people should be ensured and maintained. This is my body and I have the right to personal control of my own genital and reproductive organs. Do I still want to fit in? No, I am too fabulous to fit in anywhere! I shall not conform.
By Nthabiseng Mokoena