Can you define intersexuality?
When we talk about intersex, we talk about people who do not fit the typical definition of male or female. An intersex person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.
For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.
When did you find out that you were intersex?
It's difficult to say exactly when I knew I was intersex. I guess my parents always knew, because when I was born, doctors had to tell them. When I was 8 I had my first operation, so then I realized there was something different but at that point I still didn’t know what it was.
I grew up going to the hospital on a regular basis. Doctors would constantly have to reassure me that I was totally normal but it wasn’t logical, since if I really was normal they wouldn’t have to keep insisting that I was. My doctors and parents tried to tell me, but they used such medical words that weren't appropriate for an 8 year old, that it was impossible for me to understand what was going on, so I accepted I was different without knowing why. Then I tried to forget all about it and just live my regular life. And if my parents and doctors thought I had to go to the hospital, take hormones and so on, I thought it was probably because I had to. I was just really compliant and kept on doing what they were telling me to do.
Then one day, I went on a student exchange and was with a very religious family who told me many times that the role of a woman was to have kids, to be a mom and so on.
That’s when I thought to myself: "Wait… am I a woman?". You see, my doctors had told me that I couldn’t have kids, so I assumed that I wasn’t fitting the exact definition of a woman.
I grew curious and at age 16 I went on the Internet and looked for very bizarre things. I typed in “ women with no period” and I found strange forums and my parents saw it and said: "Audrey I think you need to go see your doctors, so they will explain the situation because you probably won’t find what you have by just checking the Internet".
So I went to see my surgeon, the same one who operated me, and he told me again with the same words he used when I was 8, but now I was 16-17, and I felt ready to understand. It was my own will to come here, and I was mind blown by what he told me.
I asked him what the name of my sickness was. Obviously you don’t just go to the hospital if you’re not sick, right? He said there wasn’t really a name for the sickness. He didn’t tell me the word ‘intersex’, or ‘hermaphrodite’. He told me a really long and complex word instead. I asked him to please write it down so I could go on the Internet and google it again.
When I came home, I googled the word and found a forum where I read things of other intersex people with the same condition as me. I didn't know intersex people existed. I didn’t know of my own existence.
I thought to myself: “This is something that exists, and something I am part of”, but I wasn’t really identifying to this whole intersex idea because it was something that seemed so abnormal for me. Something that people, my parents, doctors, didn’t want to tell me so I thought I must be ashamed of it and couldn’t tell anyone about it.
I just wanted to be a normal person and live in a normal world. It took some time for me to fully embrace my intersexuality.
Did you ever meet other intersex people?
I was very lucky two years ago to meet another intersex person for the first time. It was a life-changing moment for me because if you’re a typical girl and speak with typical girls you have so many things to share, but when you're intersex and operated you have so many different feelings. You have things to share about operations, about your hormonal replacement or about sensations you have, and you cannot tell them to anyone, because no one knows you’re intersex. But also because you don’t know anyone else who is intersex.
I remember the first time we talked it was like catching up, like all the PJ parties and sleepovers any boy or girl could have had in their youth, and it's so life changing. So I would recommend any intersex person just to go out there and try to find another intersex person. I know it's difficult but social media makes it easier.
You said you got surgery age 8, looking back was it necessary?
In the majority of cases with intersex variations, operations and surgeries are not necessary. Intersex children are healthy - they have ten toes, ten fingers and a functioning body which allows them to play, to love, to eat, and so on. Operations are just a way to make them fit into the typical definition, at least externally, of male and female.
They are not necessary to their health and they are mostly almost always done without the consent of the child and without even fully informing the parents.
I was operated when I was 8 and I still don’t know why. But in my case it was to allow me to have a full sexual experience as a “real” woman. So i don’t know how it is now with kids today but in my generation people didn’t have sex at 8! It was completely unnecessary and even besides this there are so many different ways to love and to give love. I had to go every week, every two weeks, every three weeks and the hospital became part of my childhood.I had to miss school which had an impact on my grades.
The interventions were almost always done under general anesthesia so it also had an impact on my body and the way I was thinking and feeling, because anesthesia is not good for cognitive evolution. So it certainly did have an impact on me growing up. I could talk to my best friend and my close friends but I wouldn’t say it was hard for me to make friends. I was quite often seen as the outcast. But thanks to singing, for example, I managed to let my frustration and feelings out.
I feel like you don't need to have surgery unless you are old enough and decide that that’s what you want for yourself. It’s your body, your choice, but if you are not fully informed of everything, these operations are very hard on your body, on your soul and on your spirit. It's not something you want for your child - especially if it's not necessary.
How did your parents handle this?
I’m really grateful for my parents, I’ve always had an amazing relationship with them and in a bizarre way I think surgery made my relationships with my parents even better.
For example, once I went to the hospital and doctors were scared for me to be scared of the surgery, but for me it was the 16th intervention so I was more than calm, I was not scared at all. They forced me to take medication for me to be calm, which had the worst taste you could ever imagine. So I took a little sip and said: “I’m not taking this”, and the nurse said she’d come back in 5 minutes and I had to have drunk it by then. When my dad saw her coming back after 5 minutes he was scared for me to be yelled at for not taking the medication, so he just swallowed it for me! Imagine how relaxed he was once my operation was done!
He also would drive me to McDonalds as a way to compensate and it was really special to me. We had a special bond and I really am grateful for that.
My parents weren’t scared but I think usually parents are scared. They don’t really know how to act and react and it's something that's difficult for them to handle.
What would you tell parents of intersex children?
My advice for parents would be just to love your child as they are, and if now you read this and your kid already underwent operations and surgeries, just try to be supportive and try to be open with them. Tell them the truth if they want to hear it.
Know that being intersex is not abnormal. We are 1.7% percent of the population, which is huge. If you know 100 people you probably know someone who is intersex. And you probably don't know that this person is intersex because society makes you ashamed and stigmatized and scared to tell the truth, and we should be stopping this.
Any final words?
I've always liked myself, and I've always liked my body. I have a body that allows me to do everything I want, so i feel privileged by this. I really love myself and I am really proud of this big part which is part of me. Being intersex rocks!