What does it mean to be intersex?
Intersex is a term to describe a person who is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of male or female. It can be hormonal, chromosomal, phenotypical and so forth.
For example you can be born appearing female on the outside but in reality you have mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside.
Another example would be to be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types.
Basically as soon as you are not fitting the boxes of typical male, or female as medicine understands them you are considered intersex.
Many intersex people share a similar experience of non validation from the medical institution of how their body works. They know it is more complex than only two boxes to tick from.
Are people born intersex?
Not every intersex person knows they are intersex at birth. If you are born with intersex genitalia then it is easier to see that you are intersex at birth. However, some people are born with more clearly female or male external genitals in which case they might find out they are intersex when they go through puberty or later. In fact, some people live their whole life without ever knowing they are intersex.
How did your parents react when they knew you were intersex?
When I was born, my parents were scared because the doctors took me away from my mother and brought me to another hospital to understand what I had. It was difficult for my mother not to see her new-born for three days just so that the doctors could fix a clear sex for me. My parents didn’t know why I was taken away from them and what the doctors were doing to me. They didn’t have access to all the exams that were made on me nor on my health situation.
After those three days, doctors didn’t succeed in ticking a clear sex for me.
For two or three weeks, doctors tried to hide a lot of medical things from my mother. On one hand they didn’t want her to be scared and let it affect the relationship between a mother and child and on the other hand they didn’t want her to know I wasn’t clearly male or female. The doctors needed my parents to trust them and they explained what biological sex is and why it’s important. They argued as to why I should be either a girl or a boy, and then it was up to my parents to decide since the doctors said that being either male or female was fundamental for my happiness, general wellbeing, social integration and for my life in general.
My parents had never heard of the existence of intersex people. At the time there weren’t many intersex associations and being intersex was taboo. It was not something as known as it is today and so they felt alone with their doubts and could only trust the medical staff.
Did being intersex affect your childhood?
During all my childhood I was going to the hospital on a regular basis because I was told that I needed to be “fixed” so yes, it did affect me.
It wasn’t clear to me as to why I needed to be fixed. What for? Was I ill? What part of my body needed to be fixed? How? I felt healthy and never understood what was “wrong” with me. I just trusted my parents and the medical staff so I didn’t ask any questions. I felt like if they thought something was wrong with me then they must be right. They said it was for my happiness, for my good so I let them do their work, no questions asked.
But at some point I felt the urge to ask the medical staff why they were doing what they were doing. Did I really need to take these pills? Or go through all these operations?
When did you know you were intersex?
After asking my endocrinologist at age 17, she told me the name of my syndrome. I immediately went on Google and did some research about hermaphroditism. I was well informed about the medical aspects so what I was more interested in was the social aspect.
I found a French association and I spent a lot of time reading other intersex people’s testimonies. I was mind blown when I saw that there was a community of people out there who were going through the exact same experience as I was. I felt understood and supported. I had finally found people with whom I could exchange about being intersex and we would support each other through our journeys. It meant the world to me.
I later asked my endocrinologist if she knew other intersex people where I lived. After a few months she gave me the address of someone who was also intersex.
Would you have preferred to know before 17?
Yes it would have been easier. It was difficult to accept that many things were hidden from me for so long when in fact, it’s my body, my life. I would have preferred to know the truth from the beginning but I was young and trusted the medical staff. But I believe that things are evolving today and people are more and more aware of intersex and what it implies. If parents are more educated on the subject, it will be easier for them to handle the situation and take the right decisions for, and with, their child.
Being intersex is beautiful !