By Laura Inter
En español: Mi Cuerpo. Por Laura Inter
(Sorry for the translation my english isn’t very good, if you can help me with grammar I really appreciate it)
** Note: I’m bad at remembering accurate dates, so I just put the approximate age I was when these events occurred.
I don’t know how to start this letter, I haven’t even started writing and tears already run down my cheeks. There is so much to write about my body and I. We have had a turbulent relationship, from love to hate, to acceptance, to tolerance, to love, to indifference, to rejection, back to love, and rejection, then back to love again.
I thought I had so much to blame on my body, I had so much anger. Now, I thank my body so much. Together we have met the greatest misfortunes and sufferings but also the greatest pleasures and adventures… and we now have experienced happiness, unlimited happiness, thanks to you, my body, remember? I know you remember, because there are things that neither mind nor skin can ever forget. A series of events that, if only one was different, I would not be where I am nowadays, nor feel like I’m feeling now.
I was born on an ordinary day, on an ordinary morning. My mother tells me that when she was in labour, the doctor asked my father: “What do you think your child will be, a boy or a girl?” And my father lovingly said, “It doesn’t matter if it is a he or a she, we’ll welcome it. The important thing is that it’s healthy, and if it’s not healthy, it is welcome anyway.”
When I was born the doctor said I was a healthy little girl, but a moment later, to the surprise of my parents, they reported that they were not really sure if I was a boy or a girl. I had ambiguous genitalia, so they did a blood test called a karyotype: the result was that I had XX chromosomes, so I was assigned as a female.
My first memory with my body is walking in the backyard of our house. They were my first steps, shaky but firm. I remember I was wearing small cloth shoes and my mom was holding my hand. I also remember the feeling of my fingers in my dad’s beard when he held me in his arms, and I remember my tricycle, which I pretended was a horse.
I also remember that from a very young age, I was a different child. I liked to dress up as “male” characters: cowboys, wrestlers, superheroes, vampires; and occasionally as “female” characters: butterflies, fairies, and so on. I liked to play with toys considered “girl toys” and “boy toys”. To me, they were only toys and there was no difference. At school I always had many friends and I was usually the strongest girl in the classroom. My parents never restricted me in that sense, I was allowed to dress and play as I wanted, I played with dolls with my mom and played with cars with my dad, and that’s strange because although both were conservative people and, in a sense, they were a little homophobic, they didn’t say anything to me and let me be myself – at least when I was little.
Apart from these happy memories, having a different body got me to deal with very difficult situations. It was a beautiful little body, but soon the doctors detected something that they considered a defect: it was an intersex body. I have ambiguous genitalia; and later they found that it was because I was born with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) – non-salt wasting form, which may –or may not– make you vulnerable to some health problems. But ambiguous genitalia and “high” levels of testosterone are not a health problem. I was prescribed to take Meticorten (a form of cortisol) and that was it. To this day I don’t know why –but I appreciate it– doctors didn’t offer my parents the option of genital surgery at that time.
So, my body and I went through blood tests twice a year. When I was a baby they drew blood from the soles of my little feet, up to four tubes of blood. My mother refers that I screamed so loud and I resisted, and often she cried along with me, so nurses made her wait for me outside until they finished drawing the samples. Once the results of the blood tests were ready, they took me to the endocrinologist who –until now I don’t know the reason but I suspect that it was simple medical curiosity– performed a physical examination, where he touched my genitals and checked how I was developing, so with time, I learned to dissociate myself from my body, because go through these genital revisions was something very hard for me, and if I hadn’t dissociated from my body, I wouldn’t be able to made it; they could have broken me. It was very difficult for me to be there, naked in front of the doctor while he touched me, my mother was there, and although she was there to give me security, it also conflicted me that she consented such revisions. I always felt that they were not okay, and I was scared and helpless and vulnerable. The doctor spoke of disease, hypertrophy, weird, unusual, fixing, abnormality, virilisation while he was touching my genitals… I was too young to understand it all, but over time these revisions, those words, hurt me, and my child’s eyes soon lose their brightness, and I became shier and shier, and sadder every time. It always happened to me that one day before going to the blood tests and / or reviews, I felt miserable, and that feeling lasted until the day after when, as any given child, I left behind the negative experiences and came back to games, to friends and to my everyday routine… I somehow managed to block those experiences.
I also remember that my body, often get sick, had fevers, aches. They said that the pill they gave me daily would heal me, but it wasn’t working, that pill caused me side effects, such as extreme thirst, dizziness, hallucinations –lights of different colours–, among others. Even with all of this, my body was strong, it resisted, and eventually became more and more strong and fevers and diseases became less frequent, until they finally ceased at age 14, when I stopped taking that pill. I know Meticorten helped me to grow up and reach my current height, so I don’t completely disagree about taking it. But I certainly disagree with the genital revisions I was forced to undergo, they were actually pointless.
I was a very smart child, aware of other people, I didn’t like to see anyone suffer, neither humans nor any other animals, I often became depressed because of doctors, the way they scrutinized me and their words, the fevers, the diseases, the situation in my home didn’t help either. My father was kind to me when I was little, but he became aggressive and violent with my mother. I witnessed much of this violence, I saw how my mother cried, trying to hide her tears with a smile, and I didn’t want to see her suffer any more with my depressions, so since childhood I learned to put a smile at any situation, to hide my emotions and to be reserved about my feelings, often this worked. I faked it so much that I actually felt happy.
Thus, there were many issues that affected my mood, I guess like everyone else, but unlike everyone else, I always felt that something was wrong with me. Words hurt, language matters, and doctors should be more aware when they talk about the bodies of their patients, especially the younger ones.
The early years of my life passed by, feeling a little depressed, kind of a square peg, but my relationship with my body, although somewhat dissociated, wasn’t broken completely.
At 7, I had my first kiss, in primary school, I had a friend, a girl who liked playing with “boy” toys and “girl” toys like me, I remember she also had more physical strength like me, and her looks was something peculiar, very cute; I liked her and I didn’t see anything wrong with the fact that as a girl I liked another girl, why would that be wrong? So one day she covered our heads with her sweater and kissed me on the mouth, I felt so much tenderness and affection, I felt so happy, and when I came back to my house I happily told my mother what had happened to me, but when I saw her face expressing surprise and disappointment, I was concerned. Had I done something wrong? Why? I soon realised that it was not “okay” for girls to kiss other girls in the mouth. A moment that had made me so happy, now made me feel ashamed, my preference for girls was something that also blocked for a long time since.
Soon after, at age 8, I had an inkling for the first time about what was “wrong” with my body. I told my friend – the girl who kissed me – about the time I went to the doctor and he reviewed my body “down there”, to which she said that no doctor ever saw her body “down there”, and she believed that was wrong. I was in shock: it wasn’t something all children went through? They had been seeing and touching my genitals twice a year for more than eight years, but for what? Why? If it was wrong, why my mom let that happen to me? Many questions went through my child’s mind. I remember feeling dirty, bad, a bad person, it should be my fault… I blamed my body, yes, it was all its fault, something was wrong with it, and I didn’t want anything to do with it … then, I started to get away from my body … from myself … I felt deeply alone.
I never told this to my mom, I don’t know why, perhaps I didn’t want to bring her more suffering.
At 9 years old, we moved to another house, my mother didn’t want me to tell my friend about it, I loved her very much, but I couldn’t tell her, I never saw her again, despite my attempts years later to find her on the Internet, after all she was my first love, and now looking back several clues make me believe that perhaps she was also intersex, I will never know.
The visits to endocrinologist and the genital reviews continued until I was about 12 years old. A few years later, the endocrinologist said the blood tests were no longer needed and that I didn’t need to take the meds –Meticorten– anymore.
I tried to leave behind these revisions, the blood tests, the words I heard, I left behind everything, my sexual preference for girls was also kept in a locked drawer in the darkest place of my memories, everything was locked. I was a child with a “normal” body that liked boys, yeah, that was me, no more hospitals, no more doctors, I had to be the girl that everyone expected, that my parents expected …. It didn’t last long.
At 14, the situation in my home got worst, violence increased, and crashed hard in my face, I was no longer just a spectator of the aggressions and fights between my parents, now I was older and took sides defending my mother, then the aggressions of my father also addressed to me and my body remembers it very well, my body was beaten, humiliated, more degrading words were spoken… but now out of my father’s mouth, who despite all of this I loved, who I saw as protector, now he treated me like this? It was very hard.
At about the same age I discovered something about my body that made me feel repulsion towards myself, now I feel ashamed to have felt this way about my dear body, but then couldn’t feel otherwise. At school they put two pictures, one of the male genitalia and other of the female genitalia, I didn’t look like any of them. “I’m deformed!”, I thought with anguish. “This can’t be true, why me?” My mother already had explained to me how sexuality worked [heterosexual of course], but I didn´t wanted to see exactly how my genitals looked like, I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t interested, or because of the dissociation I had with my body –dissociation I had been practiced for many years in order to cope with my experiences with the doctor. When I arrived to my home I took a mirror and saw my genitals, I felt distressed, I was so different… I couldn’t “perform” neither as a male or as a female in sexuality, I became deeply depressed, no one had told me about it… now it all made sense, the genital reviews, the words of the endocrinologist, who would want a body like mine? Who? At that time my father and my mother worked all day, so when I got home I began to cried, I cried and cried, for several days I cried when I got home, until I felt I couldn´t cry anymore, I was dry, I felt sadness but I couldn’t cry. I was always someone who hid emotions from others. I thought in suicide and several ways to carry it out.
But then I hadn’t much time to continue feeling sorry for myself and keep crying, because the violence at home was still increasing and consumed all my attention and energy, there was no time to suffer, I had to survive, I had to help my mom to get out of that situation.
At 15, when my parents finally divorced, everything became smooth, especially for me. For a while I didn’t speak to my father, despite his attempts to reach me. Although he was a person who couldn’t control his emotions, I really loved him, so slowly I forgave him, understood the way he was, and our relationship mended and we got along well, his problem was that he simply couldn’t tolerate living with other people.
Around 16 years old, having recovered a little peace in my life and with many uncertainties, one day I was alone in my house and searched for my medical records, when I found them, the thing I read first was “female pseudo-hermaphroditism” and “congenital adrenal hyperplasia”, the truth is that, although I didn’t know those terms, I wasn’t surprised to find them, I searched for hours on the Internet, and only came across with medical information, saying that in case of ambiguous genitalia the best thing to do was an early surgery, and in doing so the person would carry a “normal” life -whatever that means-.
Until then, my sexuality was “asleep”, non-existent, I had never explored or touched myself, my sexuality was completely suppressed, I didn’t want to know nothing about my body, nothing! But I began to being aware that I liked girls, which made me feel tremendously guilty. Since childhood I heard my parents occasionally use homophobic language, so I repressed my preference, and I focused just when I liked a boy (which was very unusual but happened).
So I wanted to change my body, I wanted to be like everyone else, I didn’t like myself, I didn’t like my body. I questioned my mother about the surgeries, she said the doctor never told her about them, so I went back to the hospital at 16, many eyes saw my naked body, they humiliated me, they said I could never have a normal life nor satisfactory sexual experiences, even that I wouldn’t have sex ever, that my body wasn’t suitable for sexuality, that I had a hypertrophy of the clitoris, and that my vaginal and urethra canals were united, and that prevented me to have sex, that I would never be able to experience sexuality with a body like that, that I would have infections too because of my genitals’ shape (which have never happened), they made me uncomfortable questions, criticized the hair on my arms and legs, called other doctors to see my naked body, confirmed my fears, they spoke of vaginoplasty, clitoris reduction, hormones, various techniques and procedures, ten sizes of tubes I should use in my reconstructed vagina to “have sex with my husband when I got married,” and I allowed this to happen, I thought I allowed it… I was paralysed, a mere object… I was scared. They concluded that the “solution” to all my troubles was a surgery and hormone treatment, that I couldn’t keep my body as it was.
And it was then that I began to hate my body.
I went home I researched on the procedures and surgeries, I got scared, the procedures were brutal. I hated my body even more, I couldn’t get rid of it so easily, it was so complicated. I hated it, but also loved it, we’d been through so much together, only my body knew what we had suffered, only it. I didn’t want it to suffer something so terrible. I repeatedly thought about suicide, I didn’t want they harm us anymore.
But again I put everything in a drawer of memory, and decided to be alone for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
In search for answers I found websites run by intersex activists, they were in English and with a dictionary in hand, I started researching on forums about CAH, I asked some questions, asked about bodies like mine, one of the things they said was that sexuality had many forms, and the person that fell in love with me was going to fall in love with me as a person, not about my genitals, and that nothing was wrong with my genitals. I heard the word intersex for the first time and began to devour everything I found about the subject, in this moment I started to appreciate my body, thanks to the intersex activists, who somehow saved my life. I thought my body and I had already gone through a lot together, it was no time for hatred nor resentment, at least I wasn’t going to hurt it anymore, that was my intention.
Some people have good intentions when say things, but I had a hard time tolerating my family’s and other people’s comments such as: “When are you going to get married? Why you don’t have boyfriend? Why you don’t dress up more girly? Why you don’t use makeup? Use this kind of makeup, that hairstyle, dress up this way, men don’t like women that aren’t girly, etc., etc.”
I ventured to date a man but it wasn’t something that pleased me very much, apart from not feeling very attracted to him, I felt it was more difficult because I couldn’t have sex in a “traditional” way. But family and social pressure was too much and at that time I felt vulnerable. It didn’t work.
When I was turning to 18 years old, I couldn’t ignore my preference for women any longer. I had my first girlfriend, I was surprised I wasn’t rejected, she accepted my differences, when I told her about my body differences she cried with me, she told me that she was sorry (which I didn’t see as a bad thing then) … but sexuality was so foreign to me, so distant, so unrelated, something that was not for me, I pretended I enjoyed it, but in the end the relationship didn’t work.
At 21, I told my mother I was lesbian, to my surprise she cried and apologized for all the homophobic comments she made, she said she loved me as I was, and that she would support any decision I made. I told her I was relieved, and since that day on she’s never said any homophobic comment again, and if she said it, she remembered and apologised.
I dated some people (including men), most of the times it failed, but I had two girlfriends, always with the same difficulties. Still didn’t work. I had many problems in sexuality and that made me stay away from people, I began to believe I was asexual, but one day after reflection about my life, I realized that when my partner touched my genitals, I felt something very peculiar, something like rejection, and I soon noticed that this was the same feeling I felt when the doctors touched me, besides I had dissociated from my body, and that feeling and the dissociation were something I had practiced for years, old habits, and I didn’t know how to break them.
Also, I always had partners that somehow treated me bad, they cheated on me or simply humiliated me in different ways, frequently using what made me more vulnerable to hurt me, I got resigned, after all I had had the “privilege” that they had “accepted” me with my differences, hadn’t they?
I also suffered rejections, although I no longer hated my body, I still rejected it somehow, people I dated sometimes said very hurtful things to me, just because my body is different, one time a girl who I has in love with, when I told her about bodies like mine, she said “That’s disgusting”, and on another occasion a girl went away from me when she realised about my differences.
Years later I learned that a close relative, whom I love very much, had an incurable chronic disease, and soon after my father died in a terrible accident, when at last we had a healthy relationship, that was an extremely painful experience, at that time I had a girlfriend, and I asked her for time to overcome all these events and organise everything in my life, and she told me that I was a selfish person for asking that, and so she left me, when I most needed her… I lost a lot in a short time, I felt that I was broken, that I couldn’t take it anymore, but somehow I gathered the strength to fix everything all by myself.
I had made up my mind to remain single, I didn’t want to have a partner anymore, what would be the point? It only made my life even more difficult, I was tired of giving explanations about my body, also, I was tired of being rejected, and of people taking advantage of my vulnerabilities, I thought it was impossible for me to love and be loved deeply, and that my body and I had been through so much together and I was just too damaged to be with someone.
A couple of years later, at 28 or 29, I met a girl and decided to tell her about my differences since the beginning, I thought that if I was to be rejected, the sooner the better. To my surprise she was happy. I was not used to people being happy and celebrating my differences. She was someone who helped me a lot and founded the project “Brújula Intersexual” along with me, and helped me to regain some self-esteem and heal a bit and deconstruct some traumas in sexuality, she made me realize that our differences can also be attractive, that we must not settle for acceptance and a pat on the back. It was a relationship with many ups and downs, with difficult and hurtful moments, and so on, but I wouldn’t say anything bad about her because we both made mistakes, but in the end, I’m mostly grateful, for she opened the door that allowed me to discover, later in my life, that utter happiness was possible.
Through the project I met many intersex people like me, also with very hard stories, who lived the same situations as complex (or worse) than mine, and I studied more and more about intersexuality, and began to see the beauty of intersex, every person I met seemed so beautiful both physically and emotionally, they had been through so much, so much humiliation, so much suffering, rejection, etcetera…. And still they had so much to give, that was very inspiring for me. I met some intersex people, that after so many setbacks with partners who humiliated them or denigrated them in some way, who took advantage of their vulnerabilities, had the strength to stand up and meet people who loved them as they were, not just “accepting” their differences, not just “tolerating” them, but that celebrated their differences, that was illustrating to me.
Often when you are different you learn to settle with someone else just because she/he accept you and want to be with you, and you get used to accept any humiliation or abuse for the fear of being alone, to feel that someone is there by your side, but this shouldn’t have to be this way. Often we are involved in abusive relationships with people who take advantage of our vulnerabilities, it is common to think that nobody is going to want us as we are. But that’s a mistake, you don’t have to settle, or wait for someone to “accept” you, you don’t have to be with someone abusive or aggressive only because he/she “accepts” your differences, in my work on the project I noticed that many people find attractive our differences and celebrate them (myself included), and not by perversion, simply because your differences are beautiful, we have nothing wrong, there are people with feminine characteristics that are attractive, people with male characteristics that are attractive and people with intersex characteristics that are attractive.
I have met intersex people, who are involved in abusive relationships, but I also know partners of intersex people who are happy and feel lucky to be next to someone like us, with a body like ours; so peculiar, so unique, so beautiful… even they say that if they separated from their [intersex] partners, they’d seek for another intersex person, because as they fell in love of their hearts, they also were delighted with their bodies and differences, and celebrated them. They celebrated their differences because diversity is amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s awesome.
I must say that I’ve only had a few happy moments in my life, very few actually, my life is very complicated, and what I wrote here is just some of the difficult situations I went through, – many situations or persons are irrelevant to bring up this time – so I know how to recognise those happy moments and enjoy as much as possible, because nothing lasts forever, and we have to enjoy the beautiful moments that come into our lives, because those moments will help us later to face difficulties … I read once “life sometimes gives you a candy” and when life gives it to you, you better enjoy it to the fullest, stick to the present and don’t think about the past or future.
Now, having said all this, after all the claims I made to my body, after hating it, wanting to destroy it, after wanting to destroy us, after nights crying, deceptions, insults, humiliation, suffering, I feel the need to apologise to my body, to myself. Dear body, excuse me, I didn’t know the potential you have, nor the happy moments that you would bring to my life, now I can tell you that almost all the most beautiful things of my life are thanks to you, thanks to you I met people who helped me to build this project “Brújula Intersexual”, thanks to you I met many inspiring people with intersex bodies like me, thanks to you and all the suffering that we went through, now I can enjoy the great and small happy moments, and victories, and people, and circumstances.
Thanks to you, I’ve been able to help some people, because I know where they come from and understand their sufferings, and those people have helped me for the same reason, they know where I come from and understand my sufferings and traumas; institutions emerged, friends, allies, activists, all supporting me to continue to give support, and that is something I couldn’t have done if you hadn’t been there with me all the time, my dear body, I love you… and I’ll take care of you the best I can.
Being intersex is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me, and now I know that all I experienced prepared me to appreciate and enjoy the moments that are now coming into my life, all intersex people I’ve known, have touched my heart, they’ve given me lessons of strength and hope, real life lessons, and I’m grateful to them, to each of you, because you are my inspiration and strength, you know who you are.
I want to tell to all intersex people that when you have an intersex body, you might not see how beautiful it is, because of everything you’ve lived and heard from others, you may not see your strength because you may feel so vulnerable that you think your knees will fail and you will fall apart in any situation, you may not see how kind you are, because you may blame yourself, you may not be aware of your potential because all your life you have been told you can’t do things, that you’re not worthy. But when you are face to face with another intersex person, it is easier to appreciate their beauty -your beauty – the beauty of difference, of diversity. You can see past the adversity that has inflicted them pain, see how it has driven them to succeed, to get up again and again and again, and again. And you can see how this is reflected in your own life, and how that person is now a reflection of yourself.
Now I understand the joy of the partners of intersex people I’ve met, recently I lived the best days of my life next to my partner, an intersex person, with the same variation as me, she taught me [we taught each other] to be fully happy, I never felt that, in my life I had very few happy moments, and I had never met until now total happiness. It was overwhelming, wonderful, healing and transforming. She is a person that far from being embittered by the difficulties presented to her in life, she’s very kind and full aware of those around her, which encourages me to keep on going. Intersex bodies are so beautiful, a reflection of diversity, there’s beauty in every way, when I first saw her body I marvelled, I thought, how is possible that someone was rejected and suffered many humiliations because of something so beautiful, something so perfect, it’s the most beautiful body I have ever seen in my life. And sexuality is amazing, even considering the traumas that we have been dragging. Doctors should leave alone intersex bodies, and celebrate them, the only thing allowed to make to an intersex body is to celebrate it, just that. My awareness of this matter is helping me to gradually see myself reflected, and change my view of my body, it is difficult, I don’t deny it, they have hurt us a lot, they have told us many bad things in our life, I know, but you can achieve it, you can do it, and it’s wonderful to be in that path. I genuinely feel that I am healing, and I finally feel like never in my life: happy. And if I can, you can.
Sometimes life has beaten you so hard and for all your life that you believe that everything works like that for you, and you start to beat yourself too, but it’s time to say, enough! And open up to other opportunities, allow yourself to be happy, don’t settle with just anyone, because you are not just anyone, don’t settle with someone that “accepts you” but with someone that likes you the way you are, who celebrate your differences, because they are beautiful; and I’m not just speaking of couples or partners, I also speak about friends and family, you don’t have to endure people who “accept you” or “tolerate you”, much less people that humiliate and mistreat you, there’s nothing wrong with you, you are beautiful, your body and your differences are beautiful and attractive, stay with people that like your differences, your diverse body and appreciate your beauty because you are beautiful, and who doesn’t see that, doesn’t deserve to be with you. The road begins when you stop settling for what the first thing that comes to you and you start thinking about what you really want; what kind of people do you want next to you? Or what kind of life you want for yourself? You deserve to be happy, you’ve been through a lot, take care of that beautiful body you have, and give yourself the opportunity to live the adventure of life and be happy.