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Submission on the Yogyakarta Principles: Human rights issues and perspectives from the experience of the intersex community in Mexico.

*Submission on behalf of Brújula Intersexual for the review on the tenth anniversary of the Yogyakarta Principles, a collaboration between Laura Inter (Brújula Intersexual) and Hana Aoi (Vivir y Ser Intersexual)

Call for submissions on the Yogyakarta Principles

yogyakarta

Human rights issues and perspectives from the experience of the intersex community in Mexico.

In regard of the tenth anniversary review of the Yogyakarta Principles, we the members of the Brújula Intersexual project submit our perspective on the main human rights issues and demands from the experience of the intersex community in Mexico, as well as our suggestion on how the Principles should be supplemented to duly attend such issues, supported on the current state of international law and on recent legal developments that have taken place in different countries that serve as example and could provide guidance to other countries in order to create legal frameworks and law enforcement policies to ensure the observance of human rights for the intersex community.

Note: following the current intersex activists’ recommendation on the use of inclusive pronouns for English language on gender identity, we use “they”, “their” and “them” for a single individual.

The Principles and human rights issues of intersex people.

Forced medical procedures.

Intersex people, specifically when they are children (children as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child), are particularly vulnerable to unnecessary, irreversible and lifelong harmful practices due to stereotypical notions that bind gender and sex characteristics. Given that a child’s opinion is rarely asked nor voiced even when it’s their own body that is at stake, it’s their parents and practitioners’ beliefs on how a human body should look like that give way to unnecessary and irreversible medical procedures on the sex characteristics of intersex children in their early childhood.

While the Principle 18 already states that no person should be forced to undergo any kind of harmful medical practice on the basis of cultural stereotypes, we believe it should be supplemented to reflect the fact that health professionals shouldn’t perform any medical procedure by imposing (“bullying”) the child’s parents their personal notion of gender and sex characteristics, which is often a reason why parents consent to these practices. Furthermore, Principles 28 and 29 should include intersex people as subjects of the right to remedies and the obligation of States to prosecute violations to the right stated in Principle 18.

On the application of human rights law in Chile.

It’s relevant to mention on this subject the achievements attained in Chile in December 2015, when a public policy known as Circular 18, developed by the Chilean National Council for the Children, was issued by the Chile Health Ministry. This document states not only that all normalising medical treatments on intersex children should be stopped, but also that the care of every case won’t rely only on physicians or specialised teams, but also on the very Health Ministry who, on behalf of the State (as stated by the Committee on the Rights of the Child), will follow-up what happen to them. This is a fine example of a policy that acknowledges the respect of human rights of intersex people, but also an example of a law instrument issued from a government agency (Godoy, 2016, in Informe Anual sobre Derechos Humanos en Chile), and in that regard a tool for parents and allies of the intersex community to protect children from forced procedures.

Access to health services of the highest attainable standard.

Another common issue is the lack of adequate training of health professionals of every discipline and area when dealing with intersex people. Principle 17 calls all States to ensure that persons working in the healthcare sector are educated and trained to deliver their services with full respect of the person sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). However, we deem it should be supplemented in order to stop addressing intersex variants as pathological disorder, encouraging health professionals to acknowledge sex characteristics as something more complex than just a binary notion of sex and gender.

The same Principle should reinforce the right of children to voice their opinion regarding their own body. In this case, it should call States to ensure that any kind of medical procedure on the intersex child’s sex characteristics must be delayed until they can express their opinion and participate directly in the decision on whether or not undergo any procedure.

Finally, there’s a number of conditions associated to intersex variants, some of which are life-threatening. Principle 17 also should address the need of intersex people for adequate healthcare associated to their variant, but emphatically separating this need from any other medical procedure on their sex characteristics.

Legal documents.

There’s the case where birth certificates are denied to parents if they fail to deliver proof of the gender to be assigned (e.g. clinical studies, even undergoing sex-assignment procedures). Such display can be interpreted as discrimination based on the notion of sex and gender as inseparable.

While ideally removing the gender marker from legal documents or making it optional could be a solution, there’s still further steps to be taken first towards intersex visibility and awareness in order to avoid discrimination and stigma. We believe that the gender of assignment at birth should be decision of the parents, but no medical procedure on the child’s sex characteristics should be executed at all. Later in life, if the child’s opinion regarding their body involves also a reassignment in the gender marker, it should be available. Therefore, States must enforce this specific right in order to allow intersex people (and their parents when they are underage) to get all forms of legal documents without need of proving a gender based on sex characteristics.

Principle 3 already states that everyone shall be recognized before the law. However, it should be supplemented to reflect this obligation of the States.

On the application of human rights law in Australia.

In this matter, it’s worth to mention the case of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill issued in 2013 by the Australian Senate, which enabled the issuing of passports all across Australia without needing to specify a gender by having a third choice available in the form of an ‘X’ option. While we agree that such option is ground-breaking for intersex individuals whose gender identity doesn’t fall in the typical male or female classification, it should be cautiously considered because an ‘X’ option would stir the issue rather than being a solution for attaining identity documents in countries where discrimination for gender identity is still a matter of life or death. We believe the Principles should reflect the right to legal documents with no regard of gender identity, and with no obligation to state any gender at all, which is, in fact, a variation of the Australian case.

Letter to parents of children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia and “ambiguous genitalia”.

Letter to parents of children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia and “ambiguous genitalia”.

By Laura Inter

EN ESPAÑOL

Translated by Laura Inter. Edited by Hana Aoi.

*For purposes of this letter I used the word “girls” and she/her pronouns for people with CAH and XX chromosomes, just to make it easier for parents to read. However, be aware that not everyone identify themselves as women and some might even prefer they/them pronouns.

madre-hija

It is common that doctors tell to parents of girls with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) –and XX chromosomes– that their children were born with “genital malformation” or “ambiguous genitalia” and must be “fixed”, otherwise they will have infections, pain or other problems related to the menstrual flow. Doctors also say that because their children have a different body, they’ll end up rejected and isolated at school, among other social issues.

I have a body like that described by doctors. The first thing I want to say is that “ambiguous genitalia” is not a malformation. Your daughters were simply born with intersex traits, their bodies vary from the average body of a female, but they are NOT malformed women.

It isn’t a malformation because the genital forms depend on testosterone levels during gestation. All fetuses –despite their chromosomes– at some point during gestation have the same genital forms. When a fetus is exposed to “low” levels of testosterone, it develops typical feminine genital forms; on the other hand, if the fetus is exposed to “high” levels of testosterone, their genitals will take –so to speak –male appearance. It’s when they stay in an intermediate state in this process that doctors say babies are born with “ambiguous genitalia”. But actually there’s nothing wrong; it’s not a malformation because it’s part of a natural process that depends on testosterone levels. As simple as that.

It’s unknown if ALL people born with “ambiguous genitalia” will develop health problems related to their genitals, at some point of their lives; what I can say for sure is that in Mexico (where I do my labor), as well as in other places in Latin America and around the world, I’ve known many people with “ambiguous genitalia” who weren’t surgically intervened and they’ve grown into adulthood, and they are completely healthy, never having had any health problem related to their genitals. No pain, no problems with menstrual flow, no infections. I myself count among those people.

Of course, I can’t say that ALL people born with “ambiguous genitalia” will be healthy from their genitals throughout their whole lives, just as I can’t assure that ALL the people born with typically female or male genitalia will be healthy from their genitals throughout their entire lives. Neither can doctors make such statement, that ALL people who has undergone genital surgery are healthy from their genitals. In fact, the evidence tends to point to the opposite; I know many people who underwent genital surgery (particularly clitorodectomies and vaginoplasties) who, as a result, have suffered from many health problems. It is hard to conclude something definitive because, unfortunately, there are no follow-up studies in adults who were born with “ambiguous genitalia”, so even doctors don’t have a say on the long-term outcome of their procedures.

I don’t think it is appropriate to intervene the healthy body of a baby. Obviously if there are health problems in their genitalia, whether they are typically female, typically male or in between, medical intervention is recommended, but only to restore health. It isn’t coherent to intervene surgically healthy genitalia only for “cosmetic” reasons.

Surgeries not only cause psychological damage, these procedures also have physical repercussions. A clitoral reduction can leave your child with no sexual sensation or significantly reduce it. A vaginoplasty is not a “simple surgery”, as some doctors put it, but a major procedure in the body of a little child; in addition, after vaginoplasty, doctors will perform dilations, which mean they will have to introduce dilators (a sort of dildos) into the opening that they’ve created. The doctor will introduce them, maybe a nurse, or even they’ll propose that you do it. I have known people who have gone through such “treatment,” and it caused them psychological damage comparable to a rape experience.

Unlike doctors who treat your child, I believe she has a perfect body. If the problem is social rejection or isolation, don’t you think it’s more reasonable to act and make this society more tolerant and open instead of opting for irreversibly modifying the body of your little girl? Furthermore, you can educate your daughter to embrace and love her body as it is, not to teach her that every time society criticizes her body she should run to the surgeon. If she wants surgery, it must be up to her to decide once she’s older, getting all the information available and evaluating the possible consequences of those procedures. In support groups for parents and people with CAH, I have sadly found that many parents want to perform surgeries on their children to avoid criticism from their relatives or even from the nursery staff. To this, I say: people will always criticize everything, anything, and you can’t please everyone all the time, and least of all consenting surgeries in the body of the little baby in your care. A surgery will definitely solve nothing, nor will make your little girl “normal”, just because there is nothing abnormal with her. She is perfect and beautiful as she is, so love her as she is and teach her to accept and love herself as she is, because there’s nothing wrong with her or her body. Surgeries to shape of their genitals are medically unnecessary, they are just “cosmetic”, and yes, I put it in quotation marks, because the body of your daughter is already cosmetic as it is, it is beautiful.

Apart from this, there’s the point of the gender identity she will have when she grows older. That is something that no one but her can know while she’s growing. Your daughter may feel like a woman (female gender identity), but I also know people with CAH and XX chromosomes who feel like boys (male gender identity, they count for about 20 or 30 percent of people with CAH, as I’ve observed in my experience working with them), and it doesn’t matter if they undergo genital surgery or not. You also can’t anticipate what sexual orientation your daughter will have, it may be homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. I have also found that many parents comment that they perform these procedures on their children to “enable” them to get a partner in the future, to avoid rejection of their possible partners, but regardless of the sexual orientation your daughter may have, the person that may became her partner must love her as she is, and if they don’t, why do you want a person with prejudice by her side? Why would your daughter want someone who will only will love her if she changes her body through surgery? The surgery is irreversible and only your daughter can take the decision modifying her body if she wants to, with full awareness of the consequences that these procedures may have.

I know from the testimonies I’d heard from some people with CAH, that surgeries can cause a number of negative consequences such as: problems with urination, lack of sexual sensation, scarring, pain when having intercourse, problems with menstrual flow; some people suffer from psychological trauma due to frequent genital examinations (sometimes they call several doctors to see the naked body of your little girl, and this is something that go on for years), and may suffer other traumas due to the vaginal dilations performed by doctors, nurses or by yourselves. In addition to the obvious risks that every person runs when exposed to anesthesia at any kind of surgery.

It is always wiser to teach your daughter to love herself as she is and wait for her to make the decisions that she believes are relevant to her own body, because it is HERS, NOT YOURS nor anyone else’s, and if her health is not at risk, no one have to irreversibly modify anything in her body.

I have a body similar to your daughter’s, with “ambiguous genitalia” (clitoris larger than what doctors arbitrarily consider “normal” and with an urogenital duct –the vagina and urethra ends in the same duct). Despite what doctors may say, I don’t have any health problems related to my genitals, I don’t have recurring infections, pain or problems related to my menstrual flow, and I enjoy sexuality without problems. Always bear in mind that sexuality isn’t synonym of penetration, and it can be enjoyed in many ways. I also have no social problems because I of my atypical genitalia, besides we don’t go naked in daily life. I’m 33 years old and I feel happy with who I am and with the body I have. If I had problems in the past, it was because of the humiliating treatment doctors gave me, denigrating language they used to refer to my body and the ignorance of my parents at the time.

Remember that one thing is the treatment for CAH, and another thing is that your daughter has genital variations; the treatment for CAH is important, it is important that your daughter take her medication if she needs it to be healthy, but genital variations, in the vast majority of cases, don’t involve health problems.

Broadly speaking, CAH occurs when the adrenal glands produce less cortisol than what the body needs, which is why doctors prescribe a variable dose of cortisol (the form of cortisol I was prescribed was Meticorten). Some need small doses, some higher, some only take it for a brief period of their life, others need it for all their lives, and I have met some people with CAH who never have taken cortisol and are healthy, so it depends on the person and the type of CAH (wasting salt or not wasting salt form, and even within these two the influence on health varies from person to person). It is important to mention that you have to be careful with the doses of cortisol administered, since I have found that many times a doctor prescribes a high dose of cortisol, inducing Cushing Syndrome (that is when the body is exposed to more cortisol than needed). The doctor always has to start with the minimum dose of cortisol, and if it isn’t enough, increase the dose, always in order to avoid Cushing’s. It is not typical of CAH, more usually is a result of a poor medical management or from a bad administration of cortisol doses.

As a conclusion, I wish to tell you that girls with CAH don’t need surgeries; they need loving parents, they need support and information, they need parents who are not ashamed of their children bodies and who love and teach them to love each other as they are. They need to meet people who have similar bodies, people who go through the same experience.

If you want psychological help, I can support you or put you in touch with local organizations that can listen to you, with real professionals that can help you and treat your child with respect, before making such an important decision. Take the opportunity to get in touch with us, my door remains open, for you and for any parent who is willing to offer their little ones a chance to love themselves as they are.

Anyone who wishes, can contact me through the email: intersexualmexico@gmail.com

Remember that you are not alone. And neither your child.

LGBTQ… I? By Hana Aoi

LGBTQ… I?

By Hana Aoi

EN ESPAÑOL

Opinion article by Hana Aoi, intersex person. Originally published in the blog Vivir y Ser Intersexual (link to the article in Spanish: https://vivirintersex.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/lgbt-i)

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In past November, during the training on intersex matters for personnel from the National Council for Prevention of Discrimination (Conapred by it’s name in Spanish, link to the council site: http://www.conapred.org.mx), an apparently unnoticed issue came up, something obviated before the event, that I deemed necessary to rethink. In Mexico City there’s an acronym of common use to cover and give visibility to all groups from the sexual diversity, LGBTTTI. No doubt, this has enormously helped many people to be aware of the existence of something called “intersex”. But is this approach actually informative? The original perception of many attendants to the training was that intersex was just another element of the diversity, thought as a sexual orientation or a gender identity. When the event was over, the understanding (I hope) was a different one, closer to reality: that intersex wasn’t a sexual orientation nor a gender identity; of course, these are aspects of the life of any person, and intersex people are no exception. We are undoubtedly related to the LGBTQ community in this regard. But there’s also to consider that our own struggle is to get respect of our human rights and acknowledgement of our body autonomy. Put in other words, it’s about being able to call the shots about the biological characteristics that make our bodies different, and the ground work to make that heterogeneity of the human body visible to society, as well as stopping any practice on our bodies as early as the moment of birth, because they’re aimed only to ease the social anxiety caused by the noncompliance of our bodies to the binary notions of sex and gender, and which only perpetuate fundamentally violent and irreversible procedures justified by a false rationalization: the one that claims that these procedures help to reduce the risk of stigma and discrimination.

The debate I’m proposing over the inclusion of the “I” in the collective acronym may seem pointless. It’s not, and I bring it to the table for a specific purpose.  Let’s begin by stating the obvious: for years, the LGBTQ community has made huge advances towards human rights acknowledgement and civil rights vindication, something that should be granted for any given person within a society that calls itself free and democratic. While I’m casting the shadow of my musings, I couldn’t possibly minimize these accomplishments, for I deeply respect the battles they’ve fought (and won) without me being there (I mean at the time when their claims were open for debate, because either I was too young or too ignorant). Indeed, we, the members of the intersex community share many aspirations as many of us can directly relate to the sexual diversity. For example, there’s a considerable number of intersex people who also are trans; so many intersex people identify as genderqueer or non-binary; there are too those who enjoy a full androgynous life experience; there’s even those who opt for surgeries willingly to transition their gender identity along with their sex characteristics, regardless of sexual orientations. And that too bind us to the LGBTQ community: many, whether embracing or not a label from a cisgender-point-of-view of their gender, experience freely and healthily their sexuality, sometimes assuming gender roles and sometimes not. So, yes: many intersex people are LGBTQ.

So, what am I ranting about?

It’s about our demand as a community. As LGBTQ, there are specific demands. But as Intersex, it’s all about human rights, those meant get full control of our bodies and the recognition of such rights even if we’re talking about minors (which is actually my particular view on this matter). This demand requires a very specific approach towards medical community and society in general, because it implies a redesign of medical practices and the changes and construction of legal frameworks that allow human rights to be respected and protected by law. Let’s recall that the intersex movement emerged as a response from the intersex people to the clinical approach of their bodies and beings (one that sadly lasts to the present day), promoted by sexologists, urologists and endocrinologists, among other medical specialists from the early 50’s (for a compelling reading on this and many other relevant intersex topics, look for Katrina Karkazis’ Fixing Sex). This approach has tried since then to “normalize” our different bodies, this is, to force them to fit in this typical definition that binds sex and gender, by the means of surgeries, hormonal replacement therapies and other clinical practices. But the struggle of the intersex community isn’t just to eradicate these practices (at least eradicate how they are performed without full consent of the interested person just because of them being underage), but also to transform the binary notion of sex and gender. This is one aspect from which I believe the LGBTQ movement could take benefit. Taking off the gender marker from official documents could be a good start. More realistic would be to make it easy for any person (trans and intersex) to change their gender marker in such records. But let’s dare dream: it also implies the possibility of challenging the concept of gender identity, regardless of biological traits, thus offering a liberating perspective for future generations who shouldn’t have to struggle to fit, since there would be nothing to fit in.

Having stated this, I think that it isn’t accurate to include intersex as an element of the sexual diversity. Not for the time being. Not as long as average people keep thinking of it as a gender identity or a sexual orientation. And this is why: while there’s a part of society who could care less about sexual diversity, and indeed accept it as such, there’s a need to get rid from the stigma that comes with homophobia and sexism in the heteronormative society we’re living in. The main purpose of intersex activism is visibility, visibility to their reality, their issues and claims. It’s lack of information, prejudices and fears in the minds of intersex children’s parents that make them go for the surgeries, taking away their kids liberty to choose, to voice their opinion about their own bodies. Sure, we, as grown-ups, can bite the bullet and answer back when we’re questioned. But children need to be protected from the very bigotry that parents fear. Fears and prejudices are expressed in phrases such as “I can’t deprive my kid from having a gender, because children can be cruel”. When we say this, we forget that it’s us who teach children to discriminate and bully, that it’s us who socially sanction such behaviour, that it’s okay to take the “perverts” and the “weirdos” apart, even when we say otherwise. By keeping on living in a social contract of control and domination we’re acknowledging discrimination and violence against what’s different. And this is what fuels the fears of parents of intersex children. So, if we can’t success at making intersex visible and intelligible first, and then we fail to address parents’ fears, then the association of the “I” with the LGBTQ community really won’t help kids and babies yet to be born. And parents will keep surrendering to their understandable fears and giving up their children to surgeons.

This is why I believe the “I” should stand out by itself, as long as it takes for people to get what intersex is. Even when it will still be associated to the LGBTQ community for the reasons stated above. It’s necessary that parents of intersex children first speak out their fears and confront their mixed feelings, and then embrace the diversity of humankind embodied in their kids. By stepping out we wouldn’t ignore the LGBTQ struggle, but we’d acknowledge the specificity of our demands and the way they must be addressed in order to make them happen.

 

A broken story. By Hana Aoi (mexican intersex person)

A broken story.

By Hana Aoi (E-mail address: aoihana.1981@gmail.com. Website: Vivir y Ser Intersexual)

EN ESPAÑOL

This is the English version of the original one published originally in Spanish in Brújula Intersexual as Historia rota.

hana-orquidea

It’s a sidereal abyss, an immense void of unbearable darkness and quietness. You can’t see nothing; you can’t hear nothing. Still, there’s something out there: the debris of a story yet to be articulated.

To overlook the past constitutes a huge affront, whether it’s because you live in denial, or because your loved ones who took care of you as a child did. I’ve heard a lot people saying: “What is past, is past. Don’t look behind. Just stick to the present”. Still, when you are intersex, ignoring the story of your birth carry a lot of consequences and events in your life that develop into issues that, all of a sudden, become untraceable, because no one can remember when it started. You find yourself unable to rebuild a narrative and you really can’t talk to no one, for the ones who were supposed to know best are no longer there. Where are now the surgeons who cut you open, who took your gonads away, who shaped your body for society’s own satisfaction? Dead. Retired. Anonymous. Your files? Gone too. Disposed several years ago, because nobody claimed them. Your parents? They’d rather not to go back, it’s hurtful. Of course it is; back then there was so much fear, so much confusion, so they went by the “experts’” suggestion, and kept it to themselves. They kept quiet, hoping time, silence, and an overprotective upbringing lasted long enough so you wouldn’t need to look back. Until you were fully grown and self-sufficient.

But one day, it all falls into place. Then you realize: they’ve lied you all time. No matter how well intended it was, it hurts.

A broken story I say, because no one would speak of it. I was thirty when I finally got it. Not that I was clueless; as I was growing up, and out of necessity, my mother had to drop some answers to what were tangential questions. Unconsciously I was frightened too, I believed there was something crooked about me, because the memories of home and hospital I had left me that impression. In my thirtieth anniversary on this Earth, all the memories, the scars, the psychotherapy, the loose bits of information from my mom and the avalanche of data collected through years of suspicion and deduction gave form to a more or less articulated narrative. For a lack of a clinical file, my parents’ memory finally came through for me, and the story started to take shape.

Once upon a time, I was born, the youngest of three siblings. My sisters were excited about my arrival. Everything marched on as one would expect in a household with a newborn baby. But one day, after only one week of life, my mom concluded that she shouldn’t disregard what she had already noticed: that my body was different. My mom didn’t really know if it was something to worry, but it didn’t seem right as far a she knew. Should a little baby girl have a clitoris that big? A multidisciplinary team of physicians gathered. Oh what an occasion it was for them. They diagnosed me with “true hermaphroditism”, 47 XXY. They informed my parents they had to remove my ovotestes because of “the latency of cancer”. Also due to my “genital ambiguity”, they talked about viability as a girl or a boy, but they emphasized that it was better (easier, they meant) to feminize my body. After all, my parents had already two girls, so I would fit better. And so it was decided; my parents hoped for the best, and even since I was just six months old until I was eleven I underwent three different surgeries. One of my earliest memories comes from the second surgery: I was lying on a bed in a common room of a renowned public hospital of in Mexico City. The paediatric urology wing was on a floor in the middle of the building, because I remember the tawny light of the street lamp sneaking in through the long window, opposed to the dim white light of the halogen lamp from the corridor just outside. I was four, and I had a cast of some sort with the shape of a diaper, around my waist and covering my pelvis. I still can feel it’s rigidity and the fear I had of moving my body at all… More lucid is the memory of the third surgery. I just had turned eleven two weeks before. Although I was no defenceless creature, I meekly entered the hospital that time, and I was submitted to a vaginoplasty which I had only the faintest idea what would do for me. Mom had told me it was “to fix” my genitals so I didn’t have problems when I was older. I didn’t get what kind of issues those might be. I guess she thought unnecessary to explain what the vagina was (actually I mixed the notion of vagina with that of the urethra then and a after for a while), and what was the use everyone expected for it. I remember the months before that, the doctor who attended me inspected my genitals, and the week before, I think, they draw blood samples for the analysis prior to surgery. All those moments are like snapshots today, but snapshots that come with the memory of my skin hurting down there, the fingers covered by latex poking my urethra and my incipient vulva. It was my body he was touching, and I was uncomfortable, ashamed. But I endured it because if my mom had taken me there, so the fact of me being at hospital could only mean that it was all in my benefit, and if I had been going to those revisions and sample-takings, it was because something was wrong with me. Bottom line that was the problem: my body. So when the surgery finished and I was sent to my bed, one of the doctors artlessly said to my dad: “your daughter is ready for life”. To this day, I still don’t have a fucking idea of what life he had in mind. Certainly not the one I ended up living years later… A lot of white coats came to see, the residents along with the physician in charge, lifting my sheet on the lower end to inspect, to show and explain the young doctors what were they looking at. I was appalled, but again, I thought I should be okay, if my mom was allowing it, the physician was showing something that was fine now. Or was it? Because I still had to go to the clinic to the follow-ups, in those crowded third-worldly, khaki-walled cabinets (and this I’m talking about was one of the best public health facilities in Mexico), having to exhibit my body to this new doctor in charge of my case. At age thirteen he started asking if I had a boyfriend already. I’ve always been shy (a characteristic of the upbringing I had, I guess), and frankly boys weren’t of much interest to me. The question troubled me. A part of me wanted to reply: “No, and it’s not your business anyways!”. But my mother was there, and I politely said: “No, I don’t”. Now I know it wasn’t just chit-chat, and that he was aiming at something when asking those sort of things.

At that same age I started hormonal replacement therapy. I had to take one elliptic, burgundy pill a day: conjugated equine estrogens (CEE). I didn’t quite understand why I needed “extra” hormones (I wasn’t aware that I had no gonads anymore). I asked what was that pill for. My mom, the only possible source of answers at home, told me it was for my body development. I was embarrassed to keep asking. When it came to talk about my body, I was twice as embarrassed, because I wasn’t comfortable with the whole concept of adolescence for starters. I was fine with the idea of my body getting taller. I was nuts for sports since forever, and I loved basketball. But my mom would have me behave more feminine. I guess I’ve always had a feminine look, or androgynous at the very least, so I suppose she thought I would perfectly fit if I just used a bit of make-up and wore dresses and skirts and girly shoes. I did that, when I was a kid, and only a number of times. But as a teenager I most certainly didn’t, unless she urged me to do so. Again, now I understand why she felt the need to behave like that. On the other hand, I was embarrassed too because of the deep-rooted notion that there was still something wrong with my body, even if I hadn’t the language to name it, and that it was a source of shame and concern so we had to keep it secret. In this way, unconsciously, quietly, I was the family secret.

The fact that I never had any boyfriend nor girlfriend helped me to avert any confrontation about myself. However, at university I started to wonder why I didn’t menstruate. I knew that some girls would begin as late as twenty-one. It was like a clock ticking to me, and I couldn’t figure out why the period hadn’t come. A part of me was relieved, because I didn’t want to experience the nuisance I knew other women suffered, but it was the very idea of something wrong going on about my body that began to flow in my thoughts.

Also there was the part of the unfulfilled sexual desire; whenever I wanted to please myself, pleasure was brief and unsatisfactory. When I wanted to find what was supposed to be “the female organ of sexual pleasure” with my fingers, I only found discomfort and discontent, because wherever I touched I could barely feel anything pleasant beyond the mere pressure of my fingertips. The funny thing is that I felt how my body was aroused, but when I tried to keep it on, it just stopped. Later I figured some other ways to please my body, but since long I’ve come to terms with the fact that my genitals aren’t able to provide me with pleasant sensations. And when my mother, years later, finally confided me how my body was born and I joined the dots about the procedures I underwent, I knew for sure the sensitivity of my genitals had been affected during one of the surgeries. Of course, that’s not something my parents would know at that time.

There’s a consequence of growing up with the idea of your body being wrong and the unnamed and unfulfilled need of reassurance that you’re okay that I think is as damaging as surgeries: a low self-esteem. I grew up looking always for my parents’ (and every authority figure’s) approval on everything. For long periods of my life, my self-esteem was acceptable because I tried very hard to make up for the things that I knew or I felt I wasn’t good enough. I became a student of excellence, not just because I loved to learn, but also because I believed it was the only thing that would keep my parents from feeling disappointed of me. I thought I was worth no more than that. Thus, the day I announced I’d decided to major in History, which should have been a happy one, turn out to be depressive. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a “historian required” job advertisement in the newspaper. What got me was the rejection feeling I had that day when every member of my family gave me a piece of their minds. I wanted to please them so much that I picked the “easy” choice, and ended majoring in Computer Engineering, just because I would easily find a well paid employment and be self-sufficient. Sure, computers and programming were easy to me, but I didn’t love it.

Funny thing: even when you try to conceal your own self, it eventually blooms. Even if you have played the teacher’s pet role and the good girl too, because it’s the only way you got to behave in order to survive, the true call shows up. I began to write. I always had loved the readings of myths, fables, tales, novels. Ever since junior high I essayed to write my own stories. But it was only at university that I acknowledged how badly I needed it. However, when for mischance I mentioned my parents I’d like to dedicate my life to it, my dad lectured me about it. I remember how I cried that day, and from that day on I almost stopped writing. I muted my inner voice. Then my body started to complain. My health, which had been great since forever, started to decline. I got hepatitis A. I sprained my right ankle three times in five years, even when I hadn’t done any more sports nor exercises. That too: I abandoned sports, which was something I loved, because I sensed my mother disliked (although tolerated) the fact that I played football (something I did with fruition when I was a teenager and later on at university), probably because it wasn’t seen as a feminine activity in Mexican culture. My cholesterol and triglycerides levels raised above the norm, not because I was overweight, but because of the continued state of stress at work. Anxiety had been a constant in my life, so I thought it was ordinary too at work. I guess I knew I hated my career as software developer almost since it started.  I was angry all day, I ranted about almost anything. I fell in love with a woman who loved me back but just as a friend, and in that regard I grew bitter. I went to three different psychotherapists, and while at first things would get smooth, and I felt optimistic about my future and made plans, it wouldn’t last.

And then I turned thirty, as mentioned before, and my life started to crumble, one year at a time, until at thirty-three things got out of control. No psychotherapist could help me to cope with the findings of my own story, and I turned against my parents. I started to inflict me physical damage and became deeply depressed. While I didn’t love it, I had been a reliable employee at every job I had; but when the very work assignments became impossible to accomplish and the pressure was unbearable, this is, when I became to hate not only that specific job but my career pick, I started to skip work and stay at bed all day, crying and cursing everything and everyone. I thought I had reached my lowest. So I quit. Then a week later a friend offered me a job of the same kind. I thought it would be different, as it was a different company and a better work environment. But the day before I’d started, I snapped. I cried like I had never cried before in my life. I kept saying out loud: “I can’t do this. Not anymore. Not anymore.” So my mother helped me to reach my friend and excuse me, that I wouldn’t be able to show up the next day, and that I would contact him. My friend understood.

So began the hardest year of my life: the year to learn to forgive, the year to learn to love myself, the year to learn who I really was and what I really wanted to do, the only thing I had never sat down to think thoroughly. And furthermore, the year to embrace my body as it was, not as it could’ve been. Interestingly, I started to menstruate due to a change in the hormonal replacement therapy, because the CEE had caused me a myoma in my uterus and I had a constant haemorrhage. The gynaecologist prescribed me contraceptive patches, and the haemorrhage ceased. The myoma also reduced it’s size. However, he warned me that from then on I would menstruate, because I took the CEE everyday, but the patches followed a menstrual cycle. So it happened. At first that angered me even more. Now that I had gotten used not to menstruate, the period came punctually every month! But as I came to terms with my body, I took it as a sign of me changing. Now I’m fine about it.

One of the things that troubled me during the time that I learned to deal with me being intersex was to accept myself as a woman in all aspects. I was really confused when I discovered the fact that I could’ve been raised as a boy, because as a kid, apart from the dresses and all that stuff, I always had the need to play along with the other boys, and once I even got in a fight with one. I played football at streets with my neighbours, all of them boys. My sneakers and I were one, I never was interested in heels and that sort of things. I liked boys (I actually had some crushes for some of my male friends), but I liked girls too, as early as kindergarten. Just when I got my first boyfriend at university I considered the idea of being more “feminine”, but I couldn’t just be like that. That relationship just faded as I distanced from him, because we wanted to have sex but I wasn’t sure that my body was okay when I compared the reflection of my vulva and vagina in the mirror with the pictures I search online. Then I thought only a woman would take me. And a year later I fell deeply in love with a friend, a girlfriend, who loved me back but not in a romantic way, but as a sister, as a confident, indeed as a best friend. Considered all these things, when I found the circumstances of my birth all I could think was that life, not just mine but life itself sucked. For a while I pondered the idea of transition my body, but I wasn’t sure, because I was so sick of surgeries, and I questioned myself: do you really think you’re a man? When the answer emerged smoothly, I discarded the idea. Later on, when I started to gather information about intersex, I wondered if I it could be that I was non-binary, or gender-fluid. But I understood as I let it marinate that this conception of my own gender wasn’t just something I could say like “hey, I like green”, but it should reflect a profound sense of oneself, of how one projects one’s own identity. It’s funny how long can be the path to become a woman. I’d been taken for granted a woman all my life; but it’s just since a while ago that I came to consider myself a woman. An intersex woman. And I’m in the path of learning how to embrace it, and enjoy it, and live it with fulfillment.

I’m not saying that being intersex it’s the cause of all my wrong decisions. But society played its part. My parents’ fears, the physicians’ authority, played a decisive part in the shaping of a psyche with a low self-esteem and a need for acceptance. This was society’s prejudices work. It’s not being intersex but the regard of society about it, the stigma, their notions on how should be a girl or a boy both in their body traits and their gender identity. I can see now a pattern among the stories of many intersex adults whose physical and mental health were undermined since their early years because their bodies posed a threat to the mind constructions of people around them. Kids, all kids, are very sensitive. They sense their parents fears easier than we think. And intersex kids sense fear, rejection, guilt, shame. Not all of them, fortunately. Some had the luck to have knowledgeable, brave parents who said “No” and instead chose to healthily discover a different world through their intersex children. Those are the experiences we need to replicate in this world in order to stop unnecessary suffering. Life itself is complicated. We have no need for further problems. And most certainly, surgeries and therapies haven’t proved to be any sort of solution. Maybe a brief relieve for stressed parents, who didn’t know they had a choice. Them, parents, need also our support. They have to learn that they’re not alone, and that there’s no rush.

We need no more broken stories. Intersex people should have a right even since they’re newborns to develop a life of their own, to explore what the world has for them, to bloom and discover who they are and who they want to be, and be the ones to call the shots about their own bodies. Well, that should be true for all people as a matter of fact. And as any other person, intersex persons should never have to live a broken story, cut and edited here and there, just to be liked.

As of today, I keep writing a new story for me. To make it of my own. To forgive where there was love, and to forget where there was ignorance and negligence. I don’t care for grudges. I rather want justice. Maybe not for me, but for others. I also want to help others if they ask me a hand.

As a conclusion, there’s something I’d like to ask from parents of intersex children in Mexico and worldwide: Seek for help!! Get informed, ask for advice, not just from one physician. Even if slowly, there’s a shift in the way some sympathetic doctors regard intersex. There’s nothing intrinsically unhealthy about having different sex characteristics from the usual notion of male and female. But learn about your children health needs, because each person is different. There are medical conditions not to be ignored that may be associated to a specific intersex variant. Approach intersex activist organizations, such as Brújula Intersexual or Intersex Day. They’ll be willing to offer their experience and counselling. Get rid of fears and doubts. Ask everything you need to ask. Just don’t stick to a “disorder of sex development” diagnosis, because that will work against your children best interest. Embrace your babies as they are. If needed, assign a gender, but don’t go for surgeries. You have in your arms little human beings with the potential of becoming full-grown, happy, fulfilled persons.

 

My life as an intersex person: 7 sisters, 7 brothers… and I. By Mar IS

My life as an intersex person: 7 sisters, 7 brothers… and I

By Mar IS

EN ESPAÑOL

*This story was shared by Mar IS for publishing in exclusive by Brújula Intersexual. If you want to republish it anywhere else, please request for the author’s permission addressing to intersexualmexico@gmail.com.

Originally published in Spanish: https://brujulaintersexual.wordpress.com/2016/06/28/mi-vida-como-intersexual-7-hermanas-7-hermanos-y-yo-por-mar-is/

Translated by Laura Inter. Edited by Hana Aoi.

MarIS

I was born in Mexico more than 30 years ago. I was born with an intersex body. I didn’t know it. When I was born everything was “normal”, apparently there was nothing unusual in my body. I was assigned as a girl, but ever since an early age people made me feel different.

I became aware of changes during puberty. My body developed quickly, it started to grow more body hair than usual, especially in my legs and arms. When I was 12 years old, I stopped growing up. My body was strong and beautiful, I was stronger than other girls and I liked how my body looked like.

My body already had by then an androgynous look: my shoulders are broad, I have almost no hips, my arms and hands are stronger than usual, I barely have breasts and as I mentioned, I have a lot of body hair; I even got a beard. However, my voice is rather feminine and so are some of my physical traits. Although I no longer identify myself as a man or as a woman, it’s because I was assigned as a female at birth that I’ve gotten used to refer to myself with feminine pronouns. People have always felt confused about my gender because of my appearance, sometimes they think I am woman, sometimes they think I’m a man. I’ve always had problems for it. It’s common that people kick me out of the ladies’ bathroom, or tell me I’m in the wrong one. No matter how I dress, other people are usually confused about my gender

I was born in a remote community, a very small town, where everyone knows each other. So it was impossible for me to go unnoticed. Since childhood I began to be bullied by my own family and people around me out of prejudices about my body and my behaviour (that was considered as male) In my family I was abused in many ways: lack of care, lack of clothing and shoes, and even lack of food. My mother worked all the time, always had problems and had no time for her children. My father was always drunk, unable to spend a little of his time with us. Because of this lack of attention, when I was very small, I suffered from sexual harassment and sexual abuse by three different persons much older than me. Sometimes I thought that it had been only bad dreams, but it had been all real. Today I still struggle to overcome this horrible trauma. I still get nightmares because of that.

When I was in elementary school, I began to be bullied because of my physical features by my classmates and even by some teachers. At that time, I didn’t understand why I was bullied. I only knew there was rejection in their body language and their words. All of this really bothered me, but I tried not to give it too much importance.

When I was 12 years old, I had my first boyfriend. My family didn’t like him, because he was older than me, so every time I was with him, my mom instructed one of my brothers to bring me home and hit me. At 14, I had another boyfriend. The first three months seemed that everything was fine between us, but later he began to tell me things like: “You look like a man”, “When I kiss you, I feel like I’m kissing a man”, “Your breasts are very small”, and so on. For these and other comments, I went to see a doctor. She asked me to take off my shirt, then she saw and touched my breasts, and also reviewed my genitals. She said to me: “There’s still chance to do something”. After the medical examination, she asked me if I’d be willing to remove my clothes and be examined by other doctors, in order to get help. Shyly I replied, “Yes”. Outside the doctor’s office there were people who knew me, and I realised that they had heard everything spoken inside the office, so I was concerned about it. A few days after, a cousin told me that she had heard rumours that I was actually a “man”. When I heard this, I became really angry. Because of this and the lack of money, I didn’t want to return to the doctor, and I tried to forget it all.

At school I had to wear a skirt. This was a constant nightmare because of the abundant hair on my legs, so I had to shave them constantly. One time I didn’t shave them well, and one of my classmates noticed. Gossip spread quickly all around the school and everyone started to bully me. They saw me as a “weirdo” and made hurtful comments. I felt very embarrassed, it was a very ugly experience and my self-esteem suffered. Furthermore, a beard began to grow on my face. I couldn´t hide my differences so easily anymore, I suffered deeply in silence. Who could I talk about the things that were happening to me? I was frightened and felt a lot of shame.

I had a friend from childhood, we used to spend a lot of time together. She seemed interesting, nice, pretty. My mom, however, didn’t like her and often prevented me of being and spending that much time with her. And then people started to say that we were lesbians. We didn’t care, we just laughed at the gossips.

Our friendship ended the same day of her wedding. Something happened: I saw her brother-in-law taking her to a room to talk. When he came out, he looked at me with a disdainful look that really scared me, then he started talking to his friends and I noticed that everyone turned to look at me, they looked at me with morbidity and mockery. That day I went home bewildered. I thought everything would be fine, but it wouldn’t. As days passed, this became something bigger, now the whole community, men, women and even children, one of my brothers too, everyone saw me with an accusing look. I just couldn’t summon the courage to ask what was going on. It was something horrible, I couldn’t even defend myself because I didn’t know what caused it. I confronted my friend, tried to talk to her and understand what was happening. She denied everything. There was no one I could talk to, nobody I could ask what was going on. No one had the decency of telling me what the community was saying about me, everything was fuzzy. I wanted to die, I wasn’t able to sleep. It was a nightmare for two months.

As days went on, I felt worse. And I was completely alone.

At 18, I started to gain weight, I felt depressed, anxious, I slept a lot. I spent nearly two years doing almost nothing. Due to my weight, my brothers began to mock me.

When I was 20, I moved to another town, along with my parents and a sister, because my dad got ill. After a year, my parents returned to live in the community. But my sister and I decided to stay. She went to high school and I began to study and work. We spent two years like this, and in this period of time I felt very good and found peace. I managed to finish high school. I wondered what else had the life for me.

In that little town, I freed myself from the pressure of both family and community. I began to discover myself. I underwent psychotherapy, where I faced something I only wanted to deny: the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. For the first time in my life I talked about it. It was something terrible, I became depressed at confronting the truth.

Later on, my sister and I decided to enter university. This was another change. Another of my sisters decided to join us and went to live with us. They had always been very close and, when for some reason we discussed, often they agreed on whatever subject was at discussion, and always turn against me. I felt alone again.

Many things were new to me, life in the city was very different from the community, most of young people were “extroverted”, I felt out of place in many ways and situations. I felt I was ignorant. However, there was I: trying, maybe with no direction and unsecure, but trying nonetheless. Even with all the difficulties, I knew that university was an opportunity that never crossed my mind I would take. With all my limitations, my difficulty with communication and economic hardships, I kept going.

It was very difficult for me to expose in front of the class. Speaking in public was tough. When I knew I had to deliver a presentation, days before I felt anxious and fearful. I rarely spoke in class. I met and talked only to a few girls who were introverted like me. However, as they passed the time badmouthing about others, I didn’t found them trustworthy. I still felt alone for long periods. I barely spent time with my sisters.

At that time, to calm the anxiety and loneliness I felt, I started to watch pornography and I began masturbating frequently. I felt this “helped” me to escape from reality for a moment. But after a while, I felt shame and guilt, I also felt that this was hurting my body and spirit. This became a vicious circle that seemed endless.

I started taking swimming lessons. Since the beginning of the lessons the instructor saw me differently from the other girls in the lessons, I felt his disdainful look, this bothered me a lot, and I was sure that he looked at me like this because of my body being different. So I wore a complete swimming suit, tried to ignore him and concentrated on the lessons. I learned to swim, and it helped me to raise my self-esteem and improved my health.

During university I went through a lot of stress, I also neglected my appearance. I was able to travel; those were happy moments in my life. My favourite trip was when I travelled to the coast and saw the sea for the first time, it was an amazing experience.

After finishing university, I met a man. I liked him. We had a couple of dates, but because of my insecurities and low self-esteem, he ended staying away from me. One day we had a date, but he never arrived.

I still felt alone. I really wanted to have a partner and receive affection and love, so one day I decided to go out on a “blind date” with a friend of my sister’s boyfriend. So the four of us met and went to a bar. That night I drank too much alcohol, until I lost consciousness, I just remembered a few things when I woke up. The next day, I was aware of what had happened to me, this man abused sexually of me while I was unconscious. I felt horrible, I sought psychological help and I could quickly overcome this experience.

It came the time to do my professional practices. With my fears and insecurities, I travelled to another city and state, to work at a tourist park. There I was very well treated. I met a young woman from Mexico City, she was an outgoing and friendly person, and she caught my attention immediately, we began to hang out, because we lived together in the same house. She listened to me and treated me kindly. I was attracted to her, and although she had a partner (her partner lived in another city), we began a relationship with no commitments. She treated me fine, she “accepted” me as I was and moreover I finally found someone who didn´t criticize me or my body, so she quickly became special. As time went by, the relationship predictably began to fail. I believed that in the time we spent together, I had lived both the “happiest and unhappiest” moments of my life. It was with her that I had intimacy with someone for the first time. During sex, I realised that my genitals were different from hers. My clitoris was much bigger than average. That made me feel insecure, but she “accepted” me as I was. So at first my self-esteem increased, but then it crashed down. Apart from her having a partner, she was promiscuous, and I began to be jealous about her behaviour. The relationship became somewhat sickish, but I stayed because she was the first person who treated me as someone “normal”. So, after three months I ended the relationship and stepped away from her. I felt stronger and weaker than ever. After all this years, for the first time I had felt alive and “normal”, but my emotions were out of control. I felt that I loved her, but I also felt I hated her. There was so much confusion and pain.

One day, tired of my appearance, tired of not being “woman enough” or “man enough”, tired of always being trying to be something I was not, I cut my hair. At that time, I had it very long, so I decided to cut it very short. I did it on an impulse. In doing so, something changed: I looked younger and I looked better with short hair, I was more relaxed, even I started to accept that I liked women, though I didn´t completely identified myself as a lesbian. Even now, I don’t feel like a lesbian, because never my appearance nor my gender identity have been a 100% female or male. At that moment, I tried to reaffirm my sexual preference for women but, because of the education I received in my family (one heavily influenced by the Catholic religion), sometimes I felt dirty and perverted, but that feeling disappeared over time.

With this change in my look, I gained confidence. Some girls started to approach me, but I was unsure about starting over a relationship. I was still hurt about the last relationship. Somehow I closed myself to the possibility of any relationship, so I focused in work. Then I started to get sick. I was tired all the time, my body and my head ached.

After a while, I resolved to major in something else, but my economy wasn’t the best and my health got worse. University was already causing me a lot of stress, so I dropped out.

I decided to work in a different state, and so I moved. I worked for a while in a tourist park, only during the high season, when there were many visitors. But eventually I moved back again with my sisters.

I became deeply depressed for about four months. The sense of loneliness was greater, I had no money and, to make it worst, I still felt sick. Although I had consulted many doctors and I received different diagnostics, the prescriptions I got didn’t work. The worse came when doctors ended up asking me inappropriate things because of their prejudices about my appearance, such as: “What is your sexual preference?”, “When will you decide on your gender?” “Why you don’t take female hormones or go to an endocrinologist?”. As a result of these situations, all I wanted was to DIE!

To distract myself and try to resume my life, I began to volunteer on issues related to ecology, and also got a job, so for a while, even though not everything was fine in my life, I felt a relative stability.

At that time, I started dating a girl I liked and we had a great time together. However, she often didn’t arrive to our dates and stood me up, so this depressed me again and increased the feeling of loneliness, which had been a constant during most of my life.

I decided to move again and I got a job in the same tourist park where I had worked before. I still didn’t feel my health was the best, but I needed to keep busy. I started working by mid-2015, and while it was a job already familiar to me, it still caused me a lot of anxiety and fear, possibly due to discrimination and bullying which often I am an object because of my androgynous appearance. This has happened every time I start a job, studies or, in general, something new. Unfortunately, the extremely hot climate of that place and the anxiety and depression I was suffering worsened my health. I felt tired all day long, and often had fever.

In the park I met new people. Again, it became a source of anxiety and insecurity, because it is common that people inquire me about my physical differences. And they did. But I realised that sometimes it is mere curiosity, and comments made by them weren’t always malicious. Plus, the park is located in a tourist place where people in general are open to diversity, so I made very good friends there.

I blamed the stress of “being different” for my poor health, for me being depressed, for the anxiety, for the insecurity, for everything. Again, I felt I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t sleep for a long while, I suffered a lot both physically and emotionally, I no longer wanted to live.

I remember that once I had read something about intersex, and suspected I was an intersex person, I was almost completely sure. One day, searching on the internet, I found the web page of Brújula Intersexual, so I began to read the stories of other intersex people. This reassured me, because I didn’t feel alone anymore. I saw myself reflected in many of the intersex people who shared their stories, but still didn’t know someone like me.

My wish was to meet another person like me. As I read all the medical abuses and social problems faced by intersex people, I had also the intention to become an activist, even if it turned out that I wasn’t intersex.

In my despair, one day I sent a message to the Facebook page of Brújula Intersexual. I sent it without any hope of response, but to my surprise, the administrator of the page answered me back, and gave me information and support. She shared with me part of her own story. I started talking on the phone with her, I told her about my experiences, and about my different body and its peculiarities. I told her about a medical exam I had performed long ago, in which my testosterone levels were very high. I also told her about my genitals differences, and so. She told me that I was an intersex person and that there was nothing wrong with me. I was happy to confirm that I was intersex, but also a part of me felt sad because I still wanted to be “normal”. Even now, it’s a little hard for me to acknowledge that I’m intersex, as my physical differences have brought me nothing but problems and discrimination in my life.

Now that I’ve met more intersex people, I no longer feel alone. I’ve finally found people who get me. I don’t have to explain anymore about myself, we just share our anecdotes, traumas, stories, and so on.

This is the first part of my story, I’ll write the second part soon, about how my life took a complete turnaround since I met others like me, because now I share my life with a partner who loves me, respects me, and is intersex like me.

My body. By Laura Inter

My body

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)

cropped-orquideas.jpg

** 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.