I wrote another version of this article to start with but I deleted it because it didn't feel right. I want this to flow and I want to feel like it's authentically my voice and I think in order to do that I have to be as honest as possible. As such this is a forewarning that I will be talking about matters such as eating disorders and issues related to family dysfunction so if you don't feel strong enough to read this right now, please look after yourself and consider saving or bookmarking it for another time.
I would also like to make it clear that in this article I intend to talk about my personal lived experience. While I may offer pertinent information on the subject of being intersex, this is not intended as a 101 piece as I somewhat attempted that in my previous draft and found it came out too clunky.
I suppose where this all starts for me is within my family dynamic. Let's be honest, that's where everyone starts, where we learn the patterns that shape a significant portion of our lives. I know that for a lot of intersex and trans people, of which I am both as an intersex trans woman, there is often a background to our self discovery of secrecy and/or misdirection. I would say the latter is true especially in the case of trans people when society tries to keep us firmly in the box it wants us to remain in, even if that is at the cost of our mental, emotional and even physical health.
For me however, that aspect of secrecy and misdirection was very much a part of the background noise of my home life as I grew up in a dysfunctional household where I was emotionally abused anyway. Accordingly, the fact that I had two birth certificates both in my birth name but with different sex markers was simply put down to an 'admin error'. I suppose I have to believe that is what my parents thought for the sake of my own sanity, but given the way other things have panned out, even now I am not certain.
From childhood onwards, things were rocky in places. I came out the other side of puberty in the grey area of being eating disordered and far enough into it that I wasn't sure how to get out, but also not badly enough off to be hospitalised, of which I am thankful. Owing to the fact that at the time I had no idea I was intersex, my eating disorder as well as being tied as I now realise to other emotional trauma, presented as an aspect of gender dysphoria. By that point I was panicked at the thought of gaining weight, but the gender dysphoria aspect was that if I was not eating enough I did not need to worry about muscle mass and ever since I was a child, the thought of the possessing the typical strength of a male coded body had truly terrified me for reasons I could not identify at that point.
What I now realise is likely a part of my being non binary is that during and after puberty I wasn't sure what I was going to become. Of course puberty is confusing for everyone, but it seems that most people know they are going to grow up to be a boy or a girl. In my case I simply didn't know. Whether this was some kind of suspended psychology brought on by the eating disorder I could not say, but I believe I have heard other non binary people mention it also, that puberty was time of not being sure of the future.
Ironically I needn't have worried as, now my weight has stabilised and I am seemingly recovered or at least in remission, my body type is such that I do not gain muscle easily. Whether that is a result of my being intersex or my other health conditions I can't say for sure. I think in relation to that a major part of this discovery of self for me has been the realisation of just how much I second guess myself. Though I do not know all the details, now that my body has sufficiently recovered it turns out I have what appears to be a fairly typical female hormonal cycle despite the fact my testosterone is high for a woman and borderline low for a man, and also apparently minus any bleeding. I say apparently as of course any number of intersex traits occurring together can mean that an individual may appear to be entirely either male or female but in fact internally they have physiology of the 'opposite' sex to themselves. I say 'opposite' sex as the very existence of intersex people should make it clear that sex is not really a binary so much as a spectrum.
In relation to the latter part of the above paragraph, an experience that I think is common to both intersex and trans people that I certainly have shared is that of falling into the cracks with regard to healthcare. By this I mean that, when I have been to see doctors about my hormone levels more recently it feels as though there has been an attempt to construct a particular narrative that has only led to more confusion on my part. That is to say, an insistence that things are perfectly ordinary when I know that for someone of my apparently assigned sex, they are not. I suppose it may be the confusion on the part of the medical establishment as to what exactly trans healthcare entails but it is odd to me that no one has picked up on the fact that my testosterone is borderline low where it was fairly normal. I don't know for sure the reason for this drop of course though I have an idea and it is nothing I am especially concerned about, but I suspect the reason for it not being picked up is the assumption that I am on HRT when I am in fact not.
As it stands, in relation to the above, an incident I have come to retell when relating these matters is when I approached a healthcare professional and explained about my hormonal cycle. I was assured that this happens on HRT. When I explained I was not in fact on HRT I was met with a polite smile and assurances that 'well sometimes these things happen' or words to that effect. Though frustrating, I think these kinds of instances highlight precisely what trans and intersex people in general experience in that doctors are not sure how to best work with our bodies.
Something which also really intrigued me was coming across the notion of intergender, which is basically a gender identity that intersex people will use to indicate their gender aligns with having an intersex body. There is apparently some debate as to whether it can used by non intersex people but the first instance is where I have seen it mentioned most. I found this quite poignant for my own experience because it really opened up new possibilities. As I do not currently know all the details regarding how my body functions I find myself in a frustrating space of not knowing, according to the current dichotomy, whether I am technically an 'overvirilised' woman or an 'undervirilised' man. What I like about intergender as a term is that it throws all that out the window and states that is OK for us to have a gender that matches our bodies because our bodies are perfectly acceptable as they are.
(the above picture is something akin to what my body looks like).
I think for me what I've really come to realise is how validating community really is. It's difficult to put into words precisely, but when you've spent so long being told that you're overthinking things, it's such a relief to find people who are able to validate that yes there is something going on, no you are not crazy, and so forth. Especially recently, being around others like me has made me feel so much more comfortable in my body and to view it as something certainly worthy of care but also almost sacred in a way. I feel something that a lot of both trans and intersex people worry about is intimacy with others because we do not want to be viewed as something unnatural. Similarly, through my own development in body awareness, recently I have found myself very much unwilling to be viewed as some kind of exhibit which has made me think a lot more carefully about who I interact with in that regard and how.
Ultimately I think that despite some unfortunate divisions between our communities it is important we focus most on the things that unite us. Can trans people erase or invalidate intersex people? Absolutely. Can intersex people be transphobic? Unfortunately also yes. However if we can set that aside we can work together so much better. After all, Monica Helms, the creator the trans flag explicitly states that she put the white stripe in the middle precisely to represent non binary people, but also intersex people as well. I personally feel we have so much more in common and indeed overlap notably enough that working together is the best option we have.
Written by Morgana
Morgana is an intersex non binary trans woman who lives in the UK. When she is not writing articles for her blog about tarot reading or other aspects of her spiritual work, she learning British Sign Language and baking when the mood takes her. She is also in the process of writing a number of sci fi and fantasy stories with the hopes of self publishing as well as looking to become qualified to help other trans people in image consultancy.
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