Intersex Day of Solidarity | Growing Up Intersex

My name is Rain, and I'm 29 years old. I was born in Durban, South Africa, to a medical team that took a minute or two to determine my sex.


We sometimes hear about the awful surgical procedures that some doctors perform on babies with intersex genitalia at birth - I was lucky in that this was not deemed necessary in my case, though I did need a revision at the age of three for underdevelopment. The procedure went poorly, and the anesthetic didn't last the full period - the stitching came loose after surgery and recovery was slow. 


In the years to come, as a young child, I presented androgynously, and was often gendered female - but I was told by my parents that I was a boy. I knew that that seemed wrong, but as I grew up further, I tried to fit into the role assigned to me. School was a very strange place. I don't have many memories from before first grade, but entering formal schooling, with the uniforms and the other children, the break times and the structured classes, made for a strange experience. I didn't fit in with other children because to the boys I was too soft and too much of a "teacher's pet", and to the other girls, well.. I was a boy. I spent my break times in the library, where the librarian made me feel safe and books took me away to other places - places without uniforms.


High school was less confusing, but more difficult. I went to a Catholic high school, which was a hostile place to be at the height of puberty. I began growing some facial hair, and my breasts and hips also grew. My voice dropped, and it stopped feeling like my own voice. By nineth grade, my figure was obvious enough to attract some very negative attention from boys, so I began changing for sports in private; all bathrooms have at least one stall that locks. I still have a fear of public restrooms without stalls because of those days. Summer was incredibly difficult, since taking off my blazer and jersey meant exposing my figure to other students, so I simply sweated my way through those days, and hoped that nobody would notice. During that time I experimented with my sexuality, and I recall being sent to a Christian counselor for a note found in my school bad - where I had mentioned to a friend that I had been out with one of the boys in my class. The counselor himself told my parents that there was 'no hope' for me, and that I was a 'lost case'. 


During late high school, it was determined that without a corrective surgery to my jaw, I would have been unable to chew solid food within a few years - the jaw itself had receded, and my bottom teeth no longer met my upper teeth to a point where braces were unable to solve the problem alone, so I was booked in for a maxillofacial surgery. Recovery from that let me skip a month or two of twelfth grade, at least, though my marks certainly reflected it. 


By the time I left school, I had cemented myself into a defensively masculine presentation, and college went slightly less painfully, since we got to dictate our own attendance schedules. Recalling those days is actually more difficult than recalling early childhood, because I had dissociated from myself so badly it felt as though life was playing out in third-person, with me as an observer. By this time, I had begun to have serious thoughts of transition, and leaving college enabled me to start exploring myself, my own life and body as they were. A few years later, it was standing over the sink in my fiancé's house that I first considered dropping everything and everyone I knew to run away and transition to female.


Two years later, I began the process of formal medical transition, and in the process, discovered through my doctor that I have an XXXY intersex karyotype. This allowed me to contextualize the weirdness that I'd experienced as a child and teenager, and it took me several months to come to terms with the knowledge. Mostly because of what I perceived as a lost childhood, but also because until that point, I had genuinely believed that every doctor knew all there was to know about the human body - it hadn't occurred to me that medicine might have missed something, that my anatomy wasn't really catered for or detailed in the common literature, and that I might have done so much better with a slightly different approach to being who I am.


I have now been on full hormone replacement for four years, and the change was very rapid - and relieving. It felt like a weight off my shoulders, and for the first time in my life I feel like I've grown up. I can think clearly and I'm no longer hiding my body, because it's mine and I love it. 


These changes have meant the world to me, but it's worth noting that not all intersex people do seek transition. The only thing we all seek is respect and understanding, not just from our friends and family, but from the medical community too. Our anatomy is so overlooked as to be virtually ignored and covered up, as the medical teams who dealt with my delivery and later correction show. Those professionals should have been able to determine that something was unusual about my body, and that should have led them to test my karyotype, or at LEAST to have told my parents to expect atypical development in some form.



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