Mani Bruce Mitchell, AIC Board Member and Executive Director of Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ)

Mani Bruce Mitchell and father

Mani Bruce Mitchell and mother


















A few weeks ago I was innocently asked when my birthday is.


An innoxious  enough question, but one that left me paralyzed and back dancing in the shadows of my past.


I will be perfectly frank, I mostly hate my own birthday, it’s a day that holds so much pain and memory. In fact  for  most of my adult life I have simply avoided the fact and not ‘celebrated’ or even acknowledged the day.


Last year however I agreed to do something different , it was 60th birthday and I did have a large celebration with people I love and who have supported me, worked with and been near on this extraordinary journey that has been my life.


I can feel an explanation is needed.


I am an intersex person, and as it is for a number of us my birth was a traumatic event that had very little to do with joy or celebration.


I came to know about my birthday when I was in my early 20’s. I had asked my mother what happened when I was born. (I was trying to make sense of the fuzzy, anxiety provoking memories in my head) My mum, a rural born women, of extreme practical nature not prone to showing feelings or emotion started to tell me, “we were staying with peg and bob (friends) friends in Auckland (a big city far from the farm I grew up on) my waters broke early in the morning and dad drove us into the city to the maternity home, when we got there the matron said, I could not have a baby yet as there were no doctors around! So I was sent down to the birthing room with a young nurse and told to wait, you did not and were born some 20 minutes later before the doctor arrived,” my mum paused at that point and then said, “ the nurse bent down picked you up and said “oh my god it’s a hermaphrodite.”

At that point my mum stopped speaking, screamed a little and fled from the room. I was left with the horror of what had just happened — seeing her so upset. I had NEVER seen my mother show emotion like that EVER. This word “hermaphrodite” — I did not know what it meant, and certainly at that point had no idea how it related to me (that knowledge would come many years later.)


My mother returned to the room about ten minutes later, her eyes were all red from crying. She made no reference to what had happened, instead she just looked out the window (it was a beautiful blue sky, summer day) and said I think its going to rain lets go and get the washing in.


We both walked down the back path and did ‘get the washing in’. My mother and I NEVER again talked about what had happened. Sadly,  she took all that pain, shame, horror to her grave.


I put my jig saw puzzle together after her death, many years later.


And so today I tell this story, in support of AIC and its amazing work. I tell it because this model that we have for treating the birth of intersex (I will not use the term DSD) children is so problematic and so desperately in need of change.


My mother needed a trained nurse or midwife who could have probably done no more than give my mother her beautiful healthy baby and enable that so vital skin to skin contact and bonding to start.


Any medical process could have come much later, led by skilled people who could talk outside a pathology model and provide appropriate and wise counsel for BOTH my mother and father.


After I was born I was rushed away and examined by countless doctors and specialists who poured over my amazing different body. They inserted things in orifices and palpated looking for ‘things’, and eventually concluded I was male. I often wonder how long it was before someone held me and told me I was loved and perfect?


What happened that day, 61 years ago scared me, my mother, and my family for life.


It was totally avoidable.


The model we have now has done nothing to ensure the same kind of damage is not being repeated all around the world.


Doctors initially decided I was male. They were wrong.


But no more wrong than when they decided I was really a female a year later.


For really, I was a gorgeous blend of both or neither genders. Growing up as a child I needed a mum and a dad who were comfortable with a kid who loved dressing up, playing with dolls, wanted to know how engines worked, all the names of the tools in the tool shed. Who drove the farm tractor at age 7, and who was stroppy and kind and amazing.


I was also a kid who believed myself a monster who lived in the constant fear and shame of never being good enough for my parents or myself. That burden crippled us all.




I say the model needs to change because we know so much more now about what children and parents need to have healthy relationships. Thankfully, in some places, this change is happening.


Yes people who have different bodies are at risk. Fact.


We don’t deal with racism by turning everyone brown. We deal with racism by dealing with it.


We need to deal with the reality of intersex birth in all its amazing complexity not with fear and shame but with sensitive knowledge, well trained clinicians who empower parents and the children to live well with a body that is not standard, and to feel and be okay with that.


In honor of my birthday, and the birth of all intersex babies around the world, please make a donation to Advocates for Informed Choice



Any money you gift to AIC will go into the bucket to assist with this critical change work.

I don’t want any more parents to carry the pain my mum did.

The fact I know we are still doing this breaks my heart.

We can change this I know – it’s the belief we can that keeps me going.

Birthdays should be fun things.

A day to be  celebrated and acknowledged.

Life is fragile and precious and important — every single one.

Thanks for reading my words.

This year I will celebrate my birthday and hold a different energy around it!


Please, make a gift of whatever amount you are able in recognition of Mani’s birthday.


Whether larger or smaller, your contribution adds up in a big way.