It took about two days before someone asked me if I had a pad or a tampon. That seems like a natural thing for someone living down the hall from you to ask you for in the dorms but I dreaded it. Living in a dorm was a new thing to me– I mean, it being my first semester in college and everything. I had hoped to avoid talking about periods for as long as I could…but it only took two days. For the record: I did not have a pad, or a tampon, or even a period for that matter.
You see, I was born intersex, with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome to be exact. This means that while I present as female, I don’t have all the features that typical females do. I’m a little more complex – a little more special. I was born with XY chromosomes, no uterus, no ovaries, and alas, with no potential for menstruation. Instead of ovaries I had gonads, organs that resembled internal testes more than they do ovaries. I had surgery to have them removed which was a very hard decision, but that’s another story for another time.
Now this isn’t something I usually introduce myself with. magine that: “Hi, I’m a freshmen, I’m majoring in Computer Science. Oh, and I don’t have ovaries, so don’t ask me for a tampon. Okay bye”. So, it makes it hard for people to know that I don’t have the same features that they do, because it is hard for me to find a place in this world to accurately represent myself. Sadly, the world hasn’t created a large space for intersex people to be open about their bodies and experiences yet.
But I want to challenge that. I don’t want to live my life with standards and constrains made to limit me. I am so tired of living in a world that tells me I am abnormal and need to hide and conform to a binary. I am intersex and I am proud.
It’s a little harder than that though. It’s one thing to accept yourself, but it’s another to open yourself up to the world and be completely vulnerable about my experiences. It’s even harder to do that when you’re a freshmen in college trying to make friends in your first month of the semester. It’s hard not to think that you’ll be judged, misunderstood, and invalidated. After all that is what has happened to intersex people throughout history. Erasure, mutilation, silencing, and violence are not uncommon things for intersex people to encounter simply for being born the way that they are.
But I wanted to live an open life, a life where I can be authentically me, and a life where the people I surround myself with accept me the way I need to be accepted to be happy. So, after a few weeks, when I got asked the question again) (now a good friend who was sleeping over in my room, Melissa), “Hey, I just got my period, where do you keep your pads or tampons?”.
I took a leap of faith and said “Actually, about that. I don’t, I don’t need to, I actually don’t get periods.”
This led into a long conversation where I explained myself. I had gotten a spiel down by this point, I resorted to the “yeah, no ovaries, no kids, no periods.” I usually wait to see if they can handle the word intersex and won’t be freaked out by it, and then causally work that into my explanation. It’s kind of like coming out, except a little more explaining. Everyone knows what being gay is, but when you tell them you’re intersex, it takes a lot longer to explain yourself. I go to a pretty liberal school, so it was easy to tell my friends that I prefer they/them pronouns because I am uncomfortable with the gender roles that have been assigned to me and have a complex relationship with my gender identity. But explaining this biological aspect of it makes things more complicated.
This time was different though! To my shock Melissa said, “Wait, androgen insensitivity, why does that sound so familiar? OH, doesn’t that girl on Faking It have that? Is it like that? That’s why you have such nice hair, right?”
I took a moment to respond. This was the first time someone had known what I was talking about. “Yeah, exactly that”.
“Oh, that’s so cool, I saw a buzzfeed video too about that, I didn’t know you had that,” Rachel continued casually. There was no look of shock on her face, I didn’t have to wait for her to use me like human google to answer all her questions about a medical condition she had just heard about. She had already been exposed to it.
This happened with a few more friends, some who had seen the video and some who had seen Faking It. I even used the video to explain my condition to some friends who didn’t know. The fact that Buzzfeed had done a video about it and that MTV was involved in it, for some reason, made it easier for them to digest and comprehend. I told more of my friends in my first semester about my condition than I did in the four years I spend in High School.
I think part of my new found openness had to do with being older and independent and having more control of my life – things that come with moving out and choosing directions in life. But a lot of it also had to do with the fact that there was now a media awareness about people like me. We exist– and people know we do. Just being able to point to a video or a character on a T.V. show and say: That’s me, right there,” is such a new thing for someone like me to say, and it’s also very empowering. Because, for the first time there is someone on a screen that I can relate to, someone I can talk about and compare my life to, someone (sometimes) to look up to.
Not all intersex people are the same and so our stories are not the same. But now having some presence in the media connects us. It gives us something to point to and say “Yeah, that’s one example of intersex, but here’s my story.” I have a lot of growing left to do, I mean I only just finished my first semester of college. But I hope that I can grow into the person I truly want to be and that those around me can accept that. I hope that others like me have the same experience, and can find that the world has made a space for them. I can’t wait to see more of our stories being shown and shared. I can’t wait to add my story to this growing collection of beautiful tales of becoming.
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