The realities and complexities of being a Black intersex woman

'I was expected to make everybody else comfortable except for me.'

7/25/2021 6:55:00 AM

'I was expected to make everybody else comfortable except for me.'

'I was expected to make everybody else comfortable except for me.'

What it's like to be a Black intersex woman"I was expected to make everybody else comfortable except for me."As told toJun 25, 2021TATENDA NGWARU“I never feel like I ‘came out’ because there was never a time that I wasn’t sure that first of all that I am a woman… I was always very sure that I wasn’t a boy.”

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If intersex activist Tatenda Ngwaru had her way, intersex stories would take over our screens and hearts. There would be a world of representation for children like her and their loved ones would not feel governed by pain and secrets. Like many children born with variations of sex development that don’t meet the average expectations of doctors, Tatenda instinctively knew that there was something different about her body. Tatenda was born intersex – which means she has a natural variation in her sex characteristics, leading to a development which can only be described as extraordinary when compared to the average person. In Tatenda’s case, she was incorrectly observed to be a boy at birth.

“For a few years, I had been raised as a boy because I had an oversized clitoris and doctors made a mistake,' she says."And my parents were told [they] had a child which looks different, 'we kind of guess it’s a boy'.”Tatenda NgwaruWhen a person is intersex, it means that there is something about their sex characteristics that are noticeably different from the average expectations of a particular sex. Intersex people can be male, female or

non-binary(just like anybody else). It’s an umbrella term that covers a wide range of naturally occurring variations in the human body. For some people, being intersex means that their genitalia is noticeably different at birth – though this is not necessarily the case for all.

It’s a heavily medicalised experience and it has nothing to do with gender identity or sexual attraction – it’s anatomy. The complexity of intersex is something that cannot be understated; there are no accurate figures on how many children are born each year globally. There are a variety of reasons for this, from a disagreement between people on what ‘counts’ as an intersex variation, to the more logistical issue that most places tend not to record this type of information.

"I was expected to make everybody else comfortable except for me"In some circumstances, children born like Tatenda have their bodies surgically altered to appear more in line with average expectations of male and female bodies. Luckily for Tatenda, she was not subjected to any controversial cosmetic surgery from a young age – something which can impact a variety of people born with uncommon variations of sex development.

Tatenda has always known she is a girl from a young age, but it was during a routine surgery for a hernia that her doctor discovered she had ovaries and not testicles. And at 14, she got her first period in school. “I started living as an intersex woman when I started getting my first period which was at 14, which I’d like to call my 'a-ha moment'," she explains."I was wearing a boy’s uniform so you can just imagine the shock. It happened when I was in class and I stood and I was at the front, and there were so many students behind. I was wearing grey trousers, it was all blood stains and everybody was in shock, it was very traumatic.”

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Tatenda NgwaruThat's when she told her parents that she wanted to live as a woman. Having had no support themselves, let alone anyone else to confide in, her parents were concerned about the repercussions of revealing her situation.“I think having a period showed to [my parents] that biologically this is what it meant for my body and who I am. But they didn’t take it very well," she explains."The process was quite hard for them and for family and for outsiders as well. What was difficult for me was the reaction, what I was expected to do to fulfil other people’s beliefs or to make everybody else comfortable except for me.”

She continues, “I refused to live as a boy, that is something I’m very proud of because I was very young. I don’t know where I found the strength to refuse to live under that narrative. And even when my parents found out that I was actually a woman, they advised me to continue living as a boy because they were worried about the bullying that was going to come out of me telling people my truth.”

"Be kind to yourself"While Tatenda’s parents feared for their child’s safety and became worried that she would face bullying and ostracisation, Tatenda trusted that the world would someday ‘catch up’, and she found the courage to endure – prioritising herself over the approval of others.

Growing up different is something which is a relatable feeling – almost everybody has felt at some point that they are not normal, only for people like Tatenda, her reality has challenged many people’s beliefs and what they’ve been taught. There are many misconceptions around being intersex that can easily be demystified by listening to people from the community. With the large number of variations that can occur, it's only natural that there are a variety of stories.

This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.Unfortunately, intersex stories are seldom heard and oftentimes they’re associated with sadness and shame. While being bullied for being intersex was tough, she found solace in being the truest version of herself.

“I wish I had someone to tell me something when I was younger, I just remember that because I always knew who I am and I trusted my instincts so much…while it was hard with all the bullying and stuff, it was nice for me to know the truth and to stick to it," Tantenda says."My advice would be to be kind to yourself because I don’t think I was kind to myself with all of that and I took it very hard on myself and everybody. Had I been kind to myself more and had I been patient, I think my life would have been easier growing up.”

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As someone who is comfortable in her body, Tatenda is proof that any medical procedures that are not life-saving can be delayed. The reality of her situation was that nobody aside from her and those involved in her care had known that there was a visible difference in her anatomy – for the most part, she was able to exist as a regular child.

In 2019, Tantenda's film‘She’s Not a Boy’was released and has contributed to her finding a larger intersex community. Sharing her story has been liberating for Tatenda, and armed with the mission to support others who are in a similar situation and inspire change, faith has always provided a space for Tatenda to feel worthy and valued. She describes having faith in herself and speaks of how no one can take your faith away because it belongs to you. “Be unapologetic in who you are, do not require anybody’s beliefs to determine your journey or who you’re meant to be,” she says. Speaking out about her life is a way to reclaim her joy and support others.

Tatenda is determined to improve the future lives of children like her. Once armed with her truth, Tatenda became a fierce activist and founded an underground group for intersex and trans people in Zimbabwe, called ‘True Identities’. She continues to be an active member of the LGBTQ+ community and hopes that someday the community would be more inclusive in supporting fellow intersex people who are also LGBTQ+. Someday, she hopes that being intersex will just be a part of her like any other aspect of her identity, and she can look forward to starting her family and finding success in a career as a performer.

Read more: Cosmopolitan UK »

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