December 10, 2012 / Stockholm, Sweden
Hi, my name is Nthabiseng Mokoena from South Africa, and I was born intersex. I was born with ambiguous genitalia, and for a very long time in my life I was extremely ashamed about it, and because the idea of sex and genitals is not an open conversation in African culture, it is not something that we talk about as Africans, I really struggled to get clarity from my parents about who I am and, you know, ‘where I come from.’
And I asked my mother one day how was it like when she gave birth to me and she couldn’t answer me, and I kept repeating the question over and over again and she couldn’t answer me. But one day, because my mother was extremely supportive and I do miss her because she passed away this year in February of 2012, she was extremely supportive though. What she told me was that: ‘The only thing that I wanted was for you not to feel as hurt and ashamed as I felt after I gave birth to you.’ Because she gave birth to me at home, and not at a hospital, and there were midwives there, and in African culture, unfortunately, the birth of a child is the mother’s responsibility and if there is something ‘wrong’ with the child the blame goes to the mother, and so she felt extremely isolated after giving birth to me. And she said to me: ‘All that I ever ask is that you not feel the same pain that I went through after giving birth to you, and it’s not that I was ashamed that I gave birth to a child like you it’s because people put me in that position.’
So, it took a long time for me to actually accept myself, and because I’ve never been operated on … the shame, the shame … all that I wanted to do was to get an operation for a long time in my life, and I hated going to the public hospital because over and over again I became this guinea pig for the doctors. I became so abused by the doctors to a point whereby even when I got sick, and I was seriously sick, I could not go to the doctor. The only doctors I could go to were private medical doctors but those were expensive and I could not afford them. And I was so angry at myself that I could not go to a private doctor because I needed to get an operation. That’s what I thought in my head.
But the more I met other people like me the more I realized how privileged I am that I didn’t get an operation -- that, I’m thankful that I did not get an operation when I was born. Because people who did, they’re going through a very hard time at the moment because the surgeries have got very negative effects on them. So, I’m not ashamed of who I am anymore. I love myself. And I want to tell intersex people that you can’t expect people to love you if you don’t love yourself first, and to live your life because No Body Is Shameful.™ Thank you. ©