Diana James on the impact that fear and misunderstanding can have on the intersex community
BY DIANA JAMES
For many intersex lesbians, on entering a lesbian space physically or online, you take a deep breath, your heart beats faster, but what you are feeling is not excitement it is fear. The toxic “debate” around gender, who is and is not a “woman” has spread to any who are not or might not be considered cis. That the vast majority of cis lesbians do not feel this way has become lost, drowned out by those few in the lesbian community who have the loudest voices, the ones that seem so certain, so sure. We need to find a way to change this, to amplify the majority, to reach out to those lesbians like me who feel excluded, marginalised.
I knew early on that my body was wrong, broken, a family secret discussed in hushed voices. Operations as an infant, young child to make me “right”, like other children. As a child you take these things in, you understand that the problem is you. This is reinforced by bullying in school because your body does not look like theirs. You fear changing rooms, being naked, caught alone.
Then you enter puberty. For me, it opened a new world of horror. I grew breasts, I did not grow as the others. Then the physical abuse turned sexual. The beatings became touching, followed by violence, as their desire turned to self-hate, which they turned on the object of that desire. The teachers then tell you this is your fault and you should bind your breasts so as not to tempt the boys, not to be so sensitive. This is not an unusual story for many intersex children, but it breeds a lack of body confidence that lasts a lifetime.
Then as a young intersex woman after “rectifying” operations, you find you are a lesbian. For me this turned the stability of a life that I understood and a relationship in which I felt safe upside down. Coming to terms with this took time, I actually fought it rather than embracing it. I wanted that stability, but you cannot fight who you are.
For many lesbians it has become a standard joke about how nervous you are approaching another woman, two women socialised to be approached, passive, working up the courage just to say hi. Then add that you are intersex with that total lack of body confidence. If you do get talking to someone you fancy, when do you come out as intersex? Early so that they might pull back never getting to really know you, or later before sex? Then the rejection hurts even more.
Or what can be worse is questions couched as seeking information, as one woman said to me “you have a dick and a vagina then?” Such ignorance can just reinforce that lack of confidence, so you shy away from future pain by holding back from possible relationships, even friendships, with other lesbians.
Most cis lesbians do not see these issues, are horrified by the abuse because it is not how they think. They would be happy to be friends, perhaps even a lover or partner, welcome you into lesbian spaces, see you as just another dyke. But your perception holds you back. That perception is your reality.
What some lesbians in the community have said has been so damaging. Cis lesbians need to understand this fear and reach out, and intersex lesbians need to know that this is a small minority and understand where our fear comes from. We desperately need to see that we are all part of one community.