MY PROCESS AS AN INTERSEX PERSON
I am An, I like to sport and I dare to say that I am a sporty person. I have done a bit of everything; I swam, I am part of a rowing club and I like to go for a run sometimes. At five years old, I was diagnosed with adrenal cortex hyperplasia. That means my adrenal cortex goes into hyperproduction the moment my body becomes stressed. My body then produces too many androgenic compounds, namely testosterone. I have been on medication for this all my life. My journey as an intersex person has not been simple. Consequently, I have really gone through the mill throughout my life.
From the beginning, I kept hearing the story that I was ‘different’. I couldn’t speak to anyone about it because I didn’t know what my ‘problem’ was. Everything went well, even at school, but there were still moments during which I felt I was at a low point. I started Googling these feelings I was experiencing and landed on the word ‘intersex’.
“The fact you’re between two sexes, is not really important; it’s the way your environment reacts to it. That’s why it gets blown out of proportion to be bigger and more abnormal than it actually is.”
Everything fell into place. Even though I was initially against labels and didn’t want to be labelled intersex, I now realise that this label has freed me. From that moment onwards, I felt at home in my own body. Getting to know other intersex people immensely strengthened this feeling. I finally felt that it was okay to be who I am.
EXPERIENCING SPORTS AS AN INTERSEX PERSON
There’s still a lot of shame present. It’s tough not being allowed or being able to talk about it. I’ve always felt I’ve had to adjust to fit within my environment, even in sports. Especially because you often hear that when you do well, it’s because of the surplus of testosterone.
Achievements in sports are often linked to your ‘abnormality’. If I do something well or get good results in sports, I frequently hear the argument that it is because of my hormones. I think this is very unfortunate. Sports are more than your physical abilities: it has to do with your mindset, how much/hard you train and how much effort you’re willing to put into it. Fortitude helps you win, not what’s naturally inside your body and how it affects you outside your body. It should be regarded like that more often.
“I never wanted to excel and held back a bit to avoid being noticed. That way, I felt I could keep belonging in the group. I automatically started underperforming.”
You just want to do your thing within the norm, but are discriminated against because of an excess of male hormones. In my case, I can’t do official sports anyway. I am automatically disqualified because I take cortisone. That’s too much hassle and stress for me. I prefer to enjoy sports at a recreational level where I know what I can do.
ACCEPTANCE IN MY ROWING CLUB
Within the sport, I was always accepted as ‘An’. When I was younger, I didn’t really come out for the fact that I had an intersex variation. At that time, it was mostly important for me to be myself and that was possible. Whilst intersex variation can be noticeable in other people – and therefore make things more difficult -, for me that wasn’t entirely the case. Acceptance always depends a lot on how you look externally. When I was still with my swimming club, I never experienced any problems because I was seen as a biological girl. I can imagine it being a lot more difficult for intersex women who have a lot of hair growth, for example, to feel comfortable going swimming.
I almost immediately came out as intersex when I joined my rowing club, as we were talking about sexuality and gender. When I started talking about intersex, I noticed everyone’s genuine interest in the matter. That was very nice to see and it meant a positive evolution for me because I felt (and still feel) safe there. There’s always room to talk and they have allowed me to educate other members and trainers about gender and being intersex.
After my positive experiences in the rowing club, I have become more aware of how important it is to surround yourself with positive people. There will always be people who can make you see that everyone is beautiful, despite their gender or sex. It’s those people you should have in your environment.
Know more about being intersex? Have a look at the website of Intersekse Vlaanderen.