The first time Irene saw the BuzzFeed video “What It’s Like To Be Intersex” on her YouTube recommendations list, she ignored it. She figured “intersex” must just be another new queer label.
Then late one night when the then-21-year-old Muscovite couldn’t sleep, she saw it go by again. This time, though, she pressed play—out of boredom more than anything else.
“From the very beginning of the video, I was so shocked,” she told NewNowNext. “I was like, ’Oh shit, that actually sounds kinda like me.'”
“Intersex” is an umbrella term describing someone born with biological or genetic traits that don’t neatly fit traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. There are many intersex variations, which can be related to chromosomes, hormone levels, genitals or internal reproductive organs. Some variations are evident at birth, while others don’t reveal themselves until puberty or even later in life.
Eventually, she was referred to a larger hospital in Moscow. She remembers, over repeated visits, being told to wait in a hallway while her father talked with physicians. “He was invited in but I wasn’t.” She once took a photo on her phone of the lonely corridor while she waited.
Afterward, her father told her she needed to have surgery, saying only, “Something is wrong with your ovaries, and if you don’t do the surgery you might get cancer.”
Irene had the procedure and began taking hormones. She started getting periods, but still never developed breasts, which made her feel insecure and alienated.
“All I really wanted was to grow breasts and go through puberty,” she explains. “I developed so much shame and hatred for my body. The years between 15 and 22 were really hard and depressing—I had a lot of suicidal thoughts. My doctors never explained anything honestly to me. When I would ask why my breasts still wouldn’t grow even with hormones, they always just told me I should eat more and it would happen.”
When she saw the BuzzFeed video, though, a lightbulb went off: Could being intersex explain what she was going through? She decided to get ahold of her own medical records and she discovered that the doctors—and her father—had been lying to her and her mother for the last seven years. Read more via NewNowNext