I’m not afraid of my truth anymore… You can call me Shivol
My name is Panashe Munemo (Shivol) (they/them). l was born with ambiguous genitalia and a body that produces competing levels of sex hormones. l was born intersex at a time when such a condition was shrouded in total secrecy. l was assigned female at birth but l was raised more like a male until l started school. Even though my mother was told by doctors that l was a girl, she mainly dressed me in male clothes. However, I entered school as a girl because l was assigned female at birth. Not many people knew my issues because l tried very hard to pretend to be endosex.
My puberty made very little sense. My parents told me that l was a girl, but prior to puberty my body did not look like that of a girl. Then during puberty, my body didn’t produce much of either male or female hormones. It is a lonely kind of existence in many ways—not only having to live with a body that’s so uniquely different, but it makes for a very confusing puberty right at the time when everything changes and you are supposed to be figuring out who and what you are. I used to be told, you’ll have to be a ‘normal woman’.
By this point, my parents were trying to push me to undergo surgery for me to fit into society. They told me my destiny is to be a wife and a mother and that scared me. It felt fairly rigid. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being female, it was just that I couldn’t fulfil that stereotype. As a child you want to try to please your parents and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to be a wife. There are so many things l disregarded during my childhood for fear of exposing myself. l loved playing soccer and volleyball but l was too scared to showcase my talent for fear of being discovered that I had a different body. Growing up as an intersex person, I faced so many challenges which meant that I could not mix and mingle freely with my peers. Since I was afraid of my body being seen and exposed, I would hide my body and my peers would make sarcastic comments and nicknames. As a child, I had no knowledge of being intersex, all I knew was that I was different from the girls that I played with. As much as I tried to pretend to be like one of them, it was very hard. Even wearing the girls’ uniform to school as a young ‘girl’ was uncomfortable as it felt very weird. I battled to express myself between how I was raised and what was expected by society. It was hard to express who I truly was which was neither known nor understood by anyone but myself. Being expected to behave and carry myself like a girl was pure torture but I had to since, as a child, I knew not to rebel against my parents and society itself.
When l reached 19, nature started to take its course and my body started showing some masculine traits. Most people, including myself, were shocked by it. I even became depressed, not because I wasn’t happy with how my body was turning out to be, but my biggest worry was, ‘saka vanhu vachati kudii’ (what are people going to say)? I thought about my parents and how they would answer to the community when confronted with questions about why their ‘girl’ child was starting to exhibit some different and questionable features and this further tormented me.
Following my physical changes, a lot of other things happened, including forcing my parents to try to seek help from sympathisers, some of whom claimed they could help by way of seeking divine intervention since they claimed that ‘my problem’ was the result of a spiritual attack. I was relocated and during that period I was subjected to a lot of unspeakable things by those who claimed they were trying to help me. I was also subjected to some medical processes and decisions that were made on my behalf and at that point in time, all done without my consent, due to the fact that I was still under the age of consent (21). At that time, I could not make any decision about what should happen to my own body because I was still considered i) a child and ii) at the mercy of a Good Samaritan, who was there to help with my situation. I was supposed to be surgically ‘corrected’ and have part of my natural and well-functioning body mutilated for cosmetic purposes, so that I fit in with the societal expectation of what a ‘normal girl’ should look like. According to them, I could even get someone (a man) who loves me ‘the way I am’, and I would get married (like what the fuck, who told them that is what I even wanted?).
Thank God it didn’t go the way they wanted all of this to go. Thank God I was privileged to come across information online about my situation and the existence of a community who are like me. This was a discovery that completely changed my life. I started communicating with other people who have the same situation as me and eventually I managed to meet them in person, which completely liberated me from the lifelong bondage of thinking that I am the only one like me. I was also surprised to discover that there are a lot of people who share almost the same experiences as me, some of whom live happily and openly as intersex people. This gave me the courage to also open up and speak publicly as an intersex person for the first time in my life, something which was extremely difficult for me before but I found this coming out extremely freeing.
Since my public coming out, I have had many intersex people message me on social media to share with me their stories and the challenges they are facing. I am able to offer advice and support but sometimes I get some people who come into my inbox to ask me dumb questions such as, ‘unoita wet nepai’ (can you have sex and impregnate yourself?) or ‘wakazomera nhengo yechirume wakura here zvakuita kuti uite kunge mukomana’ (did you grow a penis when you grew up and it made you look like a boy?) or ‘kuita bonde unoita ne nhengo ipi’ (which organ do you have sex with?). All this is just proof of how much ignorance is within our society especially when it comes to issues of intersex people. If a person is born intersex, it does not mean that a person is born with full-grown and functioning organs of both sexes. Most people do not understand that being intersex exists in many different ways, and that there are more than 46 variations of intersexuality.
l got an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and l learned that l have male and female sex characteristics. I’m now at a point where l have an idea about which reproductive organs l have and how they probably function. The unfortunate reality though is that, being an intersex person, finding medical assistance is still hard in Zimbabwe.
At this point, my wish is for acceptance not only for myself but for everyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. All l can do is keep trying to inform all of those who are willing to listen. Hopefully this can help others feel less lonely than l did.