Riding the wave

Riding the wave

Riding the wave

Irene Kuzemko

All my life I’ve felt disconnected from my intersex body. I never could wear my dream clothes because I didn’t have the body for those clothes, and all my dream dresses had too much space for breasts for me to even think about trying them on. Regarding any physical activity, my attitude was always “there’s no point in even trying”. I knew I was and would be bad at all of it—riding a bike, riding a scooter, roller skating, ice skating, taking PE classes, trying any kind of sports or dance class… I was always weak and clumsy and worse than everybody else, so I just avoided those things as much as I could. I had some health problems with my spine (no idea if they were/are related to my lower bone density at the time) which made me quit ballet classes (at which I wasn’t that good anyway) and allowed me to skip PE classes in high school. I hated my body so much and never wanted to be seen by anyone changing in the changing room or attempting any kind of physical activity. As a teenager, I filled the pages of my diary with words of pain, self-hatred, suicide and self-harm. I still have the diary and I feel really sad reading it now.

The only thing that I was always comfortable and confident doing was swimming. Sea, ocean, pool, lake—I love water and I love swimming. I never even cared about how good my technique was. I just enjoyed the process.

Even after discovering that I’m intersex it took me a long time to feel better about my body. Weirdly, what kickstarted my self-acceptance was COVID. While self-isolating for two years, I really indulged myself in ordering food, enjoying my Big Macs, sushi and pizzas. All my life I’ve been underweight but during the pandemic I gained over 10 kilos. Honestly, it felt really good, and I started feeling great about my hips and my new hourglass figure. At the same time, I discovered several amazing YouTubers and bloggers speaking out about their small boobs and accepting their bodies. This was life changing. For the first time in my life I could think of my body type as being represented, existing out there, being normal, being beautiful and importantly—being sexy. In the past, I felt alone in my experience of not being able to grow breasts even after many years on HRT (hormone replacement therapy), even in the intersex community. It took a while but now, in 2022, I can finally say that I am in love with my body and everything about it. I finally see myself as hot and sexy and I wear the clothes I always dreamed of wearing. In the past I could never imagine getting here. I love my small breasts, they are perfect! I am so lucky to live in my body!

This summer I was on vacation in Nazaré, Portugal, a place with the highest waves in Europe. It has a surfing school. Learning to surf was something I always dreamt of but I never saw myself ever actually doing it. Me, doing something physical? With other people seeing? ME? Never! But, encouraged by FOMO and the enthusiastic support of my friends, I decided to try and go for it. It took me several days to gather the courage to even go and make an appointment for my surfing lesson but eventually I did. The next day when I was going to my lesson, I was freaking out almost as much as I was when I was defending my university diploma and being interviewed for my current job. I was so scared. The idea of even trying this seemed ridiculous to me but I still made myself do it.

My instructor was an absolute sweetheart who was so helpful and once we were in the water I was in my own element. Water is where I feel confident, comfortable, in control. 90% of the time I was able to stand up on the surf board and my instructor said that, especially for the first lesson, I was doing great. I was by no means perfect and needed a lot of guidance on maintaining the balance on the board, adjusting speed and direction—but now I know what it feels like to ride the wave. This may sound silly, but for me trying this and actually succeeding is so huge. I never could imagine I would have the courage to do this. I was only able to have the courage to try this after years of being in the community, going to therapy and taking antidepressants. Before now, I would’ve never dared to even think of doing it!

The day after the lesson, and for days after, all my muscles and joints hurt so much (I’m almost 30 lol) but it felt so gratifying. I was so happy and I could never imagine I would get here. Feeling sexy, feeling confident, trying surfing and actually riding the wave—it was a dream come true and definitely one of the best experiences of my life!

I never dreamt or imagined I would get here and be so comfortable with myself, my body, my existence. When I read my teenage diary now, I wish I could tell the teenage me that it does get better. That it gets better beyond your wildest dreams and imagination. You will love your body and you will surf the wave, teenage Irene. I know. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We did it together.

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