Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Being intersex: 'I went from being my parents' son to a daughter'

Mani Bruce Mitchell went from being a boy to a girl in 24 hours.
Photo / Supplied
Mani Bruce Mitchell went from being a boy to a girl in 24 hours. Photo / Supplied

Mani Bruce Mitchell was born with ambiguous genitalia.

She was initially assigned as a male with what people thought was a very small penis. She was named Bruce and taken home from the Auckland hospital she was born in.

"My mum told me many years later that the young nurse who was in the room with my mothers said, 'Oh my God, it's a hermaphrodite [a derogatory and inaccurate term harking back to Greek mythology]'."

A year later, in 1954, doctors discovered she had a uterus.

"In a 24 hour period I went from being my parents' son to a daughter," she says.

Mani has very little memory of her body growing up, but got the impression from her parents that she didn't look the same as most of the other kids.

"I never had my clothes off around my siblings, when I went to school mum told me never to show anyone. There was a lot of shame and I was very compliant around that."

The first memory Mani has of being intersex only struck her as an adult. She remembers being eight-years-old and going in to hospital for "normalising" surgery. It had "devastating effects, both in terms of how I felt about myself and later on as an adult my own sexual functioning."

"You destroy sensitivity. You destroy functionality.

"I used to say I was a head that towed a body around. I was completely cut off and numb from my own physical body."

Mani was sexually abused as a child, describing herself as "the perfect victim". But, despite all this, she tried hard to be a good kid. But she admits, deep down it tainted her sense of self and hindered her sexual growth.

When she was 40-years-old, Mani was a "workaholic" labouring away in civil defence when both her parents had died and she "collapsed".

"I think it's what happens when you hold on to something that's traumatic and shameful.

"I thought, I have a body and I have a brain, and it's not fully female, but it's not fully male either. And that's just how it is. I have this kind of mix and I'm going to find a way to be comfortable with that."

She hasn't had very good sexual relationships and she says they weren't "high functioning" because of her own disconnection from her body.

"I still don't have a lover and that's not because I don't want to, the right person hasn't come along. I guess I'd be very picky and I also would know we'd have a lot of work to do.

"I'm very comfortable in the skin of this body, but there'd be some work to do to have someone touching and learning about my body in an intimate way. To tell you the truth, a lot of my genital area, it's just sore. It's not particularly pleasurable to be touched."

Now on the brink of 60, Mani says she's living like a female, but doesn't confirm to gender distinctions set by society - she tries to avoid ticking boxes and doesn't remove the silver hairs that grow long on her chin.

"A lot of my difference had been removed by surgery, so I though I'm just going to reclaim and be proud of this difference I've got.

" ... I'm very playful with this in-your-face statement.

"I can really say that I'm comfortable in my own skin. It's taken a long time."

Mani is the protagonist in a new locally made documentary, Intersexion, being released at the Documentary Edge Festival in Auckland this week. She is one in 2000 people around the world born with some sort of condition that causes differently formed genitalia.

"Some people have bodies that are a little bit different and some people, like myself, have bodies that are really different," she says.

"... Most people who are intersex wouldn't even know.

"I was simply born with a body that's slightly different from some people."

Intersexion will be showing at the Documentary Edge Festival kicking off tonight. For session times check out the programme.

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