Daniela V. was born with the physical appearance of a male, so she was raised as a boy. But this identity never felt quite right to her.
And at a young age, she learned that her genitals didn’t look like others. As she grew up, it became obvious that she didn’t act like a boy, and once puberty hit, she began developing more like a female than a male.
A trip to the doctor helped explain everything: Daniela was born intersex, and while she had ambiguous genitalia, she had the chromosomes of a woman.
Following this revelation, Daniela decided to start over by moving to another country and living life as a woman, though she kept her former life to herself. But earlier this year, the 25-year-old decided it was time to share her story with the world.
Daniela recently launched a personal blog, where she discusses her journey and life as an intersex person. She returned to Colombia and currently lives in Bogotá, working as a financial analyst and pianist. Read on for Daniela’s interview to learn about her experience discovering she was intersex, making the decision to live life as a woman, and becoming more open about her story.
Profiles in Pride: Did you always sense that there was something different about you?
Daniela V.: Yes, I did. I always had this feeling of going against the current. At the beginning, it was because of my genitals. I remember that when I was a child, I was taking a bath with my cousins and they laughed at me because one of them said that “mine” was different from “theirs.”
Since that moment, I was ashamed of my body and I never let other people look at me naked again. I just ignored that part of my body and I was not interested in exploring it or questioning it anymore.
Likewise, my behavior was always really different from other boys. I was delicate in every way. And even trying to play a male role, it was always a challenge for me, physically and mentally.
Curiously, I realized I was different thanks to other people, because they used to get confused when looking at me at first sight, and in many occasions, they treated me as a girl even when I was wearing men’s clothes.
Finally, my body started to sending signals that confirmed why I always sensed that there was something different about me.
PIP: When and how did you find out you were intersex?
DV: I found I was intersex during my puberty, when I went to the doctor because things weren’t developing normally. I was starting to have little breasts, my skin was getting lighter, and everything was just exactly opposite to being a normal boy.
So, I was referred up the chain of specialists, who set out to find what was wrong with me.
The doctors ordered some tests, and when they got the results back, my doctor invited me to take a sit and said, “My little boy, actually you are a beautiful lady.”
My chromosome analysis said I had XX chromosomes, which is typically associated with being female.
PIP: Can you tell me a little about your specific intersex condition?
DV: It’s called congenital adrenal Hyperplasia CAH. But I do not mention this name because people associate this with a serious illness. In my case, it was not that bad.
My doctors explained why I had ambiguous genitalia at birth: it was because there was a broken genetic “recipe” for making cortisone in my adrenal glands (the glands on top of the kidneys that make various hormones and add them to the bloodstream). So, the adrenal glands, while trying to make cortisone, can make an unusually high level of other hormones that are “virilizing.” That is, they can make XX embryos have larger-than-average clitorises, or even a clitoris that looks rather like a penis, or labia that looks like a scrotum, like in my case.
PIP: What was the result of you finding out that you were an intersex woman?
DV: When I realized I was intersex, I have to say that it was a relief for me, because for so many years I couldn’t explain it, and this proved to be the first step towards me finding myself.
For this process, I knew I needed to have my own time, my own space. And I decided to move to another country. It could not be in Colombia because we still have an enormous stigma around what gender and sexuality means, and it was not the best place to start this new adventure.
Having in mind what this new crucial discovery represented in my life, I thought that I had already lived as a boy for a long time and it just did not fit for me. So, I decided to explore my femininity. And from the first day in that new country, I introduced myself as a girl. What an adventure!
Basically, there was not a roadmap for me to be a girl; it was a learning process based on a conscious exploration and conscious decisions like having a genital surgery and going on hormone therapy.
In sum, I did not only fall in love with being a woman, but I learned how to be a one, and not just one — a particular one. Now I agree with Simone de Beauvoir when she said, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
Many girls are told that being a woman is given at birth because of what they have down there, but that’s not true. Being a woman or a man is just a definition, but we are not a definition, we are the sum of our experiences. That’s why I think belonging to the norm does not represent an advantage. Actually, that’s a barrier to many people for really getting to know themselves.
PIP: Did you keep this a secret from people once you got older? Was it difficult to hide?
DV: Yes, I did. I remember my doctors, friends, and family telling me that I didn’t need to talk about it because it was not necessary or evident. And I did that for a long time, and I did feel I was the only one.
As with many other intersex people, it’s difficult to define ourselves because we are told not to talk about our bodies. And the most difficult part of hiding the fact of being intersex was not to be loved for who I really am. You can change your body, your attitudes, and all of what people can easily notice. But you can never never change your past, your story, what you felt, and what you learned from your experiences.
PIP: When did you start coming out as intersex and being more open about your journey?
DV: This year I came out as an intersex woman. It’s only four months ago that I started being more open and sharing my life story with friends, colleagues, and family. And I am really happy; people have reacted really well and I do not stop receiving messages of admiration and love.
PIP: What has it been like being more open with the world about being an intersex woman and sharing your story publicly?
DV: I do not want other people to keep perpetuating a vicious circle of shame and stigma, that we can easily break out of by speaking up and sharing our life stories. I know there are many people like me who are feeling confused and facing too many obstacles wondering if they can have happy lives. Listen, being intersex, it’s nobody’s fault. It’s nobody’s choice. You are worthy, you are lovable, you are a miracle.
I know fear. I faced it several times in several forms and ways. And I know fear has a concrete power of keeping us from doing and saying the things that are our purpose. I understood my silence serves no one, and in this society, being yourself can be a revolutionary act. Speaking of the greater good, I think we commit ourselves to telling truth to building bridges to common ground.
What was a vulnerability time ago for me — now it’s the birthplace of love, of authenticity.
PIP: Is there anything else about being intersex that you want the world to understand?
DV: Yes, I would like to point out some info that will help people to better understand being intersex:
- Intersex is not the same as being transgender. Transgender people typically have bodies that correspond entirely to one sex and they need to deal with gender identity, whereas intersex people have to deal with their biological characteristics.
- I just represent one case of many intersex cases. Intersex people have some combination of both male and female, whether that’s in their external anatomy, their internal reproductive organs, their hormone levels, or their DNA. Intersex also includes people who don’t have any particular aspect of the opposite sex, but their anatomy just isn’t quite typical for what you would expect.
- People find out that they are re intersex in a few ways. Some people find out — well, their parents and their doctors find out when they are babies, and they notice that their anatomy just isn’t quite right. Other people find out during puberty, as in my case, when puberty goes in ways that they didn’t expect.
- Being intersex is about as common as having red hair.
Keep up with Daniela on Instagram at @danielaverdiere!