Being Intersex in a Conservative Nigeria

October 26 4 min read

Humans love it when things are clear-cut, black and white, this or that. But of course, we are more complex than that. 


Intersex is a term that generally encompasses human beings born with a variety of sexual characteristics (gonads, chromosome, genitals) that makes it difficult for them to be classified as either male or female. Someone can be intersex in several ways, for instance, an intersex person can be born with external male genitalia but have internal female organs or hormones.


That might sound confusing but this is actually a very common condition, affecting about 0.05-1.7 percent of the world’s population. In Nigeria, the number is not exactly known but there are lots of intersex people in the country. People that have to live with all forms of stigmatization daily through no fault of their own.



Living a normal life is difficult when you don’t know from what direction the next slur or abuse will come from. Many times it comes from friends, even family members. Sometimes it gets so intense that a quick escape seems to be the only way out. In 2018, an intersex man who lived in northern Nigeria told BBC News that he wanted to kill himself and that if not for the intervention of his family, he would have.


Bob* was known as the catwalk queen on his university campus. Despite presenting as a man, his identity clearly contained more than this. But his mates struggled to understand this simple fact.


Now, he was assigned to one of the male hostels, where rumours that he never used general bathrooms started to catch wind. He would indeed hide or wait until odd hours when no one else was around. When they eventually found out that he wasn’t like them, the harassment began in earnest. He was left with no choice but to leave halls of residence.


He was not seen around campus for a while after that. But the next time he was seen, oh what a wonderful transformation. After undergoing multiple surgeries and hormone therapy, she had the body and confidence she had always wanted. 

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In developed countries around the world, when intersex children are born, their parents can decide to have them go through surgical intervention and hormonal treatments to choose a gender (male or female) for them. Nowadays, this practice is seen as gauche, it is believed that they should be given the chance to choose for themselves when they are old enough. Around here, things go a bit differently.


The first thing to note is that some of these intersex children are born in rural areas where the question of getting surgery isn’t even on the cards. Many do not even know what is happening, they probably attribute the unusual genitalia to cultural or spiritual causes. Even for those born in cities, their parents might not necessarily have the resources to get surgeries for them.


Consequently, many of these intersex kids grow into adulthood the way they were born. Navigating through awkward teenage years and being confronted every day with the uncomfortable experience that they are not like other kids. 


Jide is another intersex person that has an interesting story, although his own experience is quite different. He attended a private high school with kids his age. In his case he was quite visibly feminine; big hips and butt (girls were very jealous of this). He registered as male though, but he was accepted anyway. Nobody questioned the perceived disparity between how he presented and his chosen gender.


You know what? We could all do with a fresh pair of kid eyes. Without judgement, accepting people for who they are That quality is missing in our current society and it is something we need to acquire.




* names have been changed to protect identities.

Ojus
« Ojus is a creative writer, he is passionate about sex and relationships and writes about them any chance he gets. He believes someone somewhere is reading and it is affecting the way they think, for the better of course. He loves to swim, bake, and cook. You can read some of my other works here: https://lovemattersafrica.com/author/ojus » All posts →