A conservative society like Nigeria has a lot to do in dealing with stigmatization and discrimination of different kinds of people, among whom are intersex people. Albinos, dwarfs, people living with disabilities and so on also fall under this category of people.
Intersex people, among others, are seen as abnormal and are not regarded as humans in our society. Education of the public, which highlights non-stigmatization and non-discrimination, has to be done for these people to be accepted into society and live as free beings.
The individuals referred to as intersex are born with any of the several variations in sex characteristics, including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that make them not to fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.
In a layman’s definition, intersex people are people who have both the male and female organs. These people were earlier referred to as ‘’hermaphrodites’’ or ‘’congenital eunuchs’’ but these terms are no longer used as they are considered to be misleading, stigmatizing, and scientifically specious in reference to humans. Hermaphrodite is now used to connote or define a plant or an animal having both male and female reproductive organs. People born with this condition are now referred to as intersex people.
In Nigeria, there have been few reported cases of people born with male and female sex organs. It is not that they are few in our society, it is because it is seen as an abnormal condition so many hide it. The known cases were mostly athletes who, as a result of their involvement in sporting activities, were caught either by means of their explosiveness in their gender group. That is the case of the South African track and field athlete Caster Semenya or when found to be possessing both sexual and reproductive organs.
James Johnson, a former Nigerian female footballer, was born with both male and female sex organs even though he was raised as a girl. His football career was terminated as a result of discrimination by football clubs after he had represented both male football sides and the female national football teams. As he confessed in a BBC interview, his secret was opened in a match; an opponent who thinks he was faster pulled down her pants; a moment he describes as the worst of his life.
Another case in the sporting world of football where genders are so clearly set apart is that of Ekaette Boniface, an Akwa Ibom born footballer who was thrown out of the Falconets (Nigeria Female U-20 Team) camp in 2008 when coaches discovered she wasn’t completely female. She has sexual and reproductive organs associated with both male and female reproductive organs.
While involved in this sport, other players complained of her strength as she was as energetic as a 21-year-old boy. Doctors have since identified her as an intersex person with 85% female and 15% male characteristics and have chosen to identify her as a woman. Even though her football career was cut short, she now makes a living by selling tickets at the stadium which is a far cry from her dream of playing professional football as a woman in the Nigerian National Team.
Only a few can boldly come out to show themselves as being multi-sexual in our society as a result of shame through stigmatization and discrimination. Many have been rejected and have to live in their shells all the days of their lives due to this. Superstitious beliefs and other cultural beliefs have caused many to die in silence. They are said to have undergone spiritual attacks and are subjects of witchcraft. In fact, intersex children are isolated from other children because they believe it’s contagious. Intersex people are abused and body-shamed so they live imprisoned lives; unable to live as normal humans.
When asked if intersex people are accepted in our society, Miss Ayodele Spencer, a young motivational speaker, and life coach has this to say ‘’I don’t think intersex people are accepted in Nigeria. I believe there is a level of discrimination and stigmatization against them. I have never met one but I remember my mom told me that it is usually hidden. Nobody gets or needs to know. She told me the story of a certain baby born with multi-sexual sex organs. The parents asked for the female sex organ to be removed so that he would be a boy only for the baby boy to grow up and start having breasts.’’
Contrary to the view of our society about intersex people, they are human beings too, and hermaphroditism, which is a physiological abnormality, doesn’t make them lesser beings. It is a situation where two sex organs started developing together but one later developed more than the other. If a medical checkup in this regard is done, surgery can be done to correct it in respect of the gender the person in this situation has more characteristics of. Intersexuality is not diabolical or spiritual but pure biological.
In his words, Dr. Ife of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, sheds more light on intersexual people. ‘’Intersex people are individuals born with both sexual and reproductive organs of both genders. This is caused by congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an increase in testosterone (male sex hormones) in the body; it can be multifaceted and can occur through a number of mechanisms including parasitism, environmental sex determination, genetic abnormalities and increasing pollution by radioactive materials. Treatment can be through intersex medical interventions, also known as intersex genital mutilations (IGM), which are surgical, hormonal, and other medical interventions performed to modify typical or ambiguous genitalia and other sex characteristics, primarily for the purposes of making a person’s appearance more typical.’’
A possible way of acceptance for intersex people in Nigeria
To eradicate the superstition and other cultural beliefs held on to about intersex people, people have to be educated more, which is a key for acceptance in society. Awareness has to be made that subjecting persons with this condition to all manner of abuse is not needed as it could cause serious problems for them, which may include depression and, consequently, suicide.
Although it will take serious steps to eradicate this stigmatization and eradication in a conservative society like ours, the enlightenment of the public would be an effective way out. In a country like Nigeria where human rights are still being toyed with, aggressive movements against abuse of this manner shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Even though there are experts in the country in the field of treatment of this condition, the government has to play its part in the solution to this. It has been found that surgery, hormone therapy or even both are ways of treating this condition, but these medical interventions are scarce in Nigeria. While it is readily available and affordable in Europe, America and other developed countries of the world, facilities, and treatments for this condition are rare and scarce and out of reach of many except the rich.
We all have a role to play in making the world a better place for humanity. Let’s do our best to make other lives safe and don’t contribute to their harm. Do well to share your thoughts on this cogent topic in the comment section. Thanks for taking the time to read this piece.
Sources: Wikipedia, BBC Africa.