I am a time traveler. I am a botanist. I am but a child.
Have you ever lived three lives at once? Time wraps back on itself in layers, mixing and merging into a temporal tapestry. I am a grown woman. I am a restless teenager. I am a wide-eyed child.
To me, time and age are nebulous. I was nearly 30 before my sense of self snapped into sharp relief. I missed out on so much of my youth. At 12, my body betrayed me. At 15, I buried my confusion deep and tried to hide. At 27, I was brave enough to try and honour my unique body rather than fight with it. I started to see a glimmer of beauty, and how much potential still lay within me.
I was born intersex — a condition in which I didn’t receive the right mix of hormones in the womb. “Intersex” is an umbrella term for a number of internal or external physical characteristics that differ from traditional definitions of male and female. In my case, I was born with an underdeveloped reproductive system. I have no ovaries. My uterus is merely a dot on an ultrasound screen, nonfunctional. I don’t make my own estrogen, so I have to take two little blue pills each day to stay healthy.
Girls grow galaxies. Women’s bodies give life. For years, I’ve struggled with what my history means for my womanhood. At night, I still lie in bed and trace a finger along my abdomen, imagining vines sprouting under my flesh, upward and outward along a fallopian route, until they flower.
I likely never will bear a child, and that breaks my heart.
I spent years being confused about my body and feeling alienated from those around me. It took far too long to gain some manner of control over my physical self. But on those nights in bed, I imagine those ovary flowers opening up inside me. And do you know what? It turns out that they’ve grown to give me life.
I was born in 1982. We didn’t have the internet. There was no social media until I was at university. We didn’t hear about other people’s lives the way we do today, and until I was an adult, it was easy to think I was alone in the world — or at least in my world. I was friends with all the girls in school until they got their periods and I didn’t. The boys knew I was nothing like them, and they didn’t let me forget it.
I was absent for my childhood in so many ways. I was an alien as far as I knew, and it often stopped me from making friends, from taking part in childhood activities, from having the carefree experience every child deserves. So while it might seem strange for a woman of 35 to talk about being a child, I’m reclaiming those years by letting wonder into my life, by spending time with friends and family who make me feel safe and loved and nurtured, by allowing myself to feel each emotion as fully as I can. Most days I feel like I’m about 15 — and I’m going to try to enjoy 15 this time around.
I am still growing up.
I’m still learning who I am and how to embrace that.
Dearest friends, watch me blossom.
Thunder Bay, 2018
Model: Adelie Bergstrom. Artist: Shayla Hickerson. Photographer: Viiein Dampier