Intersexuality in Africa and the stereotypes and myths associated with the LGBQTI community

By Kwandokuhle Njoli

Intersexuality is often the orphan child when it comes to LGBQTI discussions that aim to eradicate the stereotypes that are associated with marginalised sexualities and sexual orientations.

Essentially intersex means having anatomical characteristics that are neither typically male nor typically female; this may mean having both male and female characteristics. Yet, there is often the perception that LGBTQI issues are merely about sexuality and sexual orientation, while the community is also deeply affected by issues of human rights, social justice and more.

Many African countries remain highly conservative and some African leaders have openly discriminated against the LGBTQI community. Former president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, infamously made homophobic comments, saying he “would kill anyone who cited the persecution of LGBTQI people as a reason of seeking asylum abroad.”

Speaking at this year’s Global Investigative Journalism Conference, Jabu Pereira from the NGO Iranti-org said that debunking myths and minimising stereotypes can decrease hate crimes and hold governments accountable for the role they have to play. “Allow marginalized under represented people to narrate themselves and try to avoid sensualizing marginalized individuals,” said Pereira.

Selly Thiam, who works for LGBTQI digital media organisation None On Record in Nairobi, Kenya, unpacked the discrimination faced by intersex athlete James Johnson. South African athlete Caster Semenya’s story has also been regularly sensualised by the media and she has been pressured in the past to take hormones.

Thiam explained that many people do not understand the biological aspects of intersexuality, including how it affects X&Y chromosomes and hormones. “Often times, even intersexual people themselves do not know about their intersexuality, because it is often hidden. It is something that is internal. Just because a person looks female does not mean that their body also behaves like that of a female,” said Thiam.

Pereira stressed the importance of the manner in which how stereotypes can be eradicated but unpacking why stereotypes are the norm. It is both the governments and journalist job to shape the perception the masses by allowing marginalised and underrepresented people to narrate their own stories.