Who I Am Not is a fascinating documentary chronicling the lives of two engaging, very different, black intersex people; South African ex-beauty queen Sharon-Rose, and unemployed fellow South African, Dimakatso, both of whom live in Johannesburg.
Intersex people are people born with any of several sex characteristics including chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals that do not fit binary notions of male or female bodies. Exact numbers are unknown but it’s estimated there are globally a couple of million intersex people.
Director Tunde Skovran has created a gentle, informative, thought-provoking piece of work that educates and entertains in equal measure. We follow the intimate minutiae of both people’s daily lives as they navigate love, work, friendships, family, and their current health and intersex status in today’s South Africa.
Sharon-Rose was born with male chromosomes in a female body. She identifies as a woman but has no ovaries or uterus. She is ambitious and successful, and following her time as a beauty queen now works in medical marketing. She lives a middle-class life and has a glamorous selection of friends. However, like Dimakatso, she struggles with her identity and place in society.
Dimakatso’s medical story is less clear as their medical records have been destroyed by the hospital that operated on them as a child. Apparently born with both a penis and a vagina, they underwent several surgeries as a child to remove the penis and were brought up female. They feel that they should have been brought up as male. They identify as ‘they’ and are in a loving relationship with a non-binary woman. They have breasts that they bind. Dimakatso is unemployed and their mental health regarding their intersexuality is not as strong as Sharon-Rose’s. They feel strongly that operations on intersex people should only be performed once the intersex person is old enough to decide for themselves as to what the operation should entail.
Intersex people are rarely given such a detailed platform, and it’s the detail of their lives that makes Skovran’s documentary so interesting. An added bonus is that they are both in South Africa and we get to see contemporary SA life. All too often we only hear about very rich or very poor South Africans, so it’s refreshing to have the focus on the middle ground of life there. The role of religion and tribal medicine and how it impacts their lives is also shown. We see that each intersex person has different characteristics and as such there is a broad spectrum of physical and mental health issues to understand and overcome. Theirs is a journey, often vulnerable, and full of self-discovery, that involves everyone around them.
Intersex people are often ignored in the current debates on gender identity. The movement towards more and more people identifying as non-binary will help their cause. The vast majority of what we do every day as humans are not governed by our gender, and that needs to be remembered. A great piece of work.
Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah