Beauty queen Sharon-Rose Khumalo has publicly come out as intersex, shortly after winning the Miss Mamelodi Sundowns pageant in South Africa last week.
Khumalo told Glamour magazine that she is “proud to be an intersex female” and that she wants to use her new platform to bring attention to people that “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”.
The Miss South Africa finalist says that "being a person of substance has nothing to do with being straight, gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex".
Khumalo found out she was intersex when she was 21, saying she grew up as a “traditional female”.
“For me there was no reason my parents could think otherwise. I grew up seemingly like a normal traditional female. It was just the delay (in having periods) and even then it was never the first thing we thought of.”
She says was initially “shattered” when her doctor diagnosed her with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS).
“I remember I just wanted to go home and cry it out because I went to the doctor thinking that he will just say ‘oh gain some weight, take this medication and then everything will be sorted’, and now he just dropped this bomb on me and I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
Khumalo started a blog about her experience as a way to feel less isolated.
“It was just a case of dealing with that, letting someone know that, ‘listen, whatever you are going through whether it's similar or different to my situation, we are still human at the end of the day.'”
Four years on, Khumalo has embraced her intersex status and has been surprised by the support she’s received from the beauty pageant circuit.
“Personally I had fears that someone somewhere might say this and that and then it turns out into something nasty. The judges supported me and it didn’t feel like it in any way counted against me.”
Earlier this year, model Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex and has urged for more people to do the same.
“It is time for intersex people to come out of the shadows, claim our status, let go of shame and speak out against the unnecessary and harmful surgeries many of us were subjected to as children.
“Before we can change the hearts and minds of policy-makers and the medical community, we need to have a better understanding in general society.”
Khumalo says speaking out was an important step in overcoming the shame she had previously felt about being intersex. She hopes that by using her platform, she can let the intersex community know that they’re not alone.
“Know darling child, know that whatever you may be going through you don’t have to suffer in silence.”