My Story: A journey of pain and discovering

By Juanita/ @JuavanZyl

*Trigger warning: self-harm, suicide, abuse, dysphoria,*

I was born a healthy young boy (or so it seemed) in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 1 July 1979. My first ever memories of being different were from age 3. I was not interested in my toys and always ended up in my mother’s closet, wearing her shoes and clothes even if they were miles too big. My parents never worried. They thought it was just a phase I was going through.

Like any normal child, I loved to play. I did start to play with my boy toys, but whenever there was a doll or teddy bear, I would rather play with that. I had a rather large collection of teddy bears. Always went to bed with all of them. I felt safe and loved between my teddy bears.

My parents are old school “Afrikaner” people. They grew up in the days of apartheid. They were also very religious. This was where my faith road started. You did what you were told and never questioned anything. I managed to talk to God as a young child and share my hopes and dreams and troubles with Him.

I grew up in a very strict family. My dad was in the military but later moved to the sad-boy-hidingprison service. I was drilled from a young age to be a man. I hated that with everything in my body. I suppressed the memories of him beating me as a child, but he used to do that often, especially when I showed any feminine behaviour. He used a “strap”, that was what he called it, to beat me. It had this 20cm long wooden handle and attached to the wood a 20cm piece of leather that was about 3 to 5 mm thick. My last proper beating was around age 8 or 9. All I remember was his hand firmly behind my neck pushing my head into the bed. I remember him screaming that he would stop hitting me once I stopped crying. I don’t remember much else. I just know I did stop crying because I passed out from the pain. After that he got a fright because that day he thought he killed me. He never laid a hand on me again, but that didn’t stop him from screaming me into submission. I was never allowed to cry. I was used to the words “be a man” and “man up”. I was scared of him when I was young. Only when I was much older did I begin to rebel.

I remember at age 6 kneeling next to my bed with tears rolling down my face pleading for God to change me into a little girl. I knew I was different, but I was alone in a world where this type of thing was from the devil. This was the age where I started to hate myself and everything about myself. It is difficult to be so young and be filled with so much hate for yourself. This hate turned into thoughts of suicide. I remember as a child sometimes praying and wishing I was dead or never born.

I was at my happiest when I could play with other girls, but often got into trouble because I was a boy and not supposed to play with the girls like a girl. I was a confused and troubled young child, and no one seemed to notice or care how I felt.

I was about 8 years old when I wanted to cut my wrists. I remember the cold blade on

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my wrist and the tears and how my room door was broken down. Because my dad was a high ranking officer, everything was kept secret. I started to go to therapy, but never felt comfortable to speak to anyone about my feelings. I never had the courage to speak up and say I wasn’t a boy. I had major issues at primary school. I was teased a lot, even though I did everything a boy had to do. Even sports, but the other kids always noticed differences and that was the cause of the teasing. I got so angry at times; I threw tantrums in class throwing desks and chairs around. My self-hate was being expressed with violent and erratic behaviour.

I started collecting some of my mother’s clothes. I had various hiding places where I kept everything. Every opportunity I had, I would try to be a girl. I loved to play role playing games and I was always the heroin in my mind. I just loved to kick some male butt whenever I was playing. I enjoyed those times when it was just me and my wild imagination without the outside world’s interference.

Going to high school, puberty started and all new hates and fears developed.

I remember the disgust when I got my first erection.

I hated it.

On many occasions I had a knife or large scissors wanting to cut it off but I was afraid of pain. I sometimes used rubber bands and tied it tightly around everything hoping, wishing it would simply fall off. Eventually, when the pain got so bad, or I couldn’t walk, I would take it off. Sometimes I even pushed everything as hard as possible up my body, just wishing it out of sight. I started to get used to the pain I felt down there, but that didn’t stop me.

No physical pain can compare to the emotional pain I felt.

High school years also had a plus. I was exactly my mother’s size. Because of my upbringing, I always felt guilty about who I was and what I was doing. I was 16 when I planned my next suicide attempt. It failed miserably and I just ended with a bloody head.

After that experience I searched a lot for God. Eventually, I took the decision to give my life to Him and stop my secret life. The first few months were OK. I managed. Then I started to become very negative and aggressive. When I was 18 my dad passed away and I thought his death was my punishment for me being different. I ended up in many counseling sessions with a psychologist and on medication.

Nothing worked.

One day, I just got into my car, bought woman’s clothes and shoes and I dressed up again. I remember ending up at my dad’s grave crying for the first time since his death. I remember saying: “Hello Daddy. I’m your daughter Juanita. I wish you had the chance to know me. I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry that I’m such a disappointment.”

At this stage I was at university. I got brave and was Juanita often on campus. Having freedom and being me, this was a happy time in my life. After my studies I started to work and the guilt returned.

Once again I decided to stop my secret life. I decided that I will study to become a pastor. Thought it would give me answers to fix myself. I also started to do strength training thinking the bigger the muscle, the easier the woman in me would die and disappear.

1358907169_Image6X8MThere was this longing, but I did my best to ignore it. I got to a point where I was once again seeing therapist and being put on medication. I ignored who I was completely. I never finished bible school. The judgement of people got too much for me. I still felt guilty for wanting to be a woman.

At this stage I was a big man. I was more than 100 kg. I could squat 4 times my body weight. Bench pressed 200 kg easily. Bicep curls with more than 25 kg per arm. I was even invited to strongman competitions at the gym.

I was never happy.

I think most men would have one huge ego if they looked the way I looked. One day, when I walked out of the shower, I saw my body, and with shock and shuddering I screamed at the person in the mirror: “What have I done?” I never touched a weight after that ever again.

Because the depression got worse, and no pill or therapy worked, I opened up to people in the church about my problem. At first I was accepted, but then they pushed me more and more to go for what is called “bevryding”. It is like an exorcism. They believed I was possessed by demons. This was a hard pill to swallow. Dawie, the man, was aggressive and depressed and wanted to die. Juanita, the woman, was full of joy and love and wanted to live. After three months of nagging, I submitted for them to try and free me of my demons. It was a day I want to forget, they are people I want to forget. I lived as Dawie for about 4 months.

I probably had suicide note number 3 written by then, but one of my friends came to my rescue.She helped me to become Juanita again.

That day, it felt as if all the chains where cut off. I could be me again. I was happy again. I went for my first ever photo shoot as Juanita. I wanted photos to remember the woman in me, once again trying to kill her off and forget her. I remember the two ladies actually met Dawie before the shoot. After the shoot, they took me aside and asked me to promise that I will continue to be Juanita. I think they saw the difference in the two people.

I was 29 years old. It was the first time in 29 years that someone, a woman, said I was beautiful. They said both Dawie and Juanita were beautiful, but there was something special about Juanita.

After that day, I tried to be Juanita as often as possible. I had my friends that knew and accepted me, but I turned my back on “Dawie’s” friends. More and more my friends motivated me to start my transition. I remember how they often said I was far more feminine than some of them. Some even said they felt guilty because I looked after my appearance a lot more than they did. My friends could see the real me. Even dressed as a “man” I was Juanita for them.

They knew my heart and soul.

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In January 2012 I started my transition. I started laser hair removal and I saw a psychologist for a session every week. After three months I started seeing a psychiatrist. In the very first session he gave me the OK for full hormone treatment. I was so happy. A few days later my car was written offin an accident and my life was once again in tatters.

I thought, once again, I was being punished. The thought of being a man filled me with disgust and the suicide thoughts started again. I prayed and cried a lot during that time. I was in survival mode. Every day was a battle, but then I saw that God does hear my prayers. I got a huge discount on a new vehicle. I got financial help from my mother (She still doesn’t know about my personal battle). The lady that did my laser treatments helped me to make a new plan to continue my treatments
Since July 2013, I’ve been receiving my treatments at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria. I was diagnosed with a Disorder of Sex Development. Doctors discovered while doing tests that I was born intersex. My genitalia were a lot smaller than normal and my hormone levels were not that of a normal male. I had female breast development. The last and most difficult question remained, what did my parents do to me when I was a child? I was told I had a hernia operation, but all tests revealed that was never done to me. I had a massive scar running between my legs that no one could explain. The theory is that I might have had external female genitalia that were surgically altered.

It has been 40 months since I started my transition in January 2012. I’ve been on Hormone Replacement Therapy for 14 months. Being intersex is a blessing in disguise because the hormone treatments are much more effective. I’m finally happy discovering the woman I was meant to be.

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