When someone says, “Just Be Yourself” it sounds so easy and yet sometimes near impossible. This was certainly the case for Abi Jay who I met when she agreed to be part of a shoot that we did with the iconic photographer Rankin and his Hunger magazine team.
I was overwhelmed by the strength of Abi Jay to find out who she was despite what her own biology, society, her family and the medical world was telling her. She just knew different. I wanted to share her story as she very sadly passed away but I think of her often and her story gives me vital perspective and courage. Here she is looking proud in her Rankin photo shoot that I was honoured to create with Ela Xora and Rankin’s team.
Abi was an intersex activist who was fully reproductive as a male and female but identified as a woman – after a life as a Jewish man, husband and father of two sons. What a story.
Ela Xora and I wanted to create a project to raise awareness and celebrate people who are born intersex – with variations in their biology and genetics in-between the stereotypical male / female binary. 1.7% of the population are born intersex. The same amount of people who have red hair. But intersex people are currently fighting discrimination, hate crimes and undisclosed gender reassignments at birth.
Rankin has always been at the forefront of important cultural discussions, particularly about gender so we were beyond thrilled when he offered to help us.
We curated a shoot with the intersex community and change-making intersex activists. A huge thank you to: Dawn, Jeanette, Valentino, Abi Jay, Adeleh, Grace and Marianne-Rose for being part of it.
During the shoot Abi told us:
“For as long as I can remember, I have always felt that I was in the wrong body.” Born in London in 1958, Abi’s intersex status was something she, like many others, was only made aware of by the medical profession in recent years.
Throughout Abi’s life there were instances that suggested she was not cis-gendered. During her life as a boy she had pains in her stomach, chest and felt very unwell. She developed a stammer, anxiety and mood swings around puberty but created a safe place in a make believe world. A world where she was able to live as a girl and wore the dresses from her grandmother’s shop. However, the unexplained dichotomy of emotions led to self-harm, self-directed anger and crying herself to sleep.
Excelling at sports like football didn’t help. She became a loner in her teens until she met her future wife at 19 and “I did fall in love with her.” Her hope was if she married, her urges to be female would disappear. She lead her life as Abi in private until one day her “secret was out.” A colleague had hacked into her personal email and Facebook account, then “made it their mission to tell the whole world.” Their act cost Abi her marriage and the relationship with her two sons.
After starting a new life as Abi, facial feminisation surgery in Spain started bleeding that eventually led doctors at UCLH, London, to find the truth. An x-ray showed a fallopian tube, a womb, a cervical cavity, possibly other organs and revealed to Abi the word “intersex.”
In her drafted Biography she said:
“Finishing up I will leave you with these thoughts. I am a very spiritual person who believes in God and that there is an entity or something looking down and helping you. Maybe a guardian angel or something even higher, who knows? For whatever reason I must be here for a purpose. Whether you believe in the afterlife, or that there are powers far higher than us at work, I will leave that for you to decide. For my own personal journey I truly believe this. This entity kept me alive for a reason – May 4th 2012 the truth was revealed to me. Intersex.”
…And now us. I hope that Abi’s story will comfort people, particularly children, who are also born Intersex.
I plead with the medical profession to be honest with families and not force gender assignment surgeries on babies but allow them to decide for themselves who they are, when they are ready.
RIP Abi Jay. It was an honour to have met you. Thank you for sharing your story. xFull shoot and Hunger article here: https://www.hungertv.com/editorial/the-infinite-faces-of-intersexuality/