Tatenda Ngwaru is a native of Zimbabwe who spent her teens raised as a boy trying to understand her identity as an intersex woman in a society that severely restricts diverse forms of gender identity expression. Ngwaru eventually moved to New York City, where she was surprised to find a somewhat less open attitude towards intersexuality than she expected.
The film 'She's Not a Boy' produced by Columbia School of Journalism student fellows Yuhong Pang and Robert Tokanel documents Ngwaru's experiences living as an intersex woman in New York City.
Ngwaru recently sat for an interview with journalist Alex Velazquez writing for Shondaland, a storytelling company founded by Shonda Rhimes.
One of the challenges Ngwaru described is that, even within the LGBTQIA community, "intersex is a topic that is just barely touched on," Ngwaru said. "At Pride events and speaking engagements there are plenty of people who get to speak and be represented, but they tend to overshadow the intersex community."
But this has not stopped Ngwaru from promoting the lived experiences of intersex people, and she has drawn a source of motivation from informing the public about this underrepresented subsection of the LGBTQIA community. "What makes me feel proud is to think there will be moments when people will learn every time they hear me speak, or every time they see my film."
Ngwaru also finds a strong support network in her parents. This is somewhat ironic, given that her parents were initially unsupportive of her identity to the point of being uncomfortable letting her live inside their house. But after a doctor confirmed what Ngwaru had always known, her parents came around and quickly turned into her biggest supporters.
"People ask me 'How did you get through all the violence?' or 'How come you're still alive?' It's because of my parents."
Despite facing unforeseen challenges in New York City, Ngwaru still finds opportunities in the United States that did not exist in South Africa where she first got involved in activist work. "What I came to America for was the freedom to speak my truth, which I do not have in my own country without being in danger, or without being laughed at. Every time I have a platform to speak, even if it's only a few people, I feel very blessed and grateful because that is what I want to do."
"I want to get people talking, and I want people to learn, and I also want to learn from them," she says, relating what her mission is every time she goes to speak. "I'm educating and learning each and every time I stand in front of people."
To read the full transcript of this interview, please visit this link.