Meet TikTok user Sydney Kidney Bean. She is a 23-year-old woman who discovered she was intersex — through her own research — six years ago.
"Don't be freaked out, but I'm gonna share some information with you about my genitals. And I swear it's not creepy or sexual or anything — this is a purely anatomical conversation. We're all humans with bodies and we should talk about that, I think," she explained in her viral TikTok that has 7 million views.
"And part of me is like, 'I really hope that no one I know in real life sees this.' But the other part of me is like, 'So what. I am being the person and the resource that I needed years ago,'" she said.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about what it actually means to be intersex, but broadly, it's a condition in which your reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn't seem to fit in with the typical definition of male or female. So that can be differences in genitalia. It can also be hormonal differences. It really is a broad category."
She continued, "For me, being intersex relates to my condition of having been born without a vaginal opening. And I didn't know this about myself until I was 17 years old. If that's not a failure in our public education system, I don't know what is. Women are not encouraged to know about their own bodies. It's a shame, it's really a shame."
Sydney explained, "So, to speak more technically, I have what's called a microperforate hymen, where your vaginal opening is the size of a urethra or, in my case, even smaller than that because the hymen is just large and it covers the entirety of the vaginal opening.
"When this was discovered by myself, I — of course — saw a doctor, and no one believed me. I was telling a doctor; I was like, 'I googled it and I have a microperforate hymen, and everyone was like, 'No you don't. It's, like, normal to not know things about yourself.' And I was like, 'No, I checked. I know what I got.'
"The doctor didn't believe me, and they were finally like, 'OK, OK, let's take a look,' and so they did, and the doctor was immediately like, 'Huh, that's weird,' and I was like, 'That's what I'm saying — it's weird.' She had never seen this before, and they called in other people like, 'Is it cool if we ask other people, like the office lady, the secretary, to come back here? She's been in this business a long time, and we got a med student.' The med student comes in and she's like, 'Well, I saw this in one of my textbooks,' and I said, 'Take a picture. It'll last longer.' I'm notoriously hilarious in my gyno appointment. I really bring out a lot of one-liners."
In her second video, she continued, "At the gynecologist's office, they are validating my Google searches that I have a microperforate hymen, which means that I don't have a vaginal opening. There was a very, very small opening about the size of the head of a pen. Now, this can be a very dangerous condition. Anyone who uses tampons has heard of toxic shock syndrome, which can be deadly. And without my menstrual blood having a place to go — leaving my body — that very well could have triggered toxic shock syndrome and killed me, except for this really cool fact that I don't actually menstruate, so that didn't happen."
She added, "That's also part of why I didn't know for so long that I had this condition. At this point, the doctors are wondering if I even have the reproductive organs of a female. If I have ovaries and a uterus and that whole thing, because, externally, everything matches a very typical female anatomy besides the microperforate hymen. So now we just need to know what is going on inside.
"My gynecologist decided the next-best thing would be to perform an exploratory surgery in which an X incision would be made in the hymen, creating a vaginal opening, but then also allowing us to more easily tell if I do have female reproductive organs. My dad, by the way, did not want to pay for this surgery and asked my mom if it was necessary," she said.
"I did end up having this surgery not long after I found out I had this condition. I was 17, I took a week off of school, and everyone was asking me why, and I really didn't want to tell them why ... I didn't want to give any details because it was embarrassing and freaky, and I didn't know what to say or how people would react.
"The surgery went really well. Like, so well that when I've gotten new gynecologists, they actually compliment my hymenectomy. One of my gynecologists was like, 'You know surgeons just have no respect for the hymen, so great job on this hymenectomy!' They did find that I have all the typical female reproductive organs, and despite not menstruating naturally, they are in healthy, great condition.
"When I am on certain forms of birth control, I do have the experience of menstruating, which is kind of the second part of my intersex identity, where I have some heightened male hormones, slightly, enough that it affects things like menstruation. These conditions have affected my health in some odd and interesting ways," Sydney explained.
BuzzFeed spoke to Sydney, who said she shared her story because she remembers feeling really alone when she learned about her intersex identity. "I had never even heard the word 'intersex' before, and I don’t want others to feel alone like I did. No one should have to feel scared about not fitting into the confines of binary gender. By sharing my experience, I can provide the representation and conversation that so many people around the world have been waiting for. Intersex people deserve to be heard; we deserve to be seen."
She continued, "It didn’t feel abnormal for me to find my own diagnosis before a doctor did. Although when I stumbled upon the medical illustration of my microperforate hymen and realized I required surgery, I felt guilty about the fact that my intersexuality would become a financial burden for my family."
Sydney said, "School sex ed failed me by reinforcing an incorrect and harmful understanding of gender. Let me be clear, though, it is not teachers or even school administrators that are the cause of a pitiful sex ed curriculum. Policymakers purposefully outlaw conversations about our bodies in order to prevent their personal beliefs from being challenged or embarrassed. Even schools that do allow sex ed, as mine did, often don’t cover subjects such as intersexuality, sexual orientation, gender identities, and consent. This is to the detriment of society as a whole, as it breeds ignorance."
"As a child, it was easy for me to 'otherize' queer people because I grew up Mormon (LDS). I thought, Well, they are free to be whoever they want and that doesn’t involve me," Sydney said. But after finding out she was intersex, Sydney realized that the dismissal of gender as an oppressive force involves all of us. "The problems of oppression and risk of violence that had always felt like someone else’s were suddenly mine. Trans, intersex, and nonbinary people are our friends, our children, and ourselves. That is why there is no time to waste in fighting for their rights to safety and equal treatment."
Sydney wants everyone who watches her TikToks to feel safe and accepted. "My followers and I have begun to build a community that celebrates authenticity. Whether the world feels ready for it or not, intersex people are going to continue fighting for the rights we’ve always deserved."