Linda came to the United States as a political refugee from Morocco in 2015. Almost immediately she found herself at Evergreen Health. “My caseworker brought me to Evergreen because of their reputation for providing good care to LGBTQ people,” she said. “Evergreen is really involved with refugees and people with low incomes.” Once Linda began to receive primary care and mental health counseling her life took a dramatic turn for the better. “I suddenly had the opportunity to see an endocrinologist, a primary doctor and a counselor that I could talk to whenever I felt the need. I was able to have medical tests to put my mind at ease, and I got answers to all my questions.”
Testing revealed that Linda has a condition known as Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS), which impairs the masculinization of male genitalia in a developing fetus as well as the development of certain secondary sexual characteristics at puberty.
“I have an XXY chromosome set with PAIS,” explained Linda. “I have one ovary, a uterus and a vagina, but I also have one testicle. I have a female skeleton and I menstruate. People like me were once called ‘true hermaphrodites’ but that’s an obsolete term now.”
Linda was raised as a girl up until the age of 9, when she began high school. “I grew up with four brothers,” she recalled. “I was always a tomboy. I felt weird wearing a dress or a skirt. When I started high school I went with a shaved head and baggy clothes, and a year later I transferred to an all-boys school.” At 14 Linda graduated from high school and had her first period. “I felt so defeated. I stopped wearing boy’s clothing, and began the process of learning to be a woman. My late friend Ornella was a huge help to me. She understood me and guided me through the ups and downs.”
After high school Linda attended university in Casablanca and Paris, earning a Masters degree in international relations. “Now at almost 22, I’m able to accept myself as I am,” said Linda. “It’s been a long process. Thank God I have my family that supports me even from far away. Evergreen offered me an amazing support system as well, especially (Nurse Practitioner) Lynn Grucza. She’s one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.”
Linda is now able to enjoy life as it comes. “I know tomorrow is not guaranteed to us,” she said. “But I have hopes and goals for the future. I want to live a life with no more surgeries (I have a few correctives yet to do) and I want to work to spread awareness of genital mutilation and the impact it has on so many people around the world.”
Genital mutilation involves the ritual cutting or removal of some or all external female genitalia. The practice is rooted in gender inequality and attempts to control women’s sexuality, and is associated with a variety of negative health effects. There are no known health benefits to genital mutilation.
“I’ve been touched by genitalia mutilation from a very early age,” said Linda. “My mother was introduced to me only after surgery was performed just hours after I was born. I’ve lost a close friend to the practice as well. It’s very important for me to speak out for what I believe in. I feel like it’s my mission to shine the light on the damage genital mutilation causes. The physical pain is nothing compared to the emotional devastation.”
Linda is working on a website to fight genital mutilation and a documentary on the topic may also be in the works. “Buffalo has a lot of refugees who have unfortunately been exposed to mutilation because of their culture. And finally, I want to say that I’m extremely grateful to Evergreen for not only saving my life, but giving me the opportunity to express myself.”
Editor’s Note: if you’d like to know more about genital mutilation, share your story or get involved in Linda’s efforts to fight the practice, contact her via Instagram (@kriolili) and\or via email (MaeMGMT@outlook.com).