Content Warning: Female Genital Mutilation

When talking about female genital mutilation (FGM), we need to understand that not all survivors of female genital mutilation are cis women. FGM is rooted in forcing survivors to conform to the expectations of cis womanhood. We can't further perpetuate this dynamic by erasing the genders of its survivors. 

I underwent FGM at 9 years old. Prior to that, my family warned my mother that I will become “trouble” when I become “a woman.” I was told to treat my body as a treasure, and as a girl, to let nothing bad happen to me. On my first trip to Indonesia, my aunt insisted I come with her on a “grocery shopping trip” during which she shoved me through a door in a back alleyway and had part of my clitoris removed on a metal table in someone’s kitchen. 

On the ride home I moved to the edge of the backseat so my blood wouldn’t pool in the taxi cab. I couldn’t walk for days. Years after the “procedure,” I was scared of looking at anything related to sex or kissing because my family threatened it (my clitoris) would “grow back” and they would have to cut it again. But beyond the scalpel, the muddy water, the blood, and the gauze, the ongoing pain of FGM is not just the violence of the moment, but that I am called what I never asked to be called prior, during, and in the care of my healing. 

It is painful to have a hurt body that is forced to believe it failed the rest of me. How dare I fail my body by calling myself anything other than what it has been called its entire life? 

Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving the removal of the external “female” genitalia or other injuries to the vagina for non-medical reasons. In most websites and articles, FGM refers to the vagina as “girl’s genitals.” From language to resources, all aspects of FGM, the before, during, and after, assume an FGM survivor has and always will be a cis woman. Statistics imply that so long as a number is tacked onto a name, a people, a livelihood, the world must accept this as truth. As of 2020, 200 million women and girls have experienced female genital mutilation. And this statistic makes me question if I, a trans nonbinary survivor of FGM, am real. 

FGM has always been portrayed as something that only happens to non-white girls in faraway countries, and that image has trumped my actual existence time and time again. 

I used poetry to not only talk about what happened to me but to signal other survivors that I existed. I came out as non-binary around the same time I talked openly about my experiences as an FGM survivor through my art. At one reading, a white woman snapped her fingers and hummed at me introducing myself as trans nonbinary. Then she later cries over my shoulder calling me a “powerful woman.” In a different situation involving a program MC that I didn’t know personally, I shared that I didn’t know if I fit into the gendered statistic they planned to open with because I am trans nonbinary — and they introduced me to a crowded room as one of 200 million girls.

Though the pronouns she/her are not definitively assigned to any gender, I know that when I hear it, it is my cue to act like a woman. “She” is asked about future birthing complications as a mother. “She” is attached to the same statistic that denies me of my personhood. Its use positions me as “woman-lite,” a sad attempt at masculinity, and an excuse to run from the trauma of being an FGM survivor. 

At one point in my life, I convinced myself that she/her was a reclamation of the girl who died on the metal table, an assurance that she survived along with me. But the truth is, sometimes she can be a white flag, an exasperated sigh after a person calls me a “powerful lady.” An uncomfortable silence when my friends call me a girl when naming what happened to me. 

I constantly remind myself that out of all the people who attempt to call me things I am not, I am the only one that knows what happened to me. I was in that room. I was the one left with what spilled. I was the one who sought a life that would be more than this pain. Therefore, I can name what happened to me, and by extension name myself, however I want. And that will always be my truth.

Dena Igusti is a queer non binary Indonesian Muslim writer, multimedia artist, and FGM survivor & advocate born and raised in Queens, New York. They are the author of CUT WOMAN (Game Over Books, 2020). They are a 2021 Playwright-in-Residence for Rogue Theater Festival for their short, FIRST SIGHT. They are a 2021 LMCC Governor’s Island Resident, 2020 Seventh Wave Editorial Resident, 2019 Player’s Theatre Resident Playwright, and 2018 NYC Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador. They are a Converse All Stars Artist and UN #TOGETHERBAND Global Ambassador. Follow them on Instagram @dispatchdena and on Twitter @dispatchdena.