LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - For 28 years, Gabonese Dorothee Adjakidjie suffered embarrassment and shame from not knowing whether she was male or female after being born with genitals of both sexes.
When she decided this year to be a woman and undergo gender reassignment surgery so she could seek a male partner, she faced another problem: living in a nation with two million people but not a single plastic surgeon.
“In our African culture there are taboos ... we say ‘this child is cursed’, we will say there is witchcraft, that this child is irrecoverable,” she told Reuters.
“When you live ... without knowing if you are he or she, when you have to constantly justify who you are, its not easy.”
But last week she was given the chance she craved by a U.S. medic.
Michael Obeng, from Beverly Hills, chose her for one of 100 free operations carried out this year in Gabon by doctors from his medical charity R.E.S.T.O.R.E - and the first intervention of its kind by a plastic surgeon in the central African country.
Reuters TV filmed the successful operation, which involved removing the penis and turning a partial vagina into a fully-formed one.
Obeng, whose charity has also performed operations in Guatemala, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria and Ghana, said Dorothee would not be able to bear children because she won’t have a functioning uterus or ovaries.
But she was “comfortable and in a better mindset,” he said. “ ... She said she wants to be with a man, and get married and I hope she can find love and a husband.”
The United Nations estimated in 2016 that 1.7 percent of new-born babies can, like Dorothee, be classified as intersex.
“He is being reborn,” Dorothee’s mother, Jeanne Adjakidjie said after the surgery, before being teased by a daughter’s friend for briefly forgetting that Dorothee was now decidedly a woman.
“A new baby has arrived. I am happy, very happy”.
Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by John Stonestreet