I grew up in mid-West America in a conservative, Christian home. There was a lot of focus on making women be submissive. Men were the leaders of the household and girls were taught it was our job was to serve them. I thought this was what everyone believed.
We did whatever men told us to do, and as far as sex was concerned women’s job was to pleasure them. Sex for pleasure was wrong for women. It was a sin against God.
I was five when I underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I was told that a lady I didn’t know was going to take my sister and me on a special trip. We went on an airplane without my parents.
The morning after I arrived I was laid down on a cold table. I had no idea what was going to happen and nobody explained anything to me.
They took off my panties and lifted my dress. I felt exposed and bare. I began to fight and cry. Someone held me down and covered my mouth and eyes with their hands. Then I felt the cold metal and the first cut. The pain at that moment was unbearable, no other pain in my life has ever compared.
When I woke up afterward, I was unable to move because my legs had been bound by rope. The rain was falling against the windowpane and I could see my doll and blood on the ground. I remember getting a fever, I couldn’t eat anything and was covered with a cold, wet cloth.
Gradually I got better and we were sent home. Our mom had made a cake, which was odd because she never normally made cakes. We were told we were celebrating our obedience to God. We were told it was something we could never talk about.
I remember my sister and I weeping in each other’s arms, knowing we had this terrible secret to keep.
Apart from that time, we never talked about being cut. When I was growing up I thought it happened to all girls. It was only when I studied human anatomy in college that I realized I wasn’t like everyone else.
I tried to forget what had happened to me, to pretend everything was fine. But FGM has had a terrible impact on my body.
Up until I had a hysterectomy, my periods were excruciating. I’d be in bed for a couple of days at a time. I’ve had numerous bladder and urinary tract infections, and sex was always, always painful.
As a child, I was taught that just thinking about things was sinful - never mind actually doing it - so even the idea of telling someone about what I’d been through was a sin that could send me to hell. It stopped me from seeking help.
It was the death of my sister a few years ago that motivated me to change my life. For a long time after she died, I isolated myself. I’d always kept our family secrets but eventually, I realized I could only do it for so long.
I met a woman at a new bible study group. I felt I could trust her. I started telling her about my own experiences and this opened the door to me asking lots of questions about what we had been told growing up.
Religion is a powerful thing. When you are taught to believe in an angry God, it is a very effective way to manipulate people, it’s crippling. It’s awful to use religion this way, and I can see this is happening all over the world. What people are being told is just not true, lies are being used as a way to oppress women and girls. God gives people free will, he doesn’t control us like puppets. My parents made choices and we were the victims.
When you find out the truth, you can’t go back. I am like, wait a minute, I want to do what normal women are doing. I want to be like everyone else, experience the same freedom. I want a voice, I haven’t had a voice my entire life.
I was always taught you weren’t allowed to cry and I have a lot of things to work through. I’ve had to learn anger is ok and sometimes it’s justified. It is a work in process, I’m discovering a lot and I have good people helping me - a counselor, several people at my new church, a support system.
I’m sharing my story for my sister because I don’t want there to be anyone else suffering alone and in silence.
I’ve been contacted by four other women that have had this happen and one had it done to her daughters, thinking it was normal. They are where I was a couple of years ago, shocked to find out that this is not normal for everyone and wondering what else is not true.
I think it is important for people to understand just because so few Americans have spoken up, it does not mean it is not happening here. There is such a silence that surrounds this practice, that until we are talking about it more, we are really never going to know the number of girls in the US that have been affected. We have to remove the shame, make it a subject safe to talk about.
This is not a color, culture, religion, region or anything else kind of issue, it is a human issue, period.