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Roshaante in Father, by Harley WeirPhotography Harley Weir

Model and YouTuber Roshaante Anderson talks trans and intersex visibility

Roshaante found out he was intersex at 11 and began his medical transition to male at 16 – here he talks about dating as an intersex person, the realities of gender confirmation surgery and why he gets naked on YouTube

Roshaante Anderson is a 24-year-old, model, YouTuber and activist. He is known for his honest and sometimes galling videos in which he tackles the topics that others are too afraid to take on; the possibility of making a mistake when you change your body or the difficulties of self-acceptance when living with dysphoria. For better (endless compliments) or worse (abusive comments), he has also become known for getting naked on YouTube, revealing his top surgery and phalloplasty to the world. But surgeries informed just part of his journey; prior to transitioning, Roshaante lived as an intersex person who didn’t really identify with either gender and before that, a girl – as this is what doctors, his parents and society told him that he was. 

According to some estimates, more people are intersex than transgender: it simply means that you don’t fit into the strict biological categories that medical science deems ‘male’ or ‘female’. This could be because of your hormonal balance, the appearance of your genitalia or your chromosome make up. Often, when people are born intersex, doctors will assign them a gender (whichever they think they are closest to) and sometimes even perform mutilating genital surgeries in order to make the child “fit” more closely to an assigned gender. Roshaante did not receive these surgeries but decided to transition medically to male for himself from the age of 16. 

Below, he talks about dating as an intersex person, the brutal realities of gender confirmation surgery and why he gets naked on YouTube, despite the controversy that ensues.

Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us about your upbringing and also your gender expression when you were younger? 
Roshaante Anderson: My family were back and forth between Catford, Birmingham and Manchester. My parents raised me as a girl. My dad wanted me to be a girl from birth and so that was basically what was chosen for me. I had more ambiguous female genitalia than male so it made more sense at the time. I was in to performing arts and sometimes I wasn’t in school because I was going to the Royal Albert Hall five times a week or I was training as a dancer; hip hop, lyrical, contemporary, krunk and jazz. We found out I was intersex when I was 11 years old because although my parents were raising me as a girl I was getting a lot of masculine traits. Not like your average tomboy who wants to go and play football – facial hair was growing, my voice was getting very deep, my body was shaping to be masculine – you name it! I couldn’t walk around anywhere without everyone thinking I was a boy. It was like I was growing up really and truly half and half. My dad’s head was all over the place with the whole thing, but my mum and I went down to the Tavistock [gender identity clinic in London] and we discussed it with them. We discussed how much I actually enjoyed being a female because I did. But then every year that it was going on, I started feeling less like I wanted to be any gender and more like I just want to be me.

How did it change when you got a bit older? 
Roshaante Anderson: 
I was very much happy with my feminine side and very much happy with my masculine side. But when you get into high school and everything is more divided by gender, and as you get into being an adult, instead of an adolescent, you have to be in control of your life, whereas I felt like I wasn’t. I felt like I was living a double life like Hannah Montana and I felt like it couldn’t go on any longer because it would have ended up in catastrophe. Each way drove me out of control. I was in a frenzy in my own mind. My body, partly, but also my sexuality – which nobody even thinks about when it comes to being intersex – because I didn’t know who to date, what to date, where to date. The sexuality side of things came into things a bit more because everyone had a boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever they were interested in. I was into girls but I never ever dared called myself a lesbian because I just didn’t feel like one. I would never present as a boy, I just ended up adopting an androgynous look, but I would always tell people that I genuinely feel like a boy. I would be upfront from the get-go and say that I’m intersex.

That’s good to hear because there are a lot of people who even now don’t understand what that means. There is also still a lot of stigmas. When you would date people when you were younger would they be accepting? 
Roshaante Anderson: I never had any issues. People I dated were very accepting.  I’ve had a lot of people that are extremely cool. Nothing bad to my face. No, and I’ve had amazing relationships. I have a great relationship with my family. This is why I can be and why I want to be one of the ones that are out there. I have felt the trauma of being knocked down so much that I already feel powerful within myself to carry a community. But I would say it’s more like, if I’m having issues it’s now because people cannot believe that I’ve gone as far as to get the surgery, they think the surgery is outrageous or that it is something that you couldn’t even dream about, you know like jeepers creepers. 

Let’s talk more about that. When did you have surgery?
Roshaante Anderson: I started when I was 18. I was so happy. I was in a relationship and she really helped me focus on the fact of: “You’re going to go and do this because this is what you really want. You’re not doing it for no other reason.” I went ahead and had chest surgery first. I had some problems after my top surgery with my nipples but I just went to a tattoo artist and got that fixed real quick. I was a club promoter at the time, so I had to stand up on my feet all day and I had to do guestlist sometimes which is being in the queue dealing with a lot of drunk people that could easily knock into my chest. It was a lot. 

I got my first lower surgery in 2017, another in 2018, and now I’m going back in for a third one. The other one was 21. So it happens in stages. They’ll never give you – especially not on NHS – everything that you want done at the same time. in 2017 and it went on till 2018. I have another visit coming up soon to fix my arm again for the third time [they take the skin from the arm to construct the penis]. This is still healing and it’s been two years. I’m squeamish so it’s hard that it’s constantly ongoing. Something might go wrong next year, and then something might break in two years time and I’m back in there again and again. But honestly, I’m very happy with the way it looks. It’s got people from all over the world going insane. When you go onto YouTube and see the comments people are losing their minds!

Yeah, you made a Youtube video with your penis out and were also shot by Harley Weir nude. Why did you decide to do it? A lot of trans people talk about taking the focus of fascination off the genitals or the surgery, so I’m interested... 
Roshaante Anderson: I kid you not the reason why I’m doing it is to reassure people. I don’t know if you have gone on Google and have typed in phalloplasty but there are some scary images. So I want to put out a different perspective and shake up the narrative a little. Even my surgeon has commented that I've had a good result, people have been impressed. But I didn’t know it was going to be like that. And the complications I’ve had because of it are unsightly, but at the end of the day, it’s here now. Plus you know, if a woman got the most amazing butt injections and a chest to match then loads of people that are about seduction, body and that kind of stuff would then want to work with that person for the highest price. So it would be like the highest bidder because they’ve got something that no one else has. Talking about being trans and intersex or showing my body also connects me to people: I still don’t know many intersex people, but people have reached out to me from America and stuff. They’re like: “Wow, thank you so much for creating this community for us”. We say “the LGBTQIA community” but it often stops at the “T”, and the “I” is really insignificant. When I grew up I didn’t know anyone intersex. All I knew was rumours about Ciara. And Ciara is not even a hermaphrodite, Ciara is not intersex. When everyone thinks of me they’re like “Oh Ciara!”

You’ve now got millions of views, all added up. But how did you start YouTubing?
Roshaante Anderson: Well, I started YouTubing years ago. I came out with a random video. I was at work and I was on my phone on my lunch break so my manager wasn’t watching me or anything. I was in the car because I did deliveries, and I just randomly did a video on YouTube about how I felt. I told them the facts of when you go on testosterone, I just said it was a regret for me for very trivial reasons. The whole transition. I preferred myself the way I was before. The true authenticity in myself. The fact that I don’t recognise myself anymore, just things like my hairline, the beard that I thought would be nice but is now becoming a nuisance because I have to get it cut all the time. Just little things like that. I was trying to make people understand that it was just the way I was feeling and that this could be temporary, or it could be forever, but this was a feeling that I had due to the testosterone. 

You guys that are watching all these videos on YouTube of trans men like “yeah, look at the muscles they got!” it can be that, but it can also be very catastrophic and devasting if you’re one of those guys and you wonder if you might not actually be transgender. You could very much be going through a different psychological problem than the one that you believe you’re going through. So, you could be a stud lesbian or be more comfortable being approached as a guy. Essentially, you’re like “Am I supposed to be here? Was this the right decision?” And on top of that, actually, as a male you’re flung into the deep end. Everyone treats you differently, looks at you differently and has different expectations of you. If you aren’t ready in yourself to defend, protect and be tough... do all these types of things that we think of as manly. 

Do you find that people treat you differently now they see you as a cis black male?
Roshaante: They do. Straight away, any job I get, the guys will come to talk to me on a one-to-one. Even when I’ve walked through here, they’re probably thinking “Oh my God”. Forget the black skin, it’s the tattoos and the branding I’ve given myself as a person that causes reactions. I’m covered in tattoos. So, people are immediately not only testing me as a guy, they’re testing me as a gangster because of the tattoos. They’re not seeing the fact that I’ve got all these tattoos mostly to be able to partly cover up all the scars from my surgeries, but also to  give more beauty to it. They’re just seeing me as a decently sized black guy with tattoos and a gold tooth. These are all things that I’ve gotten because I like the way it looks, but when you hear me speak about my history, you would never believe what comes out of my mouth.

The video you made recently, where you’re totally naked, tell me a bit more about that? Why did you make that video? What is the message you’re trying to put out? 
Roshaante Anderson: So this video is particularly, “wow, stare at the penis”, then it was “wow, look at the guy” then “wow, listen to what he’s saying”. So maybe it’s a way of getting people’s attention but it’s also linked to the message, and my message was that however you look right now is completely fine. If you want to have a better body, or you want to have surgery to look better in the future, that’s completely up to you, but just know that right now, how you are is perfect. There is someone that is going to look at you and think you’re perfect. You might strip off your clothes and feel disgusting. I did, and that’s why I made that video. I stripped off all my clothes, I was butt naked and I felt disgusted last year. This year, I don’t. It’s amazing how things change. With just a year’s worth of getting yourself together psychologically, what it can do to make you comfortable with your body is amazing. My body is robust and I’m still not happy with it, but that was the beauty of the video. To be able to say that openly. 

Father by Harley Weir (featuring Roshaante) is available online now