Our reaction two weeks ago when beauty queen, Sharon-Rose Khumalo, told us she was intersex, was predictable: Meet the Woman who will never have kids! And while we were at it, we added for good measure, how she was using her position to draw attention to the condition.
Shame, too busy asking ‘‘What is a woman?’’ in one breath and answering simultaneously, ‘‘Woman is a womb’’. Stuck in our binary interpretations of gender.
So no one said anything about how her smile can electrify a rural community (ESKOM & NEPA should just sign her up). Or that Ms. Khumalo’s stares can calm trouble waters too.
Khumalo, 25, grew up in Mamelodi, South Africa. She is a graduate of Biotechnology from the University of Pretoria. Shortly after graduation, her parents supported her decision to pursue a childhood dream of becoming a model.
In 2015 she entered for the Miss South Africa beauty pageant, but didn’t make the cut. She applied again the following year, and went on to finish as one of the finalists. And in 2017 she was crowned Miss Mamelodi Sundowns. (In case you’re wondering, there’s now no better reason to support Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club).
Khumalo makes everything—the Bible, gardening, mosaic painting, tutoring school kids—effortlessly cool and homely. It shrouds the hard work, determination, discipline, focus and the challenges she has had to overcome which went into making her so awesome.
Right after high school, Khumalo gained admission to study Veterinary Biology at the university. She flunked the first year, and had to withdraw from the university to go work as a waitress. Waiting tables, she said in this interview with the Thr3e Podcast crew, taught her how treat people with respect regardless of their status. It made her realise too, that she wanted more out of life. So she went back to school and duly graduated.
This gorgeous scientist isn’t one to shy away from the debate on the existence of God. Ironically, her background in science is the grounds for her faith in God. While studying genetics and biochemistry she saw the complex makeup of the human body as an indubitable proof of a creator.
‘‘Because I failed to believe that us as humans we just exploded from… It is such an intricate process that takes place in our bodies and just who we are as people’’, said Khumalo.
Khumalo is a devout Christian and like Halima Aden, a devout Somali-American Muslim, she has found a way to pursue a modelling career and not compromise on her values as well. Aden’s way is ostensibly to take on projects she’s comfortable—so she wears a hijab, and most of her pictures do not reveal skin. Khumalo’s way comes from a deep sense of self-worth, from knowing in her heart the relationship she has with God.
‘‘The reason we wear bikinis on stage is actually to portray a message’’, Khumalo has said, about balancing Christian values and modelling.
‘‘Look at how we are taking care of our bodies. And I mean, we as women now, especially in my South Africa, it is a very wholesome image that we try to portray: It is women that take care of themselves. So they eat well, they exercise. And then you also take care of yourself in terms of your hair, your face. And then you also are concerned about your communities as well’’.
Khumalo has described South Africa as ‘‘aspirational, ambitious, and proud of who she is and what she stands for’’. These words aptly describe her as well—the individual is after all, the state writ large.
So meet Sharon-Rose Khumalo: The Rose of Mamelodi, she’s smart, beautiful, and identifies as intersex. Don’t go making her into something strange.