In our latest interview from the Naked Series, we sit down with Sierra to discuss acne, adoption, and growing up as an albino Black woman.
JACY: So, how’s it feel to be naked?
JACY: I’m glad to hear.
SIERRA: It wasn’t always that way. As a kid I remember seeing my friends’ bodies. They were all so lean and thin... whereas my thighs touched. I always knew I was different and it bothered me. I was adopted at birth and I didn’t have my birth parents nor siblings to compare to. I’ve also always had bad skin. I had acne even at 6 or 7 years old.
As a kid I was really rough on myself. Over the years I’ve come to terms with my body. I had to change my way of thinking and realize scars, acne- it’s just who I am. I’m comfortable now.
JACY: Did it just take time?
SIERRA: Time and the gym.
JACY: What is unique about your body?
SIERRA: My doctors call me a medical anomaly. I was born with one kidney and two uteruses. I also have albinism. On top of that I have something called Ehlers-danlos syndrome which means my body doesn’t create collagen. It creates a lot of genetic mutations in my body. Psoriatic arthritis, bone issues, joint issues, digestive issues…
JACY: Two uteruses… Does that affect you on a daily basis or is it just a side note anomaly?
SIERRA: Oh it affects me. They hurt all the time and I can get two periods a month. Sometimes they come at the same time which kills me. One period is hard enough.
JACY: When did your health issues begin?
SIERRA: I’ve been chronically fatigued my whole life but it got worse when I hit puberty. Everybody just thought I was a sickly kid.
JACY: Do you have an open adoption to where you know your medical background?
SIERRA: Only on my mother’s side. I actually had to track down my father to figure out the albinism thing. Turns out my grandmother was albino.
JACY: Did you track down your father to build a personal relationship or just to better understand your health issues?
SIERRA: Both. I was deteriorating so quickly and the doctors couldn’t figure it out. They were doing all sorts of tests and then they’d come back with ‘you’re fine. Go be a kid.’ I would find myself wishing they’d find something wrong with me so at least we knew what we were dealing with. I was in pain all the time and no one believed me.
It was just last year that I was able to find my father and connect with him. He didn’t know I existed. He’s saddened we didn’t have a relationship growing up. He lives in South Carolina.
JACY: How was meeting your birth father later on in life?
SIERRA: You know... I've been a daddy’s girl my whole life. I love my adoptive father so much. It’s just great to have a second dad. I knew he was out there - I just thought he didn’t want anything to do with me. I remember seeing my birth certificate as a kid and that his name wasn’t on it. That broke me. I thought 'Why didn’t he love me enough to put his name on my birth certificate?' I carried that for years. I didn’t know the circumstances then. Now I understand.
JACY: What were the circumstances?
SIERRA: He knew my mother was pregnant but at seven months she told him I died and moved away.
JACY: Is your mom still alive?
JACY: Is that an issue?
SIERRA: Not for me. For him, definitely.
JACY: I bet.
So not knowing your medical background and having such unique genetics - What was it like for you growing up as an albino Black woman?
SIERRA: It was crazy. There was a lot of why with no answers. I’d find myself thinking in circles and not being able to get anywhere. The internet didn’t really exist then either so it took a while before I started doing research.
JACY: Did you know anyone growing up who looked like you?
SIERRA: No. I grew up in a predominantly white area. People would always touch my hair. They’d say ‘you feel like a sheep!’ I got that one a lot.
I went through a huge phase where I just wanted to look like everybody else. I wanted to be a normal white girl. My adoptive mother used to chase me with a comb and a brush. She would buy lye kits and try to straighten it for me. My skin was so irritated from the chemicals I had sores all over my scalp but I was adamant. I wanted straight hair. I wanted to look like the other girls.
JACY: When did you start to embrace this other part of you?
SIERRA: Living in the city I started to know more types of people. I’d always known I was African American but I had rejected that side of myself. When I was seventeen I realized I had this whole other side of me that I needed to explore.
I have a lot of physical pain due to my conditions that I also needed to understand. Bones need collagen to stay hard and to retain their strength. My joints grind because my muscles can’t hold my bones in place. They slide and you can feel it. My spine feels like a tower of glass so I have to be really intentional with my movements. I have six slipped discs in my back just from slouching or making weird movements.
My only way of combating this is working out. I need to keep everything tight. When I don’t work out it’s like hot knives all over. On the bad days you honestly just want somebody to kill you. They’ll give you pain meds all day but they can never take the pain away for good.
JACY: How does that affect your mental health?
SIERRA: I struggle with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. The only thing that mitigates that is the gym. It can make me feel happy even when I’m not. There’s no drug in the world - and I’ve been on many - that can help like exercise. None.
Animals help too. I have a lot of reptiles and large amazonian lizards. Honestly the relationship I have with them is what I think other people get out of having children. I also have a puppy. Dogs are interesting. They pick up on things. Animals are smart you just have to know how to reach them.
I’ve raised a fourteen-foot boa as well as a savannah monitor lizard. I love exotic reptiles. It’s important though that you never forget they are wild. There’s so many people who get reptiles just to watch it eat rabbits or whatever and it’s like - you’re not giving them what they need. I would hate to be stuck in a cage all day. They need sunshine. They need fresh air. I take mine everywhere with me.
JACY: It is weird that we’ve sort of just allocated some animals as okay to keep in cages all day and others not. Like we know it’s wrong to keep a dog in a cage yet gerbils, guinea pigs, reptiles, birds, it’s somehow been made acceptable.
SIERRA: My turtles don’t even have cages. They roam the house and everybody’s potty trained. A lot of people can’t connect with animals well enough to read their needs. I feel I can speak with them in a telepathic way and vice versa. Creatures are intuitive too so when something is off, they know. When you’re gonna’ have a seizure, your pheromones change and they know before it even happens.
JACY: Do you have seizures?
SIERRA: Yeah. I’ve had them since I was a kid. There’s so many times I’ve woken up on the floor in a public setting with people around me going ‘oh my god!’
Dogs have helped me tremendously. They let me know when I’m going to have a seizure so I don’t hurt myself as much anymore. I teach my dogs to tell me. My pup grabs my arm and leads me to a safe place. My last dog would stare at me with such intensity as if something horrific was about to happen. That would tell me I need to get ready. She was never wrong.
JACY: Is there enough time to do anything more to prepare?
SIERRA: I mean... A huge part of what’s horrible is it causes a lot of embarrassment. It’s less scary when I wake up alone. It’s hard - especially with boyfriends. They want to help but when you have a seizure you just want everyone to get away from you.
JACY: Do you resent your body?
SIERRA: You know... The more I work on it the more I appreciate it because I know it's doing everything it can.