Mar 12

“Born Both: An Intersex Life” by Hida Viloria

I was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that my body looked different. Having endured an often turbulent home life as a kid, there were many times when I felt scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls. But unlike most people in the first world who are born intersex–meaning they have genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and/or chromosomal patterns that do not fit standard definitions of male or female–I grew up in the body I was born with because my parents did not have my sex characteristics surgically altered at birth. Hida Viloria, author of Born Both: An Intersex Life

Intersex activist and Latinx lesbian Hida Viloria‘s Born Both: An Intersex Life has recently been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, LGBTQ Nonfiction.

Kasandra Brabaw, Refinery29, quotes Viloria on a basic fact: “Almost every time people talk about gender and gender identity, they forget to mention that people are actually born male, female, and intersex.” Viloria offers the statistic that about 1.7% of individuals are born intersex—”roughly the same percentage as people who are born with red hair.”

Excerpts from Viloria’s memoir can be found at NewNowNext and Out Magazine. In the former the author describes past internal conflict about how to dress; in the latter, others’ confusion about Viloria’s identity.

Kirkus Reviews explains some pertinent history about Viloria’s process:

Until s/he was 20 years old, Viloria lived he/r life as a female (pronouns the author self-identifies with). But when a doctor said that the size of he/r clitoris ‘just [wasn’t] normal’ and asked to run tests on he/r, Viloria began to question he/r identity. He/r femaleness had never been an issue at home; neither he/r mother nor he/r doctor father had ever discussed he/r physical differences and never allowed for any surgical alterations at birth. At the same time, however, he/r Catholic upbringing had made it difficult for Viloria to acknowledge to he/r parents that s/he was a lesbian. A move to San Francisco in 1990 propelled the author on a journey of sexual self-discovery that included relationships primarily with women and occasionally men. Five years later, and after reading a newspaper article on intersex people, s/he finally came to the realization that s/he, too, was intersex, or as s/he would say later on, a ‘hermaphrodyke.’

Viloria writes in Born Both about he/r advocacy against the practice of IGM, or intersex genital mutilation, which is performed by some doctors and chosen by some parents, who often are acting out of misguided protectiveness. As s/he states in a HuffPost article:

…I want to clarify that the vast majority of intersex children are born healthy, but are subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries in an attempt to make them fit into sex and gender norms, and it is these surgeries which intersex activists oppose and refer to as IGM—not the minority of cases where intersex children, like all children, are born with issues requiring medical attention for their physical health. Doctors have often conflated these two situations in order to either discredit activists’ goals or imply that IGM is necessary, so it bears mentioning.

In an interview with Ariel Gore (Psychology Today) Viloria answers a question about what mental health professionals can do to help intersex and non-binary clients. Interphobia, including the view that being intersex is a medical disorder, is cited along with internalized interphobia as factors to be particularly conscious of, along with the need to understand “that intersex people can feel good about our sexuality, our bodies, and about being intersex in general, especially when given the right to decide for ourselves who we are…”