Intersex Detailed: Book “Born Both” and Documentary “Orchids”

The book and film presented below may be good places to learn more about intersex, otherwise known as the “I” in LGBTQIA+.

I. Born Both: An Intersex Life (2017) by Hida Viloria

Viloria, an intersex activist and Latinx lesbian, who uses pronouns s/he and he/r, states the following in he/r memoir Born Both:

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.

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.”

Regarding the practice of IGM, or intersex genital mutilation, Viloria advocates against it this misguided approach still performed by some doctors and chosen by some parents. As explained 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 answered a question about what mental health professionals can do to help 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…”

II. Orchids: My Intersex Adventure (2010) 

“I’m part male and I’m part female—and I’m a hermaphrodite.” So says Phoebe Hart, the subject of her own documentary, which she made with her sister Bonnie, also intersex.

Also known sometimes as hermaphroditism, their condition is defined by Hart as a developmental disorder, “a biological state whereby a person’s reproductive organs, genitalia and/or chromosomes transcend the binary male-female divide.”

Hart’s condition is one of the subtypes of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). Her body is chromosomally male but unresponsive to testosterone; thus, she developed as female.

Orchids is available to stream online. You can watch the trailer below:

One of Hart’s interviewees is her high school photography teacher, a male who had to deal with such issues as developing breasts as a teen. Click here for an article that shows a scene with Chris.

In the TEDYouth clip below, Hart tells how alone she felt until she came out as intersex:

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