Intersex Detailed: “Every Body,” “Born Both,” “Orchids”

Two films and one book presented below are good places to learn more about intersex, otherwise known as the “I” in LGBTQIA+. “Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male” (Intersex Society of North America).

I. Every Body (2023)

You can stream this now at Prime Video. The trailer’s below:

“‘Every Body’ is a moving, fascinating look at a too-often-ignored subset of the world’s population, filled with empathy and understanding but also a cool, analytical anger about what history has put them through. The subject is intersex people, the slightly-more-than one percent of individuals who were born with a condition that complicated the state’s ability to identify them with one of the only two options listed on hospital paperwork: female or male” (Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com).

Directed by Julia Cohen, this new documentary features three out and accomplished intersex individuals, Sean Saifa Wall, Alicia Roth Weigel, and River Gallo.

In addition, in order to help illustrate the point that children should not be forced into a particular gender identity, there is also the tragic story of David Reimer (1965-2004). Reimer, born a male twin, received a botched circumcision at an early age and was then raised as a girl on the wrongheaded advice of psychologist/sexologist John Money (1921-2006).

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

Viloria, an 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.

Regarding the practice of IGM, or intersex genital mutilation, Viloria advocates against this misguided approach still performed by some doctors and chosen by some parents (HuffPost ).

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 people born this way “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…”

III. 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.

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.” It should be noted, however, that the term hermaphroditism is no longer a preferred one in the intersex community as “it implies that a person is both fully male and fully female. This is a physiologic impossibility” (Intersex Society of North America).

Hart’s specific 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.

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