A wave of exclusion is sweeping the nation, in state legislatures and federal courts, including the Supreme Court. Major targets of this marginalization are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Last week, a federal appeals court affirmed Tennessee’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement after the decision,
This ruling is beyond disappointing and a heartbreaking development for thousands of transgender youth, their doctors, and their families…. We will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated.
While trans people are most openly and consistently in the crosshairs, another group is suffering as well: intersex people. A remarkable documentary called Every Body is now hitting theaters, exposing the extent of the abuse heaped on this community, highlighting the vibrant movement for justice and human rights for intersex people growing worldwide. “Every Body” is a powerful, must-see documentary directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Julie Cohen.
According to Planned Parenthood, intersex—the “I” in LGBTQIA+—is an umbrella term that describes bodies that fall outside the strict male/female binary. This could be “a person with both ovarian and testicular tissues. Other intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that are different than XY.” An estimated 1.7% of people have some intersex characteristics.
Historically, the medical establishment in the U.S. subjected most intersex people to surgery to “correct” them, often as children or infants. Many children were not told they are intersex or that they had an operation. Others were told to keep quiet by doctors and/or their parents to avoid stigma and shame.
While trans youth are increasingly being prevented from seeking gender-affirming care, including surgery, intersex people are often subjected to surgery without their knowledge. Many trans care bans make an exception to allow surgery on intersex infants and children, which too often is done without real informed consent.
The medical and emotional trauma resulting from these nonconsensual surgeries has been immense. “Every Body” features three remarkable intersex activists: River Gallo (they/them), Sean Saifa Wall (he/him) and Alicia Roth Weigel (she/they). They highlight the wide variation in how intersexuality presents itself and the incredible courage underpinning the movement for intersex inclusion and justice.
“On my medical records, it was noted that I had a small phallus and undescended testes,” Saifa Wall said on the Democracy Now! news hour.
They just made the arbitrary decision to assign me as female and raise me as a girl, but I never felt like a girl.
“My mom had two children before me who also had AIS [Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome],” Saifa continued.
They were born during the ’60s, when the protocol was to remove undescended testes. Those surgeries were done in infancy… What I experienced, what other people have experienced, are civil rights and human rights violations.
“Every Body” includes intersex activist Alicia Roth Weigel’s 2017 testimony before a Texas Senate committee in opposition to bills that would have discriminated against transgender people and their ability to use public restrooms:
I have XY chromosomes… I was born phenotypically female on the outside with a woman’s anatomy, but with internal testes instead of ovaries. They were subsequently removed.
Roth Weigel appeared on Democracy Now! and explained,
I am a proud Texas woman who is fighting against our high rates of maternal mortality in the state, fighting for body autonomy across the spectrum of all human rights, including free and fair access to abortions. I think bringing the intersex movement intersectionally into the women’s movement is a really important fight.
Intersex activists are fighting for their rights. Roth Weigel explained, “New York City was the first city to pass an ordinance that formally condemned surgeries and outlawed them in New York Health + Hospitals public health system. It also mandated a public awareness campaign for parents and doctors of intersex children, so that they can make better-informed decisions than any of our parents were able to, often at the hands of misinformation provided to them by the medical community.” This ordinance has now been replicated in Austin, Texas, and is now being considered in the New York state legislature.
“The state of New York is going to be running a public awareness campaign to raise visibility of the existence of people like the three of us and so many others in our movement,” declared Roth Weigel.
Director Julie Cohen said she hopes “Every Body” promotes “more openness, more understanding, less shame and secrecy, more pride.”
Understanding that there is a broad spectrum of what normal can be and what beauty and pride can be… is part of what this film is all about.