new documentary “all bodies” Become intimate with the subject, from birth records to body parts. The film describes intersex, a generic term that refers to people born with anatomical or genetic characteristics that do not conform to the common definition of male or female.
According to Julie Cohen, writer and director of “Every Body,” one estimate is that 1 in 1,500 people have an intersex trait “significant enough to seek medical intervention.”
“One of the points about this movie is that there are more intersex people out there than you think,” she said in a phone interview.
But until recently, they were often shut down by doctors and family members who told them to keep their symptoms a secret. That may be changing now.
The film, which opens Friday, focuses on three intersex activists. Alicia Ross Weigelpolitical and business consultant and author of the forthcoming memoir, Inverse Cowgirl. river gallo, filmmaker and actor.and Sean Cipher Walla public health researcher, intersex justice projectopposes medically unnecessary and invasive surgery on intersex children.
All three underwent surgery to remove or add testicles as children, an operation they didn’t want. During their first outing together, during an intersex rights demonstration, “River would talk about their personal bodies through the loudspeakers,” Cohen recalled. “We were all like, wow, this guy is amazing.”
Cohen was nominated for an Oscar in 2019 for his hit documentary RBG about frequent co-star Betsy West and director Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They also made films about legal scholar and activist Pauli Murray and former congressman Gabby Giffords.
Cohen was drawn to the subject of intersex activism through the story of David Rymer, who was born a boy but was raised as a girl after being uncircumcised. He resisted the reassignment, but the Johns Hopkins University psychologist who oversaw the reassignment falsely claimed it was successful. Reimer eventually came forward to prevent others from experiencing what he did, he said. (He died by suicide in his 2004.) His honesty helped debunk the idea that social conditioning could determine his gender identity.
The astonishing reality of the lives of many intersex people provides what Cohen calls a “fucking factor.”
“I like fucking documentaries,” she said. “But I also really like the hugging documentaries that I think of, and they make you want to hug everyone in them.” Her films are both, she says. “It’s a really crappy documentary, but it’s also one that makes you want to hug the people who went through what the participants went through.”
These are excerpts from our conversation.
In light of David Rymer’s death, did you deliberately choose people who are already openly intersex?
that’s right. I didn’t want my interview to be their first or second experience. And I was amazed. Turns out I didn’t have to ask very many questions before they started talking about something very personal. They told me that throughout their lives they were accustomed to talking about their bodies, not just with their doctors, but with the entire group of residents that came to them. They feel it is their mandate and part of their activity.
Were there any details in their story that surprised you yet?
View Cipher Neonatal Medical Records. There are three boxes for him: Male, Female and Ambiguous. Someone literally ticked “vague”, crossed it out and ticked “female”. Then put a note under it (read by Cipher in the movie). Basically, moms are being told that this baby should be raised as a woman to make things easier for everyone. And whatever surgery is necessary to fix this baby being female, that’s what we’re going to do.
This movie comes at a time when: anti-trans law rapidly increasing. How do intersex rights get involved in it?
Most of the bills banning gender-affirming care for transgender children and teens have what I call intersex loopholes.So actually you can Surgery on infants and children can give hormones.Alicia summarizes [those contradictory views] In the movie, he said, And we do not consider intersex children to be normal, so feel free to enforce whatever treatment you want. ”
What connection do you see between this film and your other films?
A lot of it has to do with the power of activism, how people can make a difference by taking on battles that seem very difficult.
Another great connection is joy and humor and finding the life-affirming side in very difficult circumstances. Throughout his early career, RBG battled some really ugly and despicable sexism and misogyny. Yet she did it with grace, strength and humour, finding her love and romance. So does Pauli Murray. Gabby Giffords’ story contains a lot of trauma, but she survived it with nothing but this exuberant, unbridled life force.
I actually asked Cypha one time. “Are trauma and joy part of the same story?” Of course, that is the human condition. Trauma and joy will always coexist.
Do you think these stories might be more readily accepted now, thanks to our new understanding of gender fluidity?
The growing awareness of the existence of people who identify as non-binary is very relevant to this movement.One of the original concerns [was that] Every man needs sex right away.
But no, you can come up with the most likely gender and raise your kids that way. That way, by the time your child begins to express their gender identity (experts say it starts to happen by age five or six anyway), at that point you can start that direction. And you didn’t accidentally do something irreversible, or something that can only be recovered through major painful medical or surgical interventions.
Alternatively, surgery may not be necessary at all. Why is it so important to fit the reproductive system into the textbook idea of what is normal? It’s time to start understanding.