The subject of this film is people who are intersex – formerly described as hermaphrodite – which means born not with the standard XX chromosomes for a girl and XY for a boy but a mixture of both. Which means they could have some sexual characteristics of both genders.
So called gender normalisation surgery, where the surgeon operates to make the baby as near to the gender they most look like, became common in the second half of the last century without the knowledge or consent of course of the children involved. Their story was usually shrouded in secrecy and caused considerable trauma and confusion for them as the grew older. But increasingly intersex surgery is being regarded by those on whom it is inflicted as an attack on their human rights.
The film itself is not preachy. It is though searingly honest. Director Julie Cohen focuses her attention of three intersex people. Alicia Roth Weigel, born with some male chromosomes and lacking some female characteristics, who identifies as a woman. Sean Saifa Wall, who was subjected to gender normalisation and raised as a girl and now identifies as a man. And River Gallo, who was raised as a boy and now identifies as non-binary. They are all articulate and intelligent people who tell their stories to camera with passion and sometimes humour. Alicia in particular may be lacking a uterus but she is very much a woman and a very attractive and ballsy one at that.
Interwoven with the trio’s personal testimonies is the story of the growth of normalisation surgery and the tragic experience of David Reimer, told in archive footage of an interview he did for NBC news. David was a twin. Both babies were originally classified as boys but later it was decided that baby David actually had more female characteristics. He was subjected to normalisation surgery and his parents instructed to raise him as a girl. The little girl was never however comfortable with her sexual identity and when she found out the truth, she reverted to being male. But the story does not have a happy ending and the footage of adult David telling his story is very moving.
The film and its subject will be a revelation for many people, who have little or no experience of intersex or trans gender issues. It moves with the pace of a thriller, tells its story in a sensible and down to earth manner and needs to be seen not just by people who are affected by the issues, but those of us with little or no knowledge of them.
And do stay for the closing credits. They are a delight.