‘One thing we all have in common is we all have bodies’: New film celebrates people who are intersex
The Pride flag has gone through many amendments since its inception in the late 70s, with each change meant to better represent LGBTQIA+ people. One addition, unfamiliar to some, is that purple ring with a yellow background, representing those from the intersex community.
Intersex people have long been overlooked and misunderstood – up to 2% of the population is believed to be intersex, though it’s rarely talked about – but in the new documentary “Every Body,” being intersex is celebrated.
Austin resident Alicia Roth Weigel, who is featured in the film, said that many people think that there’s male, female and intersex, when in fact sex is a spectrum, just as sexuality is a spectrum.
“Some women who are not intersex have big boobs, and some women have small boobs. Some men who are not intersex can grow a beard, and some can’t,” she said. “All of these sex characteristics all exist on a spectrum for every person, not just intersex people. We just happen to be a little bit closer to the center of that spectrum.”
What all intersex bodies have in common is that they have physical traits – some sort of combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia – that don’t fit neatly into a male or female box on a birth certificate, Roth Weigel said.
“I was born looking very female on the outside, but instead of being born with a uterus and ovaries, I was born with internal testes, and my testes would have produced testosterone,” she said. “But the reason why I look so female on the outside is because my body does not absorb or process testosterone based on how I was born. So the testosterone that my testes would have produced, my body would have peed some of that out, and I would have converted the rest to estrogen.”
It’s something she views as a superpower – but the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way, she said.
“People, I think, like things that fit into neat little boxes and categories because sometimes we get so overwhelmed by everything happening in the world that it’s nice to have something familiar, and people tend to fear what they don’t know or they don’t understand,” Roth Weigel said. “And our bodies are kind of the physical embodiment of the frontier or the unknown because we don’t fit what people are taught are the only two options.”
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Roth Weigel said she lived her life very closeted because the messages she received from doctors and society were that her body was inherently shameful – a problem to be fixed.
“They force these surgeries onto you, and they force you to take hormones, and they tell you to never tell anyone. Because they’re like, ‘You’ll be made fun of’ or ‘you’ll never find a good husband one day,'” she said. “And so that was the message I internalized. And what my brain translated that to is: If you can’t tell anyone who you are because people will make fun of you or you’ll never find a loved one, that means that you are inherently unworthy of love just for being who you are.“
Roth Weigel came out at a legislative hearing for Texas’ bathroom bill in 2017 after hearing lawmakers say that biological sex is “cut and dry.”
“I was able to tell them that biological sex is not cut and dry. There’s a whole huge swath of the population that’s born in between – the same amount of people as are born with red hair. We’re not even that rare or uncommon. You just don’t hear about us because we’re shoved so deep in the closet from when we’re born,” she said. “I just kind of did it because I was so mad at this bill and how it was targeting my trans friends. And so that’s why I say I came out backwards, because it’s like I came out very publicly in a legislative hearing and then all of a sudden kind of had to backtrack and be like, wait, I guess I should tell my brother.“
Roth Weigel works with the Kind Clinic, which provides sexual health and wellness services to the LGBTQIA+ community in Austin and across Texas, and has recently helped them create an intersex health care offering that’s open to current patients and will be available to new patients next month. Part of the process involved doing a survey and focus groups with intersex people throughout the state.
“I was an activist for a long time before I was out as being intersex. And so most of the people I’ve surrounded myself with who have remained in my life are very progressive, open-minded people who are curious and open to learning,” she said. “In talking to those intersex people across Texas, I realized how lucky I had it that I was born into the family that I was and that I’ve been able to cultivate the community that I have, because there are people that come from much less tolerant backgrounds who carry a lot more shame. My parents definitely carried some of that and have gone on this journey with me of unlearning that. But ultimately they were kind of fed the same lie I was, which is that my body should be fixed.”
In addition to being featured in “Every Body,” Roth Weigel has a memoir, “Inverse Cowgirl,” coming out this fall.
“Really what I mean by an ‘inverse cowgirl’ is not just intersex people, but anyone who’s been told that they’re inherently unworthy or wrong or skewed or screwed up, like simply for being who they are, that they’re inverse, that they’re incorrect. And so I’m trying to get a bunch of, you know, intersex Texans to come out, but it’s a lot less safe here than it would be in other areas,” she said. “But the movie is working because Blair Imani, who’s a really well-known queer black Muslim activist, she just came out as intersex on Instagram. And she credited the movie with giving her the courage to finally do that. And so what’s exciting is this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Roth Weigel also noted that bills that seek to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth – like Texas’ Senate Bill 14, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June – contain explicit language that also speaks to intersex bodies.
“The issue is that people don’t know what intersex means and so they don’t know how to identify that in the bill language. But what these bills say is, we are not giving surgeries and hormones to young people who want them and are actively asking for them – but we can continue to force those same surgeries and those same hormones on intersex babies who are not only not old enough to ask for them, they’re not old enough to speak yet,” she said. “When I was sterilized, when I had my testes removed, I was not even a year old yet. I could not even say ‘Mama’ or ‘Dada,’ let alone ‘yes, take these pieces from my body that are going to drastically change my access to health care and gender representation and so many other major aspects of my life, for the rest of my life.'”
She said such bills aren’t about protecting children; they’re about forcing people to conform to what is “normal.”
“[But] society’s getting a lot more accepting of diversity and realizing that the natural diversity of human beings is something that should be celebrated, not hidden and shoved under a carpet somewhere,” Roth Weigel said. “And so it’s just a matter of time.“
Listen to an extended interview with Alicia Roth Weigel in the audio player above. “Every Body” is in theaters now.
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