‘Everybody’ breaks the silence on intersex lives

10/19/23 By Parker Garlough

The Bright Lights Cinema series continued Thursday with “Every Body,” a documentary about three intersex subjects. It takes viewers on a hard-hitting emotional journey through their lives: invasive medical interventions, social stigma and isolation, activism, and finding community.

Photo Courtesy of Parker Garlough

Each individual was told by their doctors and families from a young age that their bodies were flawed and their experiences should be kept secret. For years, they did exactly that — but now they live proudly as out intersex people, sharing profound details of their stories through this powerful film.

Alicia Roth Weigel, a political consultant and “Inverse Cowgirl” author, shared her journey for the first time on the floor of the Texas legislature. She understood that this honesty could be a powerful tool against the flawed narrative pushed by proponents of the “bathroom bills” and felt a duty to support the trans community. She, like other intersex activists, drew parallels between the surgeries she went through when she was too young to consent to them and the lack of autonomy afforded to trans children. 

Sean Saifa Wall, a public health researcher, is another vocal opponent of forced intersex surgeries. He founded the Intersex Justice Project, which campaigns against medically unnecessary surgery for intersex children. Many of his family members are also intersex, and he spoke of the pressure it put on his family when doctors concealed medical information from his parents and pressured them into unnecessary interventions.

River Gallo opens with a simple but compelling line: “I always felt different.” They display a childhood picture, where they look disoriented and unsettled in a crowd of other children. Since then, they’ve developed a much deeper sense of self-understanding and confidence about their place in the world, which they explore through filmmaking and acting. 

Their stories are carefully interwoven with wider narratives of intersex experiences and changes in medical understanding over the past few decades. We hear — among many others — from a 1970s researcher; a present-day doctor; founding members of the Intersex Society of North America in the 1990s during what may have been the first meeting of a large group of intersex individuals in recorded history; and David Reimer, who was experimented on and forcibly raised as a girl after a botched circumcision. 

On a panel following the screening, intersex activist Jackey Baiza celebrated the film’s demonstration of the power of bringing intersex people together. In her own life, she says, participating in intersex support groups and activism organizations was the most important way to further her self-knowledge. Being intersex can be isolating, especially because many are told to keep it a secret, and it’s important to combat that loneliness by finding community. 

Panelist and medical sociologist Esther Morris Leidolf encouraged audience members to bring attention to the intersex experience. “Intersex Awareness Day,” which is on Oct. 26, “would be a good day to say it to your neighbor. When you go shopping, tell your store clerk, ‘Happy Intersex Awareness Day!’ Don’t be shy. If I can talk about my business, you can say that,” she said. She recently published a memoir, “Not Uncommon: Just Unheard Of.