New Documentary Every Body Illuminates the “I” in LGBTQIA

Local intersex activist Alicia Roth Weigel talks new doc

Austinite and intersex activist Alicia Roth Weigel on the set of new documentary Every Body, in cinemas now from Focus Features release. (Courtesy of Focus Features)

For all the GOP’s obsession with biology when it comes to queer people’s bodies, there’s up to 2% of the population that is living proof that gender is more shades of grey than black and white. New documentary Every Body highlights the intersex experience through three activists’ fight for basic human rights.

In cinemas now, the new documentary from Julie Cohen (co-director of the Oscar-nominated RBG) features three intersex people: Actor River Gallo, Intersex Justice Project cofounder Sean Saifa Wall, and political activist Alicia Roth Weigel, well known in Austin for her intersex advocacy. They anchor the film with testimonies of growing up with sex characteristics that don’t fit the gender binary, and the ensuing surgeries, stigma, and shame foisted upon them by doctors, well-meaning parents, and society. The film begins with a nightmarish spate of gender reveal parties and maintains a healthy balance of heart and humor throughout its harrowing chronicle of institutionalized medical abuse that persists today.

“I was never told there are a lot of people like you around the world.” – Alicia Roth Weigel
One boy’s case laid the foundation for the modern medical paradigm of intersex “treatment” – David Reimer, who was forcibly socialized as a girl after a botched circumcision. Though he wasn’t born intersex, psychologist John Money used Reimer’s case as the gold standard for intersex medical treatment, which led to decades of unnecessary nonconsensual surgeries on children done in the name of the parents’ emotional wellbeing, or the child’s assimilation into the gender binary – with disastrous results. Reimer died by suicide in 2004.

To this day, doctors perform unnecessary and dangerous surgeries on children that can have adverse physical consequences down the line. In Weigel’s case, doctors removed the internal testes she was born with, which “forced my body into hormone withdrawal, leaching calcium from my bones, which is why I now have osteoporosis. That's very common in the intersex community." There are also psychological scars: As a child Weigel was told she should keep her identity secret or she’d never find a husband, that people would make fun of her. "By trying to fix me," she said, "they broke me. There was never an issue in the first place.”

The irony of many legislatures banning surgeries for trans people and forcing them on intersex people is not lost on Weigel, a veteran of the Texas legislature: “All those same bills have explicit language in them that say that you can continue to force surgeries and hormones on intersex kids. So they're saying, don't give surgeries and hormones to trans kids who want them, but you can continue to force them nonconsensually on kids who never asked for them. Who’s grooming who here?”

Furthermore, laws banning trans health care can affect adult intersex patients as well. Weigel said they’ll make it harder for her to access hormones she needs to replace those that were taken from her as a child. “There's just so little awareness of the intersex population that we're essentially erased from the conversation about our own erasure.”

The first public demonstration of intersex people in North America – now designated as intersex awareness day – was October 26, 1996, but Weigel said she was 26 before she ever heard the term intersex. “I was never told there are a lot of people like you around the world, there's a community.” That’s why the film is a step toward representation and education of and for the intersex community, who Weigel said “all kind of know each other at this point. There are so few intersex activists. We're a relatively young movement.”

Gallo, Wall, and Weigel are all now out and proud, and the film makes a point to not just showcase the pain the intersex community faces, but the joy as well. “If all we see are these sob stories about, like, kids being mutilated, who's ever going to come out of the closet?” said Weigel. “There's a lot of joy in our community, especially when we come out, once we break free of that whole narrative we've been fed since we were kids, that we’ll never find love, there's euphoria for sure.”

“There are some pediatric providers, but as soon as you graduate out of pediatrics, you’re just left high and dry.” – Alicia Roth Weigel
The biggest political goal of intersex activists is banning these nonconsensual childhood surgeries. After that, “just like the trans movement, just like the queer movement, we need to be part of the cultural vernacular to even be able to make change happen – you can't solve a problem if you don't even know the problem exists. Once we solve the childhood surgeries piece – because that's kind of the most flagrant violation of human rights and tends to draw people into our cause – really the lack of adult intersex care, that's really what my primary focus is. There are some pediatric providers, but as soon as you graduate out of pediatrics, you're just left high and dry. So I was like, I'm just gonna build it.”

Beginning in August, a project Weigel started with the Kind Clinic will come to fruition: A comprehensive intersex care offering that will involve trainings for providers on intersex variations and needs, bone density testing for survivors of medical abuse and cancer screenings for certain variations, plus a contact list of intersex specialists outside Texas should patients need referrals. Weigel said this may be the first general intersex care offering at a clinic in the nation: In research for the project, she found adult intersex patients who were flying to Japan for care, and Weigel herself had to go to the east coast. “There are random providers, but there was no clinic that served intersex needs, just generally. It's kind of wild that we just banned health care for trans kids in Texas, but we're also building the first health care clinic for intersex people in Texas. So there’s hope.”

More intersex media that Weigel recommends:

XOXY: A Memoir by Kimberley Zieselman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
288 pp.
$16.95 (paperback)

Nobody Needs to Know by Pigeon Pagonis
TOPPLE Books & Little A
235 pp.
$28.99 (hardcover), $16.99 (paperback)
Published Aug. 15.

Who I Am Not, directed by Tunde Skovran

Bloody Hell, directed by Molly McGlynn

Every Body is in cinemas now. Read our review and find showtimes here.

Alicia Roth Weigel's debut book, Inverse Cowgirl: A Memoir (HarperOne, 256 pp., $18.99, paperback) will be published Sept. 19.

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