Genotypically male, Weigel (she/her, they/them) was born with both X and Y chromosomes yet has several of, but not all, the physical traits of a woman: Though born with a vagina, she also had internal testes — surgically removed as a child — instead of ovaries. Today, she presents as a woman and dates men, but identifies as nonbinary. The otherwise sober-minded film relies heavily on music cues that are sometimes a little too on the nose, as when a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” plays under scenes of Weigel preparing to testify in front of legislators who see gender only as black and white.
Wall (he/him) was born with undescended testes and an unusually small penis, ambiguous enough that he was eventually “assigned” the female sex — and the name Suzanne — and raised as a girl after a gonadectomy. He says he always felt like a boy.
Gallo (they/them) was born with a penis but no testes; surgery was performed to place prosthetic testes in his empty scrotum. Today, Gallo is a nonbinary and queer artist/activist known for the short film “Ponyboi.”
That’s a lot to learn about anybody in a few minutes, but as Cohen and her cast make clear — in this lucid and at times powerful argument for postponing medically unnecessary surgery until an intersex person can, as the film puts it, “tell us who they are” — it’s just details. None of it defines any of these brave people. It’s just part of the larger totality of who they are.
But there is another character who looms large in this film: John Money, the late Johns Hopkins sexologist who was once considered the authority on gender, and who promulgated the dubious notion that social conditioning was the determining factor in gender conformance. In other words, if you raise a child to be a girl — despite genetics or physical traits — that child will grow up to be a woman.
Evidence to the contrary is presented via the case of David Reimer, who, after a botched circumcision as a baby boy, had his severely burned sex organs removed, was renamed Brenda and was raised by his parents as a girl — until threatening suicide as a teenager if he was not allowed to be who he felt he truly was inside. Sadly, after genital reconstruction surgery and marriage, Reimer killed himself, at age 38, in 2004.
According to the film, experts estimate that 1.7 percent of the population has some intersex traits, with 0.7 percent having enough of them to be referred for surgery. It’s disheartening to listen to a clip of conservative media personality Ben Shapiro opine, without evidence, on the existence of two — and only two — gender identities.
So-called bathroom bills are all the rage these days. As Weigel so eloquently puts it about politicians who are attempting, amid this hysteria, to dictate who can access which restrooms, “If they want to pass discriminatory legislation, they should at least open a biology textbook.”
R. At area theaters. Contains some strong language and graphic nude images. 92 minutes.