June 21, 2023 -NEW YORK (AP) — Like some 260,000 Americans, Sean Saifa Wall was born with significant intersex traits. The sex on the birth certificate was checked “ambiguous” and then crossed out.
Wall was instead labeled female on the document and, at the age of 13, after his mother was inaccurately warned of a cancerous threat, his testes were removed. Doctors told his parents to raise him as a girl, though Wall later developed masculine features and now identifies as a man.
“They literally stopped my development — I was starting to develop as male. And they stopped it right there and changed course. It was a hard left,” says Wall. “It was disappointing and almost devastating that what I wanted could never be achieved. I wanted to pass. I wanted to be read as cis.”
“I had to tap into something else because it was hard being misgendered all the time and people not seeing me the way I saw myself,” Wall adds. “That’s when I was like: I need to really fight back.”
Wall, co-founder of the Intersex Justice Project, is one of three intersex activists profiled in the new documentary “Every Body,” by “RBG” filmmaker Julie Cohen. The film, which Focus Features will release in 250 nationwide theaters on June 30, shines a warm spotlight on a much-misunderstood community, and three of its most dauntless champions.
An estimated 1.7% of the U.S. population — or about the same number of red-haired people — have some intersex traits, including genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes and/or hormone levels that don’t fit typical definitions for males or females. At a time when gender is an increasingly fraught battleground everywhere from state legislatures to youth sports leagues, those born intersex contradict any strictly binary notion of gender.
“At the core, people are afraid of uncertainty. The thing that trans people and intersex people represent is that gray space,” says actor and filmmaker River Gallo, another subject of the film. “It’s been six years since I came out. I’m still trying to grapple with what it means to exist in between.”
“Every Body,” which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, seeks to be a galvanizing moment in the intersex rights movement, a small but growing advocacy for a sizeable segment of LGBTQIA+ people (the “I” stands for intersex).
Fear of social stigma has often haunted intersex people. But the advocate trio of “Every Body,” gathered for a recent interview in New York, are unashamed, unshakable and forthright about themselves and their experiences — and what they believe needs to change about how intersex children are medically treated.
Alicia Roth Weigel, a political consultant and human rights commissioner for the city of Austin, Texas, was born with male (XY) chromosomes. As an infant, her gonads were removed, which she considers a castration. Years of hormone treatments followed.