I do so like a documentary that tells me about a subject I don’t know much about. Every Body is about three people who were born intersex and are open about it. Documentaries have been having a particularly rough time in multiplexes since the pandemic, and the educational value of this film alone makes it worth a trip as it plays on a few screens in North Texas.
Our subjects are Sean Saifa Wall (43, he/him), an artist from New York who lives in Manchester England; River Gallo (31, they/them), an actor and writer in Hollywood; and Alicia Roth Weigel (31, she/her or they/them), a political consultant in Austin — you may remember her helping defeat a bathroom bill in the Texas Lege that would have forced her to use the men’s restroom. When the three of them are interviewed as a group, they marvel at being in the presence of so many intersex people at the same time.
The director here is Julie Cohen, the experienced documentarian who has turned out slickly produced films about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), Julia Child (Julia), and Gabby Giffords (Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down). This seems like the best one of her films yet. Despite the visual gloss she brings to this project as well as her others, she relies on her subjects to speak for themselves, and the ones here do not let her down. All of them discuss the painful and highly invasive medical treatments that they were subjected to against their will as children. No doubt their doctors thought they were helping, but their descriptions of hormone treatments and dildos meant to lengthen the vagina for penetrative sex are little short of barbaric. Wall looks over his medical files from his childhood and reads about the gonadectomy he was given at age 12. “That’s fucked up,” is his reaction. I agree.
They dissect the career of Dr. John Money, the much-celebrated sex researcher who pioneered gender reassignment surgery for children in the latter 20th century. He believed that gender was entirely malleable, so when a non-intersex 2-year-old boy named David Reimer was brought to him after an accident that damaged his penis, Money and a team of doctors gave him female hormones and instructed his parents to raise him as a girl named Brenda. The success story of this well-adjusted girl was widely trumpeted in scientific circles, and it was exploded when the adult David reverted to his male identity and eventually committed suicide. (Much of this is told via an interview David gave to Dateline NBC. Unusually, NBC is a producer of this film.) Giving us some crucial clinical science and medical history behind this is Dr. Katharine B. Dalke, a gender researcher who has a unique perspective on this, having been born with intersex traits herself.
The film says that 1.7 percent of people are born with some intersex traits, and if that figure’s even close to correct, it means this is way more common than we’ve been accustomed to think. All our subjects testify to the shame that they felt over their bodies and how they and their parents were told to hide their condition from the world. Weigel notes the differences between her predicament and those of trans people and notes the doublethink of conservatives who say that kids like her need to be fixed while the trans kids shouldn’t be allowed to fix themselves. (She also looks for a date on Tinder and thinks one guy is cute until she sees him posing next to a “Trump 2020” sign. Yeah, I wouldn’t either.) What science there has been on intersex people has mostly hurt them, so Every Body is all the more valuable for providing powerful anecdotal evidence of Gallo, Wall, and Weigel’s struggles and the meaning they’ve found despite it all.
Starring River Gallo, Sean Saifa Wall, and Alicia Roth Weigel. Directed by Julie Cohen. Rated R.