The Plot: Gender is assigned at birth, but not everybody fits neatly into a tick box. Some are born intersex, which means that they outwardly appear one gender but also have biological aspects of the other gender.
Doctors work with parents to decide which gender to fit intersex babies into, performing operations as required. This documentary follows three intersex people who question this practice and what it means for individual decision making in the 21st Century…
The Verdict: Topical documentary Every Body opens with a montage of baby gender reveal parties, some of which are quite bemusing when viewed from this side of the pond (OMG, it’s a boy! OMG, it’s a girl!). The presence of guns adds further to this (well, it is America). Gender appears to be a binary thing then – you’re one or the other then. Or is that really the truth? Not so. Gender is not necessarily binary and as time has shown, there’s a greater need for a discussion on this in society. What if you’re intersex in a society where many people don’t know what this means? Those who do know are trying to raise awareness among politicians and lawmakers, to improve their lives amidst an America that is becoming increasingly conservative. Just witness the discussion on the Texas ‘Bathroom Bill’ featured in the film.
Julie Cohen’s film states early on that 1.7% of the American population is intersex, which is significant when considering the size and population of the country. She follows three activists who are open about their intersex status – Sean Saifa Wall, River Gallo and Alicia Roth Weigel. They each have their own particular story to tell. Some of them had what might be described as ‘corrective surgery’ in their youth, while others didn’t go through that process and remain who they are. This is framed against the tragic story of David Reimer, who wanted to be a boy but a different decision was made for him early in his life. A good chunk of the film consists of the trio sitting down with Cohen and watching Reimer’s story unfold through archival news footage. It’s an unusual approach to take for a documentary, but visually it lacks energy and the juxtaposition of real-life stories doesn’t entirely sit well. It mainly serves to highlight a 1950s approach to gender and sexual identity even into the millennium – not that long ago. Reimer’s poignant story deserves a documentary of its own.
Where Cohen does score well though is floating the concept of consent-based care, where any life-altering decisions are ultimately left to intersex individuals to decide at the right point in their lives which gender they want to be. Such decisions should not be left to doctors and parents alone, even with their respective experience and best intent. Cohen builds upon this grassroots movement to follow the trio at rallys on this very topic, briefly expanding out from the US to include other countries and cities including Dublin. She makes her point in a straightforward manner that is accessible to those who might not be aware of this movement, but doesn’t quite dig as deep or as provocative as one would wish for. Is she holding back or waiting for more progress and political willpower? For what it’s worth then, Every Body is a gender revealing documentary that knows what it wants to say but is admittedly niche viewing. However, it does make a number of interesting points worthy of attention and further discussion for everybody – and every body.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
WATCH THE TRAILER
Every Body (USA / TBC / 92 mins)
In short: Gender revealing
Directed by Julie Cohen.
Starring Sean Saifa Wall, River Gallo, Alicia Roth Weigel.