The most frequent question posed to new parents is: “Is it a boy or a girl?” But this question can’t be answered in an estimated one out of every 2,000 births. This thought-provoking documentary is the first film to provide an intimate look at the long-term emotional, psychological, and physiological effects of being born “intersex,” or with ambiguous genitalia.
The film focuses on the stories of Kristi and Howard, two individuals born “not wholly male and not wholly female.” Together they have undergone more than two dozen surgeries to “correct” their gender assignments. In candid and riveting interviews, they speak eloquently about a wide array emotional issues, including shame, secrecy, gender identity, depression, intimacy, and the feelings of disempowerment that come from having no role in the decisions made regarding their gender identity.
Kristi, 23, recounts the emotional devastation she experienced when she discovered she was in fact “XY” after a childhood of being forced to take hormones to grow breasts and develop typical female body characteristics, and after numerous surgeries to create a vaginal cavity. In their commentary, Kristi’s parents discuss their good intentions but also their inability to cope with the challenges presented by her situation.
Howard, now a Ph.D. in Sexual Psychology, recalls his many surgeries and his profound, near-suicidal feelings of depression while growing up. Dr. Jorge Deboul, a noted pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, provides professional medical perspective on the issues addressed in the film.
“XXXY” will provoke important classroom discussion of a wide range of vital topics. Is it ethical to operate on the genitals of intersex children before they are old enough to participate in the decisions regarding their gender? Does nature or nurture play a greater role in gender identity? How does society enforce a bipolar gender system? Is gender in fact bipolar or a spectrum of masculinity and femininity? What type of emotional support is available for intersex individuals and their families?
This film is a must in a variety of courses in gender studies, sexual education, psychology, sociology, and medical education. It was produced by Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh.