Much of society embraces the idea of binary definitions of what a person is. A recent push in liberal communities to recognize new gender identities, sexual orientations, and a variety of other descriptors has been met with intense pushback from traditionalists who feel that the recognition of something that hasn’t been historically acknowledged is somehow dangerous or bad. Every Body spotlights and celebrates a particular group that is rarely mentioned and very poorly understood: the intersex community.
Three people are at the center of this extremely informative and insightful documentary: Alicia, Saifa, and River. Each has their own experience of being born intersex and slowly coming to realize what that meant. In certain cases, parents were pushed to make life-altering, irreversible decisions about genitalia that would allegedly make them more normal, and only in adulthood did they come to see how little say they had over their own paths in life. Their aim, and this film’s, is to educate others and ensure that this little talked-about topic isn’t off-limits so that future generations like them won’t have to go through what they did.
It won’t be too surprising for those with even slightly open minds to learn that the way that intersex people have been historically treated by the medical community has been anything but respectful. That the same “corrective” surgeries that are recommended to make intersex people less different are also banned in certain places for transgender patients seeking to affirm how they perceive their bodies is unfortunately not shocking but quite upsetting. The two things are distinctly different, yet there’s an undercurrent of condescension that has isolated and continues to isolate members of both communities.
It’s refreshing to hear the perspectives of these three individuals who have reached a good place with who they are and how they exist in this world. They watch footage of once highly-regarded medical professionals who helped perpetuate misleading stereotypes about hermaphrodites with full male and female anatomy, when in truth intersex people typically have more nuanced and variable conditions. They react with sadness at interview footage featuring David Reimer, who shortly after his birth was raised as a female on the guidance of prominent sexologist John Money and was affected by that experience in a severely negative way.
There’s a wonderful buoyancy to way that this film is framed, opening with a montage of recorded gender reveals that illustrate the cultural obsession with announcing a birth with an extraordinary emphasis on the gender. This 92-minute documentary closes with an affirming sequence that features each member of the crew dancing on screen as their name is featured, a wondrous celebration of the individuality that this film honors. It’s great to see joy and a positive reflection of diversity in a film filled with such pain and trauma.
Every Body comes from director Julie Cohen, who has previously made documentaries like RBG, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, Julia, and My Name is Pauli Murray with her frequent collaborator Betsy West. This solo effort is a loving embrace of those who have been marginalized for much of history, a chance to share stories that might have previously been associated with shame to show those watching that they are valid and shouldn’t need to hide who they are. This is an important film that deserves to be seen by a wide audience with a willingness to learn and listen, and it’s highlighted by a spirit of inclusivity and positivity that elevates it from merely an educational experience to an equally enjoyable one.
Every Body is on the Features Short List at DOC NYC and is available to stream on Peacock.