“Every Body” is a beautiful and cathartic celebration of intersex and should be required viewing for people of all genders.
Directed by Julie Cohen (co-director of the Oscar-nominated film “RBG”), the documentary opens with a montage of increasingly ridiculous gender revelations (remember the series of them dying a few years ago? cars, firing rockets and launching bow arrows may not be Always go as planned). Gender reveals the crux of the film, which showcases the irrelevance and – frankly – the stupidity of trying to define people by their bodies.
“Every Body” follows three intersex adults: actor and screenwriter River Gallo (them/them), political consultant Alicia Roth Weigel (them/them), and Ph.D. student Sean Saifa Wall (he/he) – who are leading figures in the advocacy of intersex awareness. Being intersex is defined as “any variation within a person’s sexual traits that they are born with or develop naturally during puberty,” according to documentary specialist Katharine Dalke, MD who works at the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Group of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In an age where bodily autonomy is under threat and intersex people are facing cultural erasure from conservatives, “Every Body” is a monumental statement that traces the history of intersex awareness in America. Dalke describes intersex as “that in-between space that exists between male and female,” saying, “It is possible to be a ‘biological female’ and have testicles. It is possible to be a “biological male” and have a uterus.”
But it is much more complicated to live in the gray space of a society that largely recognizes only two genders. “Every Body” star Alicia admits it’s harder to date after coming out as intersex, joking that potential partners will “find out for themselves” eventually anyway. Similarly, Sean opens up by saying that he was told that he had a “big clit or little phallus” that grew; he later underwent surgery.
Sean, Alicia and River’s respective growths and relationships with their parents are also shown in the documentary, with a backdrop of the “freak show” carnival legacy and a pressure to “get fixed” lurking beneath the trio’s modern determination to dismantle assumptions about chromosome differences.
The film also focuses on sexual researcher John Money, who famously urged David Reimer’s parents to have child gender reassessment surgery. David’s penis was horribly cut off during a botched circumcision; at the time, Money recommended that David’s testicles also be removed and that David be raised as “Brenda” alongside her identical twin brother Brian. Money continued to groom David, who later claimed Money sexually abused him. David discovered gender surgery at the age of 14 and lived the rest of his life as David before committing suicide in 2004 at the age of 38.
In “Every Body,” director River watches clips of David’s mother speaking on “Dateline” and Money lecturing on the so-called merits of the operation. “Every Body” director Cohen is a former producer of “Dateline” and was inspired to pursue “Every Body” after seeing Reimer’s episode in the archives.
“Every Body” finds its strength in staying in the present, however, with Alicia, Sean and River forging their own paths as activists and witnesses from across the United States. Ponyboi”, based on the short film of the same name selected by Tribeca.
The film will follow an intersex prostitute on the run as she tries to flee her hometown in New Jersey. Dylan O’Brien, Victoria Pedretti and Indya Moore star in “Ponyboi,” inspired by River’s past. “Every Body” marks an important stepping stone not only for River’s story and personal evolution, but a vital document for any audience wishing to explore what it means to truly honor one’s authentic self.
Focus Features will release “Every Body” in theaters on Friday, June 30.