Sexed Bodies: Intersex and Film

Begonya Enguix has presented has presented in ECREA Sexed Bodies: Intersex and Film: Film approaches to intersexuality have been rare. Transsexuality and transvestites have often been represented in media from a stereotypical and prejudiced perspective, but intersexuality has remained out of the boundaries of our social and representational imaginary. That is the reason why the recent premiere in Spain of the awarded Argentinian film XXY, directed by Lucía Puenzo, is quite exceptional.

In this paper, we propose to deal with intersexuality from a gender perspective parting from the content analysis –discourse and image analysis- of this production, its context, the context of reception, with special attention to how the discourse and performance of the different characters’ can be read in gender and sex differentiation keys. In order to do so, we will consider the Post-structuralist and constructionist approaches to body and sex (Foucault, Laqueur), some referential texts on representation (Hall), literature on the body (Scheper-Hughes, Shilling, Fraser, Turner), queer theory (Butler, Sedgwick) and the literature on the construction, medicalization and representation of intersexual conditions (Money, Diamond, Dreger, Kessler, Butler, Fausto-Sterling).

One out of every 100 children are born with bodies which differ from what is considered a “standard” male or female body (Fausto-Sterling) and according to Diamond, one out of 2000 are born with clearly ambiguous genitals. In the USA, every year between 100 and 200 children suffer surgery to carry out sexual reassignation every year. And one out of 1666 newborns have a karyotype that does not correspond to the XX (female) or XY (male) scheme. Therefore, sex adscription is sometimes a process that requires active and precise decisions –generally medical- and intervention. As cultural dimorphism is based on the existence of two exclusive sexes, intersex is a medical category without a social correspondence in our culture so it is hidden from the public. There lies the importance of this production.

Intersex brings us to central concepts such as the dichotomy nature/culture, truth/ambiguity, essentialism/constructionism, sexual dimorphism, symbolic association between sex-gender and sexuality, etc, embodied in a particular shape that medical protocols often consider inappropriate because of its liminality and therefore in need of intervention.

Its liminality constitutes the intersexed body in a privileged field for the analysis of the construction, performance and representation of genders from an individual and social point of view. Exploring the presence of intersexuality in films is interesting, as it challenges the deep mechanisms of assignation of different characteristics, roles and representation codes to different genders. Representing intersexuality also implies the choice between a conventional look or a meaningful and unprejudiced look. In this sense, the options of representation in this film and in the main character, Alex, and his/her context, are clear examples of the director’s view on the subject.

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  1. I think the problem is that as an intersex person, I am seeing a lot of trans people within the trans community who are co-opting, silencing and erasing the experiences of the intersex community.

  2. Begonya

    I think that the point Nick makes is a very interesting one. That appropriation is probably related to differences in social visibilization of both communities and to self-definitions and their boundaries. It would be interesting to learn more about the strategies used to silence, erase and co-opt…

  3. That’s what I am seeing happening to the intersex community and the intersex people such as myself. I am seeing how the intersex community is being silenced, erased and co-opted by the transgender community and by transsexuals. I am seeing on a daily basis and on line how my intersex experience and every other intersex person’s experience is being erased at the hands of the transsexuals and the transgender community. I am seeing how the transsexuals are come out and claiming their experience is the same as an intersex persons and that is one way they are erasing the intersex people’s experience and upbringing.