- The recent documentary, "Every Body," delves into the intersex community.
- About two percent of the population is intersex.
- Their struggles and challenges are generally unknown to the general public.
It is a rare film that can be used in the therapy process, as well as clinical training programs, but the recent film Every Body can be used for both.
Every Body highlights the stories of three intersex adults traumatized by the fields of psychology and medicine. InterACT, an advocacy organization supporting intersex individuals, defines intersex as,
[A]n umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. Intersex people are born with these differences or develop them in childhood. There are many possible differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes, compared to the usual two ways that human bodies develop.
An estimated 1.7 percent of people are born intersex. As a comparison, the likelihood of having identical twins is about 1 in 250 (about 0.5 percent). There are thus a lot of intersex individuals amongst us, but the general public is too often unaware of their existence.
Based on the prevailing theories at the time, parents of intersex children were advised to choose one gender for their children, authorize surgeries to change intersex traits (e.g., creating a vagina (vaginoplasty) and removing organs that make sex hormones), and raise the child as the selected gender. Secrecy was strongly urged, including hiding intersex birth status from the children themselves, and certainly from the outside world.
This protocol led to extreme psychological damage for untold thousands of intersex individuals, as well as guilt for the parents urged to make the unfathomably challenging decision of choosing one gender over another for an intersex child, which typically included significant surgical procedures (often occurring before the age of 2).
How can Every Body be used in therapy and clinical training programs? This post series has often stated education is the most recognized reason for introducing film into treatment: Clients as well as students in clinical training programs can learn about a particular condition or challenge by watching realistic cinematic depictions.
Let's start with clinical training programs. The American Psychological Association, the National Board of Certified Counselors, and the National Association of Social Workers mandate their members practice cross-cultural competency, and learning to work with diverse demographics is supposed to begin in training programs.
Demographic markers to be considered include race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, class, nationality, neurodiversity, erotic diversity, and relational diversity (e.g., monogamy and polyamory). The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) audits graduate programs for their success in teaching multicultural counseling competencies. As an educational tool, Every Body increases clinician awareness of a largely unrecognized demographic group.
Every Body can additionally be used in clinical practice. For example:
- For intersex individuals seeking guidance with identity development.
- Addressing the challenges associated with “coming out” as an intersex individual (as would occur in a romantic relationship).
- For parents struggling with how best to raise an intersex child.
Note that Every Body is a film vehemently opposed to intersex surgery during childhood and advocates instead for allowing a person to self-determine a gender identity as they mature, which may or may not include surgery. Some will disagree with this conclusion.
As I've stated many times, the goal of cinema therapy is not to offer a resolution or solution to a presenting issue, but rather to facilitate self-exploration, either on one’s own or accompanied by a professional in the therapy process.
Every Body is a film that asks viewers to contemplate and reflect upon intersex identity, which is of no minor importance since we will undoubtedly be interacting with intersex people as colleagues, neighbors, friends, family, and romantic partners.
InterAct. (2021, January 26). What is the definition of intersex? https://interactadvocates.org/faq/#definition