Every Body review | An enlightening documentary on intersexuality

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Julie Cohen’s documentary brings together three outspoken subjects to talk about their experience of being intersex – here’s our Every Body review.

When it comes to the complexities of gender identity and expression, there’s a lot of misinformation out there – misinformation that has made the lives of individuals just trying to be themselves unnecessarily difficult. When it comes to the topic of intersexuality, it’s even worse. Julie Cohen’s enlightening and free-spirited documentary Every Body quickly establishes that many intersex people (which make up an estimated 1.7% of the US population) are encouraged to stay completely silent about their existence. 

Bringing in PhD student Sean Saifa Wall (he/him), political consultant Alicia Roth Weigel (she/they) and actor/screenwriter River Gallo (they/them), Cohen creates a comfortable and easygoing atmosphere for these three outspoken individuals to share their experiences of being intersex.

What follows is a very personal, bold and well-researched film that lifts the lid on the cruel and unscientific medical treatment of intersex people, who are socially and surgically forced to fit into the neatness of a binary that – as proven by their very existence – isn’t actually real. 

The three subjects each have horrifying tales of having their identities hidden from them throughout their childhoods, having mutilating surgery performed on them as babies, and being forced to conform to a gender that they ultimately don’t identify with.

It’s harrowing to think of what they’ve gone through before even reaching adulthood, and yet the people presented to us in Every Body have overcome their traumas, embraced their intersex identities, and are unashamedly themselves. River, Alicia and Saifa are also advocates for greater awareness of intersexuality, and the film builds into an uplifting tale about overcoming barriers, positive change and encouraging policy reform. 

The parts of Every Body that feature these three are the most affecting, but there are also forays into the history of the treatment of intersexuality and forcing people to conform to one gender or another. Cohen sits the subjects down to watch a documentary about infamous psychologist and sexologist John Money and the case of one of his patients, David Reimer. In an attempt to prove that gender identity is malleable, Money took Reimer, who had his penis removed in a botched circumcision, and encouraged his parents to raise him as a girl named Brenda.

Again, the documentary faces us with a horrifying story of someone being tricked into and forced to be someone they’re not. While it reinforces that gender isn’t a choice and also isn’t related to physical attributes, it does feel like a slightly unrelated tangent, especially as Reimer wasn’t intersex.

Every Body veers off on similar tangents occasionally and as a result has some structural issues. It’s at its best when Saifa, River and Alicia are telling their stories and we get to connect with them. Nonetheless, it’s an important documentary that highlights a group of people that are consistently overlooked in society – mostly because those in the medical field encourage them to hide their own existence. That alone makes this film an essential watch. 

Every Body is released in UK cinemas on 15th December.

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