In XXY, a film from Argentina, Alex, the film’s protagonist, is a 14 year old intersex child who comes face to face with society’s prejudice.1 The close knit community of this small fishing village is populated by people this child would have viewed as neighbours. However because of the child’s intersexuality which in this case shows a female bodied child gradually turning male which is suggested abundantly throughout the film. The child’s secret is leaked somehow by an acquaintance and everyone is either curious, offended or out rightly oppressive towards Alex. Fearing their society’s reaction towards their child, the Alex’s parents invite a surgeon to see if the tide could be stopped. Under pressure even Alex seemed willing to give in but as long as the outcome is male rather than female gender identity, an already suggested gay sexuality in the mix (i.e. not lesbian as some might assume.) Although to my mind the film reflects society’s gender paranoia, I think it best that you judge it yourselves… How can a human child of fourteen be treated in the way depicted in the film does simply because of the child’s intersexed status?
Somehow I was reminded watching this film of an acquaintance who’s transphobia and or homophobia got the best of her on a day out to Brighton. I called her to question her transphobia and or homophobic behaviour. The following is a close paraphrase of the telephone conversation that took place between us:
“You were a tad transphobic and homophobic, today. I thought you would know better bearing how your brother’s homophobia affects you?” I said.
“How dare you call me homophobic? You do know that I’m a lesbian, don’t you? I have you know Brighton in the gay capital of the UK!” she said.
“No more or less than you knew that I am a translesbian! For starters, you are just as transphobic with an unhealthy mix of internalised homophobia mixed in from where I stood, just as virulent as your brother’s attitude towards you. Don’t make me laugh, yeah, you are lesbian but you are also human, aren’t you? Transphobia and homophobia can happen anywhere and Brighton is no different, gay capital or not,” I said.
We stopped thinking, talking, growing and meeting up for a while. But it is not in my nature to bear a grudge. We are still on talking terms the last time I checked!! Perhaps transgender people whatever our configurations are here to help us grow? Alex is just an example of that or at least an attempt to by force of presence of the subject matter explored in XXY. I ought to know, for me the process is a daily initiative wherever I am.
Getting back to the film theme, we are invited to take stock, to ask ourselves questions before passing judgement on someone else especially when we do not understand their gender identity or otherwise. In the small fishing community that acts as a microcosm of the human race majority of people are in on it and this makes “safety in numbers” sound precariously like the mob mentality, doesn’t it? And aptly so!!
When a fisherman’s son who’s actions led Alex’s father to go on the defensive by vent of parental justice one is left in no doubt what was going on when he said the following: “Stay away from my family” was made as was deduced through the subtitles that indicated what all the frenzy was about, at least. What happened was purely inferred but whatever it was, it could not be as bad as rape. The role of the press was alluded to and I still wondered what the visiting family really wanted: Did they want to adopt Alex? Or were they just as curious as everyone else? What is one to make of a father’s dilemma when he caught his intersexed child performing anal sex with the guest’s son? The story goes on…
What I want to highlight with this article is that intersexuality is just one of the many gender variations under the transgender umbrella. According to Tracy O’keefe in Sex, Gender and Sexuality, claimed that “it means that they (intersex people) are between the extreme male and female spectrum. It does not necessarily mean that they are hermaphrodites or pseudo-hermaphrodites, because many of the categories of people…could choose to identify as being an intersex group” as Alex in XXY happens to be (or other transgender people for that matter not to mention the many that are unaware or those that are aware and choose to remain closeted behind illusions of normality.)2
The point here is that recently after seeing the film XXY myself, I cannot say I was perturbed by society’s reaction to intersexuality as depicted therein. However, when a male shop assistant said, “you could see how Alex struggled with his being neither female nor male! You could see how it was driving him mad!!” In my mind, I corrected the gender pronoun over indulgences… S/he! Zir!! (i.e. gender neutral pronouns, if you like) I have to say that I saw no such end as a result of Alex’s intersexuality at least nothing remotely like madness as ascribed by the counter critic (the said shop assistant that worked in a DVD rental shop —somehow assuming an expert’s role in film but could one then suggest he knew anything about theoretical gender identity not to mention the daily lives of gender variant?) Rather, if there was any insanity to point out from where I stood, it was purely that born of society’s gender paranoia echoed in the shop assistant’s fear driven criticism of Alex’s status.
For me this situation brought two questions to mind: Was Alex’s trauma in the film XXY the focus? Or was it about society’s megalomaniac paranoia faced with Alex’s intersexuality or gender identity issues generally? What’s the interest for the African LGBT here? We are all of us human beings of African extraction or otherwise, aren’t we? What happens to one of us as human beings happens to us all by vent of being a common specie. In nature, remember, gender is fluid and not simply the rigid duality that we hold onto. Mia Nikasimo © December 2008