Life

Three leading intersex activists released memoirs in 2023

Three leading intersex activists released memoirs in 2023
Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been a big year for intersex visibility, thanks in part to the director Julie Cohen’s documentary Every Body, which spotlighted three intersex activists. LGBTQ Nation sibling site Into called the film “an intimate portrait of the vibrant, marginalized intersex individuals who have often been ignored in heteropatriarchal and queer society.”

But Cohen’s film, which is now streaming on Peacock where an even wider audience can see it, certainly wasn’t the only portrait of intersex lives to arrive in 2023. The past few months alone have seen the publication of several books by major figures in the fight for intersex rights and visibility.

InterACT, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the right to bodily autonomy for people born with intersex traits, recently recommended three new memoirs from activists Alicia Roth Weigel, Pidgeon Pagonis, and Esther Morris Leidolf.

As interACT staffer Marissa Adams writes, “Not only do they expose the truths of what intersex people often experience, but each of these books gives readers a look into the unique lives of each author and their role in intersex advocacy.”

The cover of "Inverse Cowgirl"
HarperCollins The cover of “Inverse Cowgirl”

Inverse Cowgirl

As Abby Jo Morris wrote for LGBTQ Nation last month, writer, activist, and Human Rights Commissioner for the City of Austin, Texas, Weigel’s Inverse Cowgirl “tells her story of being born with both male and female biological characteristics. Like many intersex people, her story is one of shame, revelation, and eventual acceptance.” Weigel structures the essays in her book around her own tattoos, writing about her struggles with bipolar disorder and unlearning the dissociation she felt from he own body.

As she told LGBTQ Nation, “I hope what my book can show is that we all have a lot more agency than we think or than the government wants to lead us to believe.”

The cover of "Nobody Needs to Know"
Amazon Publishing The cover of “Nobody Needs to Know”

Nobody Needs to Know

Pidgeon Pagonis has helped lead campaigns against surgical intervention on babies born with intersex traits around the country, including at New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Last year, LGBTQ Nation included them among several high-profile intersex figures whose voices and stories are essential to understanding the intersex experience. Their recent memoir, Nobody Needs to Know, recounts that story of being raised as a girl and growing up being told their body wouldn’t develop like other girls’ because they had survived cancer.

“I always knew there was something different about me, but I never had the language for what was different cause no one wanted to give me the truth,” they told NPR in August.

The book’s very title is a defiant reference to the advice doctors gave Pagonis. “It’s tongue-in-cheek cause I’m telling everybody. I hope that my story can live in the book and can be shared…because I want to be a light at the end of the tunnel for other intersex people.”

The cover of "Not Uncommon, Just Unheard Of"
The cover of “Not Uncommon, Just Unheard Of”

Not Uncommon, Just Unheard Of

In her self-published 2023 memoir, retired carpenter, medical sociologist, and intersex activist Esther Leidolf writes about the on-the-job injury that led her to dig into “a mysterious medical situation from her past” and discover that she is part of the intersex community. As she explained in a recent video ahead of Intersex Awareness Day, Leidolf wrote the book in reaction to the effort by “fearful people” to “demonize and erase” intersex folks “by restricting our civil rights and changing our sex anatomy, often without consent.”

“Not only do we spend the rest of our lives recovering from these interventions, but restricting autonomy on certain populations is just a sneaky way to restrict autonomy for everyone,” she said. “Once I learned how expansive sex and gender are, shame didn’t haunt me anymore because who we are is who we were meant to be, and after all, who we are is not uncommon, just unheard of.”

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