SXSW 2023: The Lives and Loves of Intersex People In “Who I Am Not”

This review of Who I Am Not contains mild spoilers.

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“Who can tell me — what is a girl?”

A teacher at the top of the documentary Who I Am Not asks this to a room full of school-age children, who look to be between 10-13 years old. The children describe to the teacher that a girl has breasts and long hair, others say girls are people who wear wigs and make-up, and generally just “like to be pretty”.

Shortly after this, we hear a story from Sharon-Rose Khumalo, a South African beauty queen who is intersex. She talks about how when younger, she remembers girls sharing stories of getting their periods, and how she lied about getting hers because it was easier than telling the truth about why she wasn’t.

We’re also introduced to activist Dimakatso Sebidi, another intersex person, as they talk to a room of what are presumably med students. Putting themselves on display for the students to ask questions. Perhaps in the hopes that the next generation of doctors is far more equipped with knowledge of intersex people than the ones before them.

During their conversation, Dimakatso reveals that they had several surgeries during the first few years of their life because their parents wanted their child to be “Normal” and so the doctors were going to make that happen.

This idea of seeking normalcy in life can be dangerous. As a queer person, I spent a big chunk of my life in secret trying to be normal. For the sake of a relationship with my parents, to make sure I had friends, I hid parts of who I was because I wanted to be normal. I was seeking it on my own though, and though my parents were part of my reasoning, they didn’t make an active choice for me. Many intersex people — including Dimakatso — are dealing with their parent’s decision to put them through surgery at a young age. Making decisions for them and their body that very well may affect them forever. Parents are choosing for their children versus waiting on them to grow and telling them what they want.

We see Dimakatso having conversations with their father about the decisions made and they are tough to watch. They confront their parent on the decisions they have made for them, lay out how they feel about their life, about who they are, and about the things they have gone through as a result of them wanting a “normal” child. The most difficult part? Watching as their parent misgendered them, using the statement that many say — “you will always be( X) to me”.

Dimakatso and Sharon-Rose meet and develop a friendship, and we get to see all the joy they have in their lives. In documentaries with topics that are so heavy, I get nervous that they won’t make space to see all the good that could be present in their subjects’ lives. They are often so willing to share their painful stories with us, but I want them to feel like they have the opportunity in that same breath to show happiness.

We get to see it with both of them in this documentary. Sharon-Rose gets dolled up with her friends where she dances the night away, and Dimakatso celebrates their birthday with their partner and friends and doesn’t stop smiling throughout the night. It was beautiful to see them bond together and not just over the painful moments they have experienced.

Who I Am Not puts a much-needed spotlight on the intersex community. It is a deeply personal look into the lives of two intersex people who, just like the rest of us, are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in this world.

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Shelli Nicole

Shelli Nicole is a Detroit-raised, Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bustle, HelloGiggles & Marie Claire. She is terrified of mermaids and teenagers equally.

Shelli has written 18 articles for us.


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