No Box for Me. An Intersex Story
(France/Switzerland, 58 min.)
Dir. Floriane Devigne
“Dearest Deborah, my shell is cracking before my eyes…You exist. We exist. He, she, and shes exist and it absolutely isn’t a big deal…” This correspondence marks the breakthrough moment for intersex person M at the conclusion of No Box For Me. An Intersex Story.
Part of the 16th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the beautifully composed and engaging film directed by Floriane Devigne brings together M and Deborah, two intersex people, as they seek to understand their bodies and explore their identities. Their journey reveals both the confines of binary visions of sex and gender and the inevitable physical and psychological repercussions of non-consensual surgeries on intersex children.
The film is constructed around online correspondence between Deborah and M, taking us back and forth from M’s world to Deborah’s as they recite their emails and reflect back on them. M starts the conversation; she writes to Deborah who is doing research for her dissertation. We learn that she had her first operation when she was seven and only found out she was intersex when she was 22.
M, when the film begins, is one of the silent majorities of intersex people unable to transcend shame and distress. She expresses that she sees no future. She is marked by a feeling of absence, rather than presence, both in her life and in the film’s aesthetic. Devigne mimics M’s mental state through concealing M’s identity. All parts of her body are masked so that audiences can see her contours and facial features, but there is no texture. We later learn that M showers with her eyes closed and doesn’t like being touched because she does not want to feel her body, which is made more powerful as we do not see her or know her body.
On the other hand, Deborah has reached a different point in her journey. She was told she was intersex when she was eight and went on to have a number of surgeries. At 17, she was told she had XY chromosomes. That was the moment she wondered “Shit, if someone had asked me earlier, if I wanted to be a man or a woman…what would have happened if it was a choice?” This moment of devastation inspired Deborah to study intersexuality and she has now reached a point of acceptance. She tells M of a doctor who is keen to change the way intersexuality is seen and teaches a yearly course on the subject. We are transported to one of his classes. He speaks of the importance in letting children fully develop so that they can make informed choices. He says, “There is no urgent need to operate on the kid,” and it makes no sense to operate on children to relieve their parents’ worries. It’s about ethics.
Other than this short scene with the doctor, the film has no experts. Instead, it listens to intersex people and learns from their experiences. As they exchange letters, we are invited to experience their everyday world and encounters. We listen to them tell their stories, but we see no talking heads. Devigne presents us with an engaging and informative film that shows as quite intelligently the first-hand experiences of two individuals. Her use of animation and, in some scenes, poetic and performative footage makes the film all more intriguing and accessible
By the end of the film, after quite a few correspondences to and from, M has reached a new point in her journey. Through her interactions with Deborah, and their eventual face-to-face encounter, M is closer to acceptance and no longer feels alone. As she expresses to Deborah her newfound vigour for life, we finally see her face. M is no longer “not there,” neither in life nor visually.
No Box for Me. An Intersex Story screens April 5 at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at TIFF Lightbox.