LGBTQIA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual. Pidgeon Pagonis, a gender non-conforming intersex activist and filmmaker who uses they/them/theirs pronouns, focused on the QI Thursday. The Rainbow Alliance welcomed them to the Harris Hall forum to screen their documentary, “The Son I Never Had: Growing Up Intersex,” and to discuss intersex issues and answer questions from the audience.
The event began with Pagonis outlining the flaws in societal perceptions that view sex and gender as corresponding, binary and concrete.
“Gender is not something we’re born with; it’s not something we are, it’s something we do,” Pagonis said. “The reality is that sex and gender often overlap and subvert the binaries we’re used to.”
They went on to explain that about 1 in 2,000 people are born intersex, a condition in which one sex is not fully expressed, oftentimes due to a lack of expression of the SRY gene on the Y chromosome. This can result in, among other things, a female appearance expressed in a genetically male child, as is the case with Pagonis.
Pagonis spoke about the main challenge faced by intersex people around the world: nonconsensual genital corrective surgery, which they described as “genital mutilation:” surgeries given to intersex children at a very young age in which surgeons slice, remove and/or reshape parts of the genitalia in order to try to fit them into either the male or female sex. Pagonis’ 27-minute film discussed the challenges they faced growing up receiving these surgeries, yet not understanding what intersex was, or even knowing that they were intersex at all.
Pagonis said they learned that they were intersex during their freshman year at DePaul University, and for the past 10 years has become a vocal activist for LGBTQIA+ rights. Sophomore Katie Pach, secretary of Rainbow Alliance, explained the importance of bringing speakers like Pagonis to campus.
“It’s really exciting to have big names in the queer community come to Northwestern and talk to us,” Pach said. “[We learn] what we as young queer people can be doing in terms of activism, not just in our own self interest but in helping the entire queer community.”
Discussing the role of Rainbow Alliance here at Northwestern, Pach said, “we try to create a community for queer students on campus, create a space on campus to amplify queer voices, and try to call attention to and create change for queer issues on campus.”
Sophomore Rebecca Nelson said she tried to keep an open mind coming in, and ended up learning about issues which she says are underrepresented.
“It really got me excited about the activism, and there’s not much education about intersex people at all, so I want to try to get this documentary to my high school GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance),” Nelson said.
With Intersex Awareness Day coming up on Oct. 26, Pagonis concluded their presentation with tips on how to best support intersex rights and activism, encouraging those in attendance to support those who are gender non-conforming. They also displayed phrases including “keep calm and let the baby decide” and “let intersex kids be,” referring to waiting until intersex children are old enough to decide for themselves which surgeries they want to have.
“Remind people that intersex is not a monstrosity,” Pagonis said. “It is beautiful, it is amazing, it is resilient, and it is strong.”