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Orchids: My Intersex Adventure

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Phoebe Hart
Directed by Phoebe Hart
DVD, color, 60 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Gender Studies, Transgender Studies, Child Development, Gay and Lesbian Studies

Reviewed by Sarah B. Cornell, Daniel Webster College

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 11/10/2011

Phoebe Hart tells an intensely personal story of living with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) using a combination of family photos and home videos, cut-paper animation, and hand-held footage. She candidly reflects on her psychological states from childhood to adulthood, but doesn’t stop there; she weaves in how having AIS affects relationships with parents, siblings, extended family, friends, and sexual partners. Most importantly, Phoebe reflects on what it means to connect with others who have intersex conditions, some of whom call themselves “Orchids.”

AIS has deeply affected Phoebe’s family—her mother is a carrier of the genetic disorder which presented in both Phoebe and her sister Bonnie but not their sister Sophie. Their parents didn’t explain what was going on with their bodies until Phoebe was 18 and Bonnie was 11, and both sisters describe rebellious and depressive phases following the revelation. Phoebe also reports that she was told to keep the information to herself, suggesting that shame and isolation were the only way to handle her identity.

Phoebe is tired of not talking about her gender, and is clearly pushing the envelope in terms of her parents’ desire for privacy. In order to “get on with her life,” Phoebe sets out on a cross-country road trip with Bonnie to visit Sophie, their parents, and several friends she met through AIS Support Group Australia. These visits effectively present a variety of age groups living with AIS or related syndromes, as well as a variety of perspectives on “treatment” and coming out.

The film balances personal stories with a brief introduction to the biology of intersex syndromes and provides scientific as well as demographic context, noting that “there could be as many as one intersex baby in every hundred.” Statistics like these make the case for adding Orchids to any library collection, but it is a particularly welcome addition to gender studies collections because intersex conditions like AIS put mainstream gender stereotypes under the microscope in a way that nothing else does.

Highly Recommended


  • Australia Teachers of Media Award (ATOM)