In a program airing this weekend on ABC1, documentary filmmaker Phoebe Hart (pictured) comes clean about a journey of self-discovery around her until-now hidden intersex condition.
One of the bravest and most memorable moments in Orchids: My Intersex Adventure comes as the Brisbane-based filmmaker films her interaction with the woman behind the counter of a country town op-shop.
Smiling cheerfully, she asks Hart about the presence of the camera as she hands her purchases across the counter. She also greets Hart’s explanation – that she is making a film about her often arduous journey towards self-acceptance of her intersexuality – with a single question: “Please explain further?”
It’s a question Hart gets a lot. It’s also one that she welcomes.
37-year-old Hart was born with both female and male sex organs. In keeping with the prevalent social and medical norms of the time, Hart’s parents did not discuss her intersexuality. At the onset of puberty, she was told that she would not menstruate or have children, but her mother refused to further discuss the topic.
Onscreen, Hart is visibly hesitant as she explains to the woman it means to be intersex. “I have a condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which basically means that I am a woman with 46 XY (male) chromosomes,” she says.
There’s a moment of silence as the woman ponders the information. She eventually grins broadly and tells Hart that she thinks she is brave for telling her story. It’s an experience that Hart now describes as “one of my first real public moments of coming out to somebody. I was terrified, but she was lovely, and that was so amazing.”
Same Same spoke with the filmmaker and intersex rights activist about filming Orchids, coming out and of “the incredible joy and liberation” of moving beyond perceiving her body as “a site of pain, confusion and secrecy.”
Why did you decide to make this film?
Well, it was a long and difficult process. It was intense at times but I guess I decided to make it, in the end, because it was a subject that was really deep and meaningful for me. Once I realised I probably could make a film about it, it was initially the project that had me thinking that, yeah, one day I would do it. I got the idea that I could, and then I thought I’m not ready, so I shelved it for a while and went on making other films, developing my career, and then one day I found that I was eventually just in a place where I felt more comfortable with the project, I was a bit more out and I thought that perhaps I could tentatively begin feeling, start the process of recruiting a really small team of people to work with me on it.
Was there always the sense that you would discuss your own experiences of being intersex or did you consider chronicling the stories of others?
For a long time I did think I wouldn’t tell my own story. I think that was for a variety of reasons and I took baby steps in making the film because, at the very beginning, I was thinking that I’d love to make the film, but maybe I could convince somebody else to share their story with me. Eventually, though, I really did realise that I couldn’t expect somebody else to share that sort of journey with me unless I was willing to turn the camera on myself. Every time I’d ask somebody they’d tell me there was no way they were game to be on camera if I wasn’t willing to be on camera myself, so it was really a matter of reaching a place where I was able to go where I wanted other people to go. It gave me a bit of a wake-up call, that realisation that it was a little bit rich to expect people to go somewhere I wasn’t willing to go myself.