‘A Normal Girl’ and Lessons Lost

I would’ve guessed Pidgeon Pagonis was a YouTuber if they hadn’t clarified they were new to recording themself in the first few minutes of “A Normal Girl.” “A Normal Girl” is a short documentary film that follows Chicagoan and intersex advocate Pidgeon Pagonis as they detail the harm they’ve experienced from genital mutilation surgery.

The film puts a spin on a typical young person’s hair or makeup YouTube channel. We are given a slice of Pagonis’ story as they explain how they learned they are intersex, and their mom shares why she permitted a mutilation surgery on her then-daughter when they were 11 years old. The nearly 13-minute film dips in and out of what could be assumed to be Pagonis’ bedroom, kitchen and on the streets of Chicago.

From a room with several Frida Kahlo images on the walls and colorful non-binary posters, we learn that Pagonis had always felt “different,” though they couldn’t place a name on the feeling until Lynnell Stephani Long, another intersex person, spoke with students at their college. Nearly all characteristics Long described matched what Pagonis had experienced, and after verifying their health records they found a chromosomal difference matched as well.

According to the activist, the surgery they experienced at Lurie Children’s Hospital left them feeling physically different, even though they were told they wouldn’t experience any nerve changes. Pagonis also shares “sex either hurts really bad, and sometimes you bleed, or it feels like absolutely nothing.”

Discovering they are intersex was the beginning of Pagonis’ and Long’s relationship—and the beginning of Pagonis’ re-defining of themself. We briefly follow Pagonis as they protest Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago with a group in Streeterville. The film also introduces viewers to a 10-year old intersex person whose mom details how she rejected genital mutilation surgery when a doctor suggested it for her child. This leaves viewers with an idea of how millennial parents have more resources available to them in order to make more informed health decisions, unlike parents just a few decades ago.

The facts that conclude the documentary leave us questioning when or if intersex education will be shared more widely, and if medical institutions will respond in a way that acknowledges sex and gender as non-binary. “A Normal Girl” is certainly an educational tool in and of itself, as intersex hasn’t been acknowledged or taught in many institutions. The YouTube-channel like filming seems to draw a link to young people who have not learned about intersex health at all. Pagonis was the lead and co-produced this film with Shawna Lipton. Directed by Aubree Bernier-Clark for The British Council and BFI FLARE’s #FiveFilms4Freedom global LGBTQIA short-film initiative, the documentary has the potential to educate the masses in a way other institutions haven’t at all.

All films in the #FiveFilms4Freedom initiative are publicly available until March 31, 2019.

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