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My Own Wings by Katia Repina and Carla Moral
“Arisleyda Dilone”, NYC, USA. 2016Courtesy of Katia Repina and Carla Moral

Read a series of moving, real-life experiences from intersex people

Katia Repina and Carla Moral’s documentary and photo series spotlights intersex lives in Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and America

According to the advocate group InterAct, it is estimated that as many as 1.7 per cent – 2 per cent of the global population is born with intersex traits. This is a considerable number, yet how much does the world actually know about being intersex? Understanding the lack of education around and representation of intersex people are photographers Katia Repina and Carla Moral, whose latest project My Own Wings, spotlights the complexity of intersex experience across six countries. “The topic of intersex is so huge,” states Repnia. “It affects all levels: medical, legal, social, family, and relationships, yet it is covered so little artistically.”

In the form of a short documentary and photo series, My Own Wings illuminates the diverse experiences of 21 intersex people across Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, Chile, America, and Spain. Alongside imagery, Repina and Moral conducted deeply personal interviews with the subjects, collected medical records, and interviewed a wide range of social and medical professionals around the world. “It's not about specific countries or cultures – it’s a lived experienced all over the world,” explains Repina. ”And no two experiences are the same.”

My Own Wings represents just how multifaceted being intersex is, each photo advocating against commonly faced issues such as unwanted surgeries, the stigma surrounding being intersex, the confusion between being LGBTQ and being intersex, and battling scientific and gender constructs that form the basis of wrongful discrimination against intersex people.

“...Intersex people have the same brains, and do the same things. Intersex people too have social lives and jobs, they party, and fall in love just the same” – Katia Repina

The photo series shows intersex experience from a perspective of mundanity, as it shows the everyday lives of its subjects as they eat, rest, party, play, and love, just like the rest of the world. “Normally intersex people in the media are shown from a very sensational point of view which is very inauthentic,” says Repina. “We wanted to show that intersex people have the same brains, and do the same things. Intersex people too have social lives and jobs, they party, and fall in love just the same. There's nothing to be ‘normalised’, as the doctors say because they are normal. There is nothing there to fix. So, that’s why we started including photos of the social life and family life, so it doesn’t show them so isolated – we did not want to show them isolated.”

One of the greatest themes anchored by the series is giving the issue its own voice, by giving its subjects a platform to tell their own stories. “A lot of people think that intersex is the same as gay: they confuse identity and sexual orientation. They think that intersex – because it has the word sex – is something connected to your sexual orientation, which has nothing to do with it. Intersex it's actually that you are born with physical differences and your chromosomes can be both men and women. There are a lot of different misunderstandings about intersex – it’s very important that each issue is given its own voice.”

Below we meet six faces from My Own Wings, as Repina walks us through each photo.

ARISLEYDA DILONE, 35, NEW YORK

“Arisleyda Dilone is a 35-year-old Dominican intersex woman living in NYC. Aris, who discovered that she is intersex as an adult, is a filmmaker and creates documentaries about her life and her family. She explains: ‘What I feel mostly is the power over my story. And I want to tell it by myself, with my own voice.’ Aris says that silence is common in families with an intersex member: ‘Some members of my family discovered what had happened to me only after watching my documentary film.’ In the photo: Aris cutting her hair at Rockaway Beach in New York City. Hours later she completely shaved her head. Aris doesn’t like to be seen as a victim or when people pity her. ‘I don´t like other people defining me, telling me who I am. I don´t like to define myself only as an intersex. It’s something that affected every aspect of my life, but it is not something that defines every aspect of my life.”

DOMINIQUE, 40, SPAIN

“Dominique is a 40-year-old Belgium intersex living in Spain. In the photo, Dominique is in the yard of his girlfriend’s home in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain. He remembers, ‘I was named Dominique, because at first my parents were told that it was not certain if I was going to be converted to a girl or a boy. There were two options for me for an operation: to be converted to a girl, which would mean they would cut off my testicles, cut my dick and make a new vagina – or operate to convert me to a boy, where they would lower my testicles, and fix my urethra and penis. So they left me three years like this, without doing any operations, and told my parents to call me Dominique because it could be used after the operation one way or the other. So my name, Dominique, could serve for both.”

SARA VILLAHERMOSA, 39, SPAIN

“Sara Villahermosa is a 39-year-old intersex. In this photo, Sara is having a medical check because she injured her leg. Throughout her adult life Sara visited many hospitals and had many operations connected with her intersex condition. After several unsuccessful surgeries she couldn't work. Sara remembers: ‘When I already was very adult, around 29-30 years old, I was officially diagnosed as Intersex. My parents died without ever knowing it.’ When Sara was little, the medicine was not as advanced in her town. She remembers: ‘People would ask me, ‘Who are you, a boy or a girl? Who are you‘ And I was dying to tell them: I am a girl, I have never been a boy! And that I have been born with both reproductive systems of a man and a woman at once, but they were damaged. I was born entirely damaged.’ Having a long stable relationship is one of the difficulties Sara faced as being intersex. Sara confirms: ‘It´s very difficult to give the face’, she says, ‘I am here, facing the world which constantly questions me.”

JULIA PUSTOVIT, 39, UKRAINE

“Julia Pustovit is a 39-year-old intersex living in Kiev, Ukraine. She doesn’t leave her home when it is dark on the street since she is afraid of being attacked by transphobic strangers. She remembers, ‘I lived part of my life as homosexual, another part as transsexual – and only the last years I am living like an intersex, what I really am.’ In the photo Julia shares a meal with her mother. They live together. Julia’s mother says, ‘I feel extremely guilty. It’s not my fault, but I feel very guilty because Julia is suffering. And this feeling of guilt has not let me live for so many years. I am trying to make her life easier as best as I can. Our children don’t ask to come into this world, we bring them. So we are responsible for them.”

SALOMON, 39, MEXICO

“Salomon is a 39-year-old intersex living in a little village in Mexico. He prefers to stay anonymous. Salomon says, ‘Being different humanizes you more because if you are of the bunch, you do not learn and do not value who you are. On the other hand, when you are different, others can criticize you, they can judge you, but you are unique. Life or some divine being gave you this virtue – it was given for something.’ He adds: ‘In Mexican society, as in any other society in the world, there is no tolerance for people who are different. There is no tolerance or respect for being different, and even less for the intersex community that lives totally in the darkness, invisible to others.”