The activist discusses coming out, healing, and intersex liberation ahead of LGBTQI History Month
Stories from intersex people are rarely discussed – but Dani Coyle (@inter_sexy) is a on a mission to change that. Coyle is an artist, activist, model, and more recently, a Master’s candidate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Oxford. They were also nominated twice for the Dazed100 in 2020 for their documentary portrait series Inter_face. Their latest project is Inter_view: a podcast series of conversations between eight very different people who are all intersex.
Intersex bodies come in a variety of forms. Essentially, being intersex involves the development of sex characteristics that do not fit what is usually expected in male and female bodies. What this means can vary for each intersex person: it could be to do with their sex chromosome pattern, gonadal development, hormones, and in some cases the presentation of a person’s genitalia.
There are harmful, ongoing narratives which perpetuate the idea that intersex bodies need to be managed, fixed, or hidden. Healthcare professionals around the world have been focused on changing these naturally occurring variations of sex development through surgeries and other so-called treatments, aimed at making the body align closer to societal expectations. In practice, this has ranged from surgically altering infants’ genitals that looked visibly different to lifelong hormone treatments.
Coyle underwent a series of so-called treatments herself during her early teens. When reflecting on their own experience, Coyle shares that she was deemed capable to consent to her own surgery at 14 – however, she describes the experience as ‘coercion’, rather than informed consent. “For decades our bodies, self-determination, and histories have been hijacked by the medical academy, the state, and/or by our parents or carers,” Coyle says. “I hope that this project in some small way, helps us to regain some of that stolen voice, space, and autonomy.”
Dazed spoke to Coyle ahead of the release of Inter_view on February 1.
What has been your own experience of being intersex?
Dani Coyle: My experience, like many of the guests on this podcast, has followed a similar pattern. Secrecy, misunderstanding, shame, and a limited understanding of my body. I feared what ‘coming out’ would mean. It did not feel like an option. But once you do – it’s a process of unlearning and healing.
Why did you decide to create Inter_view?
Dani Coyle: I think as a community, intersex people need to go through a ton of healing, which isn’t always easy in our society. It's like when you pull one string, the whole thing comes apart. I think we essentially have an extremely damaged system which needs changing. But I don't have all the answers, I just made a podcast! For me, this is what the best activism is: you see a space and then you just go and do it, you don't wait for permission.
What kind of conversations stuck out to you?
Dani Coyle: Well, I think it’s important to say from the get-go that it is not the same conversation in each episode. We’re all coming at it from such different realities – I interview people who come from different generations, places, variations, and views. It’s an expansive view of intersexuality, covering things from our individual medical experiences to spirituality.
Did you have any particular audience in mind throughout this process?
Dani Coyle: That’s an interesting question, but actually I didn’t. I wanted any listener to be able to take something away from this series. I made this to humanise the intersex experience; I hope it enables people to have confidence to turn up and be allies – show up and start listening to us. We should have a say on our past, present, and our future.
What do you hope people are going to take away from listening to Inter_view?
Dani Coyle: I hope when people listen to this, they can really hear the possibility of intersex joy in everybody. The intersex story to date has not always given us space to move forward. And though at times you can hear how the guests have struggled, the focus is on how they get to experience joy and what intersex joy looks like.
Being intersex today is like swimming against the tide, but when you get to that other side, it's a beautiful place to be. It’s getting there that I’m hoping Inter_View will help facilitate.
What does an intersex future look like?
Dani Coyle: I think intersex liberation means liberation for all. I think an intersex future would look like explicit inclusion, not just in one area, but in every aspect of life. I’m already thinking about what I want to do for the next series and the types of conversations that will arise.