Hart bears her soul
QUEENSLAND filmmaker Phoebe Hart had a much more traumatic time during puberty than most other girls.
Although outwardly physically female, Hart ( pictured) is genetically male and was born with undescended testes.
She has a condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome which means her body does not respond to testosterone. Despite the presence of male gonads in her abdomen, her body developed as female and her parents hid the truth from her. But when she was a teenager and realised she never menstruated, she knew something was amiss. At 17, her parents finally told her the truth.
She underwent an orchidectomy – an operation to remove her testes – and a crippling identity crisis followed.
She has shared her experiences in a heartfelt documentary called Orchids: My Intersex Adventure, which screens tonight on ABC1.
‘‘ I was poked and prodded and photographed like a medical oddity. There wasn’t anybody to talk to me. I was just expected to get on with it,’’ Hart said.
‘‘ That intervention can leave you not sure who you are any more, I was really confused: should I like boys or girls?’’
These days Hart describes herself as ‘‘ a woman with male chromosomes’’ or simply ‘‘ intersex’’.
She made her film because she wanted to help other intersex people feel less alienated as well as try to dispel perceptions that gender is strictly binary: male or female.
‘‘ It’s amazing how many variations can be produced by a human body, just one gene mutating or hormones being released during pregnancy and it can result in something that doesn’t fit either male or female definitions,’’ she said.
Orchids also focuses on Hart’s mother’s reluctance to face the realities of her daughter’s condition and how the decisions made on her behalf affected her.
When the film premiered at the Brisbane International Film Festival in 2010, there were many people in the audience with intersex conditions.
Hart said the way they showed their appreciation was surprising.
‘‘ People said they were happy someone had dared to tell a story that had similarities to theirs, that they had been acknowledged and someone was speaking for them,’’ Hart said.
‘‘ But when it was over, they didn’t come to me. They mobbed mum, they hugged her and said they loved her.
‘‘ So I think it helped mum realise what this film could do as well. There were questions in that interview I’ve never asked her openly and she thought she would be judged on her parenting and the decisions she made, but I just wanted answers.’’
Hart said making the film had changed her life for the better, too.
‘‘ I have a friend who said to me, ‘ Phoebe, I’ve known you and liked you for a long time but there was only so much you let me get to know, like there was a wall there, something I couldn’t get past, and now it seems to be gone’.
‘‘ I’m more open and happy to chat about things than I was before. It’s helped me to be more happy with myself and happy to share myself with others, and now I have a film I can show others without having to explain myself.’’