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Born Both: An Intersex Life
     

Born Both: An Intersex Life

by Hida Viloria
 

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"Fierce, brave, and a clarion call to celebrate our differences."—People

From one of the world's foremost intersex activists, a candid, provocative, and eye-opening memoir of gender identity, self-acceptance, and love.

My name is Hida Viloria. I was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that my body looked different.

Overview

"Fierce, brave, and a clarion call to celebrate our differences."—People

From one of the world's foremost intersex activists, a candid, provocative, and eye-opening memoir of gender identity, self-acceptance, and love.

My name is Hida Viloria. I was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that my body looked different. Having endured an often turbulent home life as a kid, there were many times when I felt scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls. But unlike most people in the first world who are born intersex—meaning they have genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and/or chromosomal patterns that do not fit standard definitions of male or female—I grew up in the body I was born with because my parents did not have my sex characteristics surgically altered at birth.

It wasn't until I was twenty-six and encountered the term intersex in a San Francisco newspaper that I finally had a name for my difference. That's when I began to explore what it means to live in the space between genders—to be both and neither. I tried living as a feminine woman, an androgynous person, and even for a brief period of time as a man. Good friends would not recognize me, and gay men would hit on me. My gender fluidity was exciting, and in many ways freeing—but it could also be isolating.

I had to know if there were other intersex people like me, but when I finally found an intersex community to connect with I was shocked, and then deeply upset, to learn that most of the people I met had been scarred, both physically and psychologically, by infant surgeries and hormone treatments meant to "correct" their bodies. Realizing that the invisibility of intersex people in society facilitated these practices, I made it my mission to bring an end to it—and became one of the first people to voluntarily come out as intersex at a national and then international level.

Born Both is the story of my lifelong journey toward finding love and embracing my authentic identity in a world that insists on categorizing people into either/or, and of my decades-long fight for human rights and equality for intersex people everywhere.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Meghan Daum
As a memoir, Born Both can be as difficult to pin down as its author's identity. Equal parts life history, anatomy textbook, sex diary and public service announcement, it seems in places to have been written as an activist gesture rather than a literary one…But all this can be forgiven because amid the public service announcements, Viloria does us the even greater service (it's more of a gift, really) of showing us what it means to live not just as both a man and a woman but also as a third gender that eventually emerges as the right one.
Publishers Weekly
11/21/2016
Viloria, a writer and activist who identifies as both male and female and uses s/he and he/r as pronouns, describes he/r life as an intersex person and what led he/r to become a spokesperson for intersex and genderqueer/nonbinary people. Born in New York in 1968 to parents who had recently emigrated from Central America, the author was raised as a girl and was mostly unaware of he/r anatomical difference from other girls. It was not until s/he was in he/r mid-20s that the author read an article on intersex people and began to piece together clues. Eventually, s/he came to identify as intersex and as someone who experiences he/r gender as fluid. The memoir is written episodically, with scenes arranged in roughly chronological order and introduced with a location and date (“San Francisco, California, May 1996”). The author’s childhood and adolescence are touched on, but the majority of the narrative focuses on he/r activist awakening and recent advocacy. The present-tense narrative and recreated dialogue are clunky at times, and readers unfamiliar with certain events and organizations described may wish for more context. Despite these drawbacks, the book will be a valuable resource for those seeking first-person narratives by intersex people. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Viloria does us the even greater service (it's more of a gift, really) of showing us what it means to live not just as both a man and a woman but also as a third gender that eventually emerges as the right one."—New York Times Book Review

"Intersex babies often have their dual gender surgically 'corrected,'
but trailblazing activist Viloria didn't. Her book is fierce, brave, and a clarion call to celebrate our differences."—People

"[A] poignant and powerful story."—The Washington Post

"How do you discover who you are when you are born outside of what culture has decided is possible? Hida Viloria answers this question with this moving and essential memoir, a personal history that is also something of a history of America's blind spots around gender and sex."—Alexander Chee, bestselling author of The Queen of the Night

"Intelligent and courageous, [Born Both] chronicles one intersex person's path to wholeness, but it also affirms the right of all intersex and nonbinary people to receive dignity and respect. A relentlessly honest and revealing memoir."—Kirkus Reviews

"Groundbreaking....This brave and empowering book deserves a wide audience."—Library Journal

"Born Both is a courageous and compelling personal story that helps give us the necessary knowledge and understanding of the complex topics of intersexuality and gender fluidity. Hida Viloria has boldly brought us along on this journey of understanding and pushes us forward to become a more inclusive culture where we value everyone—not in spite of our differences, but rather because they make us perfectly and uniquely us. A must read."—Jane Clementi, co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

"Hida Viloria's touching and generous memoir shines a beautiful light of understanding not only on what it's like to discover, explore, and own one's identity as an intersex person, but also on what it means to be human. Through heartbreak and humor, Viloria writes with welcome candor and insight—and shows us that there is so much more beauty, brilliance, and complexity than can ever be contained in the categories 'male' or 'female.'"—Sam McConnell, producer of HBO's The Out List and The Trans List

"Words come alive in Born Both, which Hida Viloria has written with intellectual sophistication as well as passion for intersex activism. In this memoir,
Viloria eloquently tells a deeply personal story within larger structural narratives of race/ethnicity, gender, and class, making for a simultaneously pleasurable and informative read. This book will not only captivate those interested in intersex activism and gender revolution but also those who enjoy skillful storytelling."—Georgiann Davis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis

"Viloria's personal, positive, vibrant, and emotional work of advocacy will educate and affirm."—Booklist

"A valuable resource for those seeking first-person narratives by intersex people."—Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
11/15/2016
In this groundbreaking memoir, writer and intersex activist Viloria eloquently gives voice to living as an intersex person, especially one who takes pride in he/r gender fluidity. Viloria's parents elected not to have nonconsensual surgery performed at birth; the author discovered s/he was intersex—a person born with sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the standard definition of male or female—after becoming sexually active as a teenager. After coming out in he/r 20s, Viloria found a community but also realized that many had not been spared unnecessary surgeries that scarred them for life, both physically and psychologically. This experience combined with an evolving sense of self inspired the author's involvement in the movement for intersex rights. Speaking frequently about the uniqueness of embodying yin and yang elements in equal measure and how intersex people can manifest this difference as profound and compelling, rather than shameful or transgressive, Viloria describes the ways in which language, especially labels, matter deeply when discussing identity. As the author demonstrates, the words "disorder" and "diagnosis" are stigmatizing, unhelpful, and even harmful. Owing to the dedicated research and advocacy of writers like Viloria, the intersex community is making meaningful progress toward equal rights. VERDICT This brave and empowering book deserves a wide audience.—Barrie Olmstead, Sacramento P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
2017-01-04
A noted intersex activist tells the inspiring story of her struggles living as a lesbian hermaphrodite.Until she was 20 years old, Viloria lived her life as a female. But when a doctor said that the size of her clitoris "just [wasn't] normal" and asked to run tests on her, Viloria began to question her identity. Her femaleness had never been an issue at home; neither her mother nor her doctor father had ever discussed her physical differences and never allowed for any surgical alterations at birth. At the same time, however, her Catholic upbringing had made it difficult for Viloria to acknowledge to her parents that she was a lesbian. A move to San Francisco in 1990 propelled the author on a journey of sexual self-discovery that included relationships primarily with women and occasionally men. Five years later, and after reading a newspaper article on intersex people, she finally came to the realization that she, too, was intersex, or as she would say later on, a "hermaphrodyke." Viloria began experimenting with her identity and, for a time, dressed and acted like a male before settling into a more consciously androgynous mode of self-presentation. She also became involved with intersex organizations, where she not only learned the vocabulary to articulate her identity, but also about the surgeries that deprived other hermaphrodites "the opportunity to explore who and what they were, from the beginning." Her awakening consciousness to the plight of intersex people drove her to shed all remaining vestiges of inhibition regarding her differences and become a passionate advocate of the intersex community. In her personal life, Viloria came to understand and eventually break self-destructive patterns that had kept her from the loving lesbian partnership she had always wanted for herself. Intelligent and courageous, the author's book chronicles one intersex person's path to wholeness, but it also affirms the right of all intersex and nonbinary people to receive dignity and respect. A relentlessly honest and revealing memoir.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316347846
Publisher:
Hachette Books
Publication date:
03/14/2017
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
137,223
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

What People are Saying About This

Sam McConnell
“Hida Viloria's touching and generous memoir shines a beautiful light of understanding not only on what it's like to discover, explore, and own one's identity as an intersex person, but also on what it means to be human. Through heartbreak and humor, Viloria writes with welcome candor and insight—and shows us that there is so much more beauty, brilliance, and complexity than can ever be contained in the categories 'male' or 'female.'” -Sam McConnell, producer of HBO's The Out List and The Trans List
From the Publisher
“How do you discover who you are when you are born outside of what culture has decided is possible? Hida Viloria answers this question with this moving and essential memoir, a personal history that is also something of a history of America's blind spots around gender and sex.” —Alexander Chee, bestselling author of The Queen of the Night

“BORN BOTH is a courageous and compelling personal story that helps give us the necessary knowledge and understanding of the complex topics of intersexuality and gender fluidity. Hida Viloria has boldly brought us along on this journey of understanding and pushes us forward to become a more inclusive culture where we value everyone—not in spite of our differences, but rather because they make us perfectly and uniquely us. A must read.” —Jane Clementi, co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

“Words come alive in BORN BOTH, which Hida Viloria has written with intellectual sophistication as well as passion for intersex activism. In this memoir, Viloria eloquently tells a deeply personal story within larger structural narratives of race/ethnicity, gender, and class, making for a simultaneously pleasurable and informative read. This book will not only captivate those interested in intersex activism and gender revolution but also those who enjoy skillful storytelling.” —Georgiann Davis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis

Meet the Author

Hida Viloria is a writer and intersex activist, chairperson of the Organization Intersex International (OII), and founding director of its American affiliate the Intersex Campaign for Equality, also known as OII-USA. Hida's mission is to obtain equality for intersex and nonbinary people as part of a broader vision for a world that accepts and values difference of every kind.

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