Sarah Graham was born intersex, or as she jokes, “a woman with balls”. As a child, a gynecologist told Sarah’s parents that her ovaries were cancerous and that she had to have them removed; much later in life, she discovered, to her horror, that “those weren’t ovaries, they were testes.”
Sarah’s solo show, Angels Are Intersex, shares her personal story — from childhood to adulthood — of discovering her own gender and sexual identity. Her discovery has given her the confidence to break the norms within our gender-obsessed culture. She’s funny, painfully blunt, and trying to piece it all together. Now she laughs about it, and will make you laugh too.
Angels Are Intersex is a courageous way for Sarah to tell her story and to aid the fight to end unnecessary surgeries on babies and children. Working with her director and now partner Jessica Lynn Johnson, they created an emotionally charged work, selected to premiere at Son of Semele festival in Los Angeles, and are hoping to tour around the USA then Europe.
I know Sarah; I’ve worked with her; I’ve counseled her, and yet this was the first moment she allowed me to walk in her shoes. It was shocking because I never knew her pain.
Sarah’s go-to place was one of solitude. That child, growing up with no one to guide or support her, fixated on the prospect of a miracle from God. She created an image in the mirror of herself as special and holy, just like the story of Mary giving birth to baby Jesus. The marvel of such an act firmly shaped her beliefs. When she learned that it was not her ovaries that were cut out, but her testes, her reflection in the mirror became a monster. With no one to help her process the truth, Sarah fell into years of drinking, drugs, and abuse.
Sarah went through therapy, became a therapist, and found answers — but not to her own questions. So, she went on a spiritual journey of self-discovery; maybe to find God, or an angel, or both.
Sarah called out to the world’s Big Religions to find her self-appointed angel experts. A muslim scholar, a rabbi, a English vicar, and a life advisor walk into a bar… except it wasn’t a bar, and this isn’t a joke.
The first person Sarah interviewed was Jihad Turk, a muslim scholar and President of Bayan Claremont Graduate School:
“In Arabic, the word for intersex or hermaphrodite is pronounced hoone-ther. Ironically there isn’t a gender neutral term, so you are stuck with a Who-er or a He-er, him or her. And God is not gendered in Islam either- so God is referred to as Who-er (male) because there is no gender neutral pronoun.”
And then there’s Rabbi Michelle, who tells her there are six recognized genders in Judaism, including Ay’lonit:
“An Ay’lonit is a person who is identified as female at birth but develops male characteristics at puberty and is infertile, and there are 80 references in the Mishnah and Talmud to this Ay’lonit and 40 references in classical Mishnah, the Jewish text …”
Cut to the vicar, who explains:
“Male is good and female is good but it’s still separation, and in a sense, it has to be about separation for us to biologically reproduce- and at death when our spirits leave our bodies, the male and the female is joined together in an angelic being… A unity.”
Their explanations give some context to what an intersex person is in the theological sense. But evidently, there is a lack of intimate knowledge even in holy texts regarding the ramifications of social rejection or acceptance.
Intersex people are as common as red heads — about 1 in 2000 births — but there are less than 100 openly intersex people in the public domain. Those who are born intersex feel exiled, isolated, and alienated.
And then there’s me, the life advisor.
Here’s an excerpt of what came up in our session: “We all have our differences, and it is evident by how we identify ourselves. It is your right of passage; you have the right to be.”
With someone like Sarah, who has struggled with understanding her existence, “the right to be” was an essential concept. The right to be is not about identity, or how we identify with others; it’s more to do with the experience of our journey — our right to be whole.
Living in a world of duality, she was constantly gripped by inner conflict. She desperately wanted to know the “answer” to integrating both selves. I explained that our world is polarized and at war in a battle of the sexes. If the rest of the world can’t figure out how to unite male and female, how could she expect to solve the problem all on her own? “Keeping your secrets to yourself is a way of hiding. It keeps shame living under the surface.“
Angels are Intersex is a journey of heartache to connection. It will make you laugh and will leave you speechless. Above all, you are invited to support the fight of gender-neutral rights: Like Asia Kate Dillon’s character in Billions, Sarah is now using “they”: a non-binary pronoun embracing a whole person regardless of gender. Sarah feels that this pronoun is true to their new understanding of self and finally allows them “their right to be” whole. This might be a mindbender to some, but Sarah is inviting us to join the conversation… So let’s start talking.
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This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.