Alicia Roth Weigel was compelled to write her memoir, Inverse Cowgirl, after a crushing visit to Portland’s very own Powell’s City of Books. Initially jazzed to find a special LGBTQ-Transgender section (all too rare in her home state of Texas), Roth Weigel was dismayed to find not a single book about intersex identity. Since coming out as intersex in 2017 and quickly becoming a major voice in the intersex rights movement, Roth Weigel knows first-hand how queer representation can alter the course of a person’s life. She vowed right then and there “to write one of the stories that I couldn't find and to ensure that my book is stocked on Powell’s shelves.”
Roth Weigel is also one of three subjects profiled in a new documentary from Julie Cohen (RBG), Every Body, which PSU Queer Resource Center, Basic Rights Oregon, and intersex youth support organization interACT have teamed up to screen on November 1. Ahead of her appearance at the screening and book signing, Roth Weigel told us about her activist work, who she wrote the book for, and why it's dedicated to Bad Bunny.
PORTLAND MERCURY: Okay, intersex 101: what does it mean to be intersex?
ALICIA ROTH WEIGEL: Intersex means what it sounds like. We are born inter-sex, between the sexes. People think that sex is a binary because that's what we've been taught in elementary school biology class, but really, biology is way more complicated than that. Every trait that exists in humanity exists on a spectrum. Intersex people just happen to be closer to the middle of that spectrum. I think we are the physical embodiment of nuance. People want to deny the nuance of the spectrum of sexuality and gender, but we are the physical proof that they can't deny.
Each chapter of your memoir, Inverse Cowgirl, is named after one of your tattoos. Why is that?
When you're intersex you experience violations of your bodily autonomy—whether through surgery or being put under anesthesia for research purposes, or me, as well, being a sexual assault survivor—tattoos are a not uncommon way to find a sense of control and connection. Tattoos put me back at the steering wheel. I’m inking things onto myself that I find beautiful, especially having been told that my body was not something beautiful.
You didn't realize that you were intersex until you were 27. When you discovered that terminology and identity, how did life change for you?
Above all, it made me feel less alone. Just like any other member of the queer community, not having to lie about your existence anymore, it's freedom. It's not to say that it's all easy by any means—I have put a target on my back, and I have made things harder for myself, but in a way that's so much more rewarding and in alignment with my truth.
I was told my whole life that I was a female with a disorder [Complete Androgen Insensitivity], and I should never tell anyone. I don't have a disorder; a disorder implies that there's something that needs to be fixed or changed.
What does your work as an intersex rights activist look like right now?
[The intersex rights movement] is newer in the grand scheme of social justice movements. There's this sense that—if we don't show up—our voice is not going to be represented. So right now, every intersex activist is doing a little bit of everything.
I'm a Human Rights Commissioner for the city of Austin, Texas, writing local nondiscrimination ordinances, working at the federal level with Health and Human Services on policy at the local level, all the way up to federal level. I’m educating med school students and doctors and building health care programs. I'm constantly killing bad bills in the state legislature, propelling good policy. I’m out here writing books, starring in movies. It's kind of an all-hands-on-deck mentality.
Your book is dedicated, in part, to the musical artist Bad Bunny. What’s the significance behind that?
I've been obsessed with reggaeton since middle school—it's just the music that speaks to my soul. Reggaeton was always very misogynistic and chauvinistic. Then Bad Bunny shattered the norm, talking about domestic violence, pushing boundaries with his own gender expression and fluidity. He started actively representing the queer community in his lyrics. That would never have happened in reggaeton before him.
I'm doing this [intersex activism] work in Texas, so anyone who's defiantly breaking these norms, in an environment where it's really not okay to do so, inspires me. Bad Bunny is like, no, I'm gonna keep being me. That inspires me. Even when stuff gets tough, I'ma keep being me.
Who did you write this book for?
I have a few audiences. One is intersex kids of all ages. I want intersex people to feel seen in these pages, because there's such a lack of intersex representation in society. That has been one of the best things about this book to come out, is having all these intersex people reach out to me and be like: Wow, I feel seen, I finally feel comfortable, coming out myself. That's the importance of representation.
I [also] tried to make it feel very accessible to women, [so that they] feel equipped to advocate for intersex issues as part of [the] broader fight for gender equity. Intersex people are around 1.7 percent of the world's population. If we can get women advocating for us alongside the issues that they're facing, all of a sudden, that's half the population fighting for intersex issues.
And then there's this third audience, which is anyone who feels in some way, shape, or form like they haven't fit in the world. That's not a defect. That's actually their greatest strength: The ability to own that nuance and help other people see it.
What advice do you have for someone reading this interview, realizing that they might be intersex or considering coming out as intersex?
I talk about [my intersex identity] very proudly now, but it took me many years to get to this point. It's important to acknowledge that. It’s a big lift to own this part of yourself, let alone feel proud of it. And you don't need to go at that alone. Finding support groups like InterConnect and advocacy organizations like interACT, finding community and intersex friends online is a great place to start. [That’s] been huge for me. Even if you're not feeling like this now, being intersex doesn't need to be a sad thing.