XXY: Lucia Puenza’s Bizarre Coming of Age Story

Lucia Puenza XXY, A Spanish-Argentinean co-production, tells a most bizarre and intriguing coming-of-age story.

For most children, adolescence means having to confront crucial choices and life decisions. But this is not the case of Alex (Ins Efron), 15, who was born as an intersex child.

In biology, “hermaphrodite” means an organism that has both “male” and “female” sets of reproductive organs. However in humans, there are no actual “hermaphrodites” in this sense.  In the past it has been common to call people with intersex conditions “hermaphrodites,” because intersex bodies share sex chromosomes and characteristics of both genders and do not neatly conform to what doctors define as the “normal” male or female bodies. Yet the label, “hermaphrodite” is misleading, mythologizing, and often stigmatizing; members of the community prefer the term “intersex people” or “people with intersex conditions/experiences.”

As Alex begins to explore her sexuality, her mother invites friends from Buenos Aires to come for a visit at their house on the gorgeous Uruguayan shore, along with their 16-yearold son lvaro (Martn Piroyanski). Alex is immediately attracted to the young man, which adds yet another level of complexity to her personal search for identity, forcing both families to face their worst fears.

“XXY” is based on a short story called “Cinismo” by the Argentine writer and the director’s husband, Sergio Bizzio. The helmer claims that ever since she read his story of the sexual awakening of a young girl who has what doctors call genital ambiguity, she couldn’t take it out of her head. She began writing the scenario with one single and powerful image: the body of a young person with both sexes in one same body.

The film is an intelligent exploration of the dilemma of inevitable choice, not only having to choose between being a man or a woman, but also having to choose between that binary decision, or intersex, as an identity and not as a place of mere passage.

There have not been many stories on this subject; there’s a strange cultural silence, almost taboo–over it. And if and when the subject is explored, it’s in the language of testimony, of medical diagnosis, but with few if any fictional stories.

To the director’s credit, “XXY” doesn’t unfold as a medical or clinical case, or even as a documentary based on facts or medical realism. Instead, he has written and helmed a touching coming of age tale, focusing on the romantic angle of the central relationship.