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Born Both: An Intersex Life

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  549 ratings  ·  102 reviews
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 giv
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Hachette Books
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Crystal Starr Light
Bullet Review:

Rounding up to 4-stars because while this memoir is flawed, it is bringing something to light that is HUGELY important in our society.

I venture to say that the first half is the strongest, with a cohesive narrative while the second half reads as a litany of various projects and activism that Hida participates in.

This book will HUGELY challenge you in talking about sex and gender, even more than I thought possible in this day of marriage equality and trans visibility. Sometimes I ha
I'm so glad that Hida Viloria shared her life experiences in this memoir, she is amazingly candid about her anatomy and sexuality in a way I thought was helpful to understanding her experience. I thought the first hundred pages were fascinating.

She talks about dressing like a man and using the women's rest room and people using male pronouns to refer to her. Her experiences reminded me of another book about gender identity called 'Self Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again'
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
An illuminating memoir by an intersex activist. It’s not particularly well-written and I think it could have been shorter but it’s an important book on a topic that isn’t talked about enough.
Bon Tom
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating topic of intersex. The complexities intersex person have to deal with in their everyday live are, almost by nature, doubled to those of "regular" persons. How about complexities and repercussions of how we use language related to being intersex? Mind crunching. ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When Hida Viloria was born, the doctor took he/r father (also a doctor) aside and they had a quiet conversation. Whatever the doctor told he/r father, he rejected, and Hida was presented to he/r mother as a baby girl, and that is how s/he was raised. Hida had a rough life; he/r father was abusive, s/he was drugged and raped at a bar, s/he was a budding lesbian in a culture that doesn’t take well to that. Along with that, s/he struggled with he/r gender identity: was s/he really the girl s/he was ...more
Holly Kaplan
May 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
I picked the book up to learn more about the topic and to develop further understanding. I was disappointed in its length (way too long) and poor writing style (redundant and not descriptive). The author has an interesting story, yet too much time was spent discussing how attractive they are, how many drugs they used, how many people want to have sex with them. It was simply boring.
A brilliant, extremely important book. I feel we will look back on this book in decades to come as a major turning point in our understanding, awareness, and compassion for intersex people.
TammyJo Eckhart
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of Hida Viloria and after reading her/his book, I felt a bit ashamed of that fact. But then again, while I know that biological sex is not a duality, I've been so conditioned by society to think in terms of binary that I haven't paid much attention to developments in the recognition of intersex people.

Hida's biography uses a lot of flashbacks but in general it does progress chronologically, showing us her/his journey of self-awareness and social activism. But the book isn't onl
3.5 stars
This was very interesting. I learnt many new things about what it is like being intersex and what it means (I didn't have much prior knowledge about it anyway). I was surprised to learn about the extent of the discrimination they face because I had no idea it was happening. I think this book shows the evolution of a movement really well because it follows Hida's whole life and how it took time for her to figure out that she was intersex and then she started fighting to bring awareness a
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
I didn't find this book fierce or brave or shocking any of the other superlatives describing it in its blurbs. I've read many books by and about people who fall outside of the conventional ideas of sexuality, so this was not my first rodeo. This particular book reads more like a poorly written personal diary with a pervasive interest in the size of her clitoris. How big it is, how surprising it is, what she does with it, what other people think of it, how it feels about itself (not really!) etc. ...more
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a fascinating subject to me and the author has obviously been through things I can't even imagine. The book itself though contained too much political background of the movement itself to hold my interest. Ze also seems to vacillate between feelings of extreme confidence almost to the point of haughtiness to sobbing "hide in the bottom of the closet" Insecurity. While the author seems to chalk this up to being intersexed, it does not ring true. The story seems to be told with some distan ...more
Karen Ashmore
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
OMG this was an eye opening book for me! I can’t believe how unaware I was and am thankful I read this. About the same number of people who were born redhead are born intersex. Some people are born male, some female and some with both genital organs, those formerly known as hermaphrodite but are now known as intersex. This is an amazing book which I highly recommend to everyone who does not understand intersex, which would be 98.3 per cent of all human beings.
Laura (Book Scrounger)
Apr 23, 2017 marked it as did-not-finish
Not the book for me, but I'm grateful to be introduced to this topic, and plan to read up on it more. I'm glad that Intersex people have more support now than during the time the author grew up.

In compliance with FTC guidelines, I disclose that I received this book for free through GoodReads' First Reads.
Melissa McGowan
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I learned so much from reading this book. Being born intersex occurs as frequently as red hair. There are 46 different ways that a human body can be intersex. If you are interested in a good memoir about gender identity and gender identity politics, read this.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, bio, memoir
A very interesting look at gender, the way it is perceived and what it means to not fit the norm. It really opened my eyes. It is a tender subject with more facets than I initially imagined. An important introduction to the issue. I hope it gets a wide audience.
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
(Please excuse the absence of italics. I don't have the time to reformat everything for Goodreads.)

Nowadays, Lord Alfred Douglas’ “love that dare not speak its name” dares to speak its name – and then some. In fact, it needn’t dare at all, because, for the most part, non-heterosexual speech is popular, widespread, bold, prevalent – and, yes, even moralistic. For me, the love hinted at in the poem by Douglas covers gay, lesbian, trans, queer, bisexual and intersex folks. (If I left anyone out, p
Dec 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbtqia
This book deals with an interesting and important topic that I think most people don't know much about. I agree with other reviewers that the narrative could have been tightened up considerably. Towards the end it does read like just a long list of "I was invited to speak at x event, and I did, and then I was invited to speak at y event, and I did..." The first half is more engaging. ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all interested in the lives of intersex folks, plus its recent history and politics
This is a best first book to read, for those interested in intersexuality. The author describes life and activism as an intersex individual. I have background in sexuality study, and I learned a lot from this book.
Holly Gunder
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading. Valeria provides insight into a thoroughly misunderstood group of people, humanizing the intersex experience by exploring her life’s journey.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
I picked this up at the library not knowing what to expect. I think it is a worthwhile publication for those struggling with the mixed sex issues and I appreciate the authors candor...but...

I have very mixed emotions about this story. On one hand I wanted to give it more stars because as I said, it deals with a subject that may be helpful to a small sector of the population. What impacted me negatively was the voluntary early and graphic very casual sex, drugs and drinking on the part of the au
Joseph Langen
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For a while, I have been trying to make sense of people who were transgender. I have been reading articles and books for and about them and moving toward a better understanding. I was aware of people with indeterminate gender, but did not know much about them.

When I recently saw a review in the New York Times Book Review, I thought it was about time to discover more. The review suggested that Born Both was a combination memoir and textbook. I was more interested in the memoir aspect and found t
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the subject of this book is important and we must reexamine how we define gender in this day and age, I feel this book gave only a sliver view of the world of the intersex person. This young woman gives an honest account of her body and the emotional pain and confusion she and others go/have gone through. When I heard how some intersex people have been physically mutilated in the name of science and medicine, I was brought to tears.

And while the drugging and drinking she did is tied in to
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queers
This book is an amazing look at the definition of gender and the roles society places on each gender. Hida, as an intersex person, passes back and forth between feminine and masculine-appearing, and describes the experience. It's also a good look at the problems within activist organizations. So much infighting! (It reminds me of my global arts project). I liked the descriptions of NYC life, and San Fran life, and the queer community. The description of Burning Man was interesting as well. I som ...more
Review forthcoming in Publishers Weekly. This memoir by activist Hida Viloria offers insight into the personal journey of an individual who grew up with only a vague sense of he/r physical difference before discovering in he/r twenties that s/he was intersex. The present-tense narrative and recreated dialogue feel clunky at times, but the author's story will be compelling to people interested in the experience of intersex people. As Viloria was born to immigrant parents from Central America, and ...more
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just, wow. I have never been so captured, so enthralled by a memoir before. I don't identify as intersex, but Ms. Viloria's story was able to give me an idea of what living with that reality is like. It helped me to understand not only the personal struggles an intersex person may face, but also the struggles that the community has been through for the past few decades. In addition to the conversation about intersex people, their identity, and their rights, I feel that the book also speaks ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great memoir/biography and fantastic on the information on intersex'd people. I agree wholeheartedly with the perception of intersex and the classification of them as stated by Viloria. I only just recently found out about intersex and how common they are (as much as red heads, natural ones anyways). I'll definitely be more verbal and supportive to this community. Have some other books on my shelf about intersex that I'll be reading as well. This was the only memoir though, the rest are fiction. ...more
Anna Gooding-Call
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although it’s not high literature, this book represents an important perspective on intersex life. I do feel like the author struggles with her role as an activist in ways that she doesn’t really explore fully, but considering that she’s had to spend her adulthood talking about her genitals on TV I think she should get whatever privacy she wants elsewhere in her life. It might be nice to have her as a professor if her inclinations ran in that direction, but as things stand, it’s just good to hav ...more
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A good read and also inspiring. Initially I'd wished she would say more about the ways she saw connections and differences between her intersex identity and the trans community, but she got to it later in the book. Her awareness of intersectionality comes naturally, as a result of her being a Latinx lesbian, and she is able to articulate a politics of affinity without being academic about it, which is refreshing. ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer
An amazing read about a woman's experience being intersex, and how she became involved with intersex activism. For those people who know little about the intersex community, this book is a must read. She provides an insight into how the medical community views and treats people like her, as well as how being intersex affects her dating life. Between these stories, she takes the time to explain terminology, definitions, and how they historically came to be. ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
## Who I'd recommend it to ##

Probably everybody. I feel like I just leveled up in empathy.

## What I liked ##

It's an incredibly powerful and illuminating and informative story. Profoundly personal.

## What I didn't like ##

It was ultimately a little long and felt like it could have benefited from some more editing. My focus started to wane, for example, during some of the Burning Man parts. But it is Hida's personal story, so they get to choose what to share. I don't know what I would have cut out.
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Hida (“Heeda”) Viloria is a writer, author of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award nominated memoir, Born Both: An Intersex Life (Hachette Books), and one of the world’s foremost intersex and non-binary activists, bringing an intersectional analysis to he/r work as the queer child of Latinx immigrants. Viloria is the founding director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality (IC4E), a frequent consultant ( ...more

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