While most associate a teen film with a John Hughes movie or as something quintessentially American, there are themes about adolescence that are universal within the teen film genre. Indeed, there have been films about gender identity and sexual awakenings from the perspective of a lesbian/bisexual such as in Water Lilies(2007), gay male perspective like in My Own Private Idaho(1991), and genderqueer/transgender perspectives like in Tomboy(2011), but a film narrative about an intersex person that intersects with coming-of-age, teen angst, sexual and gender identity themes is few and far between. Lucía Puenzo’s Argentinian film, XXY(2007), dives into the story about an intersex teenager that is trying to figure out who they are. Since there are elements within the teen film genre that share so many commonalities internationally, XXY(2007), while considered a drama can also be thought of as a teen film. Since this will be discussing an intersex character, the pronoun used for Alex will be “they.”
Alex is fifteen years old who was born with a rare genetic condition that has made Alex have both male and female genitalia. Alex and their family live outside of town away from the community to avoid discrimination and bigotry. Alex takes medication or hormone blockers of some kind to keep masculinizing effects away, such as facial hair. Without their parents knowing, Alex has stopped taking the pills. Alexs’ dad, Kraken, is a marine biologist that treats sick or wounded sea creatures. Suli, Alex’s mom, invites friends over to stay at their house. Her friend is a surgeon, and his wife and son also stay. Suli has these people come over to talk about the possibility of sexual reassignment surgery in hopes to make Alex female. Alex is immediately smitten with Álvaro, the son, and attempts to seduce him. They eventually have sex, but not in the way he anticipated. Kraken sees Alex and Álvaro together in that way, and struggles with what the right thing to do is. Kraken looks up a man who transitioned from female-to-male and visits with him to figure out what options there are for Alex. Meanwhile, Alex is walking on the beach and is approached by a group of boys who force Alex to pull down their pants so they can see their genitals. Kraken struggles with whether or not to report this assault to the police, because doing so would ‘out’ Alex and their family. Alex says that it doesn’t matter. Kraken says that whatever Alex chooses how to live he will support (meaning that if Alex want’s to transition to male or female), but Alex says, “What if there is nothing to choose?”
According to Catherine Driscoll, there are definitely story elements that can define a teen film, such as, “the youthfulness of central characters, context usually centered around young heterosexuality, frequently with a romance plot, intense age-based peer relationships and conflict either with those relationships or with an older generation; the institutional management of adolescence by families, schools, and other institutions; and coming of age plots focused on motifs like virginity,” (Driscoll 2). XXY ‘s central character is Alex. There is institutional management by Alex’s family, about having Alex take medication to keep them from masculinizing, and wanting them to potentially get surgery to either conform to male or female.
The context of the relationship between Alex and Álvaro certainly centers on sexuality. Since Alex is intersex, the sex that they have could be seen as either heterosexual or homosexual, but it’s certainly queer. The first conversation between these two teenagers is about sex, and Alex asking if Álvaro would have sex with them. Álvaro says he’s not interested at first, but the two eventually consummate their sexual tension in a way that is surprising. When they are having sex, which Alex initiates very strongly, Álvaro get’s flipped over on his stomach and Alex penetrates him from behind. Kraken peers through a crack through the door and sees Alex on top of Álvaro. The two see Kraken and abruptly stop, Álvaro running off into the trees to masturbate. While doing so, he is crying in distress, struggling with his own sexuality because of the way he had sex with Alex and enjoyed it. Towards the end of the film, Álvaro asks his father if he thinks he’s talented. His father says no, and informs him that they are leaving in the morning. Álvaro says he doesn’t want to go so soon, and his father asks if it’s because of Alex, when he agrees, his father says, “Good, I thought you were a faggot.” Even before Álvaro has sex with Alex, it is indicated here that his sexuality has been something he’s been trying to figure out.
Some other key thematic elements within a teen film, “ the rite of passage to social independence; the bodily and social trauma of developing a coherent individual identity; the interplay between developing agency and social alienation,”(Driscoll 6). Alex’s rite of passage to social independence is their refusal to take their medications. This embracing of their own individuality unfortunately made Alex a target in the community. Alex experiences bodily and social trauma when the group of boys force them to pull their pants down to expose their genitals. The interplay between social alienation and developing agency is a key theme within the overall film. Alex’s family is socially alienated from society, the reasons to protect Alex from discrimination and bigotry. At the end of the film when Alex’s says, “What if there is nothing to choose?” signifies the embrace of their own agency as an intersex person, even if it will come at the cost of social alienation.
Being a teenager is a time of transition, and a time of being in-between. Alex represents an adolescent struggle that is a matrix of being in-between; In-between genders, in-between childhood and adulthood, and in-between sexualities. While dealing with the pressures in institutions of society and conflict in relationships, Alex’s self-acceptance of seeing the option of just being in-between is empowering. XXY may not perfectly fit to the mold of what one may think of as a teen film, just as Alex may not perfectly fit in the mold of what society expects them to be, but it can be seen in a context of being a queer teen film. Alex is certainly a fish out of water, but is a fish that is both of the land and the sea.
Driscoll, Catherine. “Introduction.” Teen Film: A Critical Introduction. Oxford: Berg, 2011. 2-6. Print.