Pidgeon Pagonis and Sean Saifa Wall

Recorded October 15, 2020 Archived October 15, 2020 45:26 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: chi003372


Pidgeon Pagonis (34) and their friend and cofounder of the Intersex Justice Project, Sean Saifa Wall (42), reflect on the cost and the gains of their activism, their fight against the medical establishment at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago to end intersex surgeries, what's going on in their current lives, and what they hope to be doing in the future.

Subject Log / Time Code

SW talks about all the interviews he has done and how it is nice to just have this conversation between the two of them. SW and PP discuss a question SW was asked recently in an interview: "What has been the cost (of your activism)?"
SW talks about his upcoming move to the UK and how this "activism burns people to a crisp." He says this move is him doing something for himself.
SW talks about how Intersex Justice Project began. SW and PP discuss how "what you fight for is what you become," how that applies to fighting against the medical establishment, and SW remembers PP saying, "I'm tired of fighting the medical establishment. I want to do something that brings me joy."
PP talks about being trained to speak in sound bites and easily digestible media snippets, and how they felt after the win with Lurie Children's Hospital.
PP talks about the energy it takes to do story-based activism and constantly sharing their trauma. They talk about the goals they had when they first started Intersex Justice Project.
PP talks about the gains from their activism, and being grateful to have had a purpose and a clear goal. They also talk about the fear they experienced when they first started protesting against the medical establishment, knowing they needed to escalate but fear of the police and the medical authorities, both authorities who have caused harm to intersex people, especially people of color.
SW remembers being at the National Museum of African American History at an exhibit about the origins of the Black Panther Party, and realizing it was all started by two people, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. SW emphasizes, "Two people!" and remembers, "I texted [Pidgeon] and said, 'We can do this!'"
PP describes the win against Lurie Children's Hospital to end intersex surgery.
PP and SW both describe what they long for these days and in the future.


  • Pidgeon Pagonis
  • Sean Saifa Wall

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type





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00:02 All right. My name is Sean saifa. Wall. I'm 42 years old today is October 15th 2020. I'm in Atlanta Georgia. The person who I'm interviewing is Pidgeon pagonis and pigeon is my comrade friend. Hi. My name is Pigeon. I'm 34 years old.

00:31 Today's date is

00:36 October 15th Thursday, I'm in Chicago, Illinois and my interview partner is Sean Cipher wall and he is my co-founder of IDP. My colleague my friend my family and my intersex brother from another mother.

01:07 So yeah, I think this is such a profound opportunity to kind of sit down and reflect cuz I think you know what I know to be true. Is this that you know, I know you've done tons of interviews. I've done interviews.

01:26 And those interviews have been really extractive right from non intersex people and I think it's kind of dope so kind of sit down and trying to talk to each other. You know, we've never done that right?

01:51 So I think you know, this has been a lot of changes.

01:59 But I think you know since the Lori win like I think I've been in a lot of reflection and I'm pretty sure you have to you know, what I wanted to talk about that, you know, but I think one of the things that kind of stood out to me probably be most profound interview that I've done was with Kate saucin you I'm also know and you know, they asked a question right in the question was like what has been the cost, you know of intersex activism, you know, cuz I think I know I've been very visible. I know you've been hypervisible, you know and sharing your story and

02:46 Really putting yourself out there many many times in many different formats many different places, you know, so I think I just kind of want to open up the conversation with that. So kind of be like, you know, yeah what has been what's been the cost of just your you're giving so much to the movement?

03:25 I think

03:29 Has been both a cost and

03:34 What's the opposite of class?

03:43 There's been both cost and gains.

03:46 And it's hard to say which has

03:51 Taking more weight or had more weight in my life.

03:56 But we can speak on the car. So I guess

04:07 I guess Warren is

04:15 I guess I got a lack of.

04:21 Normality to use a word that's haunted intersex people but a lack of like the normal stages of life that most people our age is go through.

04:37 There's this surrealness to life with you live your trauma out on the public stage or the world stage room public Arena. Like I'm the internet and social media YouTube media documentaries.

04:57 There's this.

05:00 I guess this weird way that I interact with the world and that I could share my trauma.

05:09 To any interviewer any YouTube video any film but to talk about it one on one with a friend.

05:19 Or therapist

05:23 Was very hard. So I guess there's something not normal, I guess about that and also then comes when you start how do you start a relationship with someone new but all your stuff is out there in the world of like

05:45 You don't really have to have a conversation because they can Google you and it's been said and it's it's on YouTube and whatever and you still have a conversation but it's just normal cuz it's like your trauma precedes you so I would say one of the biggest that's one of the biggest things is

06:09 I guess.

06:10 Just going through my twenties and my early thirties and sort of an abnormal way with disconnection this hyper connection to so many outlets and also people are intersex people their parents and then just like friends and random people that just support the cause.

06:39 But

06:41 Losing a connection with your myself not having

06:50 The ability to ever really sit down and think what do I need? What do I want? What's going on in my body like never listening to my body because the campaign always felt so

07:08 Important and like it took precedence over everything else and so when

07:17 We will when I stopped when I took a break last month or whenever it started after the win, which it will get to but like my body shut down like my back was out of whack the rhyme but I had to go get a bone scan to see if I had a lumbar compression fracture because the doctor thought he was worried about that because of my osteopenia condition and I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't like standing and working and bending and looking at a computer. I couldn't do it for like a month like sitting more than 5 minutes just hurt everything and I think what I wondered to myself was

08:02 Was this always there and I just pushed it off pushed it off. And as soon as I had a moment to be quiet and detached and feel like I could let go of the campaign finally with my voice and my body is voice finally heard and I guess what do you there's got to be a cost there from going like 15 years without really paying attention.

08:25 Do your body and its needs I guess that would be the cost. I would share right now with you. That's a good question. Thanks Kate. How about you say so?

08:42 Yeah, I feel like

08:46 You know.

08:49 You know as I'm solo packing up preparing to move always emotional, you know, I'm going to my house and throwing away things and you know, so I have a tenant who moved and luckily she's a friend so she's just been really gracious like really understanding of all the the shifting and the changing.

09:14 And I think after a while.

09:18 I stopped investing in my house, you know, I stopped investing in my house. Like I literally actually looked around me and I was a fight because I was so disenchanted with the Atlanta that I stopped sort of like investing in my home. So my home was like my safe space from the world, but you know since

09:43 Someone else move in like I am told assistant away. It's like I'm free, you know, and I think for me, it's just like when Kate asked that question, I think it was so profound because no one has ever asked me that you know, and I think I just realized is this like

10:05 You know with you I'm stepping away. I think I've just been like where the Allies stepping up. You know, how how can we allow you know?

10:21 Just people just to burn out like I just reflect on the people who just burned out, you know, like I think this kind of activism literally Burns people to a crisp right because you're sharing your story in such a vulnerable way with so many people and we just live in a culture where people just consume consume consume, right and rarely do people give back really do people act. Like, how are you, you know, are you drinking are you eating? Like are you resting are you what's your stress level? You know, can I take you out to dinner? Can I do this? You know, like I think unless it's our people people like I think people just want more and want more.

11:01 And I think I

11:03 You know just took a step back and

11:07 I think sort of leaving the US and leaving Atlanta is just giving me like this bigger of you to still continue to do intersex work with us.

11:21 Do you say do something for my mom? I actually give something back to myself, you know, because I realize this is like

11:30 It was such a generous offering what we gave to the world, you know, like, you know, I went through this. Of just going back over old photos. Like I JP like the beginning beginning, you know, when we will have calls and we we we we

11:56 We just talk you know and like

12:00 I think there was something question we would ask. How are you doing? And I remember those were in the notes, you know, I go back to that metal for you know, like, you know, it's like what I told you when we were in Chicago, you know, I feel like we were like these two teenagers like fell in love and like we have like a baby, you know, and it's just like this baby was ijp and it's just like this baby had me write this baby needed milk needed to go outside with the other kid, you know, you know, you know, I think there is something that sort of

12:48 Gets lost right? There's like an intimacy that gets lost in like The Daily Grind, you know, and you know, I kind of look back on those those notes and emails with the so much like fondness for also sadness because I was just like

13:09 You know, I was just like what happened, you know, and I think part of it is.

13:15 You know for me sort of like

13:21 Is it it's almost like, you know, it makes me think of that that expression like what you fight is what you become, you know, and it's just like I feel like we were pushing against pushing against pushing guess. I remember you said that right you just like I'm tired of fighting and pushing against like the medical establishment. Like I actually want to do things that bring me joy, right? And I think you know,

13:52 I think there's something

13:55 That you did which was friend took actually be like, I'm going to move toward what brings me. Joy, right? Like I'm going to have my chickens. I'm going to have animals. I'm going to have a garden like, you know, I'm going to do what I want to do. Right? So, you know, I think it's a sight, you know to go back to what I was saying about what you fight is what you become like, I think that's like

14:21 I wonder like what in me upon reflection like

14:27 I wonder if I was going, you know, it's kind of like having to you know, navigate having to fight fight fight come back. This angle. Come at the angle. What was I missing out on you know?

14:41 So

14:43 Yeah.

14:49 That made me think of something when you said the fight we become what we we become what we fight.

14:57 Oh.

15:04 I don't know. It's not. Right now it went away.

15:13 I think what me and you both shared is like tip of the iceberg and I'm kind of excited to go deeper with that like a so many things came to me when you were saying all that and

15:28 I know.

15:31 For me, at least I know there's more.

15:34 Then what I said, you know, I tried to say one thing, you know, I'm like an interview mode. Like what is the headline I can give them? What is that one sound bite and I talked in sound bites without even training. I remember we had training or Liana interact. We would have a media trainer come to talk to you that I was the youth coordinator. So I'll be there in listening and I'm glad they would teach us how to speak. You know, it's a bit media, and I you know after that I just

16:05 I can see myself talking in sound bites or easily tweetable things and I think that coupled with my

16:17 Use of overuse of social media leads to a very unnatural way of existing and in relating to people in relationships, and I think my

16:33 Push back away from activism recently is because

16:39 I realize all this is what you made me think of is like when you said we become what we fight. I think that's how you say I think my push bag was

16:55 I just didn't want them to do to be able to Define me anymore like

17:03 We basically I realize I'm 34 years old and most of my life all of my life has been defined in some way or another by them and two different ways like At first I didn't really know everything but it was defined by then forcing me to go to the hospital and get surgeries and they lied to me and they told me to lie to people so I was out here lying in the streets and always holding a secret for them at their

17:29 Request or Direction and then I find out the truth when I'm 18.

17:36 And then my life became controlled by them in a way where I feel I felt like I had this new power or a ton of Me by fighting them cuz I'm a very

17:49 What's the word I'm very own.

17:52 Revenge, I like Ben Revenge. I'm going to take control by like fighting them to end these things that happened to me, but then some way that's still controlling me.

18:14 Call my bae. You mean the medical establishment. So my identity became first and foremost wrapped in intersex identity. And I remember being a young intersex kid coming up the ranks and older activists and older people that weren't even active is just in the support group network saying,

18:42 This doesn't have to you don't have to.

18:46 You're more than intersect. Just remember that and I felt like that was so insulting. I was like what is better? There's nothing more to me than intersex. Like all I want is the only surgeries and in order to do that. I can only be intersect like and I that's all I want to I can't even think about like anything that's so different than growing up. I was interested in all these things and then it became like intersex intersex and your sights and I became in a way not the thing I was fighting but I became controlled in a way in a different way by the thing I was fighting and I think that's why

19:24 After the win

19:29 I felt this permission.

19:31 From who knows? Who knows where what knows why give up take a break and and I think that's what you do my body shut down and everything and I think that's so true. What you said is like

19:57 It's so attractive and I think also before.

20:02 Kate asked you that or maybe was after we had someone else asked us something similar on a funding call or with joy who said

20:13 Who told us explained to us that?

20:16 They understand the cost of story-based activism where you have to continually share your personal trauma on your story in your activism. And I do realize that there's a differential are different ways of doing Atkins. I felt like everyone just share their trauma and so for her to like underlined that and tell us how she saw she sees us and our

20:40 And like how hard that is how hard it must be and that she's wondering if we're taking care of ourselves, you know, and as for the calf under to say that stuff cuz you know, I'm like allergic to so but I think for the first time I felt

20:57 Like this like I knew that already kind of knew they were different kind of fun. There's but for someone's I hold a mirror up to us and that way and say like this takes a lot out of human beings to do story-based activism know when I move it's just depressing like I could you I have to see every little picture every book and all the memories come back all the flooding and you find all the old intersex pamphlet from different conferences or whatever. You know, I was