Books penned by Latine authors serve as bridges between cultures, transporting readers into worlds they might never otherwise explore. From Richard Blanco to Elizabeth Acevedo, the world is equipped with stories that give our community a voice. These narratives, woven with the threads of unique Latine experiences, carry the power to challenge stereotypes, dismantle prejudices, and foster empathy among readers.
Within this literary landscape is Hida Viloria, a brilliant Latine author whose words resonate far beyond the pages of their books. Beyond being an author, they are also a passionate activist. Viloria stands at the intersection of multiple facets of our community; they are not only a Latine author but also proudly intersex and nonbinary, defying societal norms and championing acceptance for all.
In this illuminating conversation, we dive into Viloria’s life, inspirations, and aspirations, exploring how their words are shaping a more inclusive world.
Tell us a bit more about yourself.
I was named after my grandmother, the first American-born child of Colombian and Venezuelan parents. I’m also intersex, and for those who’ve never heard of intersex people, I’ll share that “intersex” is a biological category of people, like male and female, that has existed as long as humans have. It refers to people born with bodies that are not typically male or female or have a blend of both male and female sex characteristics. I’m in the latter group, which is why my memoir is named “Born Both.” But intersex people are a diverse group. Some of us look male or female (with differences that are internal or chromosomal and invisible to the eye), and some of us, like me, look visibly in between. We are the group that was known for centuries as hermaphrodites, and today some of us use “herm” for short.
What are some misconceptions people have about you?
That I’m a serious person when I’m also so goofy that some friends have called me a cartoon character; or, conversely, that I’m just a goofball and not as serious or driven and accomplished as I actually am.
What inspired you to write ‘Born Both’ and ‘The Spectrum of Sex?’
My inspiration to write my books came from my early awareness of social prejudice — as someone who grew up hearing the racist term “Spic”— and the awareness, in my late twenties, of the outrageous discrimination that my intersex community faces. Society doesn’t even want to admit that Intersex people exist and allows doctors to cut up our bodies as babies and children to make us “typical” males or females. My parents didn’t do this to me, and I was horrified when I learned about the practice — which is based on the idea that being intersex is so horrible that we must be changed into something else— and about how much it had harmed other intersex people. I was inspired to write my memoir, “Born Both,” because I knew that sharing my story would help educate people, especially future parents, about the fact that being intersex is just as wonderful as being male or female, and in doing so help future generations of intersex people to be able to live as who they are.
With my second book, “The Spectrum of Sex,” my inspiration came from the fact that the few science books that covered the biological existence of intersex people used terms like “disorder” and “deficiency” to describe us, even though it’s not necessary to refer to healthy intersex traits this way. So, when I was approached by biologist Maria Nieto to co-author an affirming biology book about intersex people my answer was an easy, immediate, “yes!”
What was the writing process like for your books?
In writing my memoir, sometimes the words flowed out of me frantically, as if on their own, which was completely exhilarating, but other times I had to step away completely, for months. That went on for years until I created the opportunity to work on it full time. Once I did that, I was able to take the different stories I had written over the years and reshape and tie them together into a manuscript in just one month. Then, I found a literary agent to represent me based on that manuscript. Once we sold it to my publisher, Hachette, the process was much smoother because I had an advance to write it and deadlines, which helped a lot! The writing process for “The Spectrum of Sex” was all about research and finding different, affirming language to describe intersex development. So, it was essentially academic writing (except for my introduction), which I find less exciting, but also easier.
Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced while writing these books?
I announced that I was writing a memoir years before I had the focus to do it — so people kept asking me about it, which created pressure and the fear that I’d never be able to finish it. But finding the time and focus to write while having to support myself with other work was the biggest challenge of all. Also, after I’d sold the book to Hachette a new challenge emerged: digging deeper, emotionally, to make the final book (which ended up being quite different from my first manuscript) as honest and good as it could be. That was sometimes very psychologically challenging as it felt like reliving my life’s most painful, vulnerable moments and putting them on the page for all to see. Also, Hachette had a slightly different vision for the memoir, so I had to keep reshaping and refining it—but as creatively challenging as that was, I was thrilled to do it because I knew the book would finally be coming out soon. For “The Spectrum of Sex,” I was in a better place financially and it’s an academic book, so the personal challenges were gone, but I co-authored the book, which is harder in some ways than writing on one’s own.
How was the initial reaction to your first book?
The initial reaction to my memoir was spectacular and, no, I was not expecting it! I was hoping for it, but I had no idea how it would go. In fact, I remember feeling absolutely terrified, thinking, “What the hell did I do?,” the week the book was coming out. I had worked on it so hard, but I felt completely naked and vulnerable having written something so intimate about a topic that people rarely talk about that I almost wished I could take it back. So, when it came out to wonderful reviews (in the NYT, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and many more places) I was more relieved and overjoyed than I’ve been about almost anything.
How do you believe the Latine community will benefit from reading your books?
The Latine community has struggled both to be accepted within American society and to accept some of our own community members, particularly LGBTQIA folks. So, learning about the path to acceptance of those deemed so different that we’re not even talked about can be deeply healing — which is the most common feedback I’ve gotten about Born Both from readers.
Also, there are some intersex variations that are more common in Latine, Mediterranean, and Ashkenazi populations. So, it’s especially important for the Latine community to be educated on intersex issues so that we don’t unintentionally harm our own children. My father was a doctor and my parents decided not to change me, even though I was different from other girls, because there was nothing physically wrong with me. That was the smartest, healthiest approach, as the intersex community and a growing number of doctors more educated in social psychology agree. We recommend assigning intersex babies a male or female sex — for now — because most social services are only available to children assigned male or female —but without making any irreversible changes to their bodies. Like everyone else, we should be the ones to decide if we want any cosmetic procedures on body parts that play such a significant role in our lives.
What do you hope people will learn after reading your books?
I hope that people will learn that diversity is perfectly natural, that there is beauty and positive potential in difference, and that children love themselves and others unless they are taught not to by adults.
Any final thoughts for the BELatina News audience?
I feel blessed to have been born Latine and intersex, as both have given me insights and qualities I love. I hope that you can all love and welcome the intersex folks in our community, and beyond.For Image credit or remove please email for immediate removal - firstname.lastname@example.org