Erik and Erika is the dramatization of the extraordinary life story of Austrian World Skiing Champion Erika Schinegger who relinquished her title when she finally became Erik.
Born in 1948 to a farmer’s wife, as the baby had no physical signs of any genitalia, the midwife declared that she was a girl, and the family went along with it. Growing up on the remote farm, Erika was quite the tomboy and loved to repair the tractor or make some homemade skis for her to become quite the daredevil sportswoman.
In puberty with no sign of any breasts growing she was aware that she was unlike other girls in her school, but it was a topic that she discussed with no-one, especially her mother .
Her daredevil techniques on the slopes brought her to the attention of local coaches, and then to that of the Austrian National Team who were happy to embrace this high-speed athlete who could win medals and bring glory to the publicity hungry bosses.
Erika (Markus Freistatter) was worshipped as a Champion but then the 1968 Olympics organisers in Grenoble introduced a new medical test that said genetically Erika was a man. Team Officials, more concerned with their own reputation in the news should leak,, hospitalized Erika and put pressure on her and her parents to make them agree to surgery to give her the physical appearance of a woman.
If it hadn’t been for the interference of a kindly Nun who was looking after and a sympathetic Doctor who finally explained the real details, that Erika made her choice.
The ignorance about intersex children back then was tragically poor as on many levels it still is today. Conforming to society’s expectations that a child’s gender is clearly defined as either male or female caused a great deal of heartache to people who then grew up in a void in between. In Erik’s case there was a happy ending, as we learn after the credits role that he married and father a child and now runs a very successful Childrens Ski Resort back in his home village.
This new documentary by Austrian filmmaker Reinhold Bilgeri treats the story with a great deal of sensitivity and neatly avoids any temptation to sensationalise it. The sympathetic portrayals of Erik/Erika and her mother in particular are a key component to understanding how society’s predicaments can have a devastating effect of individuals in situations similar to these. In this way the film makes a perfect contribution to the continuing dialogue about gender dysphoria.