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As intersex, don’t be afraid to seek help – MJ

Assigned female at birth, MJ at first thought he’s a lesbian for identifying as male. Eventually diagnosed to have Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome (PAIS), a genetic condition occurring when the body can’t respond to male sex hormones (androgens), he notes the multi-layered issues affecting intersex people.

ALL PHOTOS BY AARON MOSES C. BONETE; COURTESY OF BAHAGHARI CENTER FOR SOGIE RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY, INC. and INTERSEX PHILIPPINES, INC.

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

MJ was around 23 years old when he sought medical care for the pain he felt in his groin area. Assigned female at birth, an OB-GYN told her to get laboratory tests, including an ultrasound. That was when “sinabi nga niya sa akin yung condition ko na meron daw akong rare case na sakit. Sa ultrasound, doon niya nakita na yung mga organs ko pang-male(she told me that I have a rare ‘sickness’. In the ultrasound, that’s where she saw my genitalia was for male).”

What was causing MJ pain then were undescended testes; one testicle was eventually removed.

After that surgery, more tests were recommended for MJ to do, including karyotyping. “Then doon nga nalaman na XY yung chromosomes ko (That’s when they found I have XY chromosomes).”

Looking back, “lumaki kasi ako na ano, Mary Jane ang pangalan ko. Assigned female at birth. So habang lumalaki ako, akala ko tomboy ako (I was named Mary Jane at birth. Assigned female at birth. So while growing up, I thought I was a lesbian).”

The lack of experts in intersex people’s issues is lamentable. MJ experienced “shocking” medical people during physical exams when he applied for jobs.

LAYERS OF ISSUES

Since then, MJ has been noting various issues affecting intersex people.

To start, the entire process of knowing one’s intersex variation was – and still is – costly. Karyotyping alone costs around ₱7,500. Add the related expenses when accessing karyotyping (e.g. transportation to the few facilities offering this in Metro Manila), and the expenses more than double.

Secondly, expenses do not stop after knowing one’s intersex variation. In MJ’s case in particular, post-surgery, he was required to take testosterone shots to “correct the hormonal imbalance.” Sadly, “napakamahal niya. Bale yung isang vial, 10mL, nag-co-cost siya ng ₱15,000. Yung shot niyon, 1mL twice a week. So bale yung 10mL na yun, halos isang buwan lang. Available siya kung may pera. Pero kung wala ka pera, sorry (it’s very expensive. One vial, 10mL, costs ₱15,000. You consume 1mL twice a week. So that 10mL only lasts for about a month. So this is available if you have money. If not, sorry).”

Thirdly, changing legal documents is tedious… and expensive. MJ attempted to re-register herself (late registry), though this time as male instead of female. He was told this is not possible as it would mean “erasing his whole existence” with all his records (e.g. school records) going to be invalidated. The only option for him is to use the SC’s decision on Jeff Cagandahan’s case, though this would mean MJ needs to cough up from ₱10,000 to pay professionals to process his request, ₱6,000 more just to get documents asked of him, and so on. “Ikaw cocover niyan lahat (You cover everything),” he said.

Fourthly, the lack of experts in intersex people’s issues is lamentable. MJ experienced “shocking” medical people during physical exams when he applied for jobs. “Nagugulat sila meron akong testicles atsaka enlarged clitoris. So isipin nila, bakit female yung nakalagay doon, and male ako (They are shocked I have testicles and an enlarged clitoris. They think, why does it say female in the documents but he’s male?).”

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Changing legal documents is tedious… and expensive. MJ attempted to re-register herself (late registry), though this time as male instead of female. He was told this is not possible as it would mean “erasing his whole existence” with all his records (e.g. school records) going to be invalidated.

WHEN PEOPLE DON’T KNOW

In his hometown in Cabanatuan, the doctors MJ consulted with have actually already changed his gender markers in hospital records. This was mainly to avoid confusions since the tests he said he gets there are for males. Alas, this change is limited only on that health facility, so elsewhere, MJ continues to be misidentified as female, solely because of his assigned sex at birth.

And lastly, discrimination continues to be common particularly since “mostly doon sa amin, hindi nila alam ang intersex. Ang alam lang talaga nila is gay, lesbian, and others (most of the people where I’m from, they don’t know about intersex people. They only know gays, lesbians, and others).”

Naranasan ko yung sa work, hindi ako natanggap. Kasi imbes na skill yung pag-usapan, ang nagyari, magugulat sila, parang bawal doon yung lesbian. Ang tinatanggap lang nila, male or female (I experienced while looking for work, I didn’t get accepted. Because instead of discussing my skills, what happened was they were shocked, and then said lesbians aren’t allowed there. They only accept ‘male’ or ‘female’).”

The false assumption about MJ’s gender identity also limits finding a partner. “Very tricky maghanap jowa. Ang hirap i-explain yung sarili mo.

MJ found a job eventually, in the medical field. And there, he said, things got better. Because there, “pag ini-explain ko sa kanila yun, yung mga friends ko, hindi naman ako na-di-discriminate. Kasi halos ang friends ko health workers kasi eh… so naiintindihan nila (when I explain to them, they don’t discriminate. Because most of my friends there are health workers, so they understand).”

CHALLENGES IN FINDING LOVE

This false assumption about MJ’s gender identity also limits finding a partner. “Very tricky maghanap jowa. Ang hirap i-explain yung sarili mo. Iisipin nila… tomboy ka, pero ayaw kasi nila ng tomboy (It’s very tricky when looking for a partner. It’s hard to explain yourself. They think you’re a lesbian, and they don’t like lesbians).”

Support is what’s needed, said MJ, and he somehow found this in Intersex Philippines, Inc., which – he said – keeps his mental state stable by linking him to others like himself. This is also important since his family is – itself – not fully embracing him.

And so for younger intersex people, MJ said: “Dapat magiging aware na tayo sa kung ano tayo. And huwag tayong mahihiyang mag-seek ng help (Be aware of what you are. And don’t be afraid to seek help).” – WITH MICHAEL DAVID dela Cruz TAN

THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE APPEARED IN “I EXISTS”, A COFFEE TABLE BOOK PRODUCED IN 2023 BY INTERSEX PHILIPPINES, INC. (IXPI) TO HIGHLIGHT THAT THE ‘I’ IN THE LGBTQIA ACRONYM EXISTS, AND THAT MANY OF THEIR ISSUES CONTINUE TO BE NEGLECTED EVEN BY THE LGBTQIA COMMUNITY.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON IXPI, OR OF “I EXISTS”, CONTACT IXPI, THE PIONEERING ORGANIZATION FOR INTERSEX PEOPLE IN THE PHILIPPINES.

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Referring to himself as a "student of life", Arthur writes to "give sense to the world". He is into constant discovery... meaning, more writing about what's found.

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