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As intersex, our only choice is to accept – Rodela

Rodela was 13 years old when “I felt I was different” because of her external genitalia. A doctor told her everything’s normal; so “normal” there’s a term in the local dialect to refer to her condition: ‘labaw tinggil’. She was eventually diagnosed as intersex. “If we don’t accept ourselves, we become our own burden. How can others accept us if we don’t accept ourselves?”

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.”

Rodela always knew she was different. When she was 13 years old when “na-feel ko sa sarili ko na kakaiba ako (I felt I was different)” because of her external genitalia. So she persuaded her mom to go with her for a check-up at a rural health center, where a doctor told her everything’s normal. “So normal,” he supposedly told her, “that there’s even a term in the local dialect to refer to her condition: ‘labaw tinggil’ (literally, protruding clitoris).” And so she initially dropped this subject. “Sabi ko, kung normal yun, eh di okay (I said, if it’s normal, it’s okay then).”

When she was 15 or 16 years old, she noticed she did not yet menstruate even if others her age already did. But then she was told by a classmate to wait until she turned 18; and that if she still didn’t menstruate then, she may as well get checked.

“A neighbor told me in a joking manner while I was walking, ‘There she goes, she wears bra even if she doesn’t have breasts and even if she’s not a woman.’ They all laughed.”

DEALING WITH DISCRIMINATION

Even then, she already experienced discrimination. “Naranasan ko yung… sinabihan ako ng kapitbahay namin in a joking manner habang naglalakad ako, ‘Ayan na siya, nagsusuot ng bra wala naman dede, hindi naman babae.’ Tapos nagtatawanan sila. Tapos tinanong ako. Sino daw ba yung lalaki na magkakagusto sa akin kasi daw hindi ako babae. Hindi naman daw ako magkaka-anak (A neighbor told me in a joking manner while I was walking, ‘There she goes, she wears bra even if she doesn’t have breasts and even if she’s not a woman.’ They all laughed. Then they asked me. What guy will like me when I’m not a woman? I will not have a child).”

In college, she had herself checked by an OB-GYN, who expressed her surprise to Rodela’s condition. “Sa lahat daw ng pasyente niya sa ilang taon niya daw na naging OB-GYNE, first time niya daw nakita yung condition ko. Kaya nagtawag siya ng asawa niya na pediatrician. Tapos nagtawag uli siya ng isa pang OB-GYN sa kabilang clinic. Tapos nagpunta sa akin. Nag-usap silang dalawa. Inadvise sa akin nung OB-GYN na magpa-ultrasound ako (Of all her patients working for years as OB-GYN, it was the first time she saw a condition like mine. So she called her husband, a pediatrician. He called another OB-GYN from another clinic. She came to me. They talked. They advised me to get an ultrasound).”

Rodela’s ultrasound exhibited her having no secondary sex characteristics as female; and she was told that she’s male.

Rodela was told to prepare ₱15,000… for her to be studied. “Para daw sa mga tests, laboratory tests. Hindi pa naman ako nag-agree (They said it’s for tests, laboratory tests. I have yet to agree).”

HIDING FROM PEOPLE

The struggle started immediately for Rodela since “I was assigned female at birth so hindi ko matanggap na ayun ang diagnosis sa akin (I couldn’t accept that diagnosis).”

And so she hid this from people. At work, for instance, “hindi ko sinabi na ganito condition ko (I didn’t tell anyone of my condition).” She said she even had to play pretend, such as claiming to also menstruate, just to get people off her back. “Mahirap siya kasi kailangan mo magtago (It’s hard because you have to hide).”

Rodela was told to prepare ₱15,000… for her to be studied. “Para daw sa mga tests, laboratory tests. Hindi pa naman ako nag-agree (They said it’s for tests, laboratory tests. I have yet to agree).”

Despite all her dealings with medical professionals, Rodela remains dissatisfied, mainly because they gave her different diagnoses. The first OB-GYN said she’s male, only to be contradicted by the second one. And so her search continues.

Rodela has yet to see agencies – including those run by the government – that helps intersex people. And so for her, there is a need to make services available to them “hindi naman namin kasalanan na ganito kami.”

CONTINUING TO FACE CHALLENGES

Being different was – and still is – challenging, admitted Rodela.

And the challenge starts at home.

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The third of six children, Rodela actually has a relative (on her mother’s side) who has the same condition as hers (in their local language, referred to as “libon”, meaning “close”), and yet her parents still do not seem to know how to properly handle what she’s going through. “Yung sinasabi ko kay mama, papa, kinukuwento sa iba. So parang pinagtatawanan ako ng iba (If I tell my mom, my dad, they tell others. So those people laugh at me).”

To younger intersex Filipinos, “ipagpatuloy lang din ang buhay nyo. Kasi wala naman tayong choice eh. Ang choice lang natin is to accept. Kasi kung tayo mismo, ako mismo kung di ko tanggap ang sarili ko, maging burden din yun sa akin. Kasi paano ako tatanggapin ng iba kung ako mismo sa sarili ko hindi ko tanggap (continue living. We don’t have a choice. Our only choice is to accept. Because if we don’t accept ourselves, we become our own burden. How can others accept us if we don’t accept ourselves)?” – WITH MICHAEL DAVID C. TAN

Rodela actually has a relative who has the same condition as hers (in their local language, referred to as “libon”, meaning “close”), and yet her parents still do not seem to know how to properly handle what she’s going through.

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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