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As intersex, you no longer have to feel alone – Ricalyn

Growing up, Ricalyn was called ‘balaki’ (half male, half female). Eventually discovering she’s intersex, she became an activist, wanting to teach intersex people not to be afraid to surface. “We’re here to support. Ask for support.”

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.”

Even in kindergarten, Ricalyn said she was always aware she was different. Her body, particularly her external genitalia, was unlike others her age, and though she was assigned female at birth, she was always boyish. And – in fact – everybody seemed to know her condition, e.g. “sa barangay namin, ang tawag sa akin is ‘balaki’. Kalahating babae, kalahating lalaki. The term was derived from old movies. Kaya alam ko na (iba ako) kasi usap-usapan na rin, sinasabi na ng mga matatanda. ‘Ikaw yung may dalawang kasarian. Ikaw ay balaki’ (in our barangay, they called me ‘balaki’. Half woman, half man. The term was derived from old movies. So I knew I’s different because older people talked about it. ‘You’re the one with two sexes. You’re balaki’).”

Ricalyn remembered feeling annoyed. But also, “naisip ko sa sarili ko, ‘Ako lang ba nag-iisa sa mundo?’ (I thought to myself, ‘Am I alone in the world?’).”

In truth, Ricalyn shouldn’t even be asking that question since she has relatives with the intersex variations, including an auntie from her mother’s side. “The family openly talked about it,” Ricalyn said, though “none could really explain things extensively.”

“For parents who have a hard time accepting intersex people, “tanggapin nila kasi yun na yun eh, reality na ng pagkatao ng anak nila. Di naman mababago ng denial yan eh.”

GROWING UP DIFFERENT

There were issues to do with her condition while Ricalyn was growing up. And many of these issues were because of adults deciding for her, even if they did not fully understand her situation.

For instance, since she was assigned female at birth, she was supposed to be forced to wear clothes associated with women. But because she had ambiguous genitalia, “medyo confused din sila eh kung ano ang gagawin nila sa akin (they were also confused on what to do with me),” Ricalyn said, with her mother allowing her to wear shorts and polo shirts, and her father wanting her to be more feminine, complete with pigtails.

There were issues to do with her condition while Ricalyn was growing up. And many of these issues were because of adults deciding for her, even if they did not fully understand her situation.

School wasn’t exactly a safe space for Ricalyn, and not just from schoolmates who bullied her, but also from teachers who were curious about her condition. One teacher, for example, was told about her condition, and “out of curiosity, gusto niya makita ang itsura ng ari ko raw. Pinunta niya ako sa likod ng room. Pinaghubad niya ako. Tiningnan. Ako naman, masunuring bata, pinakita ko. Akala ko siya lang. Di pa siya nakuntento, tinawag niya pa ang isang guro. Ngayon ko lang na-realize na-violate ako that time (she wanted to see my genitalia. She ordered me to go to the backroom. She told me to strip. She looked me over. I was an obedient child, so I showed her. I thought it was just her. But she wasn’t contented, she called another teacher. I only just realized I was violated then).”

Though her mother reprimanded this teacher, she was basically unpunished.

LOOKING FOR OTHER INTERSEX PEOPLE

The very first time Ricalyn knew of a public person who may be intersex was when track athlete Nancy Navalta was disallowed from competing. “Sabi ng nanay ko, ‘Day, katulad mo yan. Dalawa rin ang kasarian.’ Akala ko nag-iisa lang ako, pero ayun na (My mother said, ‘Girl, she’s like you. She also has two sets of genitalia.’ I thought I was alone, then I saw her).”

The term was foreign to Ricalyn, though. Instead – even when she started surfing the internet – the word that first surfaced to her was “hermaphrodite”, particularly after she searched for “both sexes appearing in one person.” She was 17 or 18 then, when – for the first time – “I found a word to define my sex characteristics.”

It was also online where she met others like her, and which eventually led her to joining Intersex Philippines, Inc. “Doon ko nalaman ang term. ‘Ang tawag sa atin, hindi hermaphrodite. Intersex.’ I tried to search the term intersex, and ayun na, marami lumabas (That’s where I knew of the term. ‘People like us are not called hermaphrodite. Intersex.’ I tried to search the term intersex, and I had many results).”

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The very first time Ricalyn knew of a public person who may be intersex was when track athlete Nancy Navalta was disallowed from competing. “Sabi ng nanay ko, ‘Day, katulad mo yan. Dalawa rin ang kasarian.’ Akala ko nag-iisa lang ako, pero ayun na.”

INCREASED AWARENESS NEEDED

For Ricalyn, increasing awareness needs to be prioritized. Such as in rural health centers since “most of us were not born in cities, and people there need to be informed since most of the time there nakadikit sa superstition na huwag na gawan ng anoman, o sinumpa ang pamilya mo (this is anchored on superstition that we shouldn’t be given medical care, or that our families were cursed).” And among families of intersex people, too, since “they don’t even know kung saan nila ilalapit yung anak nila (where they can take their intersex child for help).”

“My message to intersex people is huwag sila matakot lumabas. Lalo lang silang maging malungkot kapag hinayaan nilang ang sarili lang ang kanilang dinadala.”

And for parents who have a hard time accepting intersex people, “tanggapin nila kasi yun na yun eh, reality na ng pagkatao ng anak nila. Di naman mababago ng denial yan eh. Bagkus sa acceptance, mas magiging maluwag, mas magiging magaan ang pakiramdam ng isang intersex na tanggap sila, they belong, di sila iba sa ibang tao (accept them because that’s the reality. This won’t be changed by denial. Instead, with acceptance, intersex people will feel lighter because they’d belong, they won’t be seen as different from others).” – WITH ARTHUR ABAD NWABIA

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.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).

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