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.”
Charm Ison, 28 from Taguig, was christened ‘Charmaine Anne’ as a kid when she was assigned female at birth.
“I was nine or 10 years old when I had my first menstruation and my breasts started developing,” Charm recalled. “That was also the time when I noticed my ambiguous genitalia.”
Charm mentioned this to his Mom “but she just ignored me. (So even then) I hid what I am.” Even then, “people… did not understand the way I see/perceive myself.”
Charm was actually not delivered by a doctor but by a midwife.
“My Mom didn’t reach the hospital; she delivered me in a clinic. My aunt (who was there) told me I was (assigned) female at birth. But she said that even then, she noticed my ambiguous genitalia,” Charm said.
The eldest of six children, Charm’s parents separated. So his aunt adopted him, and his grandmother raised him.
While growing up, Charm asked his aunt to elaborate on the “ambiguity” she observed, “but she told me not to get checked because we don’t know what will be done to me.”
A WORLD OF CONFUSION
Charm recalled that when he was young, “they asked me: What do you want to be when you grow up? They made me wear girls’ clothes, but I wanted boys’ clothes. They gave me Barbie dolls, but I wanted to play with balls and toy guns.”
And so perhaps not surprisingly, while growing up, “I hid my identity by identifying as a lesbian. But the moment I could think for myself, I already thought of myself as a man, acting as one.”
But Charm was – in a word – confused.
In Grade 6, Charm had a masculine haircut and joined a gang/fraternity. And then in high school, he grew his hair long and tried to be more feminine “even though I really felt I’m a man,” he recalled, adding he “tried everything. “I even joined a beauty pageant. And onstage, I acted feminine… I even entertained male suitors. But after these, behind the scene… when I leave the stage, when no one sees me, I still acted masculine. I couldn’t hide what’s in my heart.”
One day, Charm saw a show on TV about an intersex person.
“It made me realize I am not the only one with questions,” he said. “(That) person also had ambiguous genitalia. And this made me think… (even if) my questions were still unanswered. So I still kept praying… that I’ll be okay, that I’d be normal.”
For Charm, “there was a disconnect with the way I thought of myself and my attraction, versus my physical traits. Feminine characteristics were surfacing but I saw myself as a man.”
“Let kids choose what they want to be when they grow up. Let them choose if they want to be male or female. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves.”
Charm was in college when he came out as a lesbian, though “only because that’s what I only knew. So for me, it’s easier to hide my identity by claiming to be a lesbian. At least people stop asking me about (my condition).”
And then Charm discovered an intersex group, and “I started to slowly understand this condition,” he said. For Charm, it helps to be with people experiencing what he’s experiencing; and “I can be honest in this group.”
So that now, “I’m now trying to be comfortable/at ease with this. So that even if people discover I belong to the intersex community, I hope they will accept me.”
Life hasn’t always been easy, said Charm.
“There are instances when they belittle you; when they underestimate you,” Charm said. “But this didn’t hinder me. I show to them that even if I’m like this, I can do anything that others can do, male or female.”
Even now, only some people know of Charm’s condition.
“Many people think I’m a lesbian. And for now, this is fine with me. Because I don’t know if people will accept me the moment they know I am hiding something about who I am,” he said.
Charm added: “People are only used to binaries – e.g. male and female, gay and lesbian. But now, intersex people are surfacing. Hopefully people will become more aware of (intersex conditions). And for people to accept that people like us also exist.”
Charm told his Mom about his condition, “but she doesn’t understand it.” Even his aunt, who helped raise him, “she still doesn’t understand this. Actually, my aunt didn’t even want me to join an intersex group. She’s worried my life will be scrutinized.”
But now with people who share the same experiences as he does, and “even if our conditions are different… belonging to a group makes me happy.”
To date, Charm still hasn’t undergone tests to check his intersex condition. “I need to save a lot of money to get myself checked,” he said. “I also have a lot of questions. Can I bear children? Can I impregnate? Is it possible to change the gender marker in my birth certificate from female to male so I can marry a woman? I still want to be able to marry a woman.”
But self-awareness has dawned at least.
“This is me; and I want to know and discover myself. It is my right to know who/what I really am,” Charm said.
“If you choose to be male or female, affirm/uphold it. Follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself.”
LET PEOPLE BE
“To younger intersex people going through what I’m going through, have faith in yourself. Show who you really are. Don’t be afraid to know who you really are. If you choose to be male or female, affirm/uphold it. Follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself,” Charm said. “We need to show who/what we really are.”
But this struggle isn’t for intersex people alone.
“To (parents of intersex people), let your child decide for himself/herself. When these kids grow, they will have their own perspectives/perceptions. Let these kids choose what they want to be when they grow up. Let them choose if they want to be male or female. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves,” Charm said.
And parents who want to ‘fix’ their children while still young should not “have them undergo surgery. Because when they grow up, they may choose a different sex to the one assigned to them; or different sex characteristics may develop. Their life will be wasted. Let them grow up first, think for themselves, and decide for their future,” Charm ended.