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Intersex advocacy starts with increasing awareness – Dana

Meet Dana, who has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, considered by some to be among the intersex variations. “The lack of awareness on this in the Philippines is what needs to be worked on. So… if I can help, like in spreading awareness, I’d do this.”

ALL PHOTOS BY AARON MOSES C. BONETE; COURTESY OF BAHAGHARI CENTER AND OUTRAGE MAGAZINE

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.”

As early as 2014 or 2015, Dana already knew she has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Right after finishing college, while applying for work, she was told to undergo medical tests. It was found that her urine had elements seen in pregnant women. Since she was not sexually active, an anal ultrasound/sonogram was done, which showed her having polycystic growths. “So the explanation was because of PCOS,” Dana said.

In a way, Dana saw other signs when she was younger. Her menstruation started later than her peers, as an example; and – at first – it only happened once, before she entered high school, only to recur when she was already in college. “Pina-check ako sa OB-GYN… and sabi, it could be irregular. Pero pagbalik niya, magiging regular na, sabi niya. Pero di siya bumalik until I was in college na. Still not regular. Mga once a year, twice a year (I had my condition checked by an OB-GYN, and she said that it could be because mine’s irregular. When it returns, it would already be regular. But it didn’t return until I was already in college. Still not regular. Only happens once or twice a year).”

FINDING ANSWERS

She remembered asking if there’s a cure for PCOS, and then was told there’s none… yet.

“I had three OB-GYN I frequently visited. Same sila ng explanation na (They all had the same explanation that) it could be genetic, it could be acquired. But so far there is no actual by-the-book explanation ng PCOS,” said Dana.

With PCOS, “mas mataas ang testosterone, which is hindi dapat kung I’m a female. Kaya mabuhok ako. Tabain ako. So sabi ko… baka intersex ako. Pero pabiro lang (sa classmate) noon (my testosterone level is higher, which shouldn’t be the case for females. So I am hairy. I gain weight faster. I used to say that perhaps I’m intersex. Though I used to just joke about this).”

“Since I already did some research, the lack of awareness on this in the Philippines is what needs to be worked on. So I said… if I can help, like in spreading awareness, I’d do this.”

All the same, even if she noted more masculine features even if she was assigned female at birth, “parang may closure na. The explanation was given; that there’s an issue with my reproductive organs. I produce testosterone instead of estrogen. So doon pa lang ako nakahanap ng closure, explanation kung paano ako naging PCOS (I found closure there, an explanation about my PCOS condition).”

She was not given life-long medication/s, though she was initially prescribed to take contraceptive pills to induce menstruation. Due to the bad effects on her (e.g. mood swings, weight gain), though, she opted to discontinue this.

And then in 2022, while researching on intersex people’s issues, Dana was informed that – though this may be contentious – some consider PCOS as a variation of the intersex variations. “Due to the lack of information in the Philippines, I wasn’t aware of this,” Dana said, adding that if she believed this to be true, then she may as well join Intersex Philippines, Inc., the pioneering intersex organization in the Philippines.

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EYES WIDE OPEN

This awareness of possibly being part of the intersex community opened Dana’s eyes to the many issues affecting intersex Filipinos. For one, some of the tests needed by them are not even available in provinces; just as experts who could help them tend to be concentrated in more cosmopolitan areas, so that these are not accessible to those who are in far-flung areas. Secondly, health-related expenses could be high, and these may not be covered by health insurance (private or public). And thirdly, awareness about intersex variations continues to be lacking, with intersex people often – and somewhat automatically – lumped with the LGBTQIA community.

Dana admitted, nonetheless, that “it could sometimes get burdensome on my part because I always have to explain. Tapos siyempre I have to look after my health din, so I have to seek ng check-up many times (And then I also have to look after my health, so I have to get checked frequently).”

“It could sometimes get burdensome on my part because I always have to explain. Tapos siyempre I have to look after my health din, so I have to seek ng check-up many times.”

INCREASE AWARENESS

In the end, for Dana, the push to mainstream intersex issues should start with increasing awareness about intersex people.

“Since I did some research na, na-find out ko na yung awareness ng Philippines, yun talaga ang kailangan na i-work out. So sabi ko… kung may maitutulong, like mag-spread ng awareness, gagawin ko (Since I already did some research, the lack of awareness on this in the Philippines is what needs to be worked on. So I said… if I can help, like in spreading awareness, I’d do this),” Dana ended.

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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