By Kate Montecarlo Cordova
Founder/Chairwoman, Association of Transgender People in the Philippines
A GMA morning news program recently featured a child with “ambiguous genitalia.”
In the said report, the doctor confirmed the sex of the child and said that the presence of two balls is enough to determine the sex – male – and does not need chromosomal assessment.
The reporter explained that having two genitalia does not mean the child is “hermaphrodite…,” because to say so, it needs chromosomal check and physical examination.
Watching this GMA report is alarming for me because there are two professionals and experts in their respective fields provided us confusing and misleading statements.
Notwithstanding the huge amount of research on the conditions of Intersex variations and 60 years of medical studies being conducted on “ambiguous genitalia”, little knowledge has reached to the Philippine seashore.
Further to the damage on the condition of people with intersex variations, the doctor in the report encouraged surgery within 6 to 12 months, “to prevent psychosocial issues”. Contrary to this statement, many experts in medicine suggest to delay the surgery without a strong evidence of medical necessity, until a concerned person is mature enough to make better decision for themselves.
Considerations on human rights, bioethics, education and legal aspects must be taken into account. Legal guidance is a must. This is where our government must come into play. Perceived need for an urgent normalizing surgeries, without proper knowledge on the issue, may pose bigger problems eventually. Insufficient knowledge of medical practitioners like the doctor in the report can create confirmation bias in sex determination, which may have damaging effects to people with intersex condition.
“Ambiguous genitalia” constitutes only about .5% to 1% of the population while people with intersex variations range from 1.7% to 2% of the population, considered as normal as “having a red hair”. In fact, study shows 1 out of 100 have intersex condition.
The conclusive statements that the presence of “two balls” is a determination of maleness and the reporter’s view that chromosal assessment and physical check can only confirm if a person is “hermaphrodite” is fatally incorrect. According to Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), concluded that chromosomes should not be the basis of sex but sex is, “a product of our total genetic makeup, and of the functions of these genes during development”.
“Hermaphrodite” is another term used. An outdated term used that contributes to stigma. “Hermaphrodite” means having two fully developed maleness and femaleness. An impossibility to humans. Ergo, the usuage of the term is an indication of ignorance in the subject matter and exacerbates the confusion.
Without thorough understanding on the existence and prevalence of intersex variations in our populations, it is detrimental to the society and to the fundamental human rights of intersex people.
There is a long way to go for the country to fully address the issues of this phenomenon but there is an urgent need for collaboration of the medical experts, government and the concerned community.
The movement of LGBTQIA+ will only be inclusive and successful in its advocacy if there is an equal representation of intersex people… Media also has its crucial role in bridging the gap.
The United Nations Human Rights (UNHR) has identified human rights abuses against intersex people – lack of adequate information dissemination, forced and coercive medical interventions, problematic practices on clinical healthcare and research – to list a few. So in a country where media practitioners, medical health care providers, and even members of the LGBTQIA don’t have a basic understanding of intersex variations, it is safe to conclude that people in this marginalized community are at risk and don’t get the fundamental human rights they deserve.