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Living as intersex is an ongoing struggle: How Charm traverses being different

Meet Charm, who may have been assigned female at birth but knew even as a kid that “there was something different about me.” Eventually finding out he’s intersex, he lamented the challenges people like him face, from discrimination of medical professionals, and failure of the State to offer support.

ALL PHOTOS BY AARON MOSES C. BONETE, COURTESY OF 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.”

Charm may have been assigned female at birth but “bata pa ako alam ko na may kakaiba sa akin (I was still a child but I already knew there was something different about me).” In fact, after noticing that his body differed from his peers, he wanted to get checked, but his guardian – the aunt who raised him after his parents separated – discouraged him, telling him “huwag na lang daw kasi baka mapag-aralan o whatever (not to do this because I may be studied or something).”

And yet none of the people around him was able to discuss with Charm what he was going through – e.g. during puberty, secondary male characteristics surfaced, so that Charm asked his mother: “‘Bakit po ganito, ganyan nangyayari sa akin (Why is this, why is that happening to me)?’ She couldn’t speak; she also didn’t understanding what was happening).”

And so – sans knowledge – Charm initially identified as a lesbian, even if he really saw himself as a man, particularly since “wala ako kilala na intersex na katulad ko. Akala ko ako lang dati, isa lang ako (I didn’t know of other intersex people like me. I thought I was alone, that I was the only such case).”

Looking back, Charm said it wasn’t exactly easy being different, particularly sans the knowledge about being intersex.

FINDING ONESELF

Around 2014, Charm started researching online. “Nalaman ko yung (I discovered the word) hermaphrodite.” This researching also led him to others in the intersex community; they linked him to Intersex Philippines, Inc. Clarity started to dawn, at last.

In 2019, Charm gained the courage to get checked. He went to an endocrinologist, who – after checking him – told him to go to the OB-GYN. “Inexplain sa akin ng doctor na may part ako na may panglalaki sa taas. At the same time, bukod doon, may parte na pambabae sa baba (The doctor explained to me that I have parts for male. At the same time, I have parts for female).”

Also surprising was this doctor’s initial refusal to issue a medical certificate to Charm. His excuse: “Yung document pag may ibang nakakita, malalaman ang situwasyon mo (If others see the document, they’d know your situation).” He only issued this – for a fee – after he was sure Charm knew about “hermaphrodites”. And in that document he provided, he wrote one word: Hermaphroditism. Along with a recommendation for Charm to see a urologist.

Charm already informed his family about this, and “wala naman problema sa kanila (it’s not a problem to them),” he said, even if “pagdating sa intersex, hindi pa malalim ang alam nila, yung pag-intindi nila (when it comes to intersex, the don’t have enough knowledge, they don’t understand it well yet).”

Charm initially identified as a lesbian, even if he really saw himself as a man, particularly since “wala ako kilala na intersex na katulad ko. Akala ko ako lang dati, isa lang ako.”

LIVING DIFFERENTLY

Looking back, Charm said it wasn’t exactly easy being different, particularly sans the knowledge about being intersex.

In sports, men did not allow him to play with them, and he was forced to play with women. But “iba yung lakas ko sa kanila pag nabubunggo ko sila. Dumating sa point na ayaw ko na makipaglaro kasi hindi ko alam kung para saan ako. Kahit pangarap ko maging basketbolista (I was stronger than them when I bumped against them. I reached a point where I just lost interest in playing since I didn’t know where I fit. Even if I really wanted to be a basketball player).”

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In school, he was forced to wear women’s clothes, joined the queue for women, and used women’s facilities. “Kasi yun ang policy (That’s the policy),” Charm said, “and we just follow.”

“If you’re confused with yourself, that’s normal, I also experienced that. If you think you’re alone, that no one else is like you, that you’re unique, there are other intersex people. And we’re just here.”

IN CONSTANT SEARCH FOR SUPPORT

The path to self-discovery is important for Charm, particularly if aided by families. So that “yung mga magulang, hintayin yung mga bata mag-decide sa sarili nila na kung ano yung gusto nila. Huwag nilang hadlangan. Suportahan nila ang mga batang intersex (parents should wait for their children to decide what they want. Don’t hinder them. Support intersex children).”

All the same, Charm said that intersex people, particularly the young, should not lose hope.

Kung naguguluhan sila sa sarili nila ngayon, normal lang yan kasi naranasan ko rin yan. Kung akala nila nag-iisa sila, na wala silang katulad, na unique lang sila, meron po. Nandito lang kami (If you’re confused with yourself, that’s normal, I also experienced that. If you think you’re alone, that no one else is like you, that you’re unique, there are other intersex people. And we’re just here),” he 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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"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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