The Transformation in Metamorphosis

Gary C. Devilles

We are still too far from understanding the sex of individuals and how it could arise from either ambiguous anatomy or from behavior and desires that are at apparent odds with the sexed body.  Hermaphroditism or intersex presents even more complicated problems. In 1990s, we recall Nancy Navalta, a sprinter who was raised as a girl in Luna La Union and had been winning in various competitions, was subjected to tests by Philippine Sports Commission and declared to be genetically male based on her “undeveloped penis,” or gonadal sex characteristics. Even though medical literature reveals that gonadal sex is just one of the possible tests as there are many including chromosomal sex, fetal hormonal sex, internal/external morphologic sex, brain sex, sex of assignment and rearing, pubertal hormonal sex and procreative sex, the Nancy Navalta case has impinged on our consciousness that science as supported by institutions like the state or religion is the ultimate arbiter of sex and sexual identities and that binary sexual identity is natural and norm. 

This is the backdrop of stories like Metamorphosis, of Adam (Gold Azeron), an intersex who lives with his mother Elena (Yayo Aguila) and his father Edgar (Ricky Davao), a pastor in their neighborhood. This is his story, growing up, confused with his identity and uncertain where he belongs. He is a typical schoolboy who mostly ends up in squabbles with classmates until he meets Angel (Iana Bernadez) who becomes a groupmate in a project and an intimate friend.  When he starts to menstruate, he begins questioning his desires either for Angel or even his doctor (Ivan Padilla).  At first, he is not able to get the opportunity to speak his mind about what he truly feels and wants to be, just as many intersex people have to go through. His father is the one who decides for him to go through a surgical operation until his mother intervenes and prevents him from running away from home.  In the end, we see Adam comfortable with wearing a dress in a carnival, freeing a butterfly in a jar in his collection, and being naked and by herself swimming in the town’s pond.

Although Metamorphosis offers a fictive resolution to Adam’s predicaments, but it does not occlude in any way the long fraught battle of LGBTQI communities for recognition and their rights.  The presidential pardon and release of convicted killer US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton for killing Filipino transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, exactly six years ago, proves that the apparent disregard of the state in gender-related problems is systemic. The gay communities’ fight and eventual emancipation should be construed along and within our struggle for basic human rights.  In the film, we get the hint that personal and social identity should take a role in the medical determination of true sex, not just what is contained inside the body, gonads, hormones, but also of social rearing. Hence, the film envisions that Atom’s transformation or metamorphosis befits a paradigm shift and a radical acceptance of diversity and politics of inclusivity. The real transformation awaits, and Adam’s acceptance of her identity is just the beginning.  Recently, Pope Francis has issued his support for same-sex civil unions, which has the potential to shift debates about the legal status of same-sex couples here and around the globe. In as much as this is victory, there is still much more work to be done.  We learned recently of a transgender Filipina who was detained, isolated and abused in Tokyo Immigration Facility and the widespread bullying and harassment of LGBT students in secondary schools in the country has remained unabated. 

Philosopher Michel Foucault once asked, in his introduction to the diary of Herculine Barbin, a French hermaphrodite who was designated female at birth in 1838 and redesignated male when she was twenty-two, do we really need a true sex?  This idea that one must indeed finally have a true sex is far from being completely dispelled today. Biologists and medical practitioners have inculcated this idea that there exist complex, obscure, and essential relationships between sex and truth for so long that it extends to psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and in current opinion. For Foucault, we have already long deceived ourselves concerning sex and our so called “true identity”.  There is more to discover about who we are and what we are and the multiple truths about our being.  The point is why are we too afraid to accept these truths about ourselves?  Why can’t the likes of Nancy Navalta compete in women’s division, why would the killer of Jennifer Laude merit special treatment, why with the likes of Pato-chan, their humiliations and harassment never cease? The film, Metamorphosis, gestures to one of these possibilities for formation of an ethical self, to a new Adam who embraces both sexes, attuned to their own feelings and desires with a strong genuine care and compassion for others so that all can live.     

METAMORPHOSIS (2019) Direction: J.E. Tiglao. Screenplay: J.E. Tiglao, Boo Dabu. Cast: Gold Azeron, Iana Bernardez, Dylan Ray Talon, Ricky Davao, Yayo Aguila. Editing: Renard Torres. Cinematography: Tey Clamor. Production Design: James Arvin Rosendal. Music: Divino Dayacap. Producers: Cinema One Originals, Rebelde Films. Running Time: 1 hr. 38 mins.

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