When Dalea Rundblad was 15 years old, she was taken to a Mexican hospital for routine treatment. The teenager often felt weak and unsteady, which sometimes caused her to faint. After some tests, Rundblad's doctor and nurses asked her to wait outside while they spoke with the young girl’s mother and grandmother. But even on the other side of the door, she could hear the conversation she wasn’t supposed to know anything about.
“She has XY chromosomes, unlike most girls, who have XX chromosomes,” the doctor explained.
The points Rundblad took away from the secret discussion about her genes: She didn’t have a uterus, so she would never give birth to a baby, and she, in her doctor’s words, was born in-between, something considered taboo and that no one, not even she, should know about.
As an adult, Rundblad, now a Los Angeles-based pop rock recording artist, understands that she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), one of a number of biological intersex conditions.
According to the UN, intersex is an umbrella term referring to the more than 30 different conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the typical definitions of female or male. About one out of 2000 babies are born intersex, and, like others, intersex people identify as male, female, transgender and genderqueer, among other gender identities.
Rundblad is an intersex female, an identity the Mexican-Italian-Spanish woman embraces confidently and without shame. But it wasn’t always that way.
As a teenager, she was told her condition meant she was “living in between.” To explain her doctor visits, Rundblad's mother told her it was better to tell people she had cancer than AIS. No one was allowed to know the truth.
However, rumors about Rundblad being intersex began to circulate after her mother confided in a friend who didn’t keep quiet about her daughter’s condition.
“Within a month, I knew it got out. I got chased to school and bullied heavily. There were guys, older boys, about 18 or so, who would run after me and say they would undress me and tie me to a tree,” she told us. “I felt like a monster.”
School turned into a nightmare. Internally, she was devastated when she learned that the girls around her began getting their periods and she didn’t. The differences appeared on the outside as well. At 5-feet, 10-inches, the teen “stood out” and felt “freakish.” At home, Rundblad didn’t believe she had anyone to turn to.
“I had nobody to talk to. I felt like my mom was embarrassed of me,” she said.
The isolation was overwhelming, and she seriously considered ending it all by taking her own life. She almost did one day after school. The boys were chasing her again, and she hid from them in an abandoned building. She walked up to the fourth floor and took to the window to jump, but something stopped her.
“I had this thought, you can call it an angel, the voice of the universe or consciousness, but it said, ‘if you jump, you will end everything. You won’t hurt anymore. But if you don’t, you can fight and create your own chance, and give it all you got,’” she said. “Somehow, I didn’t jump.”
Rundblad notes that something changed in her following that moment. She sought out words of encouragement and read books about people who overcame great odds.
She didn’t know it then, but she was finding her own voice, one she would use more than a decade later to inspire other intersex girls through Girl Comet, an online community she founded offering information, support and positivity to teens and young adults.
On its Facebook page, Rundblad, with the help of her husband and interns, posts content about being intersex, as well as other LGBTQIA issues. Among the organization’s biggest concerns: ending “corrective” surgeries.
According to Daniela Truffer, co-founder of the international pressure group StopIGM.org, which stands for intersex genital mutilation, doctors across the globe often perform surgery in the first two years of an intersex child’s life to "masculinize" or "feminize" them. The procedure, and those who administer them, view being intersex as a “problem” that needs to be “fixed” before the little one can walk, talk or know of their condition.
"These surgeries are medically unnecessary, irreversible and non-consensual," Truffer, who is also intersex, said.
Rundblad agrees, calling the procedure “barbaric.”
“There is no danger in most cases for an intersex baby’s health. It’s just for the discomfort of the parents and doctor for having a baby they cannot define,” she added.
According to the Intersex Society of North America, one or two in 1,000 intersex babies undergo surgery to "normalize" genital appearances.
Along with Girl Comet's advocacy and knowledge-spreading, it also offers inspirational messages. Rundblad uses herself, an unapologetically femme singer who is happily married to a man who loves and supports her, to show other intersex females, especially those with AIS, that happiness, acceptance, relationships and beauty are out there for them just as they are for every other young woman.
“I want to be the girl that I needed through my teenager years and my 20s. Honestly, I still need to see other women like myself,” she said.
(Photo Cred: Dalea Studios)
At 737 followers, the online community, founded in 2014, isn’t yet where Rundblad wants it to be, but the everyday emails from young intersex girls across Latin America, the U.S. and Asia show her that the space is necessary because it’s helping people. To support more intersex folk and their families, she intends to translate the community’s content to Spanish as well.
Whether it’s through Girl Comet or her music, which usually carries themes of perseverance, triumph, confidence and self-love, Rundblad's goal is always to inspire.
“I want to remind intersex girls that they are not broken, that they’re not mistakes, and that they are beautiful just the way they are,” she said. “I want them to know in their darkest hour that there are others like them who are here and visible for them, here to be a light in the middle of the night.”