By Chase Tolentino
(THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN TRANSPH.ORG)
If you’re a law student or a transgender advocate, you’ve probably come across, at one time or another, the case of Jeff Cagandahan.
Jeff was born in January 13, 1981 as Jennifer but as he grew up he started developing male characteristics and, at the age of 22, he was diagnosed with simple virilizing congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). Finding work was difficult and awkward given the incongruence between his birth/dead name and appearance. Also, he felt more comfortable and identified more strongly as male. These amongst other factors led Jeff to the decision to file a petition in court to change his name from Jennifer to Jeff on December 11, 2003 with Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. In January 12, 2005, less than two years later, the court granted his petition. However, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) sought a reversal to the RTC ruling. Fortunately, in 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) denied the OSG’s petition of reversal and affirmed the decision of the RTC.
So, how did I meet Jeff? I was tasked to invite all sectors of the LGBTQI+ community to an event by Rainbow Rights (RR) called “Advancing Change: A Project to Operationalize Anti-Discrimination Ordinances thru Implementing Rules and Regulations”. I didn’t know anybody from the intersex community and so I started scouring the web google searching the keyphrases “intersex philippines” and “Jeff Cagandahan”. (I already knew the name Jeff Cagandahan way back when I started identifying as transgender. When you’re trans, you spend a lot of time searching for ways to change the name on your birth certificate (BC). And if you’re from the Philippines, you’re likely to find the case of Republic of the Philippines vs Jeff Cagandahan.) I saw a lot of similar names on social media and since I didn’t want to accidentally message the wrong person, I tried to find other local intersex persons of note. That’s when I came across Jonalyn Bulado-Magpakailanman. Since her name was so unique, I figured chances were good I wouldn’t get the wrong person. Ms. Jonalyn then pointed me out to the right Jeff profile and that’s how Jeff and I started talking.
Jeff couldn’t go to the RR event in Cebu because he was all the way in Luzon but when the 4th National LGBT Conference came about, I figured this was a good chance to invite Jeff. (The conference was also in Cebu but they were sponsoring trips.) I gave Jeff’s contact details to the organizers and he got flown in.
For the duration of the conference, we spent a lot of time talking and though there were differences, I think there are a lot of similarities in the experience of transgender men and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) with CAH. We both felt uncomfortable with our bodies when puberty hit, we were both AFAB but identified as male, there’s a shared struggle with uniforms and comfort rooms, lack of access to affordable medical care, and a whole lot more. I also introduced Jeff to stand-to-pee devices (STPs) and other prosthetics. I think the idea quite intrigued him.
The intersex community is so hidden from Philippine society and a lot of it has to do with the way we shame and exclude people who don’t fit the gender binary of a man and a woman. And because they’re so hidden, and so few are willing to come out that it’s difficult to get the government to see them and acknowledge that they have legitimate needs, especially medical care, that the government is not equipped to provide adequately.
If you’re intersex and need a support group, you can contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chase Tolentino is the founder of Transman Equality and Awareness Movement (TEAM)-Cebu; and regional steering committee secretary of the Asia Pacific Transgender Network.