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Accept your intersex variation as a mission to help others – Jeff

Meet the co-founder of Intersex Philippines, Inc., Jeff, whose case reached the Supreme Court that sided with intersex people’s right to self-determination. Sadly, many intersex issues continue to be ignored, and so the fight for the sector’s human rights continues, starting with teaching intersex Filipinos “not to be ashamed that you are intersex. Be proud. I always believed that God did not make a mistake in creating us.”

ALL PHOTOS BY AARON MOSES C. BONETE, COURTESY OF OUTRAGE MAGAZINE/BAHAGHARI CENTER

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.”

Jeff – from Paete, Laguna – was still young when he said he already knew he was different from others. Mainly, “I knew I was different because of my ambiguous genitalia.” Like other people around him, he didn’t know of intersex variations, but just that “I was assigned female at birth, but my genitalia wasn’t what was usually found in women.”

He recalled getting checked by a medical professional when he was still in high school. “Nasabi nga eh hermaphrodite (They said I’m a hermaphrodite),” Jeff recalled, although – he added – no follow-up happened. He could still remember, nonetheless, that at that time, the endocrinologist wanted for him to be operated “para gawing ‘normal’ na babae. Na-loss to follow up na yun kasi nga gusto nila ako operahan, ayaw ko (to be turned into a ‘normal’ woman. No follow up happened because they wanted to operate on me, and I didn’t want that).”

“For me, the court decision helped us access this judicial process because it wasn’t there before. But if people access it at all, that’s a different story altogether.”

GROWING UP DIFFERENTLY

For being “different”, some things were somewhat difficult for Jeff when he was young. “Growing up, ang sabi lang nila tomboy ako (people just thought I’m a lesbian),” and so “sabi nila, ‘Kumilos ka ng tama!’ (they said to me, ‘Act properly!’). I didn’t have a choice even if I didn’t believe I’m a lesbian since I also didn’t know what I really am.”

It was also common to hear neighbors gossiping, talking about his situation. “May mga narinig-rinig na ako na ano… sa mga kapitbahay, sabi: ‘Dalawa ang ari niyan.’ Pero siyempre bata, wala ka naman magawa (I heard people talking… neighbors saying: ‘Jeff has two genitals.’ But as a kid, there’s nothing you can do).”

AN ONGOING STRUGGLE

Also, social expectations linked with the sex assigned at birth were eventually imposed on him as he grew older. For instance, “I no longer identified as a woman… I really saw myself as a man”, and yet in elementary school, he was forced to wear skirts befitting students assigned female at birth. “It was difficult to act as a woman just because I was given a female name at birth. Because I identified as a man, it was hard to live as a woman. I thought and felt as a man, so there was a disconnect.”

And when he started looking for a job after getting licensed as a teacher, it was just-as-difficult because his gender marker then was female, but his gender expression was masculine. And since at that time “female educators were told to wear skirts”, Jeff was also expected to wear skirts for work, befitting his sex assigned at birth. So “hindi ako naka-work sa profession ko (I didn’t find work aligned with my profession).”

“I heard people talking… neighbors saying: ‘Jeff has two genitals.’ But as a kid, there’s nothing you can do.”

MAKING AN IMPACT

On December 11, 2003, he filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male). His reason: He developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), which is one of the 40+ intersex variations.

This move was costly, Jeff admitted – e.g. for karyotyping, he had to spend from ₱7,000; and he had to spend approximately ₱150,000 for legal representation.

“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide. I felt relieved after finally getting what I desired for so long. Those were very happy days for me,” Jeff said.

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CREATING FAMILY

There have been major changes in Jeff’s life since then – e.g. he is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

But also because of the SC’s decision, “I can now help others like me.”

In truth, “it took me so long to be an advocate because I had to learn self-acceptance first. It’s hard to help others when you can’t even help yourself. So I taught myself first about this; and to accept it. And then I became an advocate,” he said. “I accepted my intersex variation as a mission. A mission to help others. Intersex people should not be ashamed of their condition. To intersex people, you are not alone. I am here.”

Other intersex issues for Jeff include: access to health care is important, worsened by the lack of experts; forced surgery of young intersex people because of their ambiguous genitalia; lack of medicines needed by intersex people (e.g. hydrochloride, chloro cortisone); and concentration of services in Metro Manila.

“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide.”

MORE TO DO

Sadly, even the SC decision on his case is not enough to help intersex Filipinos change their government-issued documents, mainly due to costs and the tedious process. “Sa tingin ko yung court decision nakatulong dahil puwede namin i-access kasi dati wala ma-access eh. Pero yung kung ma-access, iba na yun (For me, the court decision helped us access this judicial process because it wasn’t there before. But if people access it at all, that’s a different story altogether).” This – Jeff stressed – highlights the need for legal gender recognition.

And to people whose ways of seeing intersex people still remain contentious: “We’re also people; just like you. If you have rights, so do we. We just dream of living normally… properly. There’s nothing wrong with this. So continue to educate yourselves about intersex variations. And if you have questions, (we are) willing to talk… so you can better understand this issue.” – WITH ARTHUR ABAD NWABIA

“Don’t be ashamed. Do not be ashamed that you are intersex. Be proud. I always believed that God did not make a mistake in creating us.”

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.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).

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