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Jeff Cagandahan: ‘More efforts needed to truly include intersex community’

Meet Jeff Cagandahan, the first Filipino legally allowed to change his name/gender identifiers in all legal documents. As an intersex person, he says that other like him “should not be ashamed of who they are. There are people who believe this is a curse, and they are wrong. We are no less human.”

“We don’t feel that we belong (in the so-called ‘LGBT community’),” lamented intersex Filipino Jeff Cagandahan to Outrage Magazine. “Sa pangalan pa lang (In the name itself): LGBT. The ‘I’ is immediately excluded.”

And so for Cagandahan, inclusion of the intersex community starts with “broadening the ‘LGBT community’ to actually include us,” he said. This is because the umbrella term (i.e. “LGBT community”) presupposes their inclusion, and yet fails to recognize their very existence by adding them in the “rainbow acronym”.

When this is done, then perhaps the other issues of the intersex community may also be considered.

As background information, Cagandahan is the first Filipino who was legally allowed to change his name/gender identifiers in all legal documents. Assigned female at birth, Cagandahan filed for a petition to change his sex from female to male in 2003, after he developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. The lower trial court ruled in his favor in 2005, but the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) contested this decision. In 2008, the Supreme Court sided with Cagandahan, stating that “in the absence of a law on the matter, the Court will not dictate on respondent concerning a matter so innately private as one’s sexuality and lifestyle preferences.”

The intersex community has very specific issues, stressed Cagandahan.

Unang-una, the medicines (we use),” he said, “and they aren’t always affordable.”

Second, there are also limited information on/about intersex people – e.g. their medical conditions, how medical professionals should respond to them, legal standing, et cetera.

Third, there’s also limited focus on the intersex community,” said Cagandahan, who noted that this may be apparent in the limited funding for this specific community. Not surprisingly, there aren’t as many groups for intersex Filipinos as – say – the other sectors in the LGBT community.

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Fourth, although Cagandahan succeeded in legally changing his name/gender identifiers, he is first to acknowledge that not many may actually know that this can be done by intersex people because of the continuing lack (and/or dissemination) of legal information. And for those who may know, they still need: 1. Money to be able to do so; and 2. Legal know-how on how to proceed with this.

And fifth, there may also be medical needs – e.g. sex reassignment surgery – that are not discussed.

“We need acceptance,” Cagandahan said, stressing that this starts with self-acceptance. “Sa una, mahirap (At first, it can be difficult).” But in his personal experience, he realized that he can help other intersex Filipinos find their place under the sun.

Cagandahan is encouraging other intersex Filipinos to also surface; a first step, he said, for their issues to be heard. He can only speak from experience, wherein “nag-out ako para (masimulang pangunahan) siguro ang usaping ito (I surfaced to start discussing this issue),” he said, stressing that other intersex people “huwag silang mahiya. Mali yung paniniwala ng iba na ito’y sumpa. Tao rin tayo. Darating ang time na ma-a-accept din tayo ng society for as long as wala tayong ginagawang masama (should not be ashamed of who they are. There are people who believe this is a curse, and they are wrong. We are no less human. The time will come when we’ll also be accepted by society, for as long as we don’t do evil/wrong).”

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