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Call him Jeff, says SC; he used to be called Jennifer

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:39:00 09/17/2008

Filed Under: Gender Issues, Judiciary (system of justice), Human Interest

MANILA, Philippines?A person who is genetically female but has a rare and permanent medical condition that allows the development of both male and female sex organs is now legally and officially a man.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Regional Trial Court in Siniloan, Laguna, that allowed the person?to be identified in this report as Jeff?to alter his birth certificate and change his name from Jennifer to Jeff and his gender from female to male.

It denied the plea of the Office of the Solicitor General stating that the lower court?s ruling should be reversed because the person had failed to follow proper procedures.

In its decision, the high court initially referred to the person, now 27, as ?she? and later as ?he.?

?We respect respondent?s congenital condition and his mature decision to be a male. Life is already difficult for the ordinary person. We cannot but respect how respondent deals with his unordinary state and thus help make his life easier, considering the unique circumstances in this case,? it said in the decision written by Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and dated Sept. 12.

Mind and emotions

Jeff?s petition to be allowed to make changes in his birth certificate states that in his mind and emotions, he is male.

The petition also says that:
? He was diagnosed to have congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which gives a person both male and female characteristics.

? He was registered as female in his birth certificate but subsequently developed secondary male characteristics.

? At 6, he was found to have small ovaries; at 13, his ovarian structure was minimized and he had no breasts and did not menstruate.

To support Jeff?s petition, psychiatrist Michael Sionzon testified that he was genetically female, but that since his body secreted male hormones, his female organs did not develop normally.

Jeff has both male and female sex organs, Sionzon said.

The psychiatrist also said Jeff?s condition was very rare and permanent, and recommended that since he had made up his mind to live as a man, the gender change would be to his benefit.

No ?unnatural steps?

In affirming the sex change, the Supreme Court observed that under the medical condition, Jeff had ambiguous genitalia and the features of a male.

The tribunal said that in cases like this, the determining factor was what the person had determined his/her gender to be.

It also said Jeff had let nature take its course and did not take ?unnatural steps? to interfere with what he was born with.

?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, much less on whether or not to undergo medical treatment to reverse the male tendency due to congenital adrenal hyperplasia,? the high court said.

It said it would neither consider Jeff to have erred in not choosing to take steps to become female nor force him to undergo treatment.

Since Jeff would be the one to live with his ?intersex anatomy,? he should be able to choose what to do regarding his sexual development and maturation, the high court said.

?In the absence of evidence that respondent is an ?incompetent? and in the absence of evidence to show that classifying respondent as a male will harm other members of society ... the court affirms as valid and justified the respondent?s position and his personal judgment of being a male,? it said.

Diversity of nature

The Supreme Court said that in issuing its decision, it was merely respecting the diversity of nature and how an individual dealt with what nature had given him/her.

It also said that though a person was required under Philippine laws to be classified as male or female, it was ?not controlled by mere appearances when nature itself fundamentally negates such rigid classification.?

The high court found no merit in the Office of the Solicitor General?s arguments that Jeff had failed to include the local civil registrar in his petition, that Rule 108 of the Rules of Court does not allow the change of gender in a birth certificate, and that his condition did not make him male.

According to the high court, Rule 108 applies to substantial changes and corrections in the civil register.

It also said Jeff was deemed to have substantially complied with the rules when he gave the local civil registrar a copy of his petition for changes in his birth certificate.

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