Jennifer's Story

by Jeff Cagandahan of the Philippines  

Jennifer was born on January 13, 1981 in the Municipality of Pakil, Province of Laguna, Philippines.

During her infancy, her female characteristics are more apparent – although her clitoris was enlarged. As she was growing up she began to gradually develop male characteristics. Her actions, anatomy, feature, and mannerisms became unquestionably male. Since childhood she knows there's something different about her. She noticed in her family's medical encyclopedia that the word HERMAPHRODITE was highlighted. Her curiosity began. But because of her busy schedule as an athlete she forgot all about it.

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She entered high school at a Catholic School. All girls are required to wear skirts as school uniform. She hates wearing skirts but can do nothing but to follow the school policy. She graduated and was admitted at a university in Sta. Mesa, Manila where she took Bachelor in Physical Education. Jennifer remembered the day when she needed to enroll in a six (6) months swimming class which was a requirement for passing the course. The swimming instructor told her class that they cannot enter the pool if they are not wearing proper swimming attire. She started to worry about wearing swimsuit because during those days her male characteristics are more dominant than her female characteristics, especially her physical appearance. She looks like a guy with long hair. Her breasts never develop and not once did she experience menstruation. She’s worried that her classmates will notice that. She needed to buy a swimsuit with foam to look like she has breasts. Another problem she encountered was after the swimming class they need to go to the shower room to take a shower before going home. Her problem is that she cannot join her classmates at the girls shower room because all her female classmates are naked when taking a shower. She feels uncomfortable to see her classmates naked. That’s why she always finds a reason to excuse herself from taking a shower with them. She always tells her classmates that she forgot something in her boarding house and she needs to go home early. For the duration of six months that’s her excuse. She feels relieved when the swimming class ended and her classmates didn’t notice a thing. As an athlete, during competition she always borrow bra from her mother so that no one will notice her flat breast.

When she goes to the female washroom, girls who don’t know her are shocked and are shouting at her that the male washroom is at the other side of the corridor. She can do nothing but explain that she’s a girl. She graduated college and pass the Licensure Examination for Teachers. After graduation, she was hired to teach at a College in Bicol own by a family friend who was a prominent lawyer. She was introduced to her co-worker and students as male by the name Jeff. One day, while reading at the College library she noticed the words Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH). After reading what CAH is, she knows that she is suffering from that disorder. That day she started to search more about Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. She finds CARES Foundation, founded by Kelly Leight. She learns more about CAH through the help of the CARES Foundation website.

Jennifer decided to consult an endocrinologist at Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and at the age of  22 she was diagnosed with simple virilizing CAH. Her facial features, physical appearance, voice, external genitalia and even preference for the opposite sex are consistent with being male. She also, consulted the Department Urology and Psychiatry of Philippine General Hospital. Dr. Michael Sionzon of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine certifies that Jennifer has been assessed to be psychologically and emotionally competent to make the decision to have a legal change in gender status to male. She is further assessed to have no symptoms of any psychotic, mood or anxiety disorder, and based on previous experience, claims to be more comfortable being referred to as a male.

The entry of her name and gender in her Birth Certificate is a factor on why she is having a hard time being employed and at the same time proves to be a hindrance should she marry someday and have her own family. The use of her female name causes her inconveniences and in many ways embarrassment, as people see her as a male but her name is female. Employers shun hiring her because of the confusion between her name and her physical appearance.

This makes her decide to file a petition to the Court. She seeks that her name ”Jennifer Cagandahan” entered in her birth certificate, public and school records be expunged and be changed to “Jeff Cagandahan”. She also asked the court that her gender, entered as “female” be stricken out and be changed to “male”. Her main purpose in petitioning the court for the amendment of her Birth Certificate is to enable her to live normally as a male, to find employment and to have a family in the future. With the helped of her relatives who are lawyers, Atty. Edgard and Millicent Smith, the court granted her petition – the very first of its kind to succeed in the Philippines. Here is the link about the Supreme Court (Highest Court in the Philippines) Decision http://www.intersexualite.org/Philippines-vs-Cagandahan.html

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You will probably ask, how do I know these things? … I know these things because “I” and “Jennifer” is the same person. I experienced all these things. I’m sharing my story to tell you that it would be better if CAH is diagnosed during infancy so that we can take the necessary measures to help them earlier.

Although I was diagnosed late, I’m happy that God gave me a mission which is to share my story with others, especially to the family of CAH patients. I hope that I can be an inspiration for many teenagers - you are not alone! There are many CAH support groups around the world which can help you, and answer all of your questions. If I can be of any help please feel free to contact me at   jeffcagandahan@yahoo.com. Now, I am happy married and I know I made the right decision.

Special thanks to CARES Foundation by Kelly Leight and Dr. Kate Armstrong of CLAN.

Our right to life is based on the fact that each of us must achieve goals and fulfillment as a person, and to do so each of us must live the life we deem fit to live. The right to the kind of life we want is fundamental, for there can be no further rights or duties unless there is someone there to have them. This natural right is evident. The only way I can fulfill my function as a person, reach the goal of my existence, and achieve my highest goal is by performing morally good acts. My very nature as a human person, therefore, demands that I have the right to the life I choose that nature gave me.