Sex change and sex reassignment - Katrina Legarda


Posted at Jun 03 2009 01:18 AM | Updated as of Jun 03 2009 09:19 AM

In the space of one year, the Supreme Court promulgated two decisions on similar issues: whether a man can become a woman. In one case, the man lost; in another, the man is now a woman. Both cases were brought to the Supreme Court when the Office of the Solicitor General appealed lower court decisions granting the changes requested by both men in their birth certificates.

Mr. Rommel Silverio, the 2007 case decided by the Supreme Court, won in the lower court. He filed a petition to change his name and his gender in his birth certificate. He alleged in his petition that he was born in the City of Manila on April 4, 1962. His name was registered as "Rommel Jacinto Dantes Silverio" in his birth certificate. His sex was registered as "male."

He further alleged that he is a male transsexual, that is, "anatomically male but feels, thinks and acts as a female" and that he had always identified himself with girls since childhood. Feeling trapped in a man’s body, he consulted several doctors in the United States. He underwent psychological examination, hormone treatment and breast augmentation.

His attempts to transform himself to a "woman" culminated on January 27, 2001 when he underwent sex reassignment surgery in Bangkok, Thailand. From then on, Rommel lived as a female and was in fact engaged to be married. He then sought to have his name in his birth certificate changed from "Rommel Jacinto" to "Mely," and his sex from "male" to "female."

While he won in the lower court, the Supreme Court reversed. The Court said that only certain information could be changed in the Civil Register, and that gender, or the sex of the person, was not one of these things. Moreover, there is no such special law in the Philippines governing sex reassignment and its effects.

The Court went on to rue the lack of law, but then expounded that the changes sought by Rommel would have “serious and wide-ranging legal and public policy consequences.” Rommel wanted to marry, and was in fact engaged to be married.

Marriage, the Court said, one of the most sacred social institutions, is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman. One of its essential requisites is the legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female. To grant the changes sought by Rommel will greatly alter the laws on marriage and family relations. It will allow the union of a man with another man who has undergone sex reassignment (a male-to-female post-operative transsexual). And as we all know, even in the United States, very few states allow same-sex marriage.

I wonder if Rommel had just tried to change his name, by way of correcting his first name, would he have ever been in the law books. You can correct your first name, you see, just by going to the Office of the Civil registrar, paying a fee, and pointing out that his “new first name or nickname has been habitually and continuously used [by him] and that he has been publicly know by that first name or nickname in the community.” I will not wonder about the other way that most transsexuals resort to in this country, as that way is, well, illegal.

In the 2008 case of Jennifer Cagandahan, on the other hand, the Supreme Court allowed the correction of Jennifer’s birth certificate so that her sex or gender was changed from female to male, and her name from “Jennifer” to “Jeff.” This was because Jennifer had the very rare condition known as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia or CAH.

When she was born, it was highly likely that what the nurse or midwife could see was her female genital organs. As she grew older, however, her disorder caused the early or “inappropriate” appearance of male characteristics such as deepening of the voice, facial hair, and failure to menstruate at puberty. About 1 in 10,000 to 18,000 children are born with CAH.

The Supreme Court found that during the twentieth century, medicine adopted the term “intersexuality” to apply to human beings who cannot be classified as either male or female. “Intersex individuals are treated in different ways by different cultures. In most societies, intersex individuals have been expected to conform to either a male or female gender role. Since the rise of modern medical science in Western societies, some intersex people with ambiguous external genitalia have had their genitalia surgically modified to resemble either male or female genitals. More commonly, an intersex individual is considered as suffering from a “disorder” which is almost always recommended to be treated, whether by surgery and/or by taking lifetime medication in order to mold the individual as neatly as possible into the category of either male or female.”

In this case, Jennifer underwent psychiatric therapy and treatment and had decided that she is a man and he thinks of himself as a male.

Jeff had let “nature take its course and had not taken unnatural steps to arrest or interfere with what he was born with. And accordingly, he has already ordered his life to that of a male. Jeff could have undergone treatment and taken steps, like taking lifelong medication, to force his body into the categorical mold of a female but he did not. He chose not to do so. Nature has instead taken its due course in Jeff’s development to reveal more fully his male characteristics.”

So, there you go. Please continue to send in your comments. Till next week.