In October of 2014, the news of the slaying of Jennifer Laude caused outrage throughout the whole country, with major LGBT orgs condemning the brutal murder of the transgender Pinay.
Nevertheless, Jeniffer’s case is just one out of the numerous cases of hate crimes committed against Filipino transgenders and transsexuals, most of which go unreported by the media.
It is not surprising, then, that until today, some, if not most, young and adult trans Filipinos choose to remain hidden, living a life of secrecy in fear of being discriminated and ostracized. Advancements in science and technology have allowed some people to make transitions from their own physical gender into the sex they identify with—but did they know it would come with their very own social boa constrictor?
“I told them, ‘Ma, dad, hindi ako straight.’”
December 23, 2009. Fourth year student Damien*, biologically born a female, remembers this date clearly—the date he admitted to his parents that he wasn’t straight. “At that time, I had a girlfriend. Nung una, pinag-break kami. That lasted for about a year and a half.” Damien shares that he cannot pinpoint exactly at what stage in his life he started transitioning.
“Mentally, smooth lang siya for me. It’s as if it has always been there. It just happened. Physically, with hormones, three months in, the periods stopped. Increased hair growth, deepening of the voice. Dumating yung stage na puro piyok ka lang. It’s really like a second puberty. Naging moody ako at some point although it really helped with fat distribution for me.”
Although it can be a tiring odyssey when one feels that their gender does not match their body, it can also be taxing for one’s whole family. Damien’s father, a lay minister, didn’t take it so well the first time.
“At first, my parents were really frustrated. Pero nung grade school kasi ako, valedictorian ako. Then high school, honors. Sabi sa akin ni dad, ‘Sige, okay lang na ganyan ka, basta bumawi ka sa pag-aaral mo.’ Nung pagkakasabi niya nun, I took it negatively. Parang may kundisyon ba.”
“Right now, my parents are super supportive of me and my girlfriend. Although alam ng parents ko I’m lesbian, they don’t know I’m taking hormones. I don’t want to bother them with the idea of transgenders and transsexuals because it’s hard to explain.”
“When my mom found out I was transitioning, she got really furious. She didn’t want me to do it.”
Third year student Elizabeth*, biologically born male, gives a certain smile, her lips swiped with what looked like raspberry-red lipstick, as she shares, with no hint of discomfiture, that she has no support system. “I did my own research and I tried to change myself. I have no trans friends. No one was there for me.”
“Ever since I was a kid, I already knew there was something in me. I thought I was gay. As I grew older, the concept of being trans became clear to me so I identified myself as a transwoman. It’s something I feel very comfortable with,” she continues.
Although most people in the LGBT community would say that gender is something that you feel, with no physical bearing, some believe that changing their bodies is important in feeling comfortable with themselves. Elizabeth, for example, changed her physical appearance because it made her feel feminine.
“I took hormones and the medication was strong. My chest is enlarged and I lost a bit of weight. My face is glowing and my face shape changed. I grew my hair, practiced applying make-up,” she shares with enthusiasm. “I now wear girl pants!”
Nevertheless, while hormone replacement therapy yields effective results, there are still repercussions that come with the medication. “It makes me puke when taken everyday. It makes me very emotional and triggers depression. You don’t know what to expect. I got scared a bit, but I’m happy that I’m doing this. This is me, this is who I am.”
“When my parents found out, they got physical. They subjected me to divine intervention, they wanted me to see a psychiatrist.”
For third year student Nat Chavez, born female, things work a bit differently. “Perhaps people would say I’m gender-fluid. I [can] basically [be] attracted to anybody: a guy, a girl, a gay, butch lesbian. I just don’t want to confine myself to labels.”
Being raised in a conservative Chinese-Filipino-Spanish household, Nat explains that his family is not homo-friendly. “I don’t even plan to come out. I’m twenty-two and I’m still in the closet. It’s the fear of not being able to be with your family, you know they’re going to reject you.”
In fact, it was only just last year when Nat started dressing the way he wanted to dress. “I started dressing up like a guy. It felt like— what’s that song again? ‘I’m walking on sunshine!’” expresses Nat, who is unable to restrain his own laughter. “It felt like that. I felt more comfortable with my own skin. But when I go out with my family, I dress like a girl.”
With a deep sigh, Nat says almost quietly, “I think people need to let go of that Leviticus passage. People cherry-pick Bible verses, for Christ sake. If I’m immoral for being gay, then you’re immoral for wearing a wool and linen-blend sweater.”
“My dad, one time, told me that I wouldn’t have a bright future because I’m trans, and that nobody will love me because I’m not a real girl.”
The beginning of transition hasn’t been easy for Enz*, born male, either. “Since childhood, I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t control it. My parents tried to control my gender issue and forced me not to go out with my gay relatives.”
Now, however, Enz is supported 101% by her family and friends. “After being accepted by my family, I quickly changed how I dressed myself. Eventually I took hormones because I want to be more feminine and it made me feel like a real woman.”
Although quite conflicting, Enz is quick to say that gender is not about how you look like physically or what sex organ you have. “It’s about how you view and define yourself. It doesn’t matter at all as long as you know what and who you are.”
A heteronormative society
“In Philippine society, everyone must behave, feel, and think according to heterosexual standards. If you fit the Maria Clara and Juan Macho mold, then you are on top of the food chain… If you are poor, a transperson, uneducated, belonging to a cultural group, then you are at the extreme margins of society. This is what I call the intersectionality of gender biases,” Assistant professor Anastacio Marasigan, a GENDERS professor in De La Salle University, shares.
“As educators, we have to address and clarify our gender biases before we can talk to our students. Young trans would self medicate based on what their older trans-friends tell them. There is a need to develop and add trans health to the holistic health services. There should be a clear guideline regarding hormone replacement therapy to protect our transfriends,” he continues.
“As a University, we must establish a safe environment for all Lasallians regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity by creating systems that will recognize diversity in the institution. Although DLSU is a Catholic institution, we can be [more] liberal than most. Education should be cognizant
Are we equals?
On the 2014 Global Gender Gap report, the Philippines was ranked as the most gender-equal country in Asia.
Gender-equal, but is the entire spectrum of gender being considered? Gender-equal, yet the Anti-Discrimination and Gender Recognition Bill, which aims to prevent hate crimes against transgenders, has yet to receive government recognition. Gender-equal, yet transgenders and transsexuals still fear for their lives and are treated as social pariahs. It seems the LGBT community has not been fully accepted, but simply tolerated.
With the development and progression of the LGBT movement in the Philippines done piecemeal, Filipinos must ask, “Are we all equals?”
Until the answer is yes, the people will not stop asking.
Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.