The Life of a Transgender

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Facebook photo of Jennifer Laude

As of the moment, murder of Filipina transwoman Jennifer Laude is deemed as the worst LGBT discrimination act in the Philippines. LGBT activists condemned the act, and it prompted them to conduct a series of awareness campaigns in hopes of making this world a safer place for their kind.

Members of the LGBT community still find it hard to mingle in a homophobic society. Life has been so harsh on them to the point they learned how to eat bullying and death threats for breakfast.

It’s even harsher for Filipino LGBT’s. The Philippine society, being predominantly Roman Catholic, does not tolerate anything which strays from the heteronormative.

But it’s the hardest for those in the transgender category. How can a woman stuck inside a man’s body can act the way they want in a society which labels them as delusional? Among their common struggles are debating on what comfort room to use, allegedly violating dress code policies, being discriminated on job applications, etc.

This interview with Vhal Manansala, a journalism student and a pageant consultant, and AJ de Leon, a political science student and a gay rights activist, shall shed light into the issue. What is the feeling of being a transgender in a religious country?


 

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From left to right: Charisse Mercado, Vhal Manansala ang Jockie Bed Berog.

Give us a background about yourself, and the time you first had self-awareness about your gender identity/sexuality.

I’m Vhal Manansala. I’m a freshman student from [Bulacan State University’s] College of Arts and Letters, belonging in the journalism department.
In terms of sexuality, I consider myself a transsexual. Ever since I was young, I felt that there’s a girl inside me and there’s something wrong. I felt different. When I grew up, it dawned on me that I really wanted to become a girl.

I consider myself a pre-oppose transgender in the LBGT community. Actually, sexuality [is complex and] there are many definitions associated with it.
Right now, I’m undergoing hormonal therapy (HRT) so as to develop those [organs] I want to develop. I’m planning to undergo a [sex change] surgical operation some time after college.

I grew up in the USA and finished my studies there up until middle school. After that, I went to the Philippines and finished my high school degree here. I didn’t immediately enter college because I had a job. But when I felt that I need channels, I found Bulacan State University and decided to come back at school.

Will you clarify the concept of pre-oppose/post-oppose/non-oppose transgender?

A transgender falls under the pre-oppose category when she still has a male genitalia. None-oppose transgender are those who are content with their biological sex. Those who undergo operations to change their genitalia fall under the post-oppose category.

As a member of the LGBT community, can you tell us stories about the struggles you’ve experienced (e.g bullying, parents are against it, discriminated by teachers, etc)?

I’m from a very different culture [coming from the USA]. So I experienced culture shock, especially when the school guards asked me to stop and asked “Why are you dressed like that? Why is your hair long? Are you a girl?”

You have to explain yourself to them. And as a transgender, are you willing to actually do it? Because we are delicate and sensitive to such questions. We feel awkward when someone asks something like, “Have you undergo surgery?”

Another struggle is about entering male comfort rooms. At school, they have to know your whole story before they give you permission. Not all school staff understand us so we have to explain it to them. That’s why gender development seminars are so important.

I don’t have a problem with my family. They wholeheartedly accept who I am. [They respect that] it’s my life. They gave me permission to live my life freely since I ran away from home at the age of 14. I manage to leave [the comforts of my home] to be independent at a young age. They didn’t question the path I’ve chosen because after all, I am being responsible since day one.

Has there been a time when you feel had doubts about our decision? Any regrets?

No. I have no regrets because this is what I’ve wanted since I was young. I want to come out with my body [for the sake of gender expression]. I really like my transition, and I hope it’d be successful in the near future. I’ll really pursue it.
On bullying, while it’s true that I had bullies, there are also people who love me. I commend our college’s dean for understanding the transition that happens in one’s body.

I’m a working student, a pageant consultant, so I need to look the way I look. How can I teach beauty queens if I look like a man? They will not believe me if I do look like one.

How do you cope with a conservative society which tends to be homophobic?

It’s hard because you have to prove yourself every day. But on the brighter side, [you don’t have to be discouraged because] when people who initially judged you came to actually know you and realized that you’re an okay and capable person, they will eventually accept you. But it’s a [step-by-step] process.

Gay marriage hasn’t been legalized in the Philippines. What can you say about it?

For me, it has to be legalized because it’s not an issue about morality. It’s about human rights. I don’t have to argue with the Catholic Church because while I do believe in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t mean I believe the Bible in its entirety. Don’t get in the way of two people who are in-love with each other because it’s love [after all.]

What can you say about the Jennifer Laude case?

Jennifer Laude’s case is saddening because [it’s an example of an incident where] the trans community is being stereotyped as prostitutes, especially here in the Philippines. But it’s not exactly true because people have different mind sets. We have dignity. For example, I want to finish my studies. I have friends from other universities who also undergo transition [as a transsexual] and on the same boat as mine.

Jennifer Laude is our sister. She being a prostitute doesn’t justify murder. Pemberton has to pay for what he’s done.

Have you watched “My Husband’s Lover” or “The Rich Man’s Daughter?” What can you say about it?

I haven’t watched much of My Husband’s Lover and The Rich Man’s Daughter, but I did watch Destiny Rose. It is a perfect show for the trans community. Destiny Rose is a good example of a dignified trans, and an embodied message for those who disrespect the community, Jennifer Laude being a victim by those people. You can be beautiful, simple, smart and famous even if you’re a trans.

I do commend the existence of TV series such as My Husband’s Lover and The Rich Man’s Daughter because it proves that we’re one step ahead towards accepting these kind of shows. During the past, LGBT people had always been depicted as comic relief characters, so it’s good that writers and producers come up with a show which shows the other side of LGBT’s- their capability to love.

Do you have a message for the LGBT members who haven’t “come out of their closet?”

If it’s their decision to remain a “closeta” and if they are actually happy with that, it’s fine as long as they don’t do something wrong. You will never wish to step in our shoes because it’s really hard [to be an LGBT member]. But the greatest thing in this life is to be free so they need to be proud of who they are. If they can contribute something meaningful to the community, is there any reason to not come out? And we need to prove to ourselves that every member of the LGBT community has capabilities and can contribute something good to the society.

In what ways do you think the government or other sectors of the society may help you?

Elections are coming near, and we want a leader who will support the LGBT community. But we tend to be skeptic about certain candidates who said they support us. What if they’re only using us to gain votes? Do they really plan on supporting us?
This is according to the gender sensitivity group led by Filipina Geena Rocero, the first transgender model who became successful in America.

Whoever becomes the next leader must pass an anti-discrimination law which will protect us and cater to our needs. For instance, let the transgender wear female uniforms and be allowed to enter female comfort rooms.

How can you use your talents or writing skills as a journalism student for the sake of the LGBT community?

I manage to express myself more beauty pageants, especially during the Q&A portions. I haven’t been defeated and I always bring home titles even if I don’t consider myself beautiful because of the way I express myself during the Q&A’s. There, I tell people about how much I love the LGBT community.

At the same time, I support them as a journalism student through simply posting related content on Facebook and on blog sites. Through that, little by little we can orient people about us.

Professors ask me during recitations, “What are the things your community fights for?” I answer to orient them and my classmates. I also write about the LGBT in my college essays [to deepen my professor’s understanding].

Any message for those who hate the LGBT community?

Don’t hate what you do not understand. That’s what I can say for them. All of us want to be happy with our lives. We just want to contribute something for the goodness of other people. So if you don’t understand [us], make it a point to know more about the members of the LGBT [community]. There are bad people but there are also good people. It’s okay to have opinions, but it’s never right to discriminate people. I hope that a day will come when all of us have unity. Let’s love each other because we are one race and one country. Give love and help each other regardless of one’s gender preference.

What can you say about Caitlyn Jenner?

It takes a lot of courage for a girl like her to come out. She’s so great. She proved that one’s life status shouldn’t hinder you [from expressing yourself]. She broke the rules [of the society] even if she has a family. We’re happy for her because she kept it all to herself for a very long time and it must have been hard on her. She will not come out if not for Filipino transwoman Geena Rocero, the one who inspired Caitlyn to come out.



Interview with AJ De Leon via Facebook

Give us a background about yourself, and the time you first had self-awareness about your gender identity/sexuality.

AJ De Leon, 18, political science major. I’ve been made aware of my sexual orientation (heteroromantic, heteroerotic, straight) since grade school, my gender identity (transgender) since high school. Just a primer: sexual orientation is whom I am attracted sexually to. Gender identity is my innate sense of self. Gender marker is the reproductive organ I have since birth. I am a transgender woman who is attracted to men.

(Note: Transgender people don’t have to go through gender confirmation surgery to be called “transgender”)

Further info: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf

As a member of the LGBT community, can you tell us stories about the struggles you’ve experienced (e.g bullying, parents are against it, discriminated by teachers, etc)?

I have received implicit abuse from teachers since elementary especially because DepEd has always been following a strict heteronormative standard. It’s only recently that DepEd has changed its policy in favor of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals as regards its decision on gendered uniforms and hairstyle policies. I would say that schools are the most abusive places for people like me who fall outside the traditional gender binary. Even though schools are expected to uphold a more proper code of standard behavior, they are still very disrespectful towards the LGBTQIA* community.

At home, though, there are still persistent microaggressions albeit somehow “toned down”. To this day, I still experience hostility as a non cis-passing, pre-operational transgender woman. But since transferring to UP, I have noticed that UP students are more accepting, more tolerating, and far less abusive. My current school is something I’d consider a “safe space”.

Gay marriage hasn’t been legalized in the Philippines. What can you say about it?

It’s largely due to the fact that majority of the public figures that we elect to hold government offices are helping in shaping a Philippine jurisprudence that divests LGBT people from being married. The Philippines is very much ripe for marriage equality but for so long as the electorate puts people like Sotto to hold public office, the longer is the road to making it happen.

How do you cope with a conservative society which tends to be homophobic?

Educate people. You really can’t cope. There are tiny aggressions and suggestive remarks received by LGBT every day, it’s exhausting. To educate one person is already a huge feat in diminishing daily abuse.

Do you have a message for the LGBT members who haven’t “come out of their closet?”

I would tell them to come out, but never at the expense of their safety. Being LGBT comes packaged with a lot of safety threats. At home, there’s a threat of familial disownment. At work, gender-based discrimination is still rampant. In school, despite school guidelines that protect LGBT people from discrimination, there’s a threat of bullying. So my message for closeted LGBT is for them to come out *only* if they feel safe in doing so.

What can you say about the Jennifer Laude case?

The Jennifer Laude case is an inexcusable crime that happens when transgender people are forced to categorize themselves with inaccurate depictions of their identity. There’s little justice served when even the decision against Pemberton implied that there’s “non-disclosure” from Laude’s party. Being a transgender woman is not in itself a deception. This convoluted understanding of trans identity is dangerous and a byproduct of a transphobic law and environment that we have in the Philippines.

In what ways do you think the government or other sectors of the society may help you?

By passing laws that equally benefit all identities of the LGBT community, not just the L or the G. Bigger fines and punishments who harass, physically or otherwise, people within the community.

Have you watched My Husband’s Lover, The Rich Man’s Daughter, or Destiny Rose? What can you say about it?

These shows give us fresh recipes amid the stale ones. Although there are still problems that need to be given exposure to when tackling issues of underprivileged sectors of society, these shows are unusual and timely. With Destiny Rose, though, there’s mischaracterization of the role of Ken Chan. When narrating transgender experiences, either you hire real trans women to play the role or you hire cisgender women (straight women) to do so in order to prevent the normative trope that transgender women are “men”.

Any message for those who hate the LGBT community?

Go to school.

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