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A different take on the Valkyrie issue

To continue – even elevate – discussions on this, Outrage Magazine is publishing a different take on the Valkyrie issue, courtesy of Atty. Bruce V. Rivera who agreed to share his (in his own words) rants. “Cross-dressers and transgenders are human beings. As citizens, they are entitled to all the rights and obligations granted by law. The problem is how we define the meaning of discrimination,” he says.

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To continue – even elevate – discussions on this, Outrage Magazine is publishing a different take on the Valkyrie issue, courtesy of Atty. Bruce V. Rivera who agreed to share his (in his own words) rants. “Cross-dressers and transgenders are human beings. As citizens, they are entitled to all the rights and obligations granted by law. The problem is how we define the meaning of discrimination,” he says.

Valkyrie cited for transphobia

Everyone close to me knows how I love my cross-dressing sisters. So I know my comment will raise eyebrows and elicit negative reactions. But this is the reality of the matter. Cross-dressers and transgenders are human beings. As citizens, they are entitled to all the rights and obligations granted by law. The problem is how we define the meaning of discrimination.

Is a democracy allowed to discriminate? The answer is YES. Provided there is a valid classification. Hence, private schools can choose to accept only male or female while some choose to accept both. We do not allow foreigners to own lands because it is only reserved for Filipinos. We only allow biological women to join Bb. Pilipinas in the same manner we do not allow them to join Queen of the Philippines. Those are forms of discrimination but they are allowed. Why? Because there is a valid classification.

The problem with our laws is that there are only two sexes, male and female, and it is determined by birth. Even with gender re-assignment, the classification has not changed. Is this sad? Of course. But from the point of view of law, you cannot discriminate something that is not legally recognized and defined. The same law that forces a transgender to write M to the question of sex even if the heart wants to write F.

If the controversy was about denying a cross-dresser the right to vote. Or denying a transgender the right to own property or denied the right to practice a profession, I would have taken the cudgels for the community. Clearly, it is discrimination when someone is denied a basic right as a citizen because of his or her perceived difference.

But this is denial of entry to an exclusive bar. Veejay will not be denied life or liberty if she is not allowed entry to Valkyrie because her right to party was denied. She can just go to another bar that welcomes her with open arms. A bruised ego does not mean discrimination. “No cross-dressing” is a rude policy, but is it prohibited? The answer is NO. Every business person knows this is merely a business decision.

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Bars and night clubs are operated targeting a specific market. Some are open to everyone based on the concept of a free market economy. However, there are clubs that market itself through its exclusivity. It has a guest list. It decides who it allows in. It does not make money on the few nuggets of pesos by the common man but on the millions spent by the chosen clientele. That is business. These clubs cater to the taste of their target clientele and specified groups of people their clientele wants to party with. Sadly, most of them do not wish to party with cross-dressers. It is unfortunate that while most of us endeavor to advocate for LGBT equality, there are still so many of them who do not share our tolerance and acceptance. The harsh reality of business.

This same harsh business reality is the reason why clubs in Greenwich Village who cater to purely gay clientele turn away straight customers. Or a bar in Thailand that only allows transgenders and straight men to party while shunning straight acting homosexuals. Or a bar in Brazil that only caters to fat people. It is not discrimination. It is just business.

Just because there is a bar called Valkyrie does not give everyone the human right to be admitted inside.

ON JUNE 23, 2015, VEEJAY FLORESCA APPEARED ON ABS-CBN’S ‘AQUINO AND ABUNDA TONIGHT’

FOLLOWING THE APPEARANCE OF FLORESCA IN THE TV SHOW, ATTY. RIVERA POSTED HIS “LAST WORDS” ON THE ISSUE

I watched the Aquino and Abunda interview of Veejay and I realized that she was the Project Runway finalist (if my memory serves me right) whose talent is undeniable.

Let me lay-out some things at the onset. Was there damage? Yes, the feeling of being turned away is shameful and demeaning and I will not wish it on anyone. I had my share of being turned away in a breakfast buffet in a hotel in Manila because the hotel receptionist did not recognize me. She told me the slot was reserved for a school administrator and that I did not look old enough to fit the description. I intended to sue but the hotel was very apologetic. So I let it go. See, I was discriminated based on how I looked.

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Should Veejay feel bad? Yes. She has earned her status as a priestess of fashion. And she may choose to vindicate or be the bigger person and let it go.

Should the LGBT react the way it has reacted? Honestly, I think there was an overreaction. The community wishes for equality and acceptance. Equality can be achieved when the law finally recognizes our existence and our rights be given. Acceptance is another thing. We do not just want tolerance, we need to be accepted. When you tolerate, you do not need to like the person. It is merely an acknowledgment of our existence. When we aim for acceptance, there is a positive act involved because when you accept, there must be a favorable feeling towards us.

What have we been doing so far? Sadly, and this is my personal opinion, not very much. It is because the LGBT suffers from a perception problem. People do not take us seriously and it is in situations like this that we are losing sympathy from the very people who we want to accept us. We fight bigotry with reason. We fight indifference with humanity. We fight, but we should choose our battles.

I am a huge fan of Miss Rocero for breaking boundaries plus the fact that she is Cebuano (According to her Wikipedia profile, Ms Rocero is actually from Manila, though she is now an American citizen – Ed). But not all situations involving beautiful transgenders treated badly should there be a reason to wage war. Why? Because instead of gaining friends, we are losing sympathy even from our own kind. Miss Floresca can fight her own wars and we should not put the stamp of LGBT war cry because it worsens how people perceive us.

Let me enumerate:

First, a California license stating you are a female will only be valid in the United States. If Miss Floresca was American, the Civil Code will force us to follow how her citizenship sees her (as a woman) because status is governed by the nationality of the person. But Veejay is still Filipino. And as Filipino, we will have to classify her as male since that was the sex assigned to her by birth. Sad but true. Miss Rocero, being American, can insist she is a woman, but Miss Floresca cannot.

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Second, at mag-ta-Tagalog ako para maintindihan ng lahat. ‘Yung mga pinaglalaban natin, napaka-shallow. Karamihan ng Pilipino, nagugutom, salat sa buhay at pagod sa pagbabanat sa buto. Tapos maririnig nila na galit na galit tayo kasi may isang kakosa natin na hindi pinapasok sa mamahaling club. Naman! Maghanap tayo ng situation na yung isang beki ay tinanggal sa trabaho, hindi tinanggap sa trabaho kahit qualified, hindi binentahan ng gamot or di kaya binugbog dahil bakla. Then the common man can relate and sympathize. But when our battle cry is… boo hoo, hindi kami pinapasok sa bar, hindi kami tao kasi hindi kami pinayagang maging masaya at mag-party. Sa isang ordinaryong Pilipino na yung isang buwang sweldo ay katumbas ng gagatusin ng isang beki sa isang gabi ng pag-pa-party, ang sasabihin niya… ‘Tang-ina! Hindi lang kayo napapasok, hindi na tao agad. Eh kami nga walang makain.’

I am not saying we stop fighting for equality and acceptance. What I am trying to tell you and I am risking my life and limb for being too outspoken about this is:

Hindi tayo tira lang ng tira. Away lang ng away. Patulan lahat at discrimination agad. Kasi sa totoo lang, pati babae at lalake biktima din ng discrimination. Siguradong mas madaming babae at lalake ang hindi pinapasok sa club na yan kesa sa beki. Mas madaming straight ang hindi nakapasok sa mga tindahang napasukan natin dahil wala silang pera, hindi nakakain ng kinakain natin dahil salat sila sa buhay. Naging masyado tayong maselan. Nagiging paandar at pag-i-inarte na. Let us be relevant. Let our advocacy have essence. Hindi yung parade lang tayo ng parade, mag-sponsor ng inuman at naka-itim or puti or pink ang lahat ng a-attend at awayin sa social media ang lahat ng galit sa atin.

Because the only way to be accepted, is when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Mark Austria

    Jun 29, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Oh my God. Your ignorance of the law is astounding.

    I was arguing with you on the wrong premise. That you actually know at least something about laws. This is why you can’t come up with anything that has legal basis. And that is why you keep saying citing the law is fallacious when you appeal to it so that you could make certain unethical–and supposed to be illegal–actions correct and this article is infected with appeals to law .

    As I said, the law need not be moral! Get that inside your head! That is why, even though killing is unethical, given the right circumstances (like mere trespassing),it is legal. At least we can agree that killing is unethical right? And you would possibly back someone who did so legally. It is legal for a manager to shout and curse at an employee (without crossing the line of verbal abuse) for doing something wrong or stupid yet it is unethical because it embarrasses the person. It is legal for a head of a country to commit a crime in another country (Diplomatic Immunity) but it’s unethical. And the list goes on. Why? because the law guarantees to be fair and unbiased, no matter your moral upbringing or ethical conundrums. Laws are set in place to be the foundation of the republic.

    Do you want all laws to be moral? Good for you! But the reality is it’s not going to be ever. Because there will always be overlapping morals. Want constitutional examples? It’s unethical to not confess to a crime but it’s your right (The right against self-incrimination). And it’s also the right of the aggrieved to seek justice. You see the overlapping rights? This is why laws are in place – to be unbiased and to be the common ground. And if you’re still going to dispute my arguments because it is appealing to law, then we surely will be going around in circles for we have no common ground. And the reality is, LAW supersedes morality as common ground. Because the law need not be moral.

    We are going in circles because you refuse to acknowledge the law and its powers. That’s why if you still think morality should be the focus of this issue, then don’t read my legal argument below, and don’t reply anymore.

    First of all, this is why this argument should be discussed in the legal manner. Because this is a dilemma between the right to secure one’s property and the right not to be discriminated. Which is where Ayn Rand’s quote comes into place. The transpinay’s using of her right from discrimination necessitates the violation of the property owner’s rights. Both parties have equal rights (yes, rights have no ranking). But as you can see, the transpinay did not file charges not because she doesn’t want to but because she has no case. Simply because her right is the one overstepping its boundaries.

    Second, YES, Property rights! The same property rights that lets you control who enters your home! Have you even read the article?

    “Is a democracy allowed to discriminate? The answer is YES. Provided there is a valid classification. Hence, private schools can choose to accept only male or female while some choose to accept both. We do not allow foreigners to own lands because it is only reserved for Filipinos. We only allow biological women to join Bb. Pilipinas in the same manner we do not allow them to join Queen of the Philippines. Those are forms of discrimination but they are allowed. Why? Because there is a valid classification.

    To elaborate, isn’t it a human right to be educated? Then per your argument, since they are, not only violating this human right, but also the right to not be discriminated based on gender, they should be in the spotlight the same way Valkyrie is right now.

    And what Valkyrie has just done is classify their clientele, as it is their right as a private establishment. They are not a public establishment hence the velvet rope!

    [And what property rights of Valkyrie states that it can refuse a crossdresser entrance?] It’s a private property. And it is subject to the protection of the crime: trespassing.

    [So I’m asking justifiable on what grounds? Policy? What’s the rationale behind the policy?] Justifiable on the grounds of property rights. Which you so conveniently dismissed because of morality. Rationale behind property rights? What you’re arguing is that property rights should be trampled and make way for freedom from discrimination. But property rights are generally free from loopholes. While freedom from discrimination is full of loopholes. Why? Because freedom from discrimination is broad.Too broad. That’s why giving a precedent on the matter is usually stricken down for reason of overstepping its boundaries.

    For you to understand this, you must first get out of your shoes and recognize the other party’s rights. Because property rights even if you argue its immorality is still a right equal to every other right.

    [[Why is no one in the male and female spectrum charging discrimination to clubs? Aren’t their gender also a reason why they don’t get inside clubs?] Congratulations for making another red herring fallacy. I guess it’s your favorite dish.]

    And yours is accusations of red herring fallacies. Don’t you see it’s just begging the question and I want you to be the one to realize it: Can straight men and women file charges of discrimination? If so on what grounds? What specific law are night clubs breaking? You said freedom from discrimination is a human right. LGBT is new, sure, but male and female discrimination laws are in place since post ww2. So if you really have a foundation for your argument that backs up gender discrimination, where is it?

    • Peter Jones Dela Cruz

      Jun 30, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      I typed a long response, but what a waste of precious space. Valkyrie just lifted the ban on cross-dressing. Or so I read. So I guess arguing with you is already pointless. 🙂

      • Mark Austria

        Jun 30, 2015 at 10:29 pm

        Sure, but if you still stick with your principle that citing the law is fallacious , you will be haunted by it for the rest of your life.

  2. Mark Austria

    Jun 26, 2015 at 12:45 am

    Hello Chris De Vera,
    Honestly, You do not have a valid argument when you stated the club’s dress code policy. Leaving out a statement that loses your argument’s validity does not make the said argument valid.

    The statement is as follows: Any other related concerns will be dealt with upon management discretion.

    I’d say your argument just went out the window. If you still believe your argument holds ground, think about these:

    A man, dressed formal, got splashed by a roaring sports car just outside the club, dirtying his whole outfit with mud. Would he still be allowed inside? Probably not. Was there anywhere in the signage prohibiting muddy clothes? No.

    A woman dressed gorgeous but wearing make-up similar to that of a clown, would she be allowed inside? Definitely not unless there’s some cosplay event inside. Was there anywhere in the signage prohibiting clowny make-up? No.

    You can think of many instances that has no explicit prohibition in the club’s dress code but management would still decline entry. And they will always be on the right.

    Next, you will say, “But this is different. It’s not about solvable problems, It’s about a person’s identity.” You will have forgone your previous argument and introduced a new one. This will go on and on with you and the law will always crush you… until you pull out the morality card. Then you would have to read the article again, and you would still shake your head.

    Is it moral for the club to do this? Surely, no. But the law isn’t about morality. The law is the law. The writer was on the right track. The club simply has the right to refuse entry.

    It’s just business. Do men hold it against the club when we aren’t granted entry simply because we’re men? No, and we don’t cry sexism or discrimination. We know it’s just business. There are simply too many men in the club at the time.

    • Peter Jones Dela Cruz

      Jun 26, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Citing exceptions to rules is a dishonest and fallacious way of dismissing someone’s argument. Of course a drenched man with soiled clothes may not be allowed entrance because of sanitation reasons. A girl, on the other hand, who looks like a clown because of her make-up may not be allowed, too, but the validity of the reason behind that is debatable.

      You’re trying to divert the issue from a transpinay dressed fine and decently entering a posh club to an issue about people dressing awfully. Do not reduce the argument and try to misconstrue it so that the rationale behind discrimination in this case gets a fighting chance.

      Citing the law and the internal policy and discretion of the company to dismiss calls for fighting discrimination against one’s gender identity is equally fallacious. This is exactly a reason LGBT advocates lobby the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. We’re trying to change the law that is either cissexist or discrimination-tolerant.

      It’s just business? You’re appealing to the norm of the business. It’s also fallacious. Just because you think it’s just business doesn’t mean it’s right.

      [Do men hold it against the club when we aren’t granted entry simply because we’re men?] Quit making red herrings like this one. Just because there are men who didn’t complain about being banned from bars or clubs or other commercial establishments doesn’t mean everyone else shouldn’t either. Just because you didn’t cry sexism or discrimination doesn’t mean everyone else shouldn’t either.

      • Mark Austria

        Jun 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

        Hello Peter,
        As you probably read, I just replied to Chris’s comment and decided to focus on his argument. So now, I’m replying to you.

        First and most importantly, citing the law is never fallacious. The law is the law for without it there will be chaos.

        I dismissed his argument because his argument was tackling rules. And the rules simply were not leaning in his favor.

        Sure, I am diverting the issue of transpinay. Because this is not an issue of LGBT discrimination. For the law applies to everybody or none at all. And for you to understand this, I recommend:

        First, you have to reread the article again on what is the right approach to this issue. This is a simple denial of entry to a private property. As Atty Bruce explicitly stated, the transpinay was not denied life or liberty when she was refused. The constitutional right of the club trumps that of the imaginary right of the transpinay. And I will say it again, it may not be moral but it is the law.

        Second, you must first define and understand discrimination. Was the refusal of entry arising from the individual’s gender? Yes. But was it ONLY specific to one group of people? No. Men and women, also dressed fine and decently are being declined entry by posh clubs EVERYDAY. For it to have been discrimination, there must arise a specific instance that the rule is targeting a defined group.

        Now, you will realize and say “Yes, they are definitely targeting transpinays by not giving them permission to enter.” You would be on the right line of thinking but you will have done so fallaciously. For it is not because they are transpinay, but because they are ‘crossdressing’. It’s a loophole and it’s valid. Because there is simply no law stating otherwise.

        Next, and with the approach of Atty Bruce, “the right to party is NOT a human right.” Do you know the story of Manny Pacquiao and Manila Yacht Club? He was denied membership for personal reasons by the existing members. He cannot argue discrimination for it is NOT a human right to be a member of a club.

        You go in here spewing accusations that my arguments are fallacious in sense, while your arguments, having NO LEGAL BASIS are not? I gave no red herrings, you just saw it the way you want it. You only think it’s red herring because you see yourselves as special. Why do men not scream discrimination? Not only was it ‘just business’ but BECAUSE IT’S NOT DISCRIMINATION. Their right as a private establishment is superior to our right as individuals trying to get in. Because trespassing is a crime while refusing entry is not.

        LGBTs ARE NOT SPECIAL. Stop victimizing yourselves and start taking responsibility as a community. Pick your battles as Atty Bruce said.

        “Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.” -Ayn Rand

        One more thing, if citing laws, internal policies, company discretion to discriminate is fallacious, then you might as well move to Somalia. Don’t ever go to a country that has LAWS if you just want everything to go your way.

        • Peter Jones Dela Cruz

          Jun 27, 2015 at 10:14 pm

          Excuse me, Mark Austria, but citing the law is fallacious when you appeal to it so that you could make certain unethical–and supposed to be illegal–actions correct.

          I disagree that without laws alone, there would be chaos. There are missing adjectives there. I would change it to: Without humanistic, reasonable laws, there would be chaos. Have you read about anti-gay laws in many countries in Africa as well as in the Middle East? Are you going to appeal to their laws now, and say, oh, persecuting and oppressing gay and trans people in those countries is okay because it’s according to their laws. See the major flaw in your argument now?

          The thing is, I read the whole article, and you know what, it is infected with appeals to law, red herring arguments, and fallacies of relative privation. So you telling me to reread the article offers a meaningless counterargument to what I said.

          I have nothing against Atty. Bruce, but I completely disagree with what he said.

          Why are you trying to qualify discrimination in this case? Why are you saying that this is simply refusing someone to party? That is misconstruing it. That is misrepresenting the situation so you could dismiss it as unimportant. You’re attacking a strawman, Mark.

          [You only think it’s red herring because you see yourselves as special.] Lay off the ad hominem fallacy. If you missed why your arguments are red herring fallacies, then it’s your problem, not mine.

          Stop citing issues unrelated to this one.

          I agree that LGBT people are not special. Who’s saying we are? That’s not the argument here. Please stop disgressing.

          [“Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.” -Ayn Rand] EXACTLY! The “right” to discriminate against crossdressers and transgenders is a questionable, debatable right that I argue is not and cannot be a right! The right to not be discriminated against on the basis of my gender identity is a basic human right!

          Excuse me, but your last paragraph is a desperate reductio ad absurdum. Guess what, laws can and should be challenged when they are unreasonable and partial. But guess what again, we’re not only talking about existing laws that should be challenged in this case; we’re also talking about laws that don’t exist, but should.

          • Mark Austria

            Jun 28, 2015 at 4:34 pm

            So now who’s using fallacious arguments?

            [The right to discriminate?] Nobody said anything about the right to discriminate. Valkyrie’s rights were property rights! (AS I’M SAYING AGAIN AND AGAIN but you just choose to ignore it).And if you have no counter-argument to that except for your accusations of red herrings, then consider your argument dismissed.

            [The thing is, I read the whole article, and you know what, it is infected with appeals to law] And herein lies your problem. You still argue that law is not to be taken seriously. Or I don’t know, that in cases of LGBT discrimination the law means nothing? Don’t you see!? You want to pass an anti-discrimination law and yet you don’t even want to abide by any laws? You still have NO LEGAL BASIS! And yet you come back here disputing everything this article says and what I’m saying with what? Just because you disagree?

            I’ve already told Chris and you already read it. YOU WILL GO ON AND ON WITH THIS AND THE LAW WILL ALWAYS CRUSH YOU! What I’m saying here and stipulating is not what I believe but what the LAW states. You don’t even have the foundation of an argument!

            You need a good smack to the face to WAKE UP!

            Form your argument with an effin’ foundation rather than some red herring accusations. And for the record in the eyes of the law, your arguments are what constitutes as red herring and cherry-picking. For the fact of the case is: A transgender was refused entry due to the dress-code policy, under management discretion which they, as a private entity, has the right to impose.

            Tell me, and if you’re going to reply to this unproductive discussion, you better start with this.
            1 How is a discrimination issue top that of a property rights issue? Will discrimination hold any ground against the rights of the establishment?
            2 If you pass any anti-discrimination law, will Valkyrie still have the right to block anyone who wants to enter? Did you even think of anything, with the anti-discrimination law that the LGBT is proposing, that prohibits instances like these from happening again? If so, will it force Valkyrie to accept any transgender to just waltz in to their place and they have no say about it?
            Just think about it. If an anti-discrimination law is passed, what will stop Valkyrie from explicitly stating that crossdressing is not allowed? Will they be prosecuted? Will they face charges? I very well know the answer is NO. Because again: “Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.” -Ayn Rand

            You know why I resorted to ad hominem attacks and the likes? Because you don’t have ANY argument other than ‘you disagree’. And I will not defend the law for the law needs no defending. You either abide by it or get the hell out.

          • Mark Austria

            Jun 28, 2015 at 4:44 pm

            One more thing, If this is an issue of discrimination, then why are the parties involved not filing any charges? You may say, “Oh that’s because there are still no LGBT discrimination laws in place” Okay, then why is no one in the male and female spectrum charging discrimination to clubs? Aren’t their gender also a reason why they don’t get inside clubs? Again because you think you’re so special and use your gender identity to strong-arm establishments to give what you want. And I so want you answering this argument so much to stop your useless bickering. So I will say it again.

            “Why is no one in the male and female spectrum charging discrimination to clubs? Aren’t their gender also a reason why they don’t get inside clubs?”

        • Peter Jones Dela Cruz

          Jun 29, 2015 at 12:32 am

          Property rights? Are you seriously saying we’re discussing property rights? And what property rights of Valkyrie states that it can refuse a crossdresser entrance? I’m sorry but that reasoning isn’t even valid to need a counterargument for it to be dismissed.

          [Or I don’t know, that in cases of LGBT discrimination the law means nothing?]

          Let me remind you that it wasn’t I who discouraged the fight against discrimination in this particular issue. So I don’t understand why you’re asking me this question. Maybe you didn’t understand what an “appeal to law” means. It’s a logical fallacy that happens when you say something is right/wrong because the law says so. Something maybe illegal or legal, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s ethical or reasonable. With all due respect, I presented situations with regard to this in my previous comment.

          [You want to pass an anti-discrimination law and yet you don’t even want to abide by any laws? You still have NO LEGAL BASIS!]

          Excuse me! Where in my comments did I mention not abiding laws? Criticizing laws or the non-existence of laws is not tantamount to not abiding by laws. I have no legal basis for what exactly? For saying that it is wrong for an establishment to ban transgenders and crossdressers? Didn’t I specifically mention this is why we’re supporting the Anti-Discrimination Bill?

          We’re just going around in circles here because you are recycling your fallacious arguments.

          [A transgender was refused entry due to the dress-code policy, under management discretion which they, as a private entity, has the right to impose.]

          This is exactly the core of your argument that I think is seriously fallacious. The dress code policy is unreasonably discriminatory. There is absolutely no valid rationale behind this dress code policy. But you can present some in the company’s defense if you can cite them.

          [1 How is a discrimination issue top that of a property rights issue? Will discrimination hold any ground against the rights of the establishment?]

          Excuse me, but freedom from discrimination is a basic HUMAN RIGHT. Now you may argue as you have argued that discrimination is justifiable in this case. So I’m asking justifiable on what grounds? Policy? What’s the rationale behind the policy? Therein lies the answer to whether your appeals to policy are reasonable or not.

          [2 If you pass any anti-discrimination law, will Valkyrie still have the right to block anyone who wants to enter? ]

          The anti-discrimination law will keep public establishments from discriminating against race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, or gender identity. If you’re worried it would mean they would no longer have the right to refuse gun holders or drug pushers or delinquents entry, then you’re making a strawman fallacy.

          [Did you even think of anything, with the anti-discrimination law that the LGBT is proposing, that prohibits instances like these from happening again? ]

          An anti-discrimination law will not completely discourage LGBT discrimination, but it will certainly afford the victims legal options to uphold their rights against unfair treatment. Laws against rape and murder do not prevent these crimes completely, but it doesn’t mean they are useless.

          [If so, will it force Valkyrie to accept any transgender to just waltz in to their place and they have no say about it?]

          Yes. What’s wrong with accepting trans people into their posh establishment? If they can pay for their drinks and don’t do anything harmful, what’s the problem?

          [Just think about it. If an anti-discrimination law is passed, what will stop Valkyrie from explicitly stating that crossdressing is not allowed? Will they be prosecuted? Will they face charges? I very well know the answer is NO. Because again: “Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.” -Ayn Rand]

          I think I’ve mentioned that freedom from discrimination is a basic human right and is an internationally recognized human right! It’s not an alleged right. And that’s exactly why we ought to have an Anti-Discrimination Law. Supposing it gets passed and enacted, it will penalized companies and institutions guilty of unreasonably discriminating against certain individuals.

          [Why is no one in the male and female spectrum charging discrimination to clubs? Aren’t their gender also a reason why they don’t get inside clubs?]

          Congratulations for making another red herring fallacy. I guess it’s your favorite dish.

          I assume you’re talking about cisgender straight men and women, right? If so, let me ask, has any cisgender man and woman been discriminated for being cis and straight? If so, why didn’t they file complaints? That they didn’t file complaints doesn’t say anything about the importance of discussing and fighting discrimination. And as I mentioned in my previous comment, just because they didn’t complain doesn’t mean everyone else shouldn’t as well.

  3. Chris De Vera

    Jun 25, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Hello!
    I understand the article’s point that it’s the establishment is allowed to be exclusive to a certain group of people, HOWEVER, I think I have a very valid argument when i say that nowhere in their signage does it say or imply that cross-dressing is not allowed.

    According to the signage

    The following are not allowed:
    FOR MEN:
    Sleeveless shirts, tank tops, sports jerseys, hoodies, sports jackets, shorts, cropped pants, slippers, sandals, and open shoes.

    FOR WOMEN:
    Slippers

    Since they have no rule against cross dressers, they should then simply enforce the dress code.

    If they recognize the transwomen as women, the only basis not to let them enter should be if they’re wearing slippers.

    If they refuse to recognize the transwomen as women, then they should’ve enforced the Men’s dress code on them, and there’s nothing there that says they can’t wear dresses. Basta no sandos, hoodies, jerseys, etc. The management could’ve easily included “dresses, blouses, heels” etc., but they did not.

    So there really is no basis for not letting them enter.

    I hope I got my point across 🙂

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From the Editor

On beauty pageants and messed up priorities in dealing with HIV in Phl…

After encountering a young PLHIV who has to prostitute himself just to access ARVs, Michael David Tan finds it infuriating that the Department of Health saw it fit to allocate lots of money to HOLD A BEAUTY PAGEANT. For him, from the get-go, this approach needs to be closely looked at.

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Photo by Valentin Salja from Unsplash.com

I am chatting with a person whose HIV rapid test only recently showed he’s reactive. He was told by this satellite clinic in Mandaluyong City that he can actually proceed to get the meds; though only if:

  1. He pays his PhilHealth; and
  2. He pays for all his lab tests.

The problem is, this young person – who did not even finish schooling – is unemployed.

So he is chatting with me now to “manghiram ng P100 (borrow a hundred pesos) so I can go to a client who will give me P1,000; which I can then use to pay for my lab tests.”

Yes, he is resorting to selling himself. To access life-saving medicine that is supposedly – and ERRONEOUSLY claimed to be – “free”.

It is cases like this young person’s that make it infuriating that the Department of Health saw it fit to allocate lots of money to… HOLD A BEAUTY PAGEANT.

In a pageant-obsessed country like the Philippines, at least superficially, this seems like an “intelligent” move.

But from the get-go, this approach needs to be closely looked at.

  1. The pageant is supposed to create “HIV advocates”. BUT only those who fit specific qualifications can enter – e.g. age limit, height limit, vital stats requirement of participants (with the candidates even told to ‘model’ in swimwear as part of the screening process). So now – with this ‘move’ – what is being insinuated is that you need to be young and beautiful first before you can be an HIV ‘advocate’…
  2. We are supposed to dismantle this lookist society; to recognize people’s worth NOT based solely on how they look like. Pageants – by their very nature – promote the status quo (of lookism) by giving “positions of power” only to those who “fit” socially-constructed standards of beauty and attractiveness.
  3. The country has a lot of REAL advocates who do for free what should be DOH’s job – e.g. community-based HIV screeners who go from barangay to barangay without any payment. There are those doing community-based HIV screening (CBS) who are RUNNING OUT OF RAPID TEST KITS, so they are now unable to serve; unable to be advocates. Seriously now, if there’s money for a beauty pageant, surely there’s money that can be given to those already working on the ground, or even to buy life-saving paraphernalia used in battling HIV in the Philippines.
  4. One of the supporters of this beauty pageant told me that Pia Wurtzbach’s effort to bring the spotlight to HIV is a good example of the “relevance” of a beauty pageant like this, as it could “create another Pia”. In a marketing standpoint, this is not a well-thought response; mainly because if you wanted to “create” someone to be like Pia to promote HIV awareness in the Philippines, then… JUST HIRE PIA HERSELF!
    Besides, as a friend aptly said: You can’t just “create” a Pia. She “works” because she’s unique.
  5. If you need a crown, a title and the prize money before you start advocating for HIV-related issues in the Philippines, then you’e not really an “advocate” and what you’re doing is not “advocacy”.

PLASTIC CROWNS
There remain many life-threatening and urgent issues concerning HIV in the Philippines. And if you try bringing these issues up (e.g. to government people, or NGOs), you’d more likely be told “there’s no money”. But apparently there is. Just not for the urgent ones…
Photo by Pro Church Media from Unsplash.com

The fact is, numerous HIV-related issues continue to plague the country.

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We get 31 new cases every day now.

A growing number of those getting infected are getting younger and younger (e.g. in July, 28% were from the 15-24 age bracket).

The ARVs in treatment hubs are OLD – e.g. many have expired, and the Philippines still uses meds already discontinued in Western countries. Don’t get me started with the shortage that the DoH continues to deny is happening.

We still don’t have widely-distributed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Newly-diagnosed PLHIVs – like that young person at the start of this article – are still unable to pay for their baseline tests; and so they can’t proceed to the next steps, which is to start their ARV therapy.

There are treatment hubs that do not have viral load machines, so that PLHIVs do not know their VL years and years after they tested HIV-positive. And this is even if they have been paying the same PhilHealth amount that should give them that VL test.

There are accredited hubs that do not even offer CD4 test. This is accepted as “normal”, and again, this is even if the PLHIVs in these hubs still pay the same PhilHealth amount that should grant them the CD4 test.

There remains lack of updated knowledge even among existing service providers – e.g. try asking them about U=U, and you’re more likely to encounter internalized stigma and discrimination, largely because… this is not even openly discussed in the Philippines, including by DoH.

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There are no Filipino Sign Language interpreters who can assist Deaf Filipinos to get tested for HIV; and – if they test HIV-positive – access treatment, care and support.

I can go on and on and on…

But just try bringing these issues up (e.g. to government people, or NGOs) and you’d more likely be told “there’s no money”.

Well… apparently there is; just not for these…

As it is – and yes, I recognize this – I’ve already been repeatedly told that I’m too… negative.

I’m not sure I’m being “negative”; instead, I am being more “realistic”.

And the thing is, as long there are PLHIVs like that young person who has to prostitute himself just so he can pay to access life-saving meds and services, we all should be…

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Literary Pieces

Both Eyes Open

Some members of the LGBTQI community live in the shadows. Until they and the people they love start to get hurt.

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Photo by Harry Quan from Unsplash.com

The ticking of the clock was the only sound you can hear in the living room. That large, wooden clock Father brought home from Frankfurt last year was particularly loud. Spring has come late to our village, and people are a little antsy about how to put together a festival in such short notice. The cherry trees will begin to bloom soon. My parents were off in the town hall to attend one of the many meetings with the council preparing for the influx of tourists who are sure to come through town in a couple of weeks.

Everybody was in a bit of a rush, since they haven’t exactly finished putting up the observation decks at the public causeway lined with cherry blossom trees, nor the small collection of food stalls that the local merchant guild was planning. The first few groups of tourists have started to arrive and our inn was starting to fill up with guests.

I poured myself a drink at my father’s bar and I sat in one of our overstuffed settees.

“Touma?”

I see her walk in, dressed in a simple linen robe, her hair down, preparing for bed.

“Will you wait up for Mother?”

I nod. She approaches and quietly refills my drink.

“The children are sleeping. Should I draw you a bath before bed?” I nod. She smiles and gathers up her robe.

“Hana?” She looks back and I see her small smile once more. “I am sorry for missing the New Year Festival again. I must really get control over my work schedule. I will make it up to you and the children during the summer.” I placed my drink on the lacquered table beside me. “I have booked us all a trip to the city to stay at that hotel in the city that you like, we can go shopping and get the kids some new clothes and toys. The boys seem to be growing much faster than ever before.”

“I think that is a wonderful idea. Thank you. And don’t worry about my birthday: It was work. It really can’t be helped.” She turns around and stops at our family shrine. She reaches out and gently touches a Daruma doll she placed there about three years ago, its single eye looking at her, slightly askew.

I look at the clock on the wall. Of course she understands, Hana has always been very understanding.

***

Konnichi wa.”

I look up from the guest ledger and see this ruddy faced foreigner with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.

Konnichi wa, and welcome.” I reply. I bow slightly, and see him return the greeting.

“I made a reservation, it should be under Phillip Thompson?”

I scan through the names on the ledger and find his reservation. I enter his arrival in the log and hand him his safebox key.

“Thank you.” He picks up his bag and smiles. I look at his face, fair, with a splash of freckles across the bridge of his nose, between wide blue eyes. He had a set of straight white teeth behind a big, bushy beard, the color of straw. “When will the cherry blossoms begin to bloom?”

“Maybe within the next couple of days: We’ve already seen some trees beginning to change color.” I open a small door and pick up his suitcase. “This way please.” I lead him down the hall towards his room.

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“This is my first time in Japan during the spring, but I’ve heard such beautiful things about this season.”

“Yes, it is beautiful in the spring. And the weather is so much more forgiving, especially in this area. Once the trees turn, I will arrange to have a place for you along the causeway. Do you prefer viewing the cherry blossoms in the afternoon or at dusk? They set up the park with lights at night and I could prepare some traditional Japanese confections for you to enjoy during your viewing.”

“Oh, that would be great! I think an evening viewing would be best.”

I set his suitcase down and kneel to slide open the paper screen that leads to his room. “Would you want to bathe before dinner? We have our own onsen, and you can try it out. I can also prepare your bed while you bathe so you can rest before eating. You must be tired from travelling.” I move into the space and put away his bag off to one side of the room.

“Yes, I would like that very much.” I open one of the closets and take out a robe and hand it to him. He changes into the robe as he makes more idle chatter. I take down his bedding and check to make sure it’s fresh. I absent-mindedly turn around to set the bedding on the tatami mat. He had his back turned towards me as he slipped his arms through the sleeves of the robe, and I had a brief glimpse of his broad shoulders. I feel a familiar sensation that stirred at the bottom of my belly.

I push it down. And drop my eyes to the floor.

Photo byFernando @cferdo from Unsplash.com

***

“I see that Mr. Thompson has checked in today.” Hana looks over to me as she reviews the guest ledger. “I heard from Akane-sama that the pavilion opens tomorrow for the viewing. Shall we make arrangements for him?”

I put down the paper I was reading, and I look at her. Yes, I reply. He wants to arrange a nighttime viewing.

She picks up the phone and begins to organize a private viewing for him. I go back to reading the paper, though, I was only skimming the words on the page. My attention is lost among the fog of my thoughts. The clock on the wall ticks on and on.

“Touma?”

I look up at her again.

She’s sitting there, cradling the small Daruma doll in her hands. She traces her finger along the edge of paper that came away from the body of the doll. She takes some paste from a drawer, and gently pressed the paper back in place.

“I have asked the kitchen to prepare a bento of sweets for tomorrow night, but I won’t be able to accompany Mr. Thompson to the viewing. Would it be alright if you go with him? I have some things to attend to.”

I put the newspaper down. “We have discussed this already. I do not understand why I must attend to the guests.”

She sits there silent for a moment. “No games, Touma. I just can’t go. That’s all.”

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“Fine.” I got up and poured myself a drink. She sets down the doll on the shrine and went back to writing. I look at it, the red paint has faded significantly, with one forlorn eye staring out at me.

***

“You weren’t kidding! This place is amazing!”

Phillip and I walked along the banks of the small river that cut through the park. Paper lanterns lined the path that reflected off of the gentle ripple of the water. There were groups of people in colorful robes, weaving through the trees, admiring their foliage, or sitting on low benches enjoying their bento boxes filled with cakes and dumplings.

You can smell the aroma of roasted fish and other foodstuff from the collection of stalls on the other side of the stream. We didn’t have to go though; the kitchen has outdone itself in preparing both savory and sweet boxes for us to enjoy this evening.

We reached a low hill in the middle of a bend in the river where the view was particularly breathtaking, and set down our dinner on the bench that sat under a tree. Viewing the cherry blossom trees this early in the season meant that no cascading petals would go in our food. And you get to fully appreciate the magnificent foliage at the pinnacle of their glory.

“I have heard a story about how the cherry blossoms represented fallen warriors during the war.” Phillip sat down on the opposite end of the bench, looking out at the stream and the trees that lined the opposite bank, lit by soft hues of yellow and mauve. I offered him a bento filled with rice, grilled sea bream and pickles. He took it and he started to eat. “How can something so beautiful represent something so sad?”

I sat beside him, and started to softly play a tune on my shamisen. “Cherry blossoms represent impermanence in our culture. Like the cherry tree that is so short lived, it serves to remind us that nothing stays the same forever. We live, we bloom, and we die.” He was looking at me as I say this, and I see him look out into the water again.

“Once there was a man who had a cherry tree in his backyard. He loved the tree he grew up with, playing under its shade for many years as a boy. As he lived, his children played under the shade of the tree which gave him much joy.” I see him close his eyes as he listened to my story.

“As he lived, and as time passed, his children grew up, his wife passed away, and one by one his children had families of their own, moved away, and died. However, death would not come for the old man.” I struck a sad note. He opens his eyes and looks at me.

“He lived for so long, alongside his beloved cherry tree. Till one day when he went out into the garden to sit under its branches, as he has done countless times before, he found that the tree had died.” Phillip looks at me intently. “Overcome with grief, the old man wept and called for death. He took his sword and took his own life under the dead boughs of the cherry tree he loved. As his spirit escaped his body, it bonded with the tree, and it bloomed for one last time.”

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“That was beautiful.” Phillip wiped the tears that welled in his eyes. “Sad. But beautiful.”

“Just because there is suffering, does not mean the story is sad: The old man lived a full life and in the end was granted a beautiful death. He was blessed with this fate, and death did not rob his life of its meaning.” I sat beside him and looked out into the water. The river started to fill with light. We sat there in silence, watching the cherry blossoms dance with the gentle breeze.

“Why did you come here, Phillip?”

“I missed you so much. I didn’t know how else to reach you.”

I felt his head gently rest on my shoulder.

“Hana doesn’t know.”

I hear him sigh. “I know.” He said under his breath, his voice was like an echo of mine over the surface of the water.

Photo by Jenna Jacobs from Unsplash.com

***

The clock ticks on, as I sat there reading the paper. Hana comes in with a glass of whisky on a small tray. She walks over to me and places it on the lacquered table beside me.

“How was your viewing?”

I put the paper down. “It was beautiful.” I reply. I can taste the venom in my voice.

“That’s good. I wanted to join you, the trees are particularly splendid this year, but I was kept busy here at home. The children needed tending.” She picks up the Daruma doll and sets it down on the desk in front of her.

She uses her finger to push it forward, and it rolls forward and settles upright. She pushes it from one side to the other, its wobbling making soft noises as it recenters itself in front of her on the polished desk.

“Did Phillip enjoy his stay?”

I can feel it. That coiled snake in my belly is moving.

“Why do you do this? Why did you do this?”

She doesn’t look at me. But still I know she was crying.

“Why? I don’t know.” She wipes away the tears on her pale cheeks. “I’m tired, Touma. Just say it so I can go to bed.”

“You are impossible. There is nothing to say.”

“No.” There’s a cold fierceness in her voice. It sounded like steel. “No. I see how you look at him. At  them. It kills me every time I see it. That’s why I wrote to him. I asked him to come. I just… I needed to see it for myself.” She took a brush and started to grind some ink on her inkstone. I kept quiet. I know. I know it’s wrong. I know.

“Hana. Don’t do this. Please.”

“No. I’m tired Touma. Now I truly understand.” She takes her brush and dips it into the ink. She takes the Daruma doll and paints a big staring pupil on the other eye.

“Enough. No more secrets.” She stands up and leaves the room.

And there, on the desk, sat her Daruma doll, staring at nothing at all, with both eyes open.

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Literary Pieces

I Am Here

Have you ever been “lost” in a labyrinthine gay bathhouse? Here’s a poetic glimpse at its nerve-wracking – yet intoxicating – appeal.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba from Unsplash.com

I stood there in front of that door for God knows how long. Staring at that small sign that says “Pull”, I felt my heart pounding as I fumbled for my wallet in that harshly lit alley in downtown Tokyo. I knew I shouldn’t be there, which explains the hesitation, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. This is a mistake; I mutter under my breath, it’s been too long-much too long.

It’s getting cold. This is ridiculous. Go in or go back to the hotel.

I reach out, and all of a sudden the door opens. Out pops an old man in a greatcoat, about 60 years old, his hat pulled down low on his brow, with flushed cheeks and brandishing a briefcase. He takes one cursory look at me as he brushes past me and starts to shuffle towards the train station down the block. I could hear a man’s voice coming from inside, gruff and clipped. I don’t speak Japanese, so I feel this sudden (though not thoroughly unfounded) jolt of guilt that I was wasting their heat since I stood there holding the door open like a frozen doorman. I quickly found myself inside.

There they stood, peering at me. These two men, one significantly older than the other, stood there and bowed. The younger of the two smiled, revealing a toothy grin. “American?”

I shook my head, no. “No, no, Filipino.”

“Ah! Filipino! Welcome, welcome.” He put out a cup of steaming barley tea and motioned me to drink. I cupped it between my hands to warm them and breathed in the nutty aroma wafting from the small ceramic cup. “Manila?” He asks. “Yes.” My voice was tightening in my throat. “How much?”. He smiles again and points to the ticket machine off to the side of the door. The machine had a laminated sign on it that says ¥2,800. He went over and took the money I fished out of my wallet and fed it to the machine. It spits out a ticket, and he hands me my locker key on those elastic bands not unlike the vintage phone cords I played with when I was younger. I slip it on my wrist, and follow him as he led me past the split curtain and into the locker room.

***

Photo by John Baker from Unsplash.com

I open my eyes. It is pitch black.

My eyes slowly start to adjust to the darkness and slowly, shapes begin to form around me. Undulating bodies, slick with sweat, they writhed under my touch. In this surreal landscape, I could feel my mind slowly melt away, along with the stress built up on the knotted muscles on my back.

I feel it, the hot breath on the back of my neck as I slowly rise from where I lay my head, rising from the warmth of some faceless chest that served as my pillow for the past half hour, as the rest of the room pulsed with lust. I felt two strong hands suddenly grip my arms as I steadied myself to stand.

“Wait. We’re not done.”

“I need to freshen up, aniki, and I need a smoke.” I watch as Touma stands up, his muscular bulk slowly rising from the floor. I feel him approach and pull me into a deep, long bear hug. “Don’t take too long. I might not find you again.” He growled into my ear. “You are mine tonight.”. I feel him stiffening against the inside my thigh, and I knew he wouldn’t last too long, with or without me. I noisily breathed in the smell of his musk, kissed his neck, and he lets me go.

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I wind my way out of the maze of corridors lined with men of all shapes and sizes, obscured by the dark. I can feel their eyes on me as I brush past them, their hands “accidentally” brushing against my body. I feel the cold draft coming from the shower area, and I close my eyes against the light that greets me as I open the door.

***

I opened up my locker and started to undress, the guy from reception looks on as I peeled off the winter gear I had on. The guy from reception steals glances at my little awkward striptease. I ask him if I need to be totally naked.

“Yes. Or underwear.”

I stop pulling down my boxers, and I start to close my locker. He says something in Japanese again, and holds up a strip of fabric. A fundoshi. Oh no. I slowly removed my boxers, and neatly folded them. I placed them inside the locker and closed it, I stood there and reached for the fundoshi, and he smiled.

“After bath.”

Of course. This is becoming more and more embarrassing as each moment passes. He hands me a small washcloth and goes back through the door to the reception area. I stood there for a moment, looking at the calligraphy scrolls that adorn the walls of the space. I slowly make my way towards the long corridor where I could hear the faint sound of water. I wonder where all the people were.

I enter one of the shower stalls and begin to wash off the stench of the city.

***

I settle down in one of the hot tubs, my washcloth folded neatly on my head. I relish the feeling of being almost lulled to sleep by the gentle rippling of the water, and the almost iridescent heat of the stone tiles on my skin.

Why do I do this to myself?

I breathe in the heady mix of steam and jasmine. I am getting much too old for this. I know. I’ve seen the looks the younger ones give me. How they see the wrinkles that have appeared almost overnight. Not that I care much. I have always been very cavalier about my appearance, even when I was younger. Partly because I have always been unhappy with how I looked. Only later was I able to think of my features as mildly attractive to others.

The door opens and he stood there, staring. I see a hint of surprise and a slight pink flush to his cheeks, and a towel in his hand. I smile slightly, completely unaware of what my face was doing. He takes it as a positive sign. He walks towards me slowly, his body well-proportioned and well put together. He had a sexy, compact and stocky build, with thick arms and calves that are covered by coarse hair. I move to make room as he steps into the tub and sits across from me.

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I took the time to study his face: Those eyes that seemed to me so full of curiosity, as if they were drinking everything in. That thick beard that came away from the sides of his face, filled with crystal droplets that dripped down to his chin and fell one by one into the tub. I could see the swirling patterns of the hair on his back and shoulders. I see him looking at me.

He can’t resist. He can’t fight it.

***

Photo by Jakob Owens from Unsplash.com

He stood up, the water washing down his lithe body making it gleam under the soft lights of the bath. He gracefully steps out of the tub, and I can’t help but look at him in awe. He takes a towel from a small squat table and proceeds to dry himself off. I don’t know if it was the heat, or the heavy scent of flowers that pervaded the room, or just a deep longing that I feel at the pit of my stomach, but I can’t help but watch transfixed as he seemed to move in slow-motion.

He walks back towards the tub, and he sits on the edge. His hand reaches down and runs his fingers through my beard, and traces the outline of my jaw. I smell the subtle scent of vetiver on his wrist as he does this. I feel my anxiety start to subside in my gut as this gorgeous stranger continues to trace his fingers around my face, across my brow, down my nose, and against the side of my neck where my pulse was racing. I closed my eyes in delight.

“Izumi.”

“Anton.”

I feel his hands move to the back of my neck, gently feeling the tense muscles he found there, and moving his fingertips in small circles. I don’t think he speaks English. With my luck, he probably doesn’t. But as it always happens, right now is not the time for words. I got up from the tub and step out. He got another towel from the table and began to slowly dry me off, taking his time with fascinating precision. After he dried my legs, he lets the towel drop to the floor.

There we stood.

He says nothing. Just looks at me with a perfectly still, handsome, inscrutable face. I feel his hand in mine and he silently leads me into the void.

***

I see nothing. I don’t need to.

My hearing picks up where my vision left off, and I hear the soft padding of his feet behind me as I move further into the maze. I sense the other people hiding in corners, their eyes moving faster than their bodies, as they watch him with either hunger or cold, dispassionate ambivalence. I find a little empty corner just as my eyes begin to get used to this twilight world once more. I push him against the wall and look at him.

Handsome. Within and without light.

I feel his forearms, my fingertips lightly brushing against the strands of hair, until I reach his broad shoulders. His averted and while it may first seem impossible to explain, I feel the heat of his blush. I lean in and kiss him on the lips, a number of small tentative kisses that lead to longer, deeper ones. He was hesitant at first, but he began to return the kisses, gripping my arms tight and pulling me closer to him: obliterating what little distance there was between us. He spins me around and pins my hands above my head on the wall with an audible smack that the people around us turned towards us. He’s strong, I think to myself, I fight back somewhat but he persists.

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His hands felt soft against my skin, and they burned with warmth that surprised me.

Why do I do this to myself?

My mind snaps back to here. I feel his chest under my palms as he busied himself under me. I feel the fur under my fingers like I was riding a wild beast. This emptiness inside me is lost in the thrum of excitement I feel deep in my belly: the same soft thrum that slowly sets my mind adrift, makes my body convulse, and makes me feel as if my joints have come apart like wax.

***

Photo by Rene Böhmer from Unsplash.com

I open my eyes.

“Tea?”

The guy from reception smiled as he offers me another cup of barley tea. I look over to the other end of the room where a huge guy was sitting, dozing off. I check my watch and realize that I would need to take a cab back to the hotel. I never noticed the first time I walked in, how graceful the small stone garden was, and how intricately carved the big stone lion was on the entryway. I picked at my fingernails nervously as I waited for him to come out.

He comes out of the locker room into the reception area, his hair slicked back, and dressed in a wrinkled shirt and a slim tie. He returns his locker key to the reception desk. He looks at me, and smiles.

“Izumi?”

I see the big guy get up and start gathering his things. He looks at me, and gives a slight, almost imperceptible bow and put on his coat and hat. He looks back at Izumi and motions for him to follow, saying something in Japanese before heading into the street. I look back at Izumi, and he smiles. He gives a little bow, and opens the door to follow the man outside.

I stood there for what seemed like forever. Quite unsure what to think or feel. I smell the light scent of vetiver left hanging in the air.

“How do you like?”

I like him very much.

The guy from reception grinned at me from behind the desk. I come over to return the locker key. Everything is great, I said. He puts back the key on the hook, and thanks me again, looking at me with those knowing, but soft, brown eyes. He gives a bow and asks me to come again. I put on my coat and after one last sniff of that perfume, I step out into the brisk cold of a clear winter night.

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From the Editor

3 Terms you need to know in HIV advocacy in the Philippines

HIV advocacy in the Philippines has evolved – and in many ways, devolved – to highlight erroneous practices. Here are at least three terms in use locally that highlight how BROKEN HIV advocacy is in the Philippines.

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Photo by Samantha Sophia from Unsplash.com

I was in Northern Mindanao when I first heard of a term used to refer to a service “provider” who – in a word (and there really is no going around this) – ALLEGEDLY “molested” masseurs who had to be tested for HIV as required by their line of work.

When interviewed, some of these masseurs alleged that a certain medical practitioner who – during testing – would “dulaan ang among itlog ug utin (fondle our testicles and our penises).” And then – as if to show them who’s the boss – “mu-ngisi pa jud siya, unya mu-schedule sa uban sa amo-a ug booking (this person would smirk at us, and would even schedule trysts with some of us).”

That was the first time I heard of a term that is apparently used to refer to people like this person: “advoKATI”, a play on “advocacy” and “makati (literally, itchy; and contextually, a slut)”, because they supposedly use advocacy as a cover for their itch/desire to pick up or sleep around.

Through the years, other terms being used related to HIV advocacy also came to my attention. And here are at least three of them; all of them highlighting how BROKEN HIV advocacy is in the Philippines.

***

1. advoKATI
n. Refers to a person who uses the advocacy as a front to get sexual partners.

The medical practitioner mentioned above is an example; though – by no means – is his case unique. Other examples include: giving (donated) vacc in exchange for sex with a PLHIV; providing after-testing services only to good-looking newly-diagnosed persons with HIV, while the not-so-good-looking are left to fend for themselves; and “counselors” using the confused state of mind of newly-diagnosed PLHIVs to sleep with them.

2. advoCASHy
n. Profiting from HIV advocacy; or people who profit from the same.

Let’s get this straight: Profiting from HIV is not exactly new; nor is this exclusive to the Philippines.

Globally – and perhaps even more apparent – is the profiteering done by pharma companies that produce the life-saving ARVs for PLHIVs. There is also the issue with accessing “good” drugs by developed countries (e.g. PrEP) versus “dumping” of those not already used by the developed countries in the poorer countries (e.g. phase out of Nevirapine and Efavirenz).

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Perhaps Peter Mugyenyi said it best when he tackled in “Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions” the “incredible self-indulgence of the pharmaceutical companies and the cold-heartedness of the rich world that turned a blind eye until it was far too late, and then responded too slowly with too little.”

Now not just the big “bodies”, but even the other players in responding to HIV are mimicking this. And yes, this includes HIV “advocacy” in the Philippines, which is emulating this, too.

Here, we continue hearing that “there is no money in advocacy”, much more for those affected by HIV. This is supposedly why it’s difficult accessing existing treatment, care and support (TCS) – because, as always stressed – “there just isn’t enough money to go around”.

And then you hear about HIV “advocates” who can afford to buy numerous stuff (from a number of cars to a number of properties to luxury items to high-end gadgets to getting cosmetic surgery, and so on) from their “small” salary as NGO workers.

Or “advocates” who have drivers. WITH UNIFORM.

Or “advocates” who can tour the world using only their “meager” earnings from their “small” salary.

This is NOT to begrudge people their salaries.

BUT when you couple these with:

  • Inability of newly-diagnosed PLHIVs to go to treatment hubs because they don’t have money to pay for their fare.
  • Complaints from PLHIVs about inability to access to treatment because they can’t pay PhilHealth.
  • Non-access to other meds for opportunistic infections (or the need to beg the likes of DSWD or PCSO to fund these meds).

I am starting to sound like a “sirang plaka (broken record)”, repeatedly writing about issues I’ve already written about.

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BUT there’s this disconnect that is too painful to just ignore.

All because there are “advocates” who see HIV as a cash cow.

3. advoKATKAT
v. The use of HIV advocacy for social climbing. “Katkat” is a Bisayan word meaning “to climb”. This is often related to advoCASHy as it emphasizes only the glam in “helping” even sans the actual helping.

There are NGOs paying PR firms to promote HIV “advocacy”. Ask them how many people got tested because of the “campaigns”, and they’d tell you: Our indicator is the number of Facebook likes. “Likes” derived from the money paid to celebs, bars, photographers/videographers, alcohol consumed, et cetera. Partying in the guise of advocating.

There’s an “award” for people who “helped” HIV advocacy in the Philippines – even if grassroots HIV workers question the “winners” (e.g. who these people are, how they were chosen, what they’ve really done for the HIV community). What’s seemingly important is the hype created; particularly since celebs “joined” the “cause”. More photo ops mean more exposure means more (possible) funds.

There’s the funding of a photo campaign because the one disbursing the fund are “models” in the campaign, themselves.

There’s a well-funded beauty pageant even if we have (often denied) ARV shortage (not to mention hubs that still do not offer all tests included in the OHAT package, from CD4 count to viral load count).

As already noted in the past, there’s this focus on the glam/social climbing (e.g. get celebs to promote testing), perhaps forgetting that real advocacy goes beyond that.

Too much focus on the glitzy fibs, less emphasis on the grimy truth

And so here we are now, with 31 new HIV cases reported every month in the Philippines. Ten years ago, we only had one case EVERY DAY.

We are fucked. But we’re not only fucked because of lack of sex education, non-promotion of condom use, antiquated practices (e.g. we have yet to teach U=U in the country, or make PrEP and PEP widely accessible), and so on.

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We’re also in deep shit because the people who should be serving us want us to be there so they can benefit from it.

This is the new(er) world of “advocacy”…

It’s called advoCASHy to promote advoKATI and advoKATKAT.

***

Back in Northern Mindanao, I asked those who alleged to have been victimized if they complained – officially.

I was told: “Na, kinsa ra ba mi (Yeah, right! Who do we think we are)? Kolboy kontra sa medical practitioner, paminawun ba mi (Sex workers versus a medical practitioner, who would listen to us)?”

Despite recognizing power structures and all that, I admit I still initially found the “excuse” inexcusable. Lodging a complaint against an abusive service “provider” seems like a good first step to remedy this situation. Letting things as they are only allows the erroneous system to continue.

And then – much later – the person they alleged did them harm formed a new NGO, and this NGO was funded by a bigger NGO based in Metro Manila. I mentioned the allegations to one of the heads of the Metro Manila-based NGO, hoping – perhaps – for them to closely look at the allegations since, and after all, they were “enabling” the person involved by funding this person.

Let me get this straight: These are all allegations, of course, and they need to be investigated to be validated/invalidated. Everyone involved ought to be heard – from those who accused, and the accused. But that they exist at all should already be cause for concern.

Alas, the allegations were ignored.

So this “provider” continues to be coddled – and enabled – so long as this person’s NGO churns out reports that the bigger NGO can use to get even more big bucks.

All too apparent, people choose to turn the blind eye so long as money keeps flowing in…

No wonder HIV advocacy is in the Philippines remains broken…

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Op-Ed

Reconsidering Kofi Annan’s AIDS legacy

At the turn of the century, AIDS denialism was at its peak. Kofi Annan helped to break it. Here, Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, pays tribute to the former UN head.

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By Michel Sidibé
UNAIDS Executive Director

A shining light of Africa has passed away. An African at heart, but a global citizen, Kofi Annan symbolized the best of humanity. He was a rabble-rouser, a troubleshooter and a change-maker.

At the turn of the century, AIDS denialism was at its peak. Mr Annan helped to break it. “More people have died of AIDS in the past year in Africa than in all the wars on the continent. AIDS is a major crisis for the continent, governments have got to do something. We must end the conspiracy of silence, the shame over this issue,” he said.

When Mr Annan began his term as the new United Nations Secretary-General in 1997, the outlook for the AIDS epidemic was bleak—some 23.9 million people were living with HIV, there were 3.5 million new HIV infections and access to life-saving treatment was only available to a privileged few.

He cajoled world leaders, humbly, diplomatically, and when the message did not sink in he spoke out publicly and forcefully. “Friends, we know what it takes to turn the tide against this epidemic. It requires every president and prime minister, every parliamentarian and politician, to decide and declare that “AIDS stops with me. AIDS stops with me,”” he said.

Under his leadership, in 2000 the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1308, identifying AIDS as a threat to global security. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS was held—the first-ever meeting of world leaders on a health issue at the United Nations.

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In 2000, at a time when less than US$ 1 billion was being invested in the AIDS response, he called for a war chest of at least US$ 7–10 billion for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. That call, and his concerted lobbying of world leaders, led to the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which went on to save millions of lives. Mr Annan remained a patron of the Global Fund, helping to ensure that it is fully funded.

The Millennium Development Goal of halting and reversing the spread of AIDS and the 2001 United Nations Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS set HIV prevention targets, but did not set concrete targets for access to treatment. At the time, the cost of antiretroviral medicines was astronomically high. Sitting down with the pharmaceutical industry, Mr Annan helped to pave the way for an eventual reduction in their prices. Who could have believed in 2001 that the cost of life-saving antiretroviral medicines would fall by 2018 to as low as US$ 60 per person per year. Today, some 21 million people are on HIV treatment.

Mr Annan deftly used his convening power for good. When he learned that less than 30% of people had knowledge of HIV, he brought together media leaders and helped to launch the Global Media AIDS Initiative. As a result, hundreds of hours of AIDS awareness programmes were run pro bono by public and private media companies around the world. Mr Annan even appeared with an HIV-positive Sesame Street character, helping to reduce stigma and discrimination against children affected by HIV.

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His heart was with people affected by HIV. He saw first-hand the realities of the HIV epidemic. He knew that real change came when women and girls were empowered. “It requires real, positive change that will give more power and confidence to women and girls and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society,” he said. “It requires greater resources for women, better laws for women and more seats for women at the decision-making table. It requires all of you to make the fight against AIDS your personal priority not only this session, or this year, or next year, but every year until the epidemic is reversed.”

He embraced diversity. He was vocal about the rights of sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs and transgender people. “We need to be able to protect the most vulnerable, and if we are here to try and end the epidemic and fight the epidemic, we will not succeed by putting our head in the sand and pretending that these people do not exist or that they do not need help,” he said. “We need to help them and we need to resist any attempt to prevent us from recognizing the need for action and assistance to these people.”

Mr Annan had a special place in his heart for UNAIDS. He made time for us, kept informed about the progress made in the AIDS response and donated the royalties from a book of his speeches, We the peoples: a UN for the twenty-first century, to UNAIDS. Four weeks ago, when I met with him for lunch, he expressed happiness over how far we had come but was equally concerned that the response was not keeping pace with the ambition we had set.

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Two decades ago, he characterized the impact of AIDS as the single greatest reversal in the history of human development, the greatest challenge of our generation. I recall his words as he accepted the UNAIDS Leadership Award in 2016. “Today, we see tremendous progress, but the fight is not over. We must continue the struggle and wake up each morning ready to fight and fight again, until we win.”

At UNAIDS, we promise that we will not rest until the AIDS epidemic has ended. We owe it to him.

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From the Editor

On doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result…

The anti-discrimination bill has been pending in Congress for 19 years now. There are anti-LGBTQI politicians hindering the bill’s passage; but it may also be time to REALISTICALLY look at the current handling of the ADB to ascertain what needs to be changed from within the LGBTQI community so we don’t wait for another 19 (or more) years…

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Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos from Unsplash.com

Insanity: Doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.

This witticism has been attributed to, among others, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain (though when Rita Mae Brown used it, she attributed it to the Narcotics Anonymous “Basic Text” released in November 1981). But no matter the “origin”, the thought remains – i.e. it’s silly (perhaps even idiotic) doing the same thing over and over and over again when we already know what the result will be.

This thought kept nagging at me in the way the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) is being handled – particularly why, after 19 years, it continues to languish in Congress (in either the Lower or Upper House, or in both – depending on the year being discussed).

Let’s state the “givens” first.

1. There will always be haters IN Congress.
In the past, in the House of Representatives, it was Rep. Bienvenido Abante (6th District, Manila City) who – this one is the most ironic of all – chaired the Committee on Human Rights; as well as the likes of Rep. Lito Atienza (of Buhay Partylist). Currently, and in the Senate, we have the likes of Sens. Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquiao and Joel Villanueva.

2. Numerous politicians use the LGBTQI community to advance personal interests.
For instance, Sotto’s “Eat Bulaga” earns a lot of money by parading members of the population he refuses to grant human rights (i.e. Super SiReyna and Suffer SiReyna). And Villanueva USED TO support LGBTQI human rights, back when he needed the votes; but when he already got that, the narrative changed…

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3. The haters can be “persuaded” to side with what’s right.
Even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (somewhat) changed it’s tune: it is now anti-discrimination of LGBTQI human rights (as long as it will still be able to discriminate, of course).
Some forms of “persuasion” can be harder/harsher – e.g. take the moolah away from Pacquiao, and he starts “reaching out” to the people he considered “masahol pa sa hayop (worse than animals)”. Some efforts are done behind closed doors – e.g. trans Rep. Geraldine Roman reaching out to Atienza to allay his fears that the SOGIE Equality Bill has nothing to do with marriage equality (and discuss the “toilet issue”), so that he ended up supporting this.

Now here’s where the “argument” of this article enters the picture.

Largely, it seems that the current approaches to promote the ADB (seem to just) continue to be the same.

And so we continue to be failing.

Consider these:

1. The ADB development continues to be “exclusive”.
Even when the ADB was comprehensive and mentioned other minority sectors (like PWDs, seniors, Indigenous Peoples, religious minorities, people living with HIV, et cetera), no representatives of these sectors were invited in the development of the same ADB.
Forgive me for saying this, but this is typical of a “top-to-bottom” effort – i.e. when someone basically dictates what’s good for… everyone (without hearing from the supposed beneficiaries).

2. The constant “othering”. And this happens outside and inside the LGBTQI community.
“They” are the “enemies”; only “we” are the “heroes” (there were even pro-ADB factions who wanted to discredit Roman who helped pass the ADB in the Lower House in 2017 after only a year).
“They” don’t know what’s good for the people; only “we” know better what’s good for them.
“We” don’t have to engage “others”; “they” do nothing but complain and complicate the ADB.
“We” can’t support any other form of ADB; we just want “our” version to pass.
This is “our” ADB because we’ve backed this for so long.

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3. Efforts related to ADB tend to be elitist.
The “handlers” of ADB continue to not see that – yes – online presence is good, but if the people supposed to benefit from it do not even know of it, of what good it could do to them, then the “noise” created is just that, exactly: noise.
I say: Try going to some beauty parlor in Valenzuela, or Quiapo, or Tondo, or… just about everywhere in the Philippines. Ask the parlorista if he or she knows of the ADB. If he or she does, that’s GREAT; but if he or she doesn’t, then reconfigure plans to make sure that these people know of it.
I remember during the Pacquiao debacle, when Luzon-centric activists/“activists” were flown to Mindanao to meet with the boxer. The local LGBTQI community there were – basically – ignored, treated as inconsequential to the cause they’re supposed to be part of.

4. We can’t show the numbers.
Last June, “we” were so proud to have held a “Pride” event in Marikina that was attended by approximately 25,000 people (the claim).

Metro Manila’s LGBT gathering breaks attendance records, highlights ubiquity of LGBT people if not causes

But – get this – when a “unified political rally” was held to push for the ADB, we couldn’t even get 1/4 (or even 1/8!) of that number. And then another more recent “rally” was held in the Senate, again to push for the ADB, and the attendees did not even reach 50. We’re not “25,000 strong”; instead, it seems, and in a few words, we are “25,000 weak”.

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One of the continuing “sore” issue re ADB is its association with marriage equality. The truth is, many people – including politicians – continue to think it advocates marriage equality. If – after 19 years! – the ADB continues to be misunderstood even by people who are supposed to have access to copies of the ADB, then – let’s admit this much – the messaging is failing…

Nineteen years is far too long a time to wait for the passage of a law that will protect us from discrimination because of our SOGIE.

So yes, we thank everyone – from Etta Rosales to Kaka Bag-ao to Roman to Sen. Rosa Hontiveros, and so on and so forth – who are pushing the ADB (no matter the version) in Congress.

But we also have to REALISTICALLY look at ourselves (and those handling the ADB) and check why we continue to fail. Again, we have “enemies” on the outside, yes. But unless we see (and admit, and start doing something about it) that some of what needs to be changed are from within the LGBTQI community, then we may have to wait for another 19 (or more) years…

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