It was half past noon one slow Monday. The glaring light of the afternoon sun covered the intersection of EDSA and Quezon Avenue. It was an ordinary day – the streets were filled with busy people who were on lunch break, students and night shift workers rushing on to get the next available public transportation, and street vendors offering their usual products. The air was filled with the familiar noise of the buses, jeepneys and the whizzing sound of the passing MRT.
But right at the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue, where there’s a jeepney and FX stand, an exuberant display of character welcomed the commuters.
Her name is Angelo Suarez, a 25 year old who lives somewhere near Quezon Avenue. She is a barker, and she is a transgender woman. She was carrying a Generics Pharmacy umbrella, but there was nothing generic about her. Drivers and vendors call her as the “Angel in Quezon Avenue”.
“Matagal ko na ginagawa itong pagbabarker, bata pa lang ako, barker na ako (I have been doing this for a while now; I was still young when I started this line of work),” Angel proudly said.
Truth be told, when people hear the word “transgender”, many continue to have a pre-conceived notion of the fabulous transwomen. At times, admittedly, the stereotype of the “parlor-type” of gays emerge, too. But reality is more complex. Because there are the likes of Angel, often less noticed perhaps even by the trans advocates who endlessly call for equal rights or by the entire LGBTQI community. They are the bekinals.
“Wala naman masama sa ginagawa ko, nagtatrabaho lang ako para kumita ng pera, para may pangbili ako ng (female hormone) pills, tsaka para may pera kami pang good time (There is nothing wrong in what I do. I’m just working to earn money so I can buy pills, and to earn money for me to spend for fun),” Angel said.
She didn’t finish college because her family couldn’t afford the tuition fee. She tried her luck in hairdressing, but she didn’t succeed,“hindi para sa akin ‘yung career na ‘yun (that line of work is not for me).”
Since largely unseen, they remain often ignored – these bekinals who survived and are still surviving the challenges life throws their way one day at a time. For Angel, waking up the next morning is not about putting layers and layers of make-up or spending several minutes, even hours, deciding what to wear. “Ganito talaga ang buhay. Minsan, kailangan mong magtiis. Masaya naman ako sa ganito. Kumpleto naman pamilya ko. Pero, someday, gusto ko din magkaroon na mas magandang trabaho, ‘yung papasok ako sa office, ‘yung ako naman ‘yung tatawagin ng barker para sumakay sa FX (This is life. You need to face hardships sometimes. But I’m happy with my life. My family is complete. But someday, I also want to have a good job, one that will allow me to go to an office, when it will be me who will be called by a barker to ride a vehicle).”
Then, without pausing, Angel lit her second stick of Marlboro as she called for more passengers. “Capitol, Pantranco, Araneta, Banawe, Welcome Rotonda, aalis na!”
The drivers and vendors showed some respect – at least Angel was never bullied while barking for passengers. If she successfully gathered more than two passengers per vehicle, the driver pays her five pesos. It was a slow and inadequate income, but she never complained about it.
And so there is an Angel in Quezon Avenue. Her story is a reminder for everyone that in life, no matter how blessed or greatly challenged, nothing should be taken for granted.
But at the same time, in life: “Abante, abante! Para umusad tayo,” as Angel puts it when she yells at drivers to move on, waiting for the next ones that came her way.