Back in 2013, while still identifying as a lesbian, Nico Brillantes joined a pageant for tomboyish lesbian and/or transmen in TV network ABS-CBN’s Showtime’s “That’s my Tomboy”. “Gin hambalan ko sang friends ko nga try ko lang mag-audition sa ‘That’s My Tomboy’. Nag-audition ako kag mga 300 plus kami nga nag-audition (My friends told me to audition for ‘That’s My Tomboy’. I auditioned and there were around 300 others who auditioned),” he recalled.
Nico made the cut to become a candidate in the show; but he failed to win the competition. The experience was, nonetheless, mind-opening for him, as it was “bag-o nga experience kag naka-meet ko new friends (a new experience and I met new friends).”
It also started a major change in him. Though – starting when he was still in high school – he self-identified as a “tomboy” (in this case, a lesbian whose gender expression is masculine), he eventually discovered his true transman self. Because it was around that same time in 2013 when he saw in another TV show, “Rated K”, the story of Nil Nodalo, himself a female-to-male trans person who founded Transman Pilipinas. So he started researching particularly on the procedures and the risks of “transitioning”; and by 2015, after consulting with a doctor, he started injecting testosterone.
“Nag-decide na gid ko nga ma-inject ako kay indi ko daan comfortable sa lawas ko. Damo ko insecurities kay halin sang high school ko, kung may makita ako nga lalaki nga dako lawas gaka-insecure ako (I decided to start injecting testosterone because I was not comfortable with my body. I have many insecurities. Even in high school, if I saw a boy with a muscular body, I got insecure),” Nico said.
After taking hormone replacement, Nico’s physical appearance started to change, making him feel like he was finally getting the body he desired. Specifically, he started noticing the growth of facial and body hair, as well as the deepening of his voice.
It was this comfort with his own body that also nurtured his self-confidence. In mid-2016, Nico even called his mother to tell her that he was experiencing “gender dysphoria”, and that he has plans to eventually have top surgery (though only when he can pay for it himself). “Kung gusto ko magpa-opera, gusto ko akon kwarta kay indi ko gusto magsalig sa parents ko. Mga after five years guro (If I want to have top surgery, I want to pay for it myself because I don’t want to burden my parents. Maybe after five years),” he said.
Nico also “passes” as a man – at times not intentionally.
One time, for example, “nagsulod ako sa female bathroom sa mall kag ginsita ako sang gabantay nga janitress. Hambal niya, ‘Sir, indi pwedi ang lalaki dire’. Mayo lang upod ko friend ko nga babae. Gina hambalan niya ang janitor nga babae ako (I entered a female bathroom in the mall and I was scolded by the janitress. She said, ‘Sir, boys are not allowed here’. Good thing I was with my female friend. She told the janitor that I was a girl).”
Considering how big an issue bathroom access is to the trans community, Nico said he prefers making available gender neutral bathrooms, where people can just go about their business sans the labels.
Throughout his journey as a transman outside of metropolitan cities in the Philippines, Nico said that there is a need for society to accept LGBT people as equals. And one move that could help make this happen is the formation of trans support groups in localities like Iloilo.
Though he is lucky that his family is supportive of him, Nico recognizes that acceptance has to – first – come from within.
“Kung sin-o ka gid man by spirit and heart, dapat i-embrace mo and i-acknowledge mo (Whoever you are by spirit and heart, you have to embrace it and acknowledge it),” Nico said. “Magpakatotoo lang. Indi mo mahukas ang kahadlok. Dapat pamatud-an mo lang sa tanan nga kaya mo kag be proud lang sa self mo. Indi ka man lang isa nga ga-experience sang ini (Be true to yourself. You can never erase fear. You should prove to everyone that you can make it and you should be proud of yourself. You are not alone in this experience).”