“Call me ‘bapa’,” she said in Filipino. “Sa Maranao, ibig sabihin niyan ay ‘uncle’. Pero dito sa Iligan, ang ibig sabihin niyan ay… AKO (In Maranao, that means ‘uncle’. But here in Iligan, that just means… ME)!”
And that was how the conversation with Bapa – also known as “Angel”; also known as “Lady Godiva” – started. As she claimed, “kung lalakarin mo ang kalye ng Iligan City, magtanong ka lang: ‘Nasaan si Bapa?’ Isang tao lang ang ituturo nila: Ako (if you walk the streets of Iligan City, just ask: ‘Where’s Bapa?’ They will only point to one person: Me).”
Meet Bapa, the self-proclaimed “reyna (queen)” of Iligan City.
A DIFFERENT PERSON
Bapa was originally from Marawi City. Assigned male at birth, she recalled a “very different life as a kid,” she said. “Lalaking lalaki ako noon (I was very masculine in the past).”
She was 14 when – while celebrating her “monthsary” (one month anniversary) with her then girlfriend – “naglalakad kami at may nakita akong guwapo. Napasigaw ako ng ‘Guwapo!’ (we were walking when I saw this handsome guy. He made me yell ‘Handsome!’).”
Bapa said that at that time, she “went to bed as man, kinabukasan, pag-gising ko, bakla na ako (the following day, I woke up as a gay man).”
Bapa was, in fact, a “very, very flamboyant bakla,” she said. “Bago pa si Lady Gaga, Lady Gaga na ako (Even before Lady Gaga, I was already like Lady Gaga).”
Specifically, because she did not want to wear her stereotypically male clothes, she used “mga kumot at kurtina namin (our bed sheets and curtains); I made them into dresses.” She did not have them sewn, at that; instead, “I just used safety pins to attach them where I wanted to attach them. Improvised gowns agad (immediately).”
Bapa admitted looking weird, so that she was repeatedly bullied – even by her relatives. “Dumadala ako ng itak, ng baril (I had with me a big knife, a gun),” she said. “Kasi ang suot ko, makikita mo ako, iispin mo, ano ito, baliw? Kaya marami nag-bu-bully sa akin (Because of what I was wearing, if you saw me, you’d think, is this person crazy? And so many bullied me).”
Her father, in fact, hated what Bapa became and he bashed her. “Hindi alam ng father ko na bakla ako. Pero ang mga auntie ko, sinumbong sa tatay ko. Inispy ako ng father ko na nakasuot ako na babae. Tapos pag-uwi ko, binugbog niya na ako (My father didn’t know then I was gay. But my aunties told him about me. So he spied on me and saw me wearing women’s clothes. When I went home, he hit me),” Bapa said.
Remembering that moment was painful for Bapa because “kahit dinudugo na ako, binubogbog niya pa rin ako (I was already bleeding but he kept hitting me),” she said. “Hindi siya tumigil. Yung belt, yung dulo ng belt na may bakal, pinanghampas niya sa akin (He didn’t stop. A belt, the end of the belt with the steel, he used to hit me).”
When she was being beaten, Bapa recalled her father telling her that being bakla is against the Quran. “Bawal daw (it is not allowed),” she said. “Yan ang sabi niya paulit-ulit (That’s what he repeatedly said).”
Bapa’s grandmother (who did not care that Bapa wasn’t hetero-identifying) arrived just in time to stop her daughter hitting her grandchild. And though the grandmother asked Bapa’s father to leave, it was Bapa who decided to leave home “para wala na lang gulo (so the fighting stops).”
SURVIVING THE STREETS
When Bapa left home, she ended up in Iligan City – first with relatives, and then when they disowned her, on the streets. “Sa Internetan ko natulog, naliligo, nalibang (I slept at Internet cafés, I showered there, used their toilets),” she said.
But Bapa also learned a “skill” – “makapal na muka (thick face/being shameless),” she said. At times, when hungry, “kahit sino, sinasayawan ko para bigyan ako ng P20 para pambili ng pagkain (I dance for strangers to give me P20 so I can buy food),” she said. And when in bars, “uupo na lang ako sa table ng foreigner, tapos kunwari naliligaw ako. Pag chika na, nagpapalibre na ako sa foreigners (I’d just sit in the tables of foreigners, pretend I was just lost. When we get to talking, I’d ask them to treat me).”
It took Bapa years before she returned back to visit her hometown. By then, she already “lived as a woman”.
LOOKING FOR LOVE
“‘Yung guwapo na nakita ko noon? Hinanap ko siya (That handsome man I saw in the past? I looked for him),” Bapa said. In fact, “naging BF ko rin yun (he also became my boyfriend).”
Bapa’s relationship with the guy may be defined as peculiar in the sense that, while they were together, “ni hindi ko mahawakan ang daliri niya (I couldn’t even touch his finger).” However, for 11 months, “binigyan ko siya ng pera – P1,000 per day. Masaya na ako na mabigyan ko siya (I gave him money – P1,000 per day. I was happy I was giving him money).” That money came from Bapa’s lola (grandmother).
They eventually parted ways since “adik kasi ‘yun eh (he was a drug addict).”
Because of her dealings with foreign men (e.g. in bars and cafés), Bapa ended up dating a Turkish guy who “became my first,” she said. “BF-BF ko siya (He was somewhat my boyfriend).” That Turkish guy “ang naka-virgin sa akin (deflowered/‘de-virginized’ me).”
Bapa had other partners, and – in her own estimation – she has a “pattern”. “Chat ng chat para may pera; tapos ang pera, binibigay sa mga lalaking iniibig ko na ni hindi ko mahawakan (I chat online to earn money; but what I earn, I give to other men I fall in love with but who I don’t even physically touch),” she said, somewhat with bitterness.
But Bapa now has a “husband”. “May naka-chat ako na American sa Internet (I chatted with an American online),” she said. “Akala niya noon, babae ako. But when we met, sinabi ko na hindi. Inaccept niya ako (He initially thought I was assigned female at birth. But when we met, I told him this isn’t the case. But he accepted me).”
That American – a 65-year-old – eventually gave Bapa her home. “We got ‘married’,” Bapa said.
The American has been a “jealous husband,” Bapa said, adding that since they’ve been together, “di na ako puwede magpaganda (I am no longer allowed to beautify myself).”
They now have a two-year-old baby boy, conceived through surrogacy. And – to boot – she has under her employ three yayas (nannies) looking after the kid.
In the end, “God has been good to me,” Bapa said.
FIGHTING FOR ONESELF
To date, “di pa rin nag-sorry ang father ko sa akin (my father still hasn’t apologized to me),” Bapa said. “Pero hayaan na natin siya (But let’s let him be).”
And with her grandmother long dead, her relationship with her family has largely been severed. “Di na madalas makipagkita sa kanila (I don’t see them often),” she said.
Bapa is, however, “privileged”. That is, she may have come from a Muslim-dominated area in the Philippines that is infamous for being anti-LGBT, but her family belongs to a “malaking (big) Maranao clan.” As such, “di ako nila magalaw (I’m untouchable/I can’t be touched).” Clans, she stressed, “are very protective. Baka kami-kami mag-aaway (Maybe we’d fight from within), but we’d protect each other kung may aaway naman sa amin (if somebody else picks on us).”
As per Bapa, her clan’s members include an uncle in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), relatives in the judicial system, relatives in high positions in the government, and so on.
Yes, Bapa has heard of “mga baklang pinatay sa amin (gay guys who were killed where I lived),” she said. “Pero ang alam ko, bugaw sila. Masamang mga tao (As far as I know, they were pimps. They were bad people).” Supposedly, “pinatay sila sa kasamaan nila; hindi dahil bakla sila (they were killed because they were bad people; not because they were gay).”
Bapa is nonetheless the first to acknowledge this “blinder” because of her social standing/class.
“Kasi ako, kahit lalaki akong pinanganak, pumupunta ako sa Marawi na nakadamit babae (Because for me, even if I was assigned male at birth, I go to Marawi dressed as a woman),” Bapa said. “Wala sila mahimo (They can’t do a thing).”
There were days in the past when Bapa said she even went to a mosque (“Once in a blue moon,” she said). But those days are long gone. And not so much because “gipugngan ko nila (they tried to stop me).” Instead, she just had a change of heart. “Para sa ako-a, importante may belief sa God. Di importante mag-pray ka. Mas maganda na pure ka in your belief in God (For me, what’s important is believing in God. It isn’t important that you pray. What’s better is purely believing in God).”
Bapa, nonetheless, remains cognizant that things may not be as easy for other LGBT people. “Kadungog pud ko sa (I also heard of) challenges,” she said.
In the end, though, she said it starts with “huwag mong ikahiya kung ano ka (not being ashamed of what you are),” Bapa said. In her case, “kilala akong baklang baliw. Hindi ko kinakahiya yan kasi diyan ako nakilala (people know me as that crazy gay guy. I’m not ashamed of that because that’s how people got to know about me).”
At times, Bapa said she feels sad when “nakakakita ako ng mga batang beki – nakikita ko ano ako noon (I see young gay boys – I see myself in them as I was in the past),” she said. But she’s also saddened that “mga beki mismo (gay people themselves), they look down at those not like them. Kaya (So) I tell them; ‘Huwag kayo ganyan. Kung kayo yan, ano feeling nyo (Don’t be like that. If it’s you in their shoes, what would you feel)?”
As a Maranao transwoman, Bapa has been repeatedly told “na nasa Quran kasi na bawal maging bakla (that the Quran states that it’s wrong to be homosexual),” Bapa said. “Guess what: Di ko rin naman kagustuhan maging bakla. Kaya para sa akin, di kasalanan ito (I did not want to be homosexual either. So for me, this isn’t a sin).”
And so for her, “ipaglalaban ko kung ano ako (I will fight for what I am).”
She recognizes that there are people who will hate their LGBT children – in her case, she had a father who hit her. “Pero sa mga parents nga nangulata, bisan patyon ninyo inyo anak nga bayot, bayot gihapon na (To parents who hit their children, even if you kill your gay child, he’d still be gay),” Bapa said. “Ang importante wala siya gibuhat. Gihatag man na siya sa Guinoo (What’s important is he hasn’t done anything wrong. God still gave him to you).”
Remaining thankful she is who – and what – she is, Bapa encourages LGBT people to “celebrate yourself.” “Di tayo salot. Di tayo malas. So sa akin lang, be yourself always (We are not pests. We are not sources of misfortune. So for me, just be yourself always),” Bapa ended.