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Op-Ed

On democracy, citizenship, difference, and the advocacy of connivance

Sass Rogando Sasot responds to Atty. Bruce Rivera’s well-circulated contrarian take on the Valkyrie fracas. In an essay, Sasot presents four interrelated critiques of Rivera’s essay: 1) a critique on democracy, 2) on the question of whether transgender people are enjoying the benefits of full citi-zenship, 3) on Rivera’s rejection of an important aspect of acceptance: respect for difference, and 4) on the “advocacy of connivance that Rivera had fallen into by not challenging the frame in which Valkyrie’s no-crossdressing policy operate: the frame of cisgender norm”.

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In his well-circulated contrarian take on the Valkyrie fracas, Atty. Bruce Rivera rightfully said that cross-dressing and transgender people are entitled to all the rights and obligations granted by law because of their status as citizens. However, the problem lies not on their status as citizens but on “how we define the meaning of discrimination.” Thereafter, Rivera laid down the foundation of the rest of his contrarian view: “Is a democracy allowed to discriminate? The answer is YES. Provided there is a valid classification.“ Then he pointed out that the division of the almost 100 million population of the Republic of the Philippines into two sexes, though “a problem,” is still a “valid classification.” Therefore, the discrimination based on this division is allowed in a democratic society.

“This is the same law,” he said, “that forces a transgender to write M to the question of sex even if the heart wants to write F.” In this statement, he did not only reduce transgender people into transgender women only, he didn’t also point out why this is exactly a problem. Instead of offering this explanation, he just went on to say that Valkyrie pales in comparison to issues that he would have “taken the cudgels for,” namely: “denying a cross-dresser the right to vote; and denying a transgender the right to own property or denied the right to practice a profession.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t even include the cause of fighting for a gender recognition law, which is always implicated in almost every instance of discrimination transgender people face, including the Valkyrie issue, which Rivera reduced to an instance of “a bruised ego.” He concluded his essay by telling us that there is “only one way to be accepted” and that is “when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.”

In this essay, I will offer four interrelated critiques of Rivera’s essay. I’ve been academically trained in political philosophy; thus, I will interrogate his essay using the approach in this discipline. The first critique centers on democracy, the important actor in his statement, which Rivera didn’t define. The second on the question of whether transgender people are enjoying the benefits of full citizenship. The third one challenges Rivera’s rejection of an important aspect of acceptance: respect for difference. And finally, the fourth critique challenges the advocacy of connivance that Rivera had fallen into by not challenging the frame in which Valkyrie’s no-crossdressing policy operate: the frame of cisgender norm.

ON DEMOCRACY

Rivera didn’t give any definition and just assumed that “we all know what it means.” This taken-for-grantedness is unfortunate, specially that the central actor in his essay is a democratic society, who, as Rivera argued, is allowed to discriminate if there is a “valid classification.” So what is democracy? And how is the validity of a classification established in a democracy?

Democracy is not a legal term but a political one. Rivera lacked a political unpacking of the term that is crucial to his argument. Usually, we define democracy as the rule of the people, by the people, of the people. In On the Demos and its Kin: Nationalism, Democracy, and the Boundary Problem, Arash Abizadeh provides a more sophisticated understanding of democracy: democracy “demands that the human object of power, those persons over whom it is exercised, also be the subject of power, those who (in some sense) author its exercise.” In other words, the demos must be the author of the power they have to obey.

Classifying something, specially if it’s the State that is doing it, is an exercise of power. In a democracy, for a “classification system” to be valid, it must be authored by the demos itself. If the classification system is not authored by the demos, then the power this system holds over the demos is an arbitrary exercise of power, i.e. it doesn’t have any democratic legitimacy, thus unacceptable in a democratic society.

Gender is one of those classification systems. Gender has so much power over our lives. It shapes almost every aspect of our lives, and gender norms are enforced by the full might of the State. We are legally obliged by the State to write, recite, and perform the gender and the cultural norms associated with the state-sanctioned gender assignment we were classified into when we were born. If we disobey this gender assignment, we will be punished by the State in both direct and indirect ways.

For example, transgender people are required by the Department of Foreign Affairs to look like their gender assignment at birth in their passport photos. Maria, a Filipina trans woman in California, once shared: “When I was renewing my Philippine passport, I was asked to remove my make up and pull my hair in a pony tail because I am a “male.” This is no different from the experience of the trans woman referred to by the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) in its statement on the Valkyrie issue. “The Professional Regulation Commission or PRC’s Registry section,” STRAP narrated, “required a transwoman to tie her long hair and look less masculine before being issued a professional license.” Even in the workplace this is the case as what we can learn from the story of Claire, a labor rights leader and transgender woman, and “one of the 96 contractual employees of Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna who decided to launch a sudden strike after they were told on May 16 to stop reporting to work by May 18.” While working, Claire “was forced to be “mas mukhang lalaki (appear more manly)”, including getting a haircut, as well as wearing more masculine-looking clothes.”

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Following Rivera’s logic, these instances can be allowed in a democracy because they are based on “valid classification.” But the question is: does the gender classification system, as it stands, have democratic legitimacy? Is the demos the author of the power of gender over our lives? If not, then how can it be valid in a democracy and be a legitimate reason for discrimination in a democratic society? And if we live in a democracy, why should Maria and the trans woman in the PRC Case be compelled by the government to obey something that has no democratic legitimacy? Isn’t that tyranny? Can Claire’s expression of her gender identity be protected by the State? Or will the State protect and enforce more the current legal gender system, just as much as it will protect and enforce more the interests of Lucio Tan?

ON CITIZENSHIP

Rivera said that transgender people are citizens. But while encouraging us to “let our advocacy have essence,” he failed to ask this substantive and essential question: Is the citizenship of transgender people in equal terms with cisgender people, i.e. those who have gender identity and/or gender expression that matches what is expected of their gender assignment at birth? The answer is No, and this is because citizenship has been based on the reality of cisgender people.

Citizenship is often understood as membership in a political community, which is currently embodied by the State. The State decides the boundaries of citizenship, i.e. who becomes a citizen, the terms of membership – the rights and obligations of being a citizen, and the level of membership – full or subordinate. Social groups that have been previously excluded from enjoying the rights of full citizenship – Greek warriors, peasants, plebeians, medieval artisans, proletariats, blacks, women, immigrants, gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people, living with disability – have fought to make the boundaries of citizenship become more inclusive. However, these struggles are not easily won because as Engin Isin said in his essay City as a Difference: the “dominant groups…have never surrendered…without a struggle.”

In the context of this essay, the dominant group are cisgender people to which Rivera belongs.

Transgender people are seeking to redefine the social world because they cannot fully fulfil the obligations of being a citizen and exercise their rights as equal citizens if in the first place they have a subordinate form of citizenship and, most importantly, when citizenship is based on the reality of cisgender people.

The birth certificate is the legal document that establishes our existence. Through it we become legal persons, and this means that we will possess the capacity to have and to maintain certain rights, and to have duties enforceable by law. One of the important aspects of our legal personality is our sex.

Our sex is legally defined at birth. Let me digress for a moment. This article will not make any distinction between gender and sex as I don’t share the view that “sex” is a biological fact while “gender” is socially constructed. Hence, I use sex and gender interchangeably, as well as female with girl/women, and male with boy/men – but this is not to say that gender is a biological fact. Genitalia, body parts, are biological facts but the label we assign to them and the activity of assigning a particular sex/gender to these body parts are not. As what Anne Fausto-Sterling said in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, they are social decisions based on normative views about sex/gender. More importantly, the law does not make any distinction between sex and gender. Assigning a baby’s sex is also assigning the baby’s gender. They are not separate and independent legal processes.

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Taking our external genitalia as the cue, the doctor (or whoever attended to our birth) proclaims, and hence assigns us, into either the category of “boy or girl.” This proclamation, however, is not a description of what is between our legs but an act of giving us the first aspect of our legal identity and therefore of our citizenship: sex. Along with other details such as name, date of birth, name of parents, the sex that was proclaimed by the doctor gets entered into our birth certificate. In turn, the sex on our birth certificates will be the sex that will be reflected on all our legal documents, such as our passports. It will be also be the sex that will be considered in the application of several laws, such as marriage laws.

Most people find no problem with the sex to which they were assigned during their birth. They are cisgender people whose sex assignment at birth matches their lived gender identity and/or their gender expression.

The reality of cisgender people is taken as the norm. And because cisgender people dominate every political community, the discourse of citizenship becomes entangled with the experience of cisgender people. Those who don’t share the way cisgender people experience gender are then treated as second class citizens. Thus, transgender people don’t experience citizenship in the same way as cisgender people. As what River said, transgender people are “forced” to kept on writing their gender assignment at birth despite the fact the gender that they live everyday is not that. Cisgender people, though required to also identify their birth gender, don’t experience this as “force” because the gender that they write is the gender they live everyday.

Cisgender citizens will never experience what Ria Rosales experienced when she saw her job offer evaporate after her employer saw that her documents reflect that she’s Male. Transgender people are socially marginalized and individually discriminated against because they are not living in accordance with the gender norms of their legal sex at birth, which in turn intersects with other system of oppression based on class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion etc.

What produces these patterns of discrimination based on gender identity and expression is the presence of a law that takes cisgender people’s experience of gender as the norm against which the legitimacy of our gendered experienced is judged. Cisgender citizens will never experience doors being shut to them because of their lived gender precisely because they are the ones who were closing these doors. And they don’t fear closing these doors because their exclusionary practices are backed by the full might of the State biased towards the cisgender experience of gender.

ON DIFFERENCE

“The only way to be accepted,” Rivera said, “is when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.” In one aspect I agree with Rivera. After all, the discourse of difference has legitimised the oppression of the other, which can even have a genocidal result. As what Narcisa Paredes-Canilao rhetorically asked in Decolonising the Subjects from the Discourse of Difference, “which one really led to colonialism or the Holocaust or which is a more potent antidote to (wo)man’s inhumanity to (wo)man, difference from or identification with the Other.”

However, it is not the recognition of difference per se that lead us to inflict indignity upon each other, but the way we value difference. If cisgender people, who dominate society, interpret their version of being human as exceptional, God’s chosen way of living, the only legitimate way of experiencing gender, they are not just recognizing difference but putting their difference on a pedestal, in the throne of power that can police others into becoming like them.

In Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship, Iris Marion Young discussed the failure of universal citizenship in treating each citizens as equals. Instead of delivering its promise of equality to all qua citizens, citizenship “operated in fact as demand for homogeneity.” The terms of similarity, Young argued, is set by the dominant group. Thus, seeing our similarities is not innocent activities but can be a way of imposing the way of living of the dominant group.

We must use both the lens of similarity and difference in order to see another human in her totality. More significantly, we must use both lenses in order to see how the lens of difference can make us see another person as inferior and how the lens of similarity lead us to reject the validity of another person’s version of humanity. The danger of a cisgender person seeing only a transgender person as similar to him/her is the inability to see how the State-sanctioned cisgender norm has rendered transgender people as not only different but inferior, illegitimate, and immoral. And a cisgender person who only sees a transgender person as different would be blind to the common humanity that binds them together.

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ON THE ADVOCACY OF CONNIVANCE

Who has the right to decide our own gender, and therefore the way of expressing? This is at the heart of the Valkyrie issue and all instances of gender identity and expression based discrimination.

This is left unaddressed by Rivera who only assumed the validity of the current gender classification system, which lead him to conclude that discrimination based on it can be allowed. Earlier, I put into question the validity of the current gender classification system in our democracy because, in the first place, this was never democratically legitimated. Further, it’s a gender classification system that rendered the cisgender experience of gender as the only State-sanctioned experience of gender, and therefore the only gendered experience that have full access to the protection of the State. Consequently, transgender people, despite sharing the same formal citizenship as cisgender people, have to fight rather than simply request for this access.

By not challenging the very framework of cisgender norms, Rivera missed the opportunity of making the kind of advocacy he is forwarding fully relevant to the lives of transgender people. His advocacy is an advocacy of connivance. Borrowing the concept of trial of connivance that Jacques Vergés developed, an advocacy of connivance is an advocacy that seeks merely to evaluate the facts in relation to the existing framework. This is what Rivera did when he merely recited the law in relation to the facts of the Valkyrie issue and when he reduced the Valkyrie issue as merely an issue of a “bruised ego.” He accepted the cisgender framework and called it a day.

Rivera cannot see the issue beyond “a bruised ego” because it wasn’t his version of humanity that was put into question. He said that there are a lot of straight people who can’t enter the stores we’ve entered into because they don’t have money, a lot who can’t eat because they were poor. This is a valid point but the issue is not about class but the intersection of class AND gender. Not all impoverished people experience poverty in the same way. A poor cisgender man would have a higher chance of finding a job than a poor transgender woman. Claire’s cisgender co-workers don’t have to experience being forced to be masculine at the workplace in pain of losing their job. And even rich people don’t experience privilege equally. This was aptly demonstrated by the experience of Trixie and Veejay. Rivera can’t see this intersection because he has not problematized the cisgender framework of our everyday lives but simply considered it as “valid classification.”

He said that we must find an issue that can make “the common man… relate and symphatize.” When Laude was murdered, we have witnessed how vicious and transphobic the “common man” was. In order for the common man to relate and symphatize, Laude’s being transgender had to be swallowed by her identity as a Filipino. But when we highlight Laude’s transgender status, the common man, instead of relating and sympathizing, responded with a whole range of cruel, transphobic “blame-the-victim” tactics. Why? It’s because the common man is a cisgender person who has taken-for-granted the privileges he/she have by simply having a gender identity and/or gender expression aligned with his/her gender assignment at birth.

Trans advocates, including those Rivera condescendingly looked down upon, are revolting against the dictatorship of the State-sanctioned cisgender framework. They are engaging in an advocacy of rupture, an advocacy that seeks to challenge the very framework, in this case the cisgender framework, within which facts would be interpreted. Valkyrie didn’t simply make a business decision. Valkyrie is enforcing the State-sanctioned cisgender norm, which has been the source of oppression of a lot of people whose gendered lives don’t fit the cisgender experience of gender. Trans advocates are not just making noises, they are reclaiming the right to define our own gender from the state, the church, the medical profession, and even from private establishments like Valkyrie.

#BeyondValkyrie

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

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From the Editor

Start with that wo/man in the mirror…

With revisionism, credit-hogging, co-opting/hijacking of causes, et cetera happening even within the LGBTQIA community, Michael David C. Tan says “we need to look at ourselves closely and see if we have become the very people/systems we seek out to destroy/dismantle.”

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PHOTO BY TWEETYSPICS FROM PIXABAY.COM

“…I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they’re not alone?

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change…

MICHAEL JACKSON
Man in the Mirror, 2008

This is going to be short; and yet I hope… crisp.

But – to start – considering Michael Jackson’s tattered past, let me apologize for starting this article with portions from his “Man in the Mirror” hit. Not to lift him up (he doesn’t need me for that) or attack him for his flaws (and he sure had many – e.g. child molestation charges), but his words sort of easily sum up a key message so many of us want to forget. That is, that for change to happen, we need to start with us. It’s a hackneyed statement/cliché, I know; but – guess what? – the stock statement has not gone stale.

Here’s the thing: So many of the (now out-to-the-world) flaws from within the LGBTQIA community merely reflect what we sought out to change. And so many of these same flaws are there because of our refusal to see that, in so many ways, we have become mini versions (some are actually exact replicas) of those we attack.

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Off my head, check:

1. Revisionism.
Yes, LGBTQIA people (like non-LGBTQIA people) claim that the Marcoses – and by extent, the role played by the likes of Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte here – seem to be busy amending our Martial Law history. By all means, we should be mindful of all forms of revisionism; we should not forget our past (the good and the bad) because we can only move forward if we know our history.
But – this is what’s unnerving! – there are also LGBTQIA community members (many of them the most loud in criticizing the revisionism that is happening) who are revising the LGBTQIA history in the Philippines – e.g. who should be credited for starting “Pride”, who we should thank/adore/praise/treat as gods for starting (not even for getting pass) an anti-discrimination law, et cetera. When we criticize what we, ourselves, are doing, that’s called (in a word) hypocrisy.

2. Dictatorship.
We go back to former strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos; and we now have Pres. Duterte, both we attack for their (what we refer to as) “wanton desire to cling on to power”. Rightfully, it should be said.
But then we look inside our LGBTQIA community, and we have:
A) Metro Manila-centric “leaders” who would go to LGUs to ask/dictate/tell them to develop ADOs sans community consultation of the LGBTQIA people there;
B) So-called “networks of LGBTQIA organizations” with “leaders” who are there as forever heads (with no mechanisms for passing of power); and
C) “Leaders” who help dictate where funds go, and yet only give the same to their inner circles.

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3. Idya-idya/Sila-sila/Nepotism/Special groups.
That the supporters (no matter how evil they may be) end up dividing the spoils of war is an oft-cited observation. In the past, the term we used was “cronies”. The terms may have changed, but the concept remains the same – i.e. that a small circle of people end up benefiting from those in power.
Yes, this is wrong; and yes, this has to be criticized (and changed).
But looking inside the LGBTQIA community, it’s not like we’re “exempted” from this practice.
Consider:
A) The non-inclusive approach to developing the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) (I have said this in the past, and I am saying it again and again and again);
B) As noted in point #2, the giving of available funds ONLY to inner circles; and
C) The continuing Metro Manila-centric-controlled discourse re “LGBTQIA movement in the Philippines” (there are those who’d deny this, of course; that’s their right. But that these same people are based in Metro Manila or are even overseas bely their very denial).

We often hear – as reasoning or as excuse, depending on how this is interpreted – that it’s because our LGBTQIA movement is “still young” And yes, this may be true. But the fact remains that when we’re no better than the very people we attack; when the systems we say are wrong/erroneous are the same inside our movement, then who are we kidding, really?

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Op-Ed

Where’s the fire?

Reighben Labilles notes that the movement has only succeeded on a surface level. “It seems as if its reduced the queer struggle as a regular yearly narrative – a PR thematic during Pride Month, or something that resurfaces when a famous Pinoy queer couple gets married abroad, or when a queer Filipino becomes a victim of a violent crime… It’s time to go beyond the echo chambers of FB and Twitter.”

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By Reighben Labilles

When the rocks were soft and I had more hair, I used to be active in the local efforts for LGBT rights.  But shit happens and I had to move on.

I’ve led a colorful adulthood since then: balancing work in a very queer-friendly IMC firm, enjoying a quiet, private life with my partner, and participating in the testosterone-dominated MTG gaming community which I deeply love. In short: this lady hasn’t been fulfilling her role (no matter how small) as a civilian participant in social issues – hanggang FB-FB na lang and the occasional rally pagpasok sa schedule.

But it did allow me insights into the shared Filipino psyche when dealing with social issues. It can be summed-up into two observations: (1) people don’t care enough; and (2) people don’t know how to care for issues that don’t directly affect them.

Now this leads to my opinion on the state of progressive movements in the country. Given the public’s almost apathetic attitude towards dealing with society’s problems outside of furious FB and Twitter posts – movements struggle to make a dent in the status quo. When the population barely participates in these efforts, it cannot facilitate lasting change in the nation within the timeframes we need – which is dapat now na.

Case in point: this administration reacts when people have adverse online responses to their policies – but they still find ways to move forward with their plans because push-back from the citizenry isn’t strong enough. What’s even shocking is that there is a non-zero percentage of the population that actually likes what’s happening!

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In my opinion, these are the same harsh truths faced by groups that continued the fight for queer rights. They have rallies, online and offline campaigns, press events, and even the occasional nods from “allies” in the government. But the groups, in their various forms and iterations and evolutions, have been at this endeavor for decades now. So why is it we don’t have major victories in the pursuit of progressive changes in the country?

Years of reflection and observation have led me to this realization: The movement has only succeeded on a surface level. It seems as if its reduced the queer struggle as a regular yearly narrative – a PR thematic during Pride Month, or something that resurfaces when a famous Pinoy queer couple gets married abroad, or heaven forbid when a queer Filipino becomes a victim of a violent crime. The approach so far has its benefits, as it has encouraged more Filipinos to come out and pursue their own truths despite adversities. There is more queer visibility in the media. And we even live in an age where we have a proud transwoman serving in Congress.

But there is something I sorely miss. Something that I am guilty of no longer possessing. Gone is the fire and fury of old, of screaming at the wholesale injustices of the world against everyone from the poor to the queer. Where is that blaze that consumes people’s hearts – the passion that drives us to spill into streets until the elect gives us the rights and benefits and opportunities we all deserve. And finally, where is the push for greater compassion and understanding between all Filipinos – so we can make the most out of this struggling country.

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As I am far removed from the forces that actively continue the fight for our rights, I can offer no practical solution to what we face. I only offer these thoughts: We can only succeed in enacting change now when all of us finally understands that changing how the world works requires sacrifice.

It’s about taking time in our day to participate in causes that matter, of going beyond the echo chambers of FB and Twitter, of actually going to the streets, into communities, with our personal efforts evolving into finally working with each other for our shared aspirations.

And ultimately this: ending the culture of US vs THEM, as true and lasting progressive change can only be achieved when we are unified by shared goals while celebrating each other’s uniqueness and diversity.

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Op-Ed

Finding my Pride by not holding back

Though he was bullied while growing up for being part of the LGBTQI family, Edward Maalihan now says that “there’s always a rainbow after the rain. You go do you, even if it’s hard, even if it’s impossible. Because in the end, you’ll grow old and only remember how you held back to life and wished you had just ‘let it go’.”

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PHOTO COURTESY OF EDWARD MAALIHAN

By Edward Maalihan

Since I was young, I’ve been bullied by my schoolmates, friends and even my own relatives for being feminine – in the way I walk, my voice, and the way I reacted to things. So through high school and college I was in hiding even if others knew what I really am.

It was hard. I tried to suppress who I am because of what they always say to me: “Lalaki at babae lang ang ginawa ng Diyos (God only made a man and a woman)”, “Mga bakla, pinagtatawanan (Gays are there to be ridiculed)”, “Ang gwapo mo pa naman, sayang ka (You’re good looking; such a waste/what a pity!)”. Heck, I can say hundreds more like these; and because of it all, I came to a point where I believed them, that being gay is wrong. I even tried to force myself to have a girlfriend (obviously it didn’t work), and believe me you won’t want your sons and daughters to feel that way.

But after I graduated from college, I got into my first REAL relationship. And from then on, the weight of the world on my shoulders slowly started to lighten up. I could finally breathe and see what life really offers, without being chained to a heterogender system.

When I joined my first Pride gathering, I realized many things. It also made me ask myself: Were those bullies from the past at fault? Should I blame them for making me feel miserable?

Maybe, right?

But for me now, it’s their lack of knowledge about being LGBTQI; it’s the society that made being gay wrong; it’s those movies that made gays look ridiculous (yes we’re funny, but we are also deep and sensitive); it’s the “church” that made us sinners (yes we can be, but so can others) that are to blame.

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They don’t see that, yes, we are not perfect, but we also just try to be good citizens/people.

I already forgave all of my bullies, and I am even bestfriends with some of them now.

I still want to say so much more, but I’ll end now with this: There’s always a rainbow after the rain. You go do you, even if it’s hard, even if it’s impossible. Because in the end, you’ll grow old and only remember how you held back to life and wished you had just “let it go”.

FOLLOW @EDWARDMAALIHAN

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FEATURES

The impetus for organizing LGBTQI Pride in the Phl

All year round, various parts of the Philippines host LGBTQI Pride marches/parades/events. But the very first one happened in Metro Manila, which Outrage Magazine revisits to see how the annual LGBTQI gathering continues to evolve.

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It was in 1994 when the very first Pride March was held in the Philippines (and in Asia). The Philippines was actually the pioneer in the region.

“There was no interference or harassment along the way, but a lot of noise and shouting in the ranks of the 50 or so marchers,” recalled Fr. Richard Mickley, who used to head Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Philippines. MCC held a mass during that first Pride March in the Philippines.

Aside from Mickley, Oscar Atadero – then with ProGay Philippines – helped make the event happen, along with the likes of Murphy Red, et al.

Incidentally, 1994 also marked the 25th year since the “modern” lesbian and gay movement “started”, thanks to the Stonewall Inn Riot in New York.

“We recognized that we now had open, not closeted, organizations. But the movement was still quiet or unknown. We felt we needed a (local) Stonewall,” Mickley continued.

So the date was set.

The route was planned.

As the small group of LGBT organizations marched along Quezon Avenue to Quezon Memorial Circle, they were confronted by the park police and was asked, “Where are you are you going?”

“We had no assembly permit. We sat by the roadside until the activists of ProGay ironed out the stumbling block. (After it was settled), we made our way to an assembly area with a stage,” Mickley said.

Aside from Fr. Richard Mickley, Oscar Atadero – then of ProGay Philippines – helped make the first LGBT Pride March in the Philippines happen, along with the likes of Murphy Red, et al.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FR. RICHARD MICKLEY

But in the end, “the first Pride March brought a publicity breakthrough. The purpose of the Pride March was realized – (to show) that the gay and lesbian people of the Philippines are real people, and they are not freaks in a closet,” Mickley added.

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CONTINUING PRIDE

In 1996,  several LGBT organizations formed the Task Force Pride (TFP), a community-driven organization that was to be in-charge of organizing the annual Pride March in Metro Manila.

“One of the highlights of the early years was that of 1998. The Pride March was part of the contingent of the National Centennial Parade, as the Philippines celebrated 100 years of independence. Let that sink in. We marched in front of two presidents at the Quirino Grandstand, just before the transition from Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada,” Mickley said.

Ten years later, the LGBT movement in the Philippines grew bigger and stronger. And the fight for equal rights was – finally – in everyone’s consciousness.

Metro Manila Pride March in 2011, when the annual gathering was still political.

TFP continued to organize the annual march – at least the one in Metropolitan Manila. As a network, it was headed by different members of the LGBT community, representing different organizations. Every decision, every move was derived from consultations by/from the participating groups and members.

“More than the celebration, what was really memorable was that despite the community coming from all walks of life and various agendas, sub agendas, locations, et al., it was great to see everyone working as one, for just one moment in a year,” Great Ancheta, one of the organizers of the 2004 and 2005 Pride celebrations, said.

There were years when Pride almost did not happen.

In 2013, Quezon City was supposed to host the annual Pride March, but the supposed organizer (the local government unit/LGU) opted to cancel the event to donate the funds collected to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

“I was rattled with the idea that there will be no Pride March that year. I had to call all possible LGBT advocates that could help me organize Pride in two weeks time,” Raffy Aquino, one of the organizers of the 2013 Pride celebrations, said.

The Pride march almost did not happen in 2013; but REAL community effort – with approximately P5,000 – still made it happen.

Aquino – with the likes of GANDA Filipinas, Outrage Magazine and Rainbow Rights Project – reached out to different organizations and establishments in Malate (at that time still thriving as the LGBT capital of the country).

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“We had more or less P5,000 in funds, which came from the previous TFP organizers. I even waited until six or seven in the evening in Manila City Hall, the day before the event, for the permit to be released,” Aquino added.

But the 2013 Pride March happened.

And then came 2014, when “a super typhoon hit the country at the same time when Pride was scheduled, and we nearly had to cancel. Despite that, people still attended. (And) understandably, it had the lowest turnout in years. But it still showed that for many people, celebrating Pride is still important,” Jade Tamboon, one of the organizers of the 2012 and 2013 Pride celebrations, said.

PRIDE HURDLES

Organizing an event like the Pride March is not an easy feat, with organizers needing to deal with different factors – both internal and external to the LGBT community.

Pride in 2015 remained political; even if the march also started to become as just a parade.

“Working with the local government was one of our challenges (during our) time. Securing permits was also hard. And of course, rallying up sponsors,” Ancheta said.

Since the LGBT community in the Philippines is (still) only tolerated and not widely accepted, getting supporters that could help the event happen has been the most common problem year after year.

“Financing Pride has always been a major challenge, then and now. People don’t realize how expensive it is to mount Pride. But there’s also the logistics – the sourcing of materials, permits and vendors – that’s another thing people rarely see when they go to a Pride celebration,” Tamboon said.

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He added, “this has been a perennial problem of the Pride organizers: early fund-raising. It may be because organizers have not come up with a solution, rather than raising funds so close to the event date.”

YOUNG PRIDE

Today, organizing Pride marches – or aptly, parades – is mostly dominated by the young members of the LGBT community. And – whatever their stands/positions may be on LGBT human rights – this is as should be/bound to happen, with the passing of the baton inevitable.

By 2017, the annual Pride has followed the Western format, with private companies supporting the parade, and some even co-opting the LGBTQI struggle.

But the younger generation have it somewhat easier. As Ancheta said, “Pride celebrations are not limited now to the Pride marches/parades or events, with support for Pride now coming from various companies as evidenced in social networking posts.”

There are now also numerous Pride-related events – whether in the form of marches or parades – in various parts of the Philippines, from Baguio City to Cebu City, Davao City to Iloilo City, Iligan City to the Province of Batangas, among others. Even within Metro Manila, other cities already started their own (separate) Pride marches/parades, finally “devolving” the so-called Metro Manila Pride parade (nee “march”).

But even if the expressions of Pride (now) vary, that sense of solidarity – and raising awareness via that solidarity – remains…

“The increased interest and participation during the recent years, especially among the younger people, is a success in itself. More and more people are unafraid to be out and to showcase their (so-called) Pride,” Tamboon added.

“The recent Pride celebrations are successful in terms of numbers; they were able to target a bigger audience and wider corporate supporters. The younger organizers are also creative and well-versed in branding and marketing. They were able to utilize social media and digital marketing,” Aquino stressed.

STRUGGLE NEEDS TO CONTINUE

But for Aquino, everyone needs to remember that “Pride is not just a one day event.”

“The LGBT community of the Philippines is no longer hidden, closeted or unknown. We are here; we are everywhere – with our heads held high,” Mickley said. “We are on the way, (but) we are (still) seeking equality in the human family,” Mickley said.

*Interview requests were also sent to other past Pride organizers, but – as of press time – Outrage Magazine did not receive any response from them.

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Op-Ed

The missing link

For Patrick King Pascual, Pride is a moment of reckoning. Yes, it’s a time to give each other a pat on the back. But it’s also an opportunity to remind people that there is still a long way to go, and that no one can do it alone. “Without mincing words: We’ve taken steps, but we are still in deep shit. And that’s not being negative or cynical or drunk; just plainly stating reality.”

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IMAGE FROM PIXABAY.COM

Twenty-four years ago, the Philippines was introduced to the concept of parading for “Pride”. In fact, it wasn’t even just a parade when it started; it was a “march”. The former – in a gist – is mere celebration, while the latter has more weight, what with the political undertones. The coming of “Pride” helped in the continuation of the sparking of the local LGBTQI movement by serving as additional stepping stone of some sort.

Since then, in fact, the Philippines’ LGBTQI community has continuously experienced many firsts.

To name a few, the milestones included: LGBT-related crimes based on hate finally made the headlines; Ang Ladlad, a political party-list that was initially shamed and called immoral successfully joined the roster of electoral candidates; the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) crawled its way to the session halls of lawmakers; HIV prevalence and poor access to ARV (antiretroviral) drugs were discussed; the community was called “masahol pa sa hayop” by a senator; a transgender woman wins a congressional seat; and the issue of same-sex marriage continuously hounds everyone.

The first Pride March in the Philippines, held in the early 1990s, helped make happen the things that the younger generation are enjoying. It may be cliché, but those who came before us took a lot of the hit by being the first to confront erroneous systems that gravely affected (and still affect) us.

Here’s the interesting thing, though: NOT everyone believes we owe those who came before us any shit.

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I was in an LGBTQI event (one of those that were held to – ironically – celebrate “Pride”) when a young “leader” infamously claimed: “They (the elder LGBTQI people) haven’t done anything for us (Millennials). What did they do for the community, exactly; and for us/my generation?”

That someone can even think so left me dumbfounded.

National hero Jose Rizal keeps getting upgraded to make him relevant to the youth; one of his latest iterations is via a manga comics (even available online). But it seems that aside from the “cool” reinterpretation, the lessons he taught aren’t necessarily learned. Otherwise, the oft-cited “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan (He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination) won’t be forgotten so quickly.

And then, just a few days after that (this time, in the “Pride” event of the US Embassy), I met another young member of the LGBTQI community who told me that – for all intents and purposes – “Pride” has ceased to be a struggle. This is, her insinuation is, for the oldies. At least for her (and her followers/supporters), for the young, “LGBTQI ‘Pride’ is now all about partying and celebrating.”

Yes, I agree with her, of course.

But no, I can’t agree with her completely.

Because while Pride is a time to mark all our successes, all the milestones, we should also use that moment to remind everyone that there is still a long way to go. That many members of the LGBTQI community are still struggling is a fact; ignoring this is not only ignorant, it is selfish.

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She called me cynical, negative… and drunk.

If seeing the ongoing struggles of many LGBTQI people is cynical and gives many younger LGBTQI people negative vibes (that dampens their party spirit), then perhaps I am a cynic. And if being able to question erroneously held beliefs means being branded as “drunk”, then so be it, too.

Because – at the end of the day – even though “Pride” continues to evolve, two facts remain. First, that our concepts of “Pride” now (even the wanton partying) is because those who came before us made it possible; and second, that even if we just want to party during “Pride” nowadays, not every LGBTQI person can access these elitist “Pride” gatherings because they continue to experience hardships in life (many of these difficulties aggravated by their being LGBTQI).

Pride is a moment of reckoning. Yes, it’s a time to give each other a pat on the back. But it’s also an opportunity to remind the person standing next to us that there is still a long, long, long way to go, and that no one can do it alone.

Because in the end, let’s stop pretending that it’s all rainbows and butterflies. Without mincing words: We’ve taken steps, but we are still in deep shit.

And that’s not being negative or cynical or drunk; just plainly stating reality.

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Op-Ed

‘We still have a lot of work to do’ – True Colors Coalition

Statement of True Colors Coalition for #PrideMonth2018.

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IMAGE FROM PIXABAY.COM

As we are about to march again together, we strengthen our vow to continue struggling for our rights as members of the society.

Our struggles as LGBT people are no different from the struggles of every sector in our society, and we must pursue these with concerted efforts to create united stands and actions to achieve our goals and put an end to all forms of discrimination.

We also continue to remember the great contributions of LGBT people before us; their courage have ignited many hearts and minds to stand for what is right and just. We will never forget the likes of Willem Arondeus who saw beyond our sector’s plight and led the people to a battle for freedom against the Nazis in 1943. We will never forget how Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women of color who instigated the #StonewallRiot in 1969, started the riot that gave birth to the first Pride March as a protest against discrimination and violence towards the LGBT community.

These are just some of the many great involvements of our LGBT forerunners. Their legacy led us to where we are right now, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Locally, we still have to fight for the Anti-Discrimination Law, and the Supreme Court is still discussing marriage equality. These two battles remain, and we need all the support we can get to win them. We need all the strength from within our community and our allies so we can champion these. With this, we vow to never stop fighting. We vow to never get tired. We vow to keep fighting until we achieve victory.

READ:  Paid for by a GWM

Brothers and sisters in the community, we have won many battles. We have proven our courage and strength. Today, we must again prove to the world that we are united, and we will never back down from any challenges. And we will continue to #RiseUpTogether and create a society with no people facing oppression.

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