Our Brave New World (Third of a Five-part Series)

Sass Rogando Sasot feels blessed to “have become part of the birth of the transgender rights movement in the Philippines”, a movement started in the first decade of the 21st century. And since during those ten years, she has witnessed “frightening and endearing events”, she now shares these via Outrage Magazine.

A Brief History of the Birth of the Transgender Movement in the Philippines

Part 1 – Our Brave New World
Part 2 – Confronting Sexual Violence
Part 3 – Challenging Discrimination in Establishments
Part 4 – Speaking Out Against Discrimination Based on Gender Expression
Part 5 – The Rise of the Power Transpinays

Challenging Discrimination in Establishments: The Ice Vodka Bar Incident and the Renaissance Hotel Incident

The Ice Vodka Bar Incident that took place in May 2008, involving me and other members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). The bar said that we’re not allowed to enter a bar because they said we were “inappropriately dressed” and that foreign men don’t like us there as people like us mislead them into thinking that we were “real women”.

On behalf of STRAP, I wrote an open letter about the incident. The manager of the bar apologized to us, and removed the discriminatory policy . STRAP also filed a complaint to the owner of the mall (AyalaLand) where the bar is located. The management of the Ayala Malls apologized to us in a letter saying “We empathize with you .… We wish to clarify that we do not have any agreement whatsoever with Ice Vodka Bar or other merchants in our mall to prohibit transsexual women from entering Ayala Mall. Rest assured that we have noted your recommendations and will brief our merchants to be more sensitive in attending such matter to prevent the recurrence of the same incident.”

However, two years after, a similar incident happened in the same mall. A security guard of the mall told us that we couldn’t enter the mall as we were not allowed there. We held another dialogue with the management of the mall, reminding them of their promise that a similar incident wouldn’t happen in their mall again. We were informed that the security guard has already been relieved and they promised that it will not happen again.

In July 2009, Rica Paras and Naomi Fontanos experienced a discriminatory incident in a hotel in Makati. Naomi recounted the incident on her blog, “Rica Paras and I wanted to have a fun and relaxing 4th of July weekend and were vacillating between going to the beach and staying in the city. “

When they used the female sauna of the hotel, “the same receptionist came in. She took an empty basin lying around but before she stepped out, Rica asked if we could have two towels. The receptionist nodded her head, came back with the towels but upon her return, looked at us and said “I’m sorry but what are you?” I was starting to get angry and looked at Rica who told her again “We’re women.” The receptionist said “Ah okay” and giggled as she stepped out of the sauna.”

“Rica and I were already upset. Around 10 minutes later, we heard a knock. We said “Yes?” and the lady who knocked opened the door. It was another hotel attendant and she said “Good afternoon SIR! I’m sorry but you have to transfer to the male sauna.” To which I replied, “Do not insult us. Do not call us sir! How dare you barge in here and ask us to transfer to the male sauna. Who do you think you are and who do you think we are?” The attendant said, “I’m sorry but it is policy.” Rica retorted, “It is policy? Show me the policy! Don’t you think people will be scandalized more if they see female bodies in the male sauna? You will have to drag us out of here!” The attendant closed the door and we stayed in the sauna. Another 10 minutes passed and the sauna door opened once more. This time, it was the duty manager with a male guard beside her. The male guard peeped in and then the duty manager in the same hostile tone said “I’m sorry SIR, but it is policy that you have to transfer to the other side.” It was my turn to ask and I said “Policy? What policy? Is it written in black and white? Show me that document first!” The duty manager answered, “Well based on your registration, you checked in under MALE names.” I said, “Those are our legal names and we didn’t have a choice on the matter; but they do not determine our gender!” The duty manager replied “But it is policy that if you are male, then you have to use the male area and if you are female, the female area.” Exasperated, Rica just said “Can you just let us finish please?” The male guard rudely barked “Five minutes!” after which he and the duty manager left.

Rica and I took our time. After getting ourselves decent, we stepped out and proceeded to the reception. There the pool attendant, a lady guard, another male guard and the receptionist were on stand-by. Upon seeing us, the receptionist said “I will need your signature to sign out MA’AM” and handed us the forms that we signed on our way in. I took my form, signed it and when I looked up, the pool boy who was looking by said, “I apologize for the inconvenience MA’AM but it is policy.” I said, “Inconvenience? This is an INSULT! Policy? In my book this is DISCRIMINATION!” After signing out, Rica and I both asked to be escorted to the office of the General Manager (GM). The lady guard perhaps misheard us and said the manager was waiting for us downstairs. So we took the elevator going down and stepped out into the lobby. The lady guard accompanying us directed us to take seats near the front desk and wait for the manager who would see us shortly. Rica and I were surprised when it was the same duty manager who sat down with us. I introduced myself and Rica to her politely and immediately told her that we felt insulted and disrespected with what happened earlier. The duty manager said, “I’m sorry but I did not insult you.” Rica said, “But I felt insulted with what you did!” I asked the duty manager, “Tell me, who was harmed by our use of the female sauna?” She just looked at me. I told her, “No one was harmed right? But by asking us to use the male area, do you know that you are actually harming us psychologically?” Then she said, “I am sorry but it is our policy.” Rica then addressed her, “You keep saying that it is policy. We want to see the policy because I have been using other Marriott hotels before all around the world and I have never been treated like this. Only in my own country have I been insulted and disrespected in a Marriott hotel!”

The duty manager addressing Rica said, “Yes, I checked our records. I know that you are our Silver Member. There is actually no written policy but based on the names that you registered under…” Rica cut her short and said, “I am registered as MISS in the records. You can check it for yourself!” The duty manager said, “But they are MALE names…” I cut her short and said “Again, those are our LEGAL names. They do not determine our gender! Besides, do I look male to you?” to which she said, “Well your looks are deceiving.” I could not take it anymore and said, “Tell me, whose needs needed to be satisfied with your insistence for us to transfer to the male sauna? Who needed to be happy to see us embarrassed and humiliated by being asked to transfer to the male sauna? No one right? Because nobody was complaining! Then it is only you who needed to be happy. It was your personal prejudice and bigotry that needed to be satisfied with your insistence that we use the male sauna. Because people like you will stop at nothing to embarrass and humiliate people like us. Because people like you can only feel good about themselves after putting down people like us. Because as far as you are concerned, people like us do not have the education, the money, and the right to be in a hotel like this. So I hope today, you made yourself very happy. I hope today you are very proud of yourself!”

“To which the duty manager said, “Yes I am very proud.” I said, “Well then this conversation is finished. We want to see the GM so we can file a formal complaint. We also want to escalate this to the International Customer Service. You are a modern hotel but your attitudes are stuck in the Middle Ages!” Rica and I stood up and went back to the room. That night after dinner, we tried to see the GM but he was already off-duty. Rica and I spoke to the night duty manager Jhun and asked him to make an appointment for us to see the GM at 9 am the next day.”

“On Saturday morning, July 4, 2009, Rica and I got ready to meet with the GM. At a little over 9 am, we went to see him. Rica recounted to the GM what transpired the previous day. The GM was understanding and apologized outright for what happened. He thought that the situation the day before could have been better handled. Rica told him that all we wanted was to relax for the weekend, use the hotel’s amenities and enjoy ourselves; but instead what happened, happened and now we had to use up what little time was left for us to enjoy the hotel by seeing him just to complain. Rica told the GM that she felt it was important for him to know because as someone who has been using the services of Marriott hotels around the world, not once has she encountered any bad experience except at the Renaissance Hotel and in her own country at that. She added that if the Renaissance Hotel could treat people like us that way, then what’s stopping the hotel staff from mistreating others based on skin color, religion, disability and other petty reasons.”

“The GM thanked us for coming to see him and personally informing him of what happened. He said that the Renaissance Hotel always aims to make every customer happy and comfortable and that what happened to us went directly against what the whole hospitality industry stood for. He asked us if we wanted to dialogue with the day duty manager. We agreed. He stepped out to fetch her and sat all of us down together. The duty manager started by telling us that what took place the day prior was also very difficult for her; but for whatever it was worth she wanted to extend her apologies to us. Rica told the duty manager that as a manager herself, she knew that there were ways of treating people without disrespecting them. She added that for the weekend, she just wanted me and her to have a great time but it was ruined by the incident at the sauna which Rica felt the duty manager mishandled.”

“I pointedly told the duty manager that when we travel abroad nothing of this sort ever happens to us. Only in our country do we get treated so inhumanly because of people like her. That is why, in spite of the fact that we love our country very much and think it is a very beautiful country indeed, we feel that we must leave it because no matter how hard we work, no matter what good schools we come from, no matter what we personally achieve, people like her will always make us feel bad about ourselves. Rica told the duty manager and the GM that even if we accepted both of their apologies, we still felt that the proper redress to what occurred the day before was for us to document it and lodge a formal complaint within the Marriott system. Rica asked for the GM’s email address and told him that we will send him our letter the soonest time possible with recommendations on how to handle transgender guests and ensure that the Renaissance Makati City Hotel Manila is able to provide the best quality customer service to all its clients regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Rica left the GM her calling card while the GM gave both of us his.”

“We thanked both the GM and the duty manager for their time and willingness to listen and proceeded to the pool. We only had an hour left at that point to have our morning swim. After enjoying the pool for the last time, Rica and I went back to our room. A few moments later, a fruit basket was delivered to us. It was from the duty manager accompanied by a personal letter of apology from her.”

The Launch of the Transpinay Identity: Transpinay the Other Filipina

In 1987, in their attempt at self-definition, transsexual women in Malaysia coined the term “mak nyah”. Malaysian transgender activist Khartini Slamah explained that they did this “because we…wanted to define ourselves from a vantage point of dignity rather than from the position of derogation in which Malaysian society has located us.”

The Philippines, just like Malaysia, does not have any local term to describe the transsexual experience. Transsexual women are often called “bakla” or “gay” by Filipino society. These terms imply that a Filipina transsexual woman is a man rather than a woman. Because of this, following the footsteps of mak nyahs, STRAP coined the term “transpinay”.

During the 2008 Manila Pride March, STRAP launched the transpinay identity. STRAP members joined the march wearing the terno, a traditional Filipina dress, while they ride the kalesa (horse carriage).

STRAP explains the transpinay identity: “TRANSPINAY means a female human being of Philippine descent who was given a male sex assignment at birth. It is a combination of the words transsexual, someone whose gender identity is directly opposite of his/her sex assignment at birth, and Pinay, the local term for Filipina, a girl/woman from the Philippines.This was proposed during one of our support group meetings and was voted upon by the general membership of STRAP. Other proposed terms were Transbabae and Transfilipina.

As compared to local terms such as bakla and bayot, transpinay doesn’t include homosexual males. Transpinay isn’t about sexual orientation or preference. A transpinay can be sexually/romantically attracted to other females (in that she is a lesbian), to males (in that she is straight), to both males and females (in that she is a bisexual), or to none at all (in that she is asexual).

As compared to the nascent term ladyboy, transpinay doesn’t maliciously or unwittingly call a girl/woman of transsexual experience a “boy/man”. Calling a transpinay a ladyboy is no different from simply calling her a “boy/man”, an offensive act.

A transpinay is not a homosexual/gay man nor a boy/man who is ladylike. A transpinay is not a crossdresser; she is not a boy/man who likes to dress. A transpinay is not a variation of male but a variation of female. A transpinay may be pre-op (have not yet have sex reassignment surgery but desires to have undergo it), post-op (have already had sex reassignment surgery), or non-op (does not desire to have sex reassignment surgery). All the same, no matter what their genital surgery status is, they are all females. A transpinay is not a boy/man wanting to be a “real” girl/woman – she is already one.

We acknowledge that TRANSPINAY, just like any other word, cannot adequately stand-in for what we actually are. Nonetheless, TRANSPINAY symbolizes our right to define our gender identity: A movement to reclaim that right from other cultural forces.”

The transpinay identity is now becoming widely-used. In 2009, GMA 7, one of the Philippines major network, had a documentary with Transpinay as its title. It featured the lives of several transpinays, which include trans beauty pageant legends Kristine Madrigal and Barbie Arcache.

OTHER ARTICLES IN THE SERIES:
Part 1 – Our Brave New World
Part 2 – Confronting Sexual Violence
Part 3 – Challenging Discrimination in Establishments
Part 4 – Speaking Out Against Discrimination Based on Gender Expression
Part 5 – The Rise of the Power Transpinays

HELP US BY HELPING YOU HIT THE RIGHT SPOT

April 2007 marked the launching of Outrage Magazine, the only Webzine made for, and by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.

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