The first time she was beaten was because transgender woman Murrielle Estrada was wearing make-up. As they were preparing to go to church back in Talisay City in the Province of Cebu, Murrielle’s live-in partner, Carlo, expressed his dislike with the way she looked.
Murielle remembered Carlo asking: “Baga ang imo make-up uy; asa diay ka? Di ba manimba ta (The make-up you have on is thick; where are you headed? I thought we’re (just) going to the church?)?”
“Gibuhat daw nako to kay pa-tintal ko sa laing laki (He said I put on extra make-up so I can tempt/be tempted by other men),” Murrielle said. And then: “Diretso sumbag sa nawong (He went straight to hitting me on my face).”
Murrielle was taken aback. “Gisakitan gyud ko (I was really hurt),” she said. “Nalain ko niya (I didn’t like him [that time]).”
However, seeing what happened as “nothing serious”, “napasaylo lang gihapon nako siya (I still forgave him). Kay love man nako siya (Because I love him).”
And so Murrielle’s often violent relationship with Carlo continued, showing how LGBT people can also become embroiled in domestic violence/intimate partner violence.
Domestic violence/intimate partner violence is still usually only discussed in the context of heterosexual relationships.
In the Philippines, for instance, in 2008, the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) introduced the “Women Safety Module” that attempted to comprehensively capture the extent and types of violence experienced by women (though those only aged 15 to 49) in the Philippines by collecting information on spousal violence, covering all forms of violence against women, i.e.: 1) physical violence; 2) sexual violence; 3) emotional violence; and 4) economic violence.
The deficiencies of the NDHS are glaring – e.g. over-emphasis on “spousal violence”, and limited focus on the 15-49 age group – but it still managed to surface figures that should worry everyone against violence.
According to the NDHS, one in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since the age of 15; 14.4% of married women have experienced physical abuse from their husbands; and 37% of separated or widowed women have experienced physical violence. Also, one in 25 women aged 15-49 who have ever had sex ever experienced forced first sexual intercourse; one in 10 women aged 15-49 ever experienced sexual violence; and 4% of women who have ever been pregnant experienced physical violence during pregnancy.
The manifestations of the violence vary. Still according to the NDHS, one in three women who experienced physical/sexual violence reported having physical injuries such as cuts, bruises or aches; and more than 10% reported to have suffered eye injuries, sprains, dislocations or burns.
Notably, the effects to those who were violated go beyond the physical, with three in five women who experienced physical/sexual violence reported having experienced psychological consequences like depression, anxiety and anger.
Interestingly, the NDHS also touched on the violence initiated by women against their husbands, with 16% of the surveyed women having “ever hit, slapped, kicked, or done anything else to physically hurt your (last) husband at times when he was not already beating or physically hurting you”. Nine percent of the women surveyed were violent against their husbands in the last 12 months preceding the survey.
Obviously, the NDHS is not the only source of data highlighting violence particularly against women.
In 2013, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) noted the 49.4% increase (compared to 2012) in the number of cases of violence against women reported to the Philippine National Police (PNP). And this data is not even conclusive, according to the PCW, because “data are based only from what was reported to PNP”.
In fact, reported cases under Republic Act 9262 (or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law of 2004) continued to increase from 218 in 2004 to 16,517 cases in 2013.
PROTECTING (MAINLY) WOMEN
The Philippines has, in fact, numerous laws that protect the rights particularly of women in relationships – e.g. RA 9262. But this focus on those in heteronormative relationships seems to belie that the same concerns also happen to non-heterosexual people (i.e. LGBT people).
Internationally, domestic violence/intimate partner violence is already considered through a pink lens. The AIDS Council of NSW in Australia, for instance, noted that domestic violence has become a “silent epidemic” in the LGBT community, considering its neglect even if “roughly one in three LGBTI couples experiencing domestic violence – statistics that are echoed among the general population.”
This observation was similarly made by a review published in 2014 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, which noted that “domestic violence occurs at least as frequently, and likely even more so, between same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex couples.”
The review stressed:
“Previous studies, when analyzed together, indicate that domestic violence affects 25% to 75% of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. However, a lack of representative data and underreporting of abuse paints an incomplete picture of the true landscape, suggesting even higher rates. An estimated one in four heterosexual women experience domestic abuse, with rates significantly lower for heterosexual men.”
WAY OF BEING
Back in Talisay City, Murrielle recalled how her parents never hurt her – at least physically.
Murrielle was eight years old when she realized that her self-identity is not aligned with her physicality. “Eight years old ko, naa ko nakit-an nga boy, gisultian nako ako mama: ‘Crush ko siya!’ Nasuko siya; sulti niya: ‘Ayaw pag-ingun-ana kay lalaki pud ka! (I was eight years old, I saw this boy, so I said to my mother: ‘I have a crush on him!’ She got angry; she said: ‘Do not be like that because you’re also a boy!).”
But Murrielle said that “I didn’t like looking at my penis. Gusto ko puki siya (I wanted to have a vagina). Sige na (Okay, fine), I accepted I was born with this body, but still I didn’t wan to use it.”
When Murrielle was in high school, she opened up to her family that “ing-ani na jud ko (I’m really going to be like this).” They accepted her “basta dili lang daw ko magpakaulaw; basta dili nako hatagan ug kaulaw ang pamilya (as long as I don’t live shamelessly; as long as I didn’t shame the family).”
In Murrielle’s case, giving “shame” to her family means “mukawat, mag-bisyo (steal, have vices).”
“Pero (But) I was accepted. Bisag bunal wala. Kulata, wala (They didn’t even hit me. They didn’t bash me).”
Considering her family’s response to her being transgender, Murrielle was somewhat surprised with her parents’ reaction to her having a boyfriend/partner.
Before Carlo, Murrielle already had two live-in partners, “pero wala sila kahibawo nga naa koy uyab (But they didn’t know then I had a partner),” she said. It was only Carlo who she introduced to her parents. “Gihatagan mi’g duha ka Bibliya (ni mama). Sulti siya: ‘Basaha dira, wala lalaki sa lalaki dira (Mom gave us one Bible each. She said: ‘Read and see in the Bible, it doesn’t mention male to male relationships).”
Murrielle severed her link to her parents. “Wala jud mi nagtagad sa ako parents kay nagpakauwaw daw ko (We ignored each other because they said I have shamed/embarrassed them).”
This lasted for two years and nine months.
And at that time, Carlo, therefore, became the center of her life.
A friend introduced Murrielle to Carlo. “Initially, he didn’t like me as trans. Dili gani siya mag-shake hands (He won’t even shake my hands),” she said.
Murrielle was feisty then. “Ako sya diretso gi-sultian nga suplado siya (I told him straight out that he’s a snob).” Carlo became defensive, and – as if to prove her wrong – they became textmates (i.e. sent text SMS messages to each other) for a month. They became an item; and after three months, they were already living together.
Since Carlo earned well as a BPO worker, “siya nagbuhi nako (he supported me),” Murrielle said. “Plain housewife jud ko – naglalaba, naglilinis, nagtatahi ng curtains, nag-iigib, namlalantsa (I was a plain housewife – I did the laundry, I cleaned the house, I sewed the curtains, I gathered water, I did the ironing of clothes)…”
Murrielle was also introduced to Carlo’s parents, and while his father did not initially accept her, his mother was always supportive. “His mom said: ‘Imoha man decision. Kung as aka lipay, suporta ko (That’s your decision. Wherever you are happy, I support you).”
Living as a stereotypical housewife made Murrielle happy – at least for a year.
Carlo hit her a year after they started living together.
It happened repeatedly, too.
“Daghan bawal – make-up, shorts, mga amigo (There were a lot of no-no’s – make-up, short pants, friends)…”
The violence against Murrielle resulted to physical injuries.
Murrielle didn’t have anyone to confide to, too. “Wala ko matug-an (There wasn’t anyone I could tell),” she said. “Gasulti ko sa among mga amigo nga ginakulata ko. “Mangatawa man lang sila (I told our friends that he was beating me. They just laughed).”
Murrielle said that she also couldn’t physically fight back – all the men in her life were, to begin with, all physically bigger than her. “Wala jud ko kusog musukol (I didn’t have the strength to fight back),” she said.
One time, they had to settle a fight in front of barangay (village) officials.
But Murrielle said that Carlo always seemed apologetic for the pain he caused her. “Mamawi man siya. Iyaha man ko i-sweet-sweet. He offers something. Unya sex para uli-an (He suddenly does something good. He’d be sweet to me. He offers something. And then we’d have sex for the things to be as they were),” she said.
Murrielle recalled repeatedly asking Carlo why he was hurting her, and he said it was because he loved her. “Sulti niya he doesn’t want to lose me daw (he said he didn’t want to lose me),” she said. “Tuo jud ko (And I believed him).”
Murrielle was already with Carlo for two years and nine months when – while Murrielle was washing the dishes after they had dinner – Carlo went behind her and tied his leather belt around her neck to choke her. “Galalis mi tungod sa akong shorts. Nigawas man gud ko bag-o nag-dinner kay nipalit kog ice para sa drinks. Nasuko siya kay nganong short shorts daw akong sul-obon (We were arguing about my short pants. I had to go out before dinner to buy ice for our drinks. He got angry because of the length of my short pants),” she said.
Choking while trying to at least fighting back, Murrielle found herself lying on the bedroom floor. That was when she saw herself on their floor-length mirror. “Nangitom ako liog sa iyaha belt (The skin on my neck where he tied his belt was dark),” she said. Murrielle then realized that “kung dili ko niya mapatay, ako makapatay sa iya (if he didn’t kill me, I may kill him).”
After that fight, while they were lying in bed, “mga 12:00AM, ako siya gipukaw. Wala man siya namata; tulog jud siya (around 12:00AM, I woke him. He didn’t wake up; he was in deep sleep),” Murrielle said.
Murrielle took this chance to take off.
“Nisibat ko (I ran away),” she said. “Wala ko dala sanina. Kung unsa ako-a ako sul-ob, kadto lang (I didn’t bring my clothes. I only had with me what I had on me).”
FINDING HER TRUE SELF
In total, “one year and nine months akong martir (I was a ‘martyr’ for one year and nine months; or I put up with the abuses for one year and nine months).”
Murrielle stayed with a friend for three days; and then she left for Metro Manila, where she stayed with her grandmother for three months.
Staying away was important for her because Carlo was looking for her. “Apparently, prmi niya pangita sa ako-a. Samukon niya ako mama, lola. Wala sila ikatingog kay wala man sila kahibalo (he always looked for me. He bugged my mom, my [other] grandmother. But they couldn’t give him any answer because they didn’t know where I was).”
Being away also cleared her mind. “I stayed with my lola until maka-move on ko
Love man gihapon nako siya, so nasaktan gihapon ko (I still loved him, so I was hurting).”
After three months, Carlo stopped frequenting Murrielle’s family’s house to look for her.
Four months after she left him, “I think I stopped loving him,” Murrielle said.
Since Murrielle returned to Cebu, where she is now involved in LGBT human rights advocacy, she has yet to cross paths with Carlo again. “I still fear seeing him. But I am ready if that happens,” she said.
Having experienced what she did, Murrielle’s message to other LGBT people is to get a perspective. “Dili magpakabuta bungol. Kita tanan puwede ma-in-love pero dili pasagdan nga mabun-og ta nila (Do not be blind or deaf. All of us can fall in love, but we should not let the people we love bruise/hurt us).”