Having been raised in Germany, transpinay Aloha Filipina said she was not really as exposed to (as much) gender-related biases while growing up. Transgender people “like me are generally accepted, with the gender-related biases not as defined,” she said.
But in 1999, after living away from the Philippines for some 15 years, Aloha Filipina decided to visit her home country. “I thought I’d feel (just as) ‘normal’ as in Germany; that there wouldn’t be any issues at all,” she said. She was, unfortunately, wrong. “I really just got exposed to the gender-related issues then.”
Aloha Filipina recalled how she had to “always act feminine.” Surprisingly, even though she did that, “paired with big breasts, many people still referred to me as a ‘sir’. It was extremely offensive.” At times, when it’s a biological female who would refer to her as “sir”, Aloha Filipina said she couldn’t help but react – “My tits are bigger than yours, and you call me ‘sir’?” Many times apologies are given, but Aloha Filipina said that “it became somewhat tiring arguing over something that should already be commonsensical.”
Aloha Filipina added: “In the Philippines, no one ever takes you seriously; it’s as if you just have to accept everything that they throw at you. I have traveled around the world, reached my ambition, worked hard for what I have – and yet I am found lacking. I only want to be respected, like everyone else.”
It was at that point in her life that Aloha Filipina realized that “in the Philippines, being a transgender is a lifetime battle,” she said. As such, “when I can, I must do something to help others.”
Aloha Filipina’s life has become somewhat of a lesson that other transgender people in the Philippines can learn from. But more than this (somewhat) passive contribution, Aloha Filipina is known for gathering any kind of support of LGBTs from the Philippines now based outside the country – be it fund-raising or donation-giving, hers is a name widely recognized.
It is when giving contributions that Aloha Filipina said “we can do some teaching about our issues, too,” she said. “So when doing charity works, I personally go to (the venues in need of being helped) to talk to those who are there personally, thereby showing them another face of the transgender community.”
For Aloha Filipina, however, every effort counts, no matter how big or small, in order to push for LGBT rights. She is one of those who teach the use of the word “transgender”, for instance, as opposed to the generalized “bakla”. And she is not afraid to confront those who commit injustice, too, when she sees them. One time, she got in trouble for protecting a “kapatid”. “I saw a transpinay once, and there was a man throwing stones at her – I’m not sure if she was in the right state of mind, as she just kept parading herself to be stoned. I approached the offending man, and then I asked him why he was throwing stones at her,” Aloha Filipina recalled. That encounter ended in a police station, but her experience there was not good, either, as “it was just a waste of time”, largely because the police was just as ignorant.
For Aloha Filipina, efforts need not be grand. “You can always help in your own little ways to advocate change, educate the people around you,” she said. “Sometimes, for Filipinos, they just keep their mouths shut for fear of getting in trouble. But it is always better to openly share your knowledge, your awareness.”
This is why Aloha Filipina is appreciative that there are now such groups as Ladlad, the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines, and Transpinay of Antipolo Organization that “help spread awareness on transgender issues. We need more such organizations in the Philippines.”
In the end, Aloha Filipina said she wishes for the Philippines to in the end also learn to accept transgender people – something she said seems “impossible right now.” But with the likes of Aloha Filipina helping in pushing for this, the impossible can happen.