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Ang pamamakla ni Tam, Ten-ten at ni Tonio

Outrage Magazine comes across – and chats – with brothers who all engage in sex work.

Ten-ten and Tam while working in one of the main thoroughfares of Mandaluyong City

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Ten-ten* was only 14 when “may naka-una sa akin (someone had me – sexually – first),” he said. He had, at that time, a 17-year-old friend, and “sinama niya ako sa pamamakla** niya (he brought me with him looking for gays who would pay for sex).” It wasn’t a bad experience, he said; in fact, “nagustuhan ko pa nga eh. Tapos may kinita pa ako (I even liked it. And then I also earned).”

That exposure to having sex with other men in exchange for money became a “regular habit” for Ten-ten, who is now 18. So “regular” that he even introduced his elder brother, Tam*, into sex work.

Nakita niya na may kumukuha sa akin (He saw guys pick me up),” he said. “Nakita niya rin na may kinikita ako. Ayun, sumunod na siya (He also saw me earn from it. So he followed suit).”

That was when Tam was 15 years old. Admittedly better looking than his younger brother (“Kahit mas malaki kargada niya sa akin (Even if he has a bigger genitalia than I do),” he laughed), it is now Tan who gets frequently picked up. Though – this is worth stressing, according to both – not that this matters, as there’s no rivalry between them at all. “Kanya-kanyang specialization yan (Everyone has his own specialization),” Tam said.

Neither of the two taught their younger brother, Tonio*, to follow suit, as he is now also selling sex at 15 (the same age when Tam started, though a year older than when Ten-ten started).

REALITIES OF LIFE

Grabbing a burger in a hole-in-the wall burger joint in Mandaluyong City, we came across the brothers who were on their way to a computer shop to play DOTA (Defense of the Ancients), a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena video game. They were, technically, not working; but they were having second thoughts with proceeding to the computer shop, and so ended up in the joint; and the chat-turned-interview-with-consent ensued.

Ten-ten is actually “only” a half brother of Tam and Tonio; they all have the same father. But their father now lives with Ten-ten’s mother, along with 13 siblings. Adding Tam and Tonio’s two other siblings, “18 kami lahat magkakapatid (there are 18 of us siblings),” Tam said.

They’re not well-off, exactly, with all parents only able to take in odd (and often menial) jobs. But relationship-wise, “hindi kami tinuruan magalit sa isa’t isa (we weren’t taught to hate each other),” Tam said. “Kalahating kapatid man yan, kapatid pa rin (Even if he’s just a half brother, he’s still my brother).”

Both families live close to each other in Mandaluyong.

And this is where, at night along Barangka Drive, the brothers work.

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No, they don’t necessarily work together. They are “tropa (belong to the same posse)”, but they also have other friends who are also “namamakla (actively search out gay customers).” There are others like them there, too, since the area is now littered with “gaya namin (men like us),” Ten-ten said.

There’s no remorse, with Tam saying with a smile “trabaho lang (it’s just work).”

The money they earn also comes in handy. For Ten-ten, it helps him buy “mga bagay-bagay (some stuff),” he said, from clothes to shoes or whatever. But there are also times when it helps with their respective families. “Kanina (Earlier today),” Ten-ten said, “‘yung kinita ko P300 binili ng bigas (the P300 I earned was used to buy rice).”

Nakakatulong din (This also helps),” Tam said.

Their rates aren’t flat, since “lahat napag-uusapan (everything can be discussed),” Ten-ten said. “Basta huwag bumaba ng P300 (So long as the money given is no less than P300).”

The biggest money either of them got for sex work was over P1,000.

The rates also largely dictate what acts are being offered; though usually, these acts are limited to: 1. being fellated, 2. “romansa (in this case, foreplay)”, 3. and being the top in anal sex. No, they don’t necessarily fellate; and no, they definitely will not get anally penetrated. There are also “limits” to choosing clients, with neither willing to accommodate “matandang-matandang-matanda na (those extremely old),” as Ten-ten said, and “mga unhealthy, tulad ng matabang-mataba (those unhealthy, like someone morbidly fat),” added Tam.

These are, however, only true to Tam and Ten-ten. In 15-year-old Tonio’s case, “di namin alam. Di naman siya nagkukuwento tungkol dito (we don’t know. He doesn’t share to us his sex working experiences).”

Neither Tam and Ten-ten would mind if a client hired both of them at the same time [“Nakikita ko naman siya hubad (I see him naked),” Ten-ten said. “Sabay pa nga kami mag-shower (We even shower together).”]; but they’d draw the line in being asked to have sex with each other. “Kung ganyan, mabugbog ko pa (If the client is like that, I may end up bashing him),” Tam said.

There are dangers in their line of work. Ten-ten, for instance, lamented of clients who “escape after the act”. One time, he recalled, after having sex, the customer pretended he needed to go to an ATM machine. But while crossing the street, “tumakas agad siya (he took off).”

Tam said there’s not much they can do about this since “hindi naman puwede hingiin ang pera bago mag-sex (we can’t ask for money before the sexual act),” he said. “Iniisip nila, tatakasan namin sila (Customers think we’ll just get the money and run away).”

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There are also law enforcers who tend to be abusive. Ten-ten claimed that he was once apprehended in the guise of “drug use”.

Na-tokhang na (They said it’s part of ‘Operation Tokhang’),” he alleged, referring to the infamous drug war of the Rodrigo Duterte administration. “Kinuha kami ng mga kasama ko. Sa opisina nila, pinaghubad kami. Pina-drug test. Tapos nang wala nakita, kinuha na lang nila pera namin, alahas namin, tapos pinakawalan din (They took me and a few friends. They brought us to an office where they made us strip. They had us take drug tests. When they didn’t see anything wrong, they just took our money, our accessories, then released us).”

Still, there’s no fear in doing what they’re doing. As Tam said, “lalaki din naman kami. Kung darating sa away, makikipag-suntukan kami (we’re also men. If it came to that, we could fight, too).”

LIFE DECISIONS

Ten-ten is proud to be known by his clients for being “istrikto sa pag-gamit ng condom (being strict with using condoms),” he said.

He said no one really taught him about safer sex; but he knows “mahirap magkasakit (it’s difficult to be sickly).”

Incidentally, the 17-year-old who introduced him into this life already passed away.

Nabalitaan ko, umuwi sa probinsiya. Nagkasakit daw. Tapos ayun, namatay (I heard he went home to the province. He got sick. And then he died),” Ten-ten said. “Baka ano na yun… (Perhaps it was THAT disease),” he added, alluding to HIV.

Tam said he’s the same, i.e. strict with condom use. But when jibed by a former client he barebacked (i.e. had sex without condom), he just laughed it off.

Perhaps owing to his youth, Tonio is less strict on this, maybe even unable to negotiate with clients.

As an aside, the main mode of transmission of HIV in the Philippines now is through male-to-male sex (721 of the 750 cases reported in December 2016 by the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines). With 26 cases of infection happening every day, those involved are also becoming younger, with 29% belonging to the 15-24 year age group.

All of the clients of the brothers are gay (some closeted, others out in the open). And all of these clients found them on the streets of Mandaluyong. They are, simply, now freelance sex workers.

The DOH, by the way, reported that in December 2016, 9% (66) of the reported cases engaged in transactional sex. Most (92%) were male whose ages ranged from 19 to 72 years (median: 30 years). Thirty-four (34) males who engaged in transactional sex were the ones who paid for sex. As defined, people who engage in transactional sex are those who report that they pay for sex, regularly accept payment for sex, or do both.

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FUTURE LIFE

Both Tam and Ten-ten dread that day when their parents would know of their sex work. But both of them said they’d just “eh di harapin kung malaman (face it when it happens/cross the bridge when they get there).”

Tam also fears that a future GF will know of his history; something that Ten-ten scoffs at since he said his GF knows of what he’s doing. “Wala naman nangyayari sa amin kaya naghahanap din ako ng lalabasan (We haven’t had sex yet, so I also need sexual release),” he said. At times, he added, the GF is even the one to answer the Facebook messages of would-be clients; “tumatawa lang siya (she just laughs this off).”

Ten-ten is, for now, just “going with the flow,” he said.

Tam said that he may likely stay in the sex industry “hangga’t may kukuha (as long as someone hires me),” he said. Or if “kailangan ng pera (if I need money).”

By the way, he once worked for a company that produces furniture using fiber glass; he had to quit after only a week because the working conditions were unsafe [“Dami kong sugat sa salamin (I has lots of wounds from the glasses),” he said]. He may eventually look for a “regular” job; a more “socially acceptable” job, he said, but “tingnan lang natin (we’ll see how things go).”

Perhaps it is Tonio’s youth that’s limiting his perspective, but his plans are more immediate – e.g. be able to afford playing DOTA, buy “mga gusto-gusto (what I like)”, and so on.

Since none of them had education, offering sex has become work for the brothers – still stigmatized, thereby forcing them in the shadows; and yet now a regular source of living for them.

And so ang pamamakla ni Tam, Ten-ten at ni Tonio continues…

*NAMES CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY INTERVIEWEES TO PROTECT THEIR PRIVACY; AND ALSO BECAUSE THOSE WHO ENGAGE IN SEX WORK IN THE PHILIPPINES NOT ONLY CONTINUE TO BE STIGMATIZED BUT COULD ALSO BE HELD LEGALLY LIABLE

** “PAMAMAKLA” IS THE TERM USED BY (USUALLY) MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH MEN (MSM) WHO SEEK GAY MEN TO HAVE SEX WITH IN EXCHANGE FOR A PAYMENT (CASH OR SERVICE, THOUGH MORE OFTEN CASH). IT BASICALLY MEANS “TO ACTIVELY SEARCH FOR A ‘BAKLA (GAY MAN)’ TO EARN FROM HIM AFTER SEXUAL CONTACT”

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

#KaraniwangLGBT

Paolo, naked

Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino performance artist, uses his naked body as a canvas, believing that art can help the people – both the artist and those who see the artworks. “It makes people think, ask… and feel,” he said, all relevant because “we’re not robots; we’re humans.”

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Four years ago, Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino, did his first performance art “ as mema lang (out of whim),” he said. At that time, he just wanted to “tick off something from my bucket list.” But he fell in love with the form, and so stayed with it.

Here’s the thing: In his performances, Paolo is always in the nude since he is a nude artist.

There is reason behind this, he said. “It’s not because it’s something different, or because it’s something new since it’s been done before… but because for me, the feeling (when one is nude) is very vulnerable, and i think it’s my most vulnerable form, and I want to be in that state when I perform so I can emphasize with people.”

To be clear, Paolo is not a performing artist; instead, he is a performance artist.

Performance art is different from performing arts. With the latter, “you are portraying a character that is not you. So you’re using your body as a canvas to create another character. When it comes to performance art, you yourself are the character, and the message you relay is different outside of the text,” he said. “At least that’s what I am doing.”

Paolo noted that there are people who see performances of nude artists as sexual, and he said this is not necessarily true.

On the one hand, just because one is naked doesn’t mean the piece is sexual, as “it could be pure, it could be wholesome (even if the performer is not clothed). And I am able to show these (through my performances), and that (things aren’t) just black and white.”

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And so, it is worth stressing, “it is not pornography; I am not selling my body, I am just using my body as canvas for my art.”

Paolo said that malice needs to be removed when viewing particularly his performances – i.e. “We don’t give malice when seeing a naked child, so why give malice when seeing a naked adult?” This is particularly true when “they’re not doing anything malicious or anything sexual.”

On the other hand, Paolo said with emphasis, even if the piece is also sexual, it’s not like there’s something wrong with that. “We’re all different; sensuality is different for everyone, just as sexuality is different for everyone. You can be modest and that empowers you, and that’s fine. You could be very, very promiscuous and very sexual, and that empowers you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re responsible with yourself, you’re responsible with dealing with other people, and you know for a fact you’re not stepping on other people’s toes.”

Though Paolo has been inspired by various artists, his main inspiration are the people he deals with. “My interaction creates an experience for me, and from that experience, I get inspired to make more art,” he said.

Paolo said he gets two reactions when he performs. For one, there are people who get “the vulnerability,” he said. And, secondly, “there are times when (people) get intimidated.” But with performance art, “your art is effective when you get a reaction, once it creates discourse.” And so for Paolo, the piece still works “even if only one person gets it.”

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There are members of his family who disapprove what he does, though Paolo said this is largely due to security issues – e.g. he could get harassed, or he could be accused of harassing and could get in trouble for this. But Paolo said that he is actually cautious when planning performances, making sure that – yes – he does so in a safe space where he won’t be harassed, and only in contexts where he won’t knowingly end up harassing people.

For those who oversimplify what he’s doing as “just getting naked”, Paolo said performing is actually very draining, not just mentally but also physically. Which is why “I look after my body,” he said, “because I use my body as my canvas and I need to take care of it. I always make sure I am ready for it; it’s strenuous.”

If there’s one lesson his performances taught him, it’s that “we share similar stories,” Paolo said. “We share similar pain, we share similar happiness or success… The levels may be different on how we deal with these, but they’re similar.”

And after his performances, if there is one thing he wants those who see him to take away from seeing him, it’s the ability to “ask questions,” Paolo said. “Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s a start of being curious, of interacting with other people. So if possible, ask all the questions you can ask. It’s a way to grow as a person.”

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Relevance of public & private sectors’ support highlighted in Quezon City’s 2018 Pride parade

Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

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Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public (including government) and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

Hanz Defensor, who helms Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC), the organizer of the annual gathering, told Outrage Magazine in an exclusive interview that Quezon City is “quite fortunate” that it now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that protects LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

Signed by mayor Herbert Bautista (whose term ends in May 2019), City Ordinance 2357-2014, otherwise known as The Quezon City Gender-Fair Ordinance, eyes to “to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that violate the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, and The Yogyakarta Principles; and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the right of all people; regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

But Defensor said that, “admittedly, kulang pa rin (this is still lacking).” This is because – even if they already have the ADO and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), the actual implementation continues to be challenging.

Quezon City, Defensor noted as an example, has “a lot of business establishments, and while they know that discriminating against LGBTQIA people in the city is prohibited by law, not all of them actually have a copy of the ADO and the IRR to know the small details.”

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As he encouraged particularly those affected by the ADO to “download (the same) from Quezon City’s official website”, he is also encouraging other local government units to already take steps to also protect their LGBTQIA constituents, perhaps learning from Quezon City’s example.

The same sentiment was expressed in a letter sent to QCPC by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, who remarked that Quezon City’s ADO – which also mandates the annual holding of the Pride parade – “has become a source of inspiration for advocates of gay rights in the Philippines and the rest of the world” because “it has institutionalized the city’s progressive and inclusive policy that eliminates discrimination on the basis of SOGIE.”

Though criticized for pinkwashing, Duterte still expressed hope that Pride further strengthens “the solidarity of (the) community so you may inspire the entire nation with the diversity and dynamism of your talents and skills.”

To contextualize, past administrations did not openly support Pride-related events.

Also, even if Akbayan partylist – which is aligned with Liberal Party that helmed the country under Pres. Benigno Aquino III prior to Duterte’s term – has been sponsoring the anti-discrimination bill for almost 20 years now, it still fails to gain traction, including during Aquino’s administration when it was largely ignored.

As an FYI, Quezon City actually hosted the largely accepted first Pride March in Asia.

On June 26, 1994, ProGay Philippines and Metropolitan Community Church helmed a march in Quezon City. Dubbed as “Stonewall Manila” or as “Pride Revolution”, it was held in remembrance of the Stonewall Inn Riots and coincided with a bigger march against the imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT).

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Defensor stressed the need to be pro-active when confronting LGBTQIA-related discrimination. While the ADO is there, he said that should LGBTQIA people from Quezon City experience discrimination, “seek help” and know that “QCPC is here, and the LGU will back you.”

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3rd Iloilo LGBTQI gathering stresses that #PRIDEisProtest

Iloilo hosted its 3rd LGBTQI Pride parade, with the core message highlighting that Pride remains an act of protest.

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PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ‘HUMANS OF ILOILO’; CHANNEL BIBANCO; ALJHUR ALQUIZAR III

The city of Iloilo hosted the third iteration of its Pride parade, with the core message highlighting that Pride remains an act of protest. In a way, this is contrary to the current direction many Pride-related parades are taking – including in Metro Manila – where advocacy is getting trumped by commercialization/partying.

Metro Manila’s LGBT gathering breaks attendance records, highlights ubiquity of LGBT people if not causes

In a statement provided to Outrage Magazine, Carlo Gabriel Evidente of the Iloilo Pride Team said that the move to focus on #PRIDEisProtest is “in recognition of the legacy of the Stonewall Riots, and the continuing gender-based violence and discrimination experienced by persons of various SOGIEs all over the world.”

Irish Granada Inoceto, vice chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, added: “Through this (gathering we hoped to) make all colors of gender visible and celebrated. This is our way of saying we are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Over 2,000 people joined this year’s gathering, the biggest for the three-year-old annual gathering.

Iloilo has actually been making rainbow waves lately.

In June, the city of Iloilo joined the ranks of local government units (LGUs) with LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs), with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) unanimously approving its ADO mandating non-discrimination of members of minority sectors including the LGBTQI community.

Iloilo City passes anti-discrimination ordinance on final reading

Following this, in August, Iloilo Mayor Jose S. Espinosa III declared the city as “LGBT-friendly”, with plan to establish an office that will develop programs and activities for the LGBT community.

Iloilo declared as ‘LGBT-friendly’ city; mayor eyes to establish office to handle LGBTQI-related efforts

For Inoceto, “as long as Pride remains inclusive of the issues of the most marginalized, when it continues to be a platform for the courage of those who stand for LGBT rights and human rights, Pride will never grow passé.”

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PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ‘HUMANS OF ILOILO’; CHANNEL BIBANCO; ALJHUR ALQUIZAR III

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Malabon passes anti-discrimination ordinance on the basis of SOGIE

Malabon City now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that prohibits: discrimination in schools and the workplace, delivery of goods or services, accommodation, restaurants, movie houses and malls. It also prohibits ridiculing a person based on gender and/or sexual orientation. Penalties for discriminatory act/s include imprisonment for one month to one year, a fine of P1,000 to P5,000, or both.

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Still slow national move; better local endeavors.

In the absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos, a growing number of local government units are taking the lead in ensuring that LGBTQI-related discrimination is checked. And now the city of Malabon has joined the list of LGUs with an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO).

City Ordinance 16-2018, signed on September 10 by Mayor Antolin Oreta III, declares “as a policy of Malabon City to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that offend the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights.”

Among the prohibited acts in the ADO are: discrimination in schools and the workplace, delivery of goods or services, accommodation, restaurants, movie houses and malls. It also prohibits ridiculing a person based on gender and/or sexual orientation.

Penalties for discriminatory act/s include imprisonment for one month to one year, a fine of P1,000 to P5,000, or both.

As with other ADOs, the Malabon ordinance similarly mandates the creation of the Malabon City Pride Council, tasked to monitor complaints, assist victims of stigma and discrimination, as well as recommend to the city council additional anti-discrimination policies and review all existing resolutions, ordinances and codes if these have discriminatory policies.

The same Pride council will oversee the implementation of an anti-discrimination campaign and the organization of LGBTQI groups in the barangays of the city.

The Malabon ADO also aims to include anti-discrimination programs (including psychological counseling, legal assistance, and forming of barangay-level LGBTQI organizations), with the budged to be sourced from the gender and development (GAD) plans, projects and programs (uo to 5%).

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The ADO also tasks the Malabon police station to investigate cases involving violence based on SOGIE.

Also with the ADO, Malabon will now commemorate LGBTQI-related events, including the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17; Pride parade in December; World AIDS Day on December 1; and Human Rights Day on December 10.

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What it’s like to be trans in Taiwan

Tamsin Wu visits gay-friendly Taiwan, where she meets Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), who said that the country is still failing its LGBTQ citizens, and particularly lags in promoting trans rights.

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Photo detail by Thomas Tucker from Unsplash.com

Taiwan may be the most gay-friendly country in Asia, but according to Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), the country still receives a “failing mark” when it comes to LGBTQ equality. Transgender people, in particular, usually bear the brunt of sex-based discrimination.

ISTSCare has a one-woman 24/7 hotline service. Abby has dealt with calls concerning struggles related to suicide attempts, job insecurity or homelessness, and even domestic violence. To provide support and assistance to hotline callers, ISTSCare also partners with NGOs and other LGBTQ-related organizations.

Aside from the hotline service, the organization does its advocacy work through protests, by maintaining an online presence, as well as directly communicating with political figures and trans-friendly journalists to rouse awareness and discussion on transgender and intersex issues.

ISTSCare in Taiwan

In 2014, four years after the first official notice regarding gender reassignment procedures in Taiwan was issued, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), with the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), announced the easement of legal requirements on changing gender identity. MOI promised that it would immediately work on letting transgender citizens change their gender marker without having to go through rigorous psychiatric assessments, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and parental approval. However, MOI backtracked since then.

“MOI, which is handling the national ID cards, they said there are still a lot of research to do about the gender issue and they try to get some professional opinions, but MOHW already said this is not a medical issue, it’s an internal affair issue. So MOI, they’re just under the pressure and paused a lot of meetings… and now the issue is still under research for four years,” Abby lamented. “We’re the first Asian country to pass the bill but it’s not implemented.”

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Despite MOHW already stating that medical professionals should not have a say when it comes to determining one’s gender identification, transgender citizens are still presently forced to consider SRS. Besides that, they are also required to seek the expensive involvement of psychiatrists and, outrageously, the consent of their parents. Otherwise, their gender identity cannot be legally recognized.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity. Hence, SRS is especially discriminatory towards transgender citizens who do not wish to undergo surgery. “What is gender? Is it just based on our anatomy? Or is it in our behavior? In our mind? Or in the way we dress?… There are a lot of factors that influence what gender one identify as, but society focus on the least publicly visible aspect – our sex organ.”

Abby continued, “There are risks to surgery and that is one of the reasons why not all transgenders want to go through it. And also, they may question themselves, ‘Do I really want to have surgery or is it just for the sake of getting this ID?’”

Abby standing beside the transgender pride flag.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

“One day before the presidential election, I went to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) headquarters to talk with the Department of Woman. I told them, ‘tomorrow is already the day for voting, are you going on stage and advocate for transgender rights? This has been neglected for the past 3-4 years. Then they just told me, ‘this requires social consensus’… I went out of that meeting deeply upset,” Abby shared.

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With lack of funding, community support and societal understanding of trans issues, how could transgender rights obtain social consensus when this feat requires acceptance and approval from the status quo in order for the relevant social change to take effect? Why should the rights and well-being of a minority group fall in the hands of the majority? Currently, both the public and the government possess inadequate knowledge in dealing with transgender issues, which exacerbates the struggles transgender citizens face.

Prejudice against transgender folks can also be felt within LGBTQ communities. On one hand, some non-transgender members of the LGBTQ community question the gender identity of trans people. On the other hand, there is also internalized transphobia.

“A lot of transgender are more binary [in the way they see gender]. They think a man should act and look a certain way and that a woman should act and look a certain way… ISTSCare does not condone this kind of thinking,” Abby said.

Trans activist Abbygail Wu and her partner in a protest for their marriage right.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

When asked why ISTSCare is run by only three people (including Abby and her partner), she shared that many transgender citizens in Taiwan find it difficult to prioritize doing advocacy work because their life situation is oftentimes mentally and emotionally taxing. On top of having to deal with an unsupportive family, they often face discrimination in the job market. Hence, there’s a high level of difficulty for them to get a good job, gain professional working experience and make a decent living, let alone have the financial resources to go through SRS. As of now, they’re in this loop of societal discrimination and economic vulnerability with no recourse.

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Another reason for the lack of transgender-focused activists in Taiwan is attributed to the problem of privilege. Abby adds that well-off transgender citizens tend to be exclusive in their social group. Post-surgery and after assimilating in heteronormative society, they also tend to ignore the struggles faced by less fortunate transgender citizens. They would rather not get associated for fear of being found out and face discrimination. Albeit joining Pride Parades, they are at other times nowhere to be found when it comes to advocating for transgender rights.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity.
Photo credit: Abbygail Wu

Abby said that ISTSCare’s main goal right now is to push for a non-discriminatory, comprehensive gender identity law in Taiwan.

“We hope to be like Argentina. Just file [required] papers to the courthouse and they will assign the legal gender change. No need to go through any kind of medical process.”

Having a well thought out gender identity law may not help solve all transgender issues and alleviate them from all of their struggles. However, getting the said law done and implemented right would be one significant progress for the recognition of the human rights and dignity of, not only transgender citizens, but also intersex and non-binary people.

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Chance of HIV-positive person with undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sex partner is scientifically zero

The PARTNER 2 study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

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Confirmed and needs to be stressed: The chance of any HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sexual partner is scientifically equivalent to zero.

This is according to researchers who released at #AIDS2018 the final results from the PARTNER study. Results originally announced in 2014 from the first phase, PARTNER 1, already indicated that “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” (U=U). But while the first study was lauded in tackling vaginal sex, the statistical certainty of the result did not convince everyone, particularly in the case of gay men, or those who engage in anal sex.

But now, PARTNER 2, the second phase, only recruited gay couples. The PARTNER study recruited HIV serodifferent couples (one partner positive, one negative) at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. They tested the HIV-negative partners every six to 12 months for HIV, and tested viral load in the HIV-positive partners. Both partners also completed behavioral surveys. In cases of HIV infection in the negative partners, their HIV was genetically analyzed to see if it came from their regular partner.

And the results indicate “a precise rate of within-couple transmission of zero” for gay men as well as for heterosexuals.

The study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

PARTNER is not the only study about viral load and infectiousness. Last year, the Opposites Attract study also found no transmissions in nearly 17,000 acts of condomless anal sex between serodifferent gay male partners. This means that no transmission has been seen in about 126,000 occasions of sex, if this study is combined with PARTNER 1 and 2.

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While this is good news overall in the fight against HIV, related issues continue to plague HIV-related efforts, particularly in countries like the Philippines.

Why aren’t we talking about ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ in the Philippines?

For instance, aside from the overall silence on U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) continue to be low. As of May 2016, when the country already had 34,158 total reported cases of HIV infection, Filipinos living with HIV who are on anti-retroviral therapy (i.e. those who are taking meds) only numbered 14,356.

The antiretroviral medicines in use in the Philippines also continue to be limited, with some already phased out in developed countries.

All the same, this is considered a significant stride, with science unequivocally backing the scientific view helmed in 2008 by Dr. Pietro Vernazza who spearheaded the scientific view that viral suppression means HIV cannot be passed via a statement in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine.

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