Ang rayna sa Dabaw
Outrage Magazine meets a trans woman living with HIV in Davao City, Paloma Soledad, known in local LGBT circles as ‘rayna sa Dabaw’ for her exposures with Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. A staunch believer of self-sufficiency, Paloma says: “walay makatabang sa ato-a kundi atoang kaugalingon (no one can help us but ourselves).”
Ang trans nga amiga ni Duterte (The trans woman who is a friend of presidentiable and Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte).
That, in not so many words, was how many members of the LGBT community of Davao City referred to Paloma Soledad, a 33-year-old ambulant vendor who sells knick-knacks (from kimpit or hair clips to blusa or blouses, to mobile phone chargers to DIY materials like screw drivers and the likes).
But Paloma is the first to dismiss this “title” (if it can be considered as such), saying that she may have crossed paths with Davao City’s somewhat revered mayor, but “pareha ra man iya treatment sa ako-a sa uban (he treats me as he does others),” she said. She does admit repeatedly crossing paths with him, particularly when “mubaligya ko sa city hall (when I sell my wares at the city hall),” she said. And at those times, “istoryahun pud ko niya. Sulti niya, bisan unsa mahitabo, bisan unsa kalisod ang kinabuhi, magtinarong daw sa life (he also spoke to me. He told me, no matter what happens, no matter how hard life gets, I should live accordingly).”
As a somewhat “regular” among those who cross paths with Duterte, it is not surprising for Paloma to be ribbed as the “rayna sa Dabaw (queen of Davao)” – something she just waves off with a laugh: “Walay rayna-rayna; nanginabuhi ra ta (no queens here; we’re all just making a living).”
For as long as Paloma can remember, “ingun-ani na jud ko (I’ve always been like this),” she said, referring to her being a transgender woman. “Gi-adopt lang man ko sa akong parents kay wala man gud sila anak. Pero bisan niadtong bata pa ko, binabaye na jud ko; gusto na jud ko ma-baye (I was adopted by my parents because they didn’t have children of their own. But even when I was young, I was already effeminate; I already knew I wanted to be a woman).”
Fortunately for Paloma, “wala man na-issue pagka-trans nako (my being trans was never an issue).” And this may be because “naa man ko pulos (I;ve always been useful).”
This usefulness, in Paloma’s case, can be largely seen in her supporting of her adoptive family – that is, she helped feed both her father and her mother when the latter was still alive; and now she solely supports her father who is now legally blind.
Paloma still occasionally sees her biological family (from Toril). “Usahay, mu-adto ko didto; adtuan pud ko nila diri (At times I visit them there; they also visit me here),” she said.
At times, too, “mag-offer sila’g tabang (they offer to help out),” but Paloma said she prefers to do things on her own. “Dili ko ganahan nga naa mamuyboy (I don’t like it when people tell me I owe them something),” she said. “Mas gusto ko ako mismo ang gumagalaw (I prefer to take actions myself).”
The offer of help is actually needed because “lisod pud akong kinabuhi (my life has been hard).” Paloma earns from selling stuff approximately P300 per day, though most days, “dili kaabot ana (I don’t even reach that).” This money is hardly enough to buy “mga panganihanglan namo (our basic needs).”
Incidentally, “nakatabang pud si Mayor (Duterte) nako (Mayor Duterte has also helped me),” Paloma smiled. “Nag-donate ug goods nga nakatabang sa adlaw-adlaw (He donated some goods that helped in our daily needs).”
Then she added, with a smile: “Pero ang ‘Pilar Pilapil’, ako lang gapalit. Kinahanglan pud baya aron ma-flawless ta; ug aron magka-lubot ta (But I spend on my own for my hormones. I also need this to have good skin and voluptuous body).” Apparently, “dili man ko kakuha ug pills sa Social Hygiene Clinic kay para sa bilat lang man ihatag, dili sa trans (I can’t ask for pills from the Social Hygiene Clinic because they only give these to those who were assigned female at birth, not to transgender women).”
Davao is actually considered the “least poor” among cities and municipalities in Mindanao, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), with the city having 13.2% poverty incidence rate in the 2009 Small Area Estimates of poverty among population by the World Bank and NSCB. But for those looking for a “face” of the impoverished in the city, Paloma (and her family) qualifies.
“Wala mi kuryente (We don’t have electricity),” she said to explain the darkness that envelopes her house by 6.00PM every day. This has been like this for her and her father for months now “kay wala ko P2,000 ika-bayad sa kuryente (I don’t have P2,000 to pay for electric connection).”
They use gasera (gas lamp), instead, even if “lisod makit-an tanan (it doesn’t allow you to see everything).”
But as if her impoverished state is not enough hardship for Paloma, she’s actually also a person living with HIV (PLHIV).
Paloma used to work in Manila, and at that time, “pamhin jud ko (I presented myself as a cisgender gay man),” she said. “Naa ko bangas, dude-dude pa jud (I had beard, and I referred to others as ‘dude’).”
It was while she was working in Manila when Paloma believed she was infected with HIV. “Didto ko naka-avail sa promo (It was there where I availed of the ‘promo’).”
With a CD4 count of five, Paloma returned to Davao, expecting for the worst to happen.
Region XI – where Davao City is – reported 58 of the 751 new cases from all over the Philippines in February 2016. The region is actually among the areas that continue to register high HIV infection rates; from January 1984 to February 2016, the region had 1,871 (6% of the country’s total) cases.
While Paloma was recuperating from an opportunistic infection, she got involved with local HIV-related organizations, eventually becoming a peer counselor. And it was what she learned that: 1) helped her face life, and 2) is now helping her help others.
“Niadtong nahibal-an sa mga silingan nga naka-jackpot ko, grabe ang tsismis (When the neighbors discovered I’m HIV-positive, the gossiping was never ending),” Paloma said.
But Paloma said that “nawala man ang kahadlok sa ako-a (the fear about me subsided),” she said. “Karon, gahatag ko’g HIV 101; pati skimiling (Now, I give them HIV 101; as well as condoms and lube).”
Paloma likes to think that she’s been effective in sharing her experience. “Importante nga safe sex jud kay kung dili, hala, maka-avail mo sa ‘jackpot round’ (Safer sex is important, else you’d put yourself at risk for HIV infection).”
Paloma remains optimistic that so long as one adapts accordingly in life, life won’t always be bad. “Uyon uyon lang (You just go with the flow),” she said. “Happy happy lang (Just be happy).”
It is because that she’s living positively that Paloma has found love – i.e. she has a partner for almost two years now, and “kahibalo siya sa akong status (he knows my HIV status).”
For Paloma, “walay makatabang sa ato-a kundi atoang kaugalingon (no one can help us but ourselves),” she said.
Paloma, nonetheless, stresses the need “nga magtarong sa life aron dili ta mapahamak, ug dili pud mapahamak ang uban (that we live life accordingly so we don’t harm ourselves, and we don’t put others at risk),” she said. “Ipakita nga honest ka sa people, honest ka sa imong sarili (Show people your honesty, and be honest to yourself).”
And so life continues for this rayna sa Dabaw…
‘Tao rin kami’
Trans community leader from Caloocan City, Jenica Madridazon, may have been accepted by her family, but she knows this is not always true for every LGBTQIA person. So – as she calls for LGBTQIA people to show their true selves – she says that society should already recognize that LGBTQIA people are no different from them, just wanting to be loved.
Jenica Madridazon was seven years old when she realized she’s transgender. “Nung bata pa ako, may tita po akong transgender din (While growing up, I also had a transgender auntie),” she recalled. “Mga damit niya po… sinusuot ko po kung wala po siya. Ayun, na-feel ko po, I am a girl (I used to put on her clothes when she wasn’t around. And it made me feel that I am a girl).”
Her family – originally from Malabon, and which only moved to Caloocan in 2000 when her mother moved there to be with her new partner – accepted her. “Wala po akong naging problema (I didn’t have problems),” Jenica said. “Tinanggap po nila ako nang buong puso (They accepted me wholeheartedly).”
This may be because her family believes they have members who are predisposed to being LGBTQIA since there are already a number of them.
Jenica is proud to also stress that even her elder brother, a policeman – who is in a profession that is stereotypically anti-LGBTQIA – is accepting of her. “Wala po (siyang) pag-alinlangan na tanggapin ako kung ano ako (He never had misgivings accepting me as me).”
Now 31 years old, Jenica helps a relative manage a boutique shop in Malabon. This is her main source of income now.
She’s also in a six-year relationship, and she lives with her male partner. “A lot of people say that heterosexual men only have sex with gay men or transgender women in exchange for money,” Jenica said, “but not all men are like this.”
Jenica believes that there are men “na mahal mo talaga at ang ibibigay sa iyo ay tunay na pagmamahal (who you love and will return that love).”
To other LGBTQIA people, Jenica said: “Hindi tayo isang sakit… para itago natin (We are not an illness that should be hidden).”
She recognizes that there are a growing number of LGBTQIA organizations “that can help us; so huwag na kayo matakot mag-out (don’t be afraid to come out).”
In the end, people need to wake up, she said, and realize the need to stop bullying LGBTQIA people. “Gusto po nating imulat ang (mata ng) mga tao na bata pa lang po (ang mga LGBTQIA), tanggapin na natin. Huwag po silang kutyain… dahil tatanim sa isipan nila kung paano niyo sila nilait (We want people to start accepting LGBTQIA people, even when they’re still young. Stop bullying them because they will never forget how you belittled them).”
For Jenica, “tao rin po kami na nagmamahal, nasasaktan… Sana isipin nyo rin po na tao rin po kami na kailangan ng tunay na pagmamahal. Yakapin nyo rin po kami na bilang isang tao (we’re also human beings who love, who get hurt… People should see us as just human beings also looking to be loved. Embrace us as human beings).”
Be who you are
Lars Velasquez, a trans community leader in Barangay Sangandaan in Caloocan City, wasn’t always openly accepted by members of her family. They eventually warmed to her; and she now says that society should accept LGBTQIA people because one’s SOGIE does not make one bad, just human.
While growing up, Lars Velasquez realized it’s really hard to be trans “because hindi naman talaga maiintindihan kung ano ka, at matatanggap kung ano ba talaga and isang transgender o LGBT (many people do not comprehend what you are, or accept your being transgender or being part of the LGBTQIA community).”
But Lars – a community leader in Caloocan City – is somewhat forgiving of this because at least for her, “hindi naman po makukuha natin agad ang simpatiya ng isang tao, or yung acceptance po para sa isang katulad natin (we really can’t expect people to immediately sympathize with us, or immediately accept people like us).”
Lars, 34, was originally from Dagupan City. She realized she’s trans when she was seven years old, even if she transitioned (only) when she was 21. She said that her mom always knew she’s part of the LGBTQIA community, so she was more accepting. Her father, however, had a harder time accepting her, so “inunti-unti niya na lang po ako tanggapin (he had to learn to accept me little by little),” she said. Her female siblings followed after her mom, immediately accepting her; but her male siblings followed after her dad, taking their time before accepting her.
Lars said life wasn’t always easy.
For instance, she is now taking up nursing. But earlier, in 2005, she actually had to stop going to school because “hindi nila allowed ang transgender na (magdamit-babae) (they used to not allow transgender people to dress according to their identity),” she said. “I just went back (to school) this year (when they changed the policy to allow transgender people to attend classes while dressed according to their gender identity).”
Lars is now an “ate (elder sister)” for many young gay and transgender people in Barangay Sangandaan. And as such, she tries to help make the “trans-nene (colloquially: young transgender Filipinos)” have a more enjoyable life. She helped organized a beauty pageant for them, for one, to “help them showcase themselves.” For Lars, seeing the younger ones happy “inspires me.”
To other LGBTQIA people, Lars said “it’s okay to be (such) so long as you are a good person. Be who you are. Huwag mag-alipusta or gumawa ng nakakasama sa ibang tao (Don’t belittle other people, or do them harm).”
To non-LGBTQIA people, she said that it’s high time that they realize not to bully or “put down LGBTQIA people because (our SOGIE) does not make us bad.”
Old and gay
“Ninang” Cordero from Caloocan City says it isn’t always difficult to grow old and gay in the Philippines, even as he calls for society to accept LGBTQIA people already. He wants for the younger LGBTQIA Filipinos to heed their elders and focus on learning.
“Ninang” Cordero – who said he is used to living alone, having been doing so since after high school – was in Grade 6 when he realized he’s gay.
“Ang mga kabarkada ko, mga babae (My friends were all girls),” he said, adding that his posse then was also composed of other gay boys like him.
He was “lucky” because his parents took it… quite well. This may be because they’re used to it since “may relatives din ako na T-bird tsaka gay sa mother’s side ko (I also had lesbian and gay relatives at my mother’s side of the family).”
He was – not surprisingly – closer to his mom’s family because his father’s relatives were, in his recollection, “halang and bituka (literally: bad/evil people; idiomatically: evil in nature).” Ninang believes he inherited his being gay from his mom’s side.
Growing up gay, he didn’t have a hard life, referring to it overall as “okay”. He said he was able to go where he wanted to, do what he wanted, and no one reprimanded them for it.
But Ninang admitted he also encountered criticisms for being gay, and people talking behind him because he’s gay.
All the same, “ini-ignore lang namin kasi baka gumulo lang (we just ignore them because heeding them can just cause trouble),” he said. “Ayaw namin ng magulong buhay (We don’t want a troublesome life).”
Looking back, Ninang said he’s been in multiple relationships already. But he learned that it’s difficult to “invest in love”. This is because “talo ka parati kung ibubuhos mo lahat ng pagmamahal mo sa isang lalaki (giving your all to one man is futile).”
Though he worked as a hairdresser, now in his older age, he is a vendor, selling food for breakfast, lunch and snacks in the barangay (village) he’s at. “Yun na lang ang kinabubuhay ko (That’s now my source of income).”
Ninang said growing old as a gay man isn’t necessarily bad. “Basta masaya ka (As long as you’re happy),” he said, and “wala ka naaapakan (you don’t do harm to others).” The goal for him is to have a “peaceful life.”
With growing older, there’s this desire to help younger people that “the life of LGBTQIA people should also be respected.”
For the young LGBTQIA people, Ninang said they should prioritize education, and “huwag muna lumandi-landi (don’t be lewd/promiscuous),” he said, adding that they should listen to their parents/elders.
And for society in general, Ninang calls for acceptance because LGBTQIA people are no different from others. “Kaming mga bakla (LGBTQIA people like us), even if we’re like this, we’re still human. We also have hearts, and also fear God.”
Being gay is no hindrance to success
Jairo Bolledo – who was raised by a single mom – once thought that living as a gay person “can break you because you are always looking over your shoulder.” But graduating Magna Cum Laude at PUP, he now says that “being gay was never, and will never be a hindrance to be successful in life.”
John Robert “Jairo” Dela Cruz Bolledo was seven years old when he realized he was attracted to other boys. He admitted being “initially confused”, noting that he felt like he was different from other kids.
But that was also the time when his uncles forced him to shout: “Lalaki ako (I’m a man)!”, which was kind of traumatizing for him. Also, “in school, I remember (that other boys) sometimes get awkward kapag nakakasabay ko sila sa CR (when we’re in the toilet together).”
Jairo was 16 when he “fully” came out, at first to his ate (elder sister) and his mom. He was “lucky” because they didn’t express alarm. And so he grew up in a family that helped him “find wholeness”.
Jairo – who was born to a carpenter and a dressmaker in Obando, Bulacan – has three siblings, all raised by “a mom who worked to the bone seven days a week. She worked Mondays to Saturday as a seamstress, and would be a housemaid during Sundays,” he said.
“I never felt pressued,” he said – e.g. growing up fatherless (his father died of cancer when he was about to turn one), his mom never pushed him to like girls.
Life wasn’t always easy for them. As a child, Jairo said he used to walk with “magkaibang pares ng sapatos at sira-sirang bag (different pairs of shoes, and a tattered bag)” to get through elementary and high school.
But his mom always taught him “to have pride in whatever ascpect of who (I am).”
Jairo “went out of (my way) to pursue higher learning,” eventually pursuing a journalism degree in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
Even then, he recalled some people using the word gay countless times to put him down. “My response was: ‘As if being an excellent person can be tarnished by being gay. I am gay and I excelled in everything.’”
Jairo graduated Magna Cum Laude. But he lost his mom just a month before his graduation; she wasn’t able to to see the son she taught to take pride get the diploma they all worked hard to get.
Prepare a tissue for this ❤Posted by Rona Bolledo-Santiago on Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Right after graduating, he got hired as a researcher for a program at TV network GMA. He also decided to return to PUP’s College of Communication to teach.
There was a time when Jairo said he thought that living as a gay person “can break you because you are always looking over your shoulder.” But now – and knowing better – “Being gay was never, and will never be a hindrance to be successful in life. Our perspectives are relative. You can’t force them to accept the reality that we believe in. I think it’s always a matter of respect. If you can’t accept, just respect.”
Trans and Muslim
An interview with a human rights defender from General Santos City, Ali Macalintal, who is also trans and Muslim. As she calls for LGBT acceptance, she believes that the struggle for social justice needs to be holistic and shouldn’t neglect other minorities in society.
Growing up, trans woman Ali Macalintal never wanted to do what boys her age did. “Nasa puso ko na talaga na ako ay isang nagbababae (In my heart, I always identified with being a girl),” she said. And then she started having boy crushes, and it made her further realize that, yes, she is part of the LGBTQIA community.
The big “challenge” for Ali even then was her belonging to the Maguindanao ethnic group of people in southern Philippines, which is part of the wider Moro ethnic group. And being LGBTQIA is – generally speaking – still condemned in Islam (a “great sin”).
The now 32-year-old Ali remembered one time, during Ramadan (a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims), when she was asked by her father what she wanted to be. “I sort of knew what he was asking; but I wasn’t ready to give him an answer,” she recalled.
Knowing she couldn’t lie, she said: “I want to be a lawyer.”
But her father was adamant, asking her directly if “gusto mo magka-GF o BF (if I wanted to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend)?”
With tears in her eyes, Ali told her father that she wanted to have a BF.
Her father embraced her, to her surprise, and he told her: “Alam mo na kung and ang gusto mo at sino ka. Dahil kung hindi mo matanggap kung sino ka, mahihirapan ka (Now you know who and what you are. Because if you can’t accept yourself, you will have a hard time).”
But not everyone is as lucky as Ali, and she recognizes this.
In fact, she knows the “double discrimination” encountered by Muslims who are also LGBTQIA – i.e. you get discriminated for being a Muslim, and then you get discriminated as LGBTQIA. This does not include (even) further discrimination from within the minority communities one belongs to – e.g. Muslims can discriminate LGBTQIA people; just as LGBTQIA people can also discriminate Muslims.
This recognition of the harshness of life for people like her pushed Ali to become a human rights defender, working for a non-government organization in General Santos City, south of the Philippines.
Ali believes in a holistic approach to the struggle for human rights.
“Mahirap sa LGBTQIA community na kumilos na sila lang (It’s hard for the LGBTQIA community to fight on its own),” she said. “Naniniwala aka sa sama-sama nating pagkilos (I believe in unified struggle).”
This is because, she said, the struggle for social justice of the LGBTQIA community is no different from the struggle of other minority sectors – e.g. Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, persons with disability, seniors, Muslims, et cetera.
“We will succeed only if the effort is multi-sectoral,” she said.
Particularly addressing other transgender Muslims (and Lumads/Indigenous People), Ali said that – to begin – one needs to find oneself and then find pride in that. “Remember that whatever we are, whatever our gender identity may be, we need to be open to accept ourselves,” she said.
With self-acceptance, she said, it is easier to push others to accept “our identity also as children of God, of Allah.”
Andrea finds her groove
What is it like to be trans in General Santos City in southern Philippines? Local trans leader Andrea Faith Mahiwaga shares how going mainstream actually helped her push for LGBTQIA human rights.
Even as a kid, Andrea Faith Mahiwaga always knew she was “different”. The 30-year-old trans woman from General Santos City in southern Philippines recalled preferring to dress up using her mother’s bra and “kumot (blanket)” that she turned into a flowing dress. So – in a way – even as early as then, she “sort of” already knew she was a woman even if she was assigned male at birth.
At first, Andrea said she was “gay lang (a gay man).” But “na-feel ko, babae ako (I identified more as a woman).” So when she finished high school, she started identifying as a trans woman.
She was somewhat lucky since most of her family accepted – and even supported – her, including her mother and siblings. When she was “at that stage when I liked joining beauty pageants,” Andrea recalled, “my brother was my loudest cheerleader; and my sisters lent me their clothes.”
It was only her father who had misgivings, even if – in hindsight – Andrea said that it must have been because of his worry for her. And this was somewhat grounded in truth, according to Andrea. One time, for example, while walking in the plaza right in front of the city hall of General Santos, she remembered being verbally harassed. “Young men shouted at me,” she recalled, “saying: ‘Here comes a walking source of money.’”
This mockery is based on the false belief that members of the LGBTQIA community only deserve to be given attention if they “pay” for it – e.g. heterosexual-identifying men will only pay attention/have sex with gay/bi men or trans women if they pay for the “favor”.
Andrea said that – particularly in the past – “we just had to bear the taunting” because of the absence of legal protection for LGBTQIA people.
This is why Andrea believes in the relevance of having a law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people.
Fortunately for LGBTQIA people in General Santos City, there is actually already an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that mandates their non-discrimination while in the city. So “na-enjoy na namin ngayon ang maging LGBTQIA (we can now enjoy being LGBTQIA),” Andrea said.
“May batas para pangalagaan ang environment. May batas para pangalagaan ang hayop (We have laws protecting the environment. We have laws protecting animals),” she said. So “why can’t we have a law to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people?” For her, having a law gives “essence” to the struggle for human rights; that “LGBTQIA rights are also human rights.”
Andrea now works with the government, as an assistant administrator in Barangay Calumpang and in education monitoring by supervising day care workers in the barangay.
In a way, too, all her life, Andrea has been proving that she is more than a member of the LGBTQIA community, that she isn’t just doing things because she just wants to have sex with men. To her father, for instance, she had to prove that she can be “successful” even as a trans woman. And even now in her work, she continuously has to prove that she’s not there just to “biga-biga (a local term used to refer to people who are only looking for sexual partners, so that even if they do tasks, it is only to allow them to get sexual favors from doing these tasks – Ed).” Andrea, therefore, has to always police her own actions, so that “wala naman aka bastos na pinapakita (I don’t show them anything that isn’t socially acceptable).”
For Andrea, though, “kung pursigido ka sa life, yun ang nag-ma-matter (if you work hard in life, that’s what matters).”
She also tries to inject some LGBTQIA-related teaching in her job – e.g. when asked to speak to schools, she would tell people about her struggles as a trans woman; and how others can help make sure that other LGBTQIA people do not experience the same because of discrimination.
Andrea also handles Trans GenSan Organization, a community-based organization advocating for trans rights in General Santos City.
In the end, “huwag tayong matakot ipakita kung ano tayo (we shouldn’t be afraid to show who we really are),” Andrea said. “Just be who you are.”