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AR Arcon: Fighting for transgender men’s health rights

Meet AR Arcon, who spent his teenage years inside the closet, considering that even at a young age, he knew he’s different from his assigned sex. Having found himself, he started a small group of Filipino FTM (female to male) identifying individuals, with the group becoming one of the first organizations of transgender men in the Philippines.

By AR Arcon

AR Arcon

I did not know of the word “transgender” until the age of 25. Before coming to this age, my teenage years were spent inside the closet. With my family belonging to a strict religion where males and females are seated separately inside the church, I knew from then, even at a young age, that I am different from my assigned sex. But what am I ? Mama would only buy me skirts and blouses, I couldn’t tell her how it was discomforting to wear them; that when I go outside, neighbors would ridicule me. Outside the house, I was often referred to as “tomboy” which I hated. I grew up very shy, even to my relatives. I disliked speaking in front of people. I didn’t realize I was slowly withdrawing myself from the world.

In college, during my last year, I was questioned of why I was wearing male clothes and was not allowed to present my paper. I left school, an undergrad. I started working as a barista at a coffeeshop. My boss then would not allow me to work if I don’t wear make-up. I told them I do not identify as female; they would not take me seriously. Back then, I didn’t know of a term to use in explaining my gender identity. My supervisors would take it as a joke on me to make me wear make-up or I can not do the job. They never know how these rejections had impacted my being.

Upon learning of transgenderism, I worked my way to getting my first vial of hormones, and succeeded. “Freedom here I come”, was how I felt. I didn’t use it until after some months of researching though; I didn’t wanna risk my health. I wanted the freedom to last long. Finally, there exist this word that best describes me and my identity. I found my true self. Have you ever felt what it’s like to be homeless for a long time? That feeling of wanting to belong – I am finally home.

I then started a small group of Filipino FTM (female to male) identifying individuals like me. This group has become one of the first organizations of transgender men in my country. Back then, we realized that our main challenge is that we don’t have a proper process of transitioning. Most FTM guys undergo hormone replacement therapy without medical and psychological guidance, risking our health and lives for the exchange of aligning the inner selves to the outer.

A year into transition, we’ve found doctors. To most of them, our case of being “transgender” was the first time they ever heard of it, and they had no idea what to do with us. One of the worst case is that, one endocrinologist who has been helping our group decided to stop guiding us, for the reason that it is against her personal beliefs (religion), lectured us that what we do with our body is not Godly, and then later on refused to provide us copy of our medical records. This sad experience has led some of the guys to resort to self-medication.

At the present time, we only know of very few trans-friendly doctors, but the number of transgender patients are undoubtedly growing fast. I myself can only be as vigilant as I can for my own health as well as for the trans people I know of.

As I am writing this life story, I am hoping that… these urgent trans health issues will be addressed, for I know that after my “2nd puberty” I want to live life fully – and longer.

This is the speech delivered by AR Arcon at the regional dialogue on LGBTI rights and health in Asia and the Pacific, held in Bangkok, Thailand. Arcon is with PinoyFTM.

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