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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

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.

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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.”

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).

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The sign of beauty

Meet Apple Fritz Bela, a Deaf transgender woman from Antipolo, who is a regular in the beauty pageant circles. She believes that, no, her being PWD is not reason for her not to compete; and yes, exactly because she’s different, hopefully others will see the real beauty of diversity. And so she says to other PWDs: “Every time we show we can, we’re making a mark.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

The first time transgender woman Apple Fritz Bela, 18, joined a beauty pageant was in 2018; and it was a “challenge.” As a Deaf person, she knew that she was already at a disadvantage. For instance, during rehearsals, she did not even have an interpreter (a recurring issue in all pageants she joined, actually), and so she had to resort to just mimicking the other contestants, instead of actually getting the instructions on what she is supposed to do.

That year, she signed to me, “I did not win.”

But for Apple, the challenges she faced as a Deaf beauty pageant contestant (and even the eventual losing) are “minor issues,” she said.

She is, after all, “doing what I want to do.” And while at it, “showcasing that – if/when given the same opportunity – people like me, a Deaf transgender woman, can also shine.”

The first time I met Apple was at the Queen of Antipolo 2019, a beauty pageant helmed by the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization (TAO), helmed by Ms Shane Madrigal with Kagawad Kristine Ibardolaza of Barangay Mayamot. At that time, too, she had no interpreter; but she was gearing to be part of arguably the most prestigious beauty pageant for transgender people in these parts of Luzon.

Apple – at that time seated at the corner of this makeshift dressing room in front of a mall in Antipolo – was surrounded by over five people. These were her “handlers”, the people who made sure she looked her best before she went onstage to compete. All of her handlers are Hearing; and none knows how to sign.

Apple can speak. And so now and then, she would utter words to her handlers – e.g. the light is too bright, turn the fan that way, and so on. But the conversations with others are almost always immediately limited by her inability to hear their attempted responses.

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Apple was chatty with me then; even if it proved difficult because her handlers were moving around her as they dolled her up. But she tried to converse anyway, now and then looking over the shoulder of any person standing in front of her so I could see her sign.

“A friend introduced me to pageantry,” she said, adding – even if it was only a year ago – with a smile: “I was younger then.”

She was shy when she first joined pageants, particularly because of her “difference”, she said. But Apple eventually got the hang of it.

Joining a pageant, said Apple, was an expected “progression” for Apple. Sans knowledge of SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression), she said she feels she is a woman; but that because she has yet to do gender affirmation surgery, she does not see herself as a transgender person. But it is this “feeling as a woman” that sort of encouraged her to join pageants; a means – for her – to celebrate beauty.

Apple was around three years old when she lost her hearing. At first, she said, she could hear; but then she gradually became deaf. Growing up, the hearing continued to deteriorate. She never knew what went wrong; just that she stopped being able to hear.

She was in high school when she started learning sign language. Her sign is a mix of Filipino Sign Language and American Sign Language; and when she doesn’t understand a sign, she almost always reverts back to fingerspelling. And always, she does this with a wide smile.

Apple’s parents are still around – i.e. her father works as a tricycle driver, and her mother is an overseas Filipino worker in Kuwait. She also has a brother. All of them are Hearing. All of them – she said – readily accept her. She still lives with them, helping sustain herself by also giving make-up services.

This makes joining beauty pageants “easy”; a means for her, she said, to show that even Deaf people like her “CAN”. This is a way “to show everyone that even Deaf people have beauty, have brains/intelligence.”

Queen of Antipolo 2019 was, in a word, competitive. And not that surprising because the prize – amounting to tens of thousands of pesos – comes with the “rare opportunity,” said Apple, to “give voice to the transgender community of Antipolo.”

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And so, not surprisingly, the organizers are “strict”. The stage director was a common face behind the scene, barking her expectations – demands, even – for the candidates to do when onstage. No overstaying, she said. Comply with what was agreed upon during rehearsals. Otherwise, “face the consequences” – e.g. a microphone will be turned off even if a candidate is still talking (if she’s talking too long), or worse, she will be singled out by a public announcement before the next exposure is made.

But all these were lost on Apple. Called for an impromptu (and closed door) meeting of the candidates, for instance, she was without an interpreter, left to read lips or get the instructions from attempts to explain by the other candidates.

No worries, she said to me.

“You really just have to follow other people’s leads; you’ll be fine.”

Onstage, the pre-recorded videos of the candidates were already playing (before they were to be called out). Apple’s video was… surprising. In it, she was actually speaking, not signing. Her use of English tentative; but her message was the same: “I want to show to the world that we may be PWDs, but we can just be like everybody if given the chance.”

The competition went fast.

The candidates went onstage for a quick production number. Candidate number 11, Apple, just had to follow everyone’s lead; no mishap happened.

They then introduced themselves. Apple again chose to speak, not sign. It was, she said to me, just a quick introduction anyway; just to say her name, her age, and the barangay/village she came from. “No big deal.”

Even as the other candidates were still introducing themselves onstage, the others (who already finished doing so) were already prepping for the next exposure: the swimsuit competition.

No mishap happened – at least initially. Apple did what she was supposed to do.

But then while she was already being prepped for the evening gown competition, a member of the organizing team went backstage. Some electric fuse exploded; and the computers used by the judges went off before the scores were saved. So the candidates had to return onstage in their swimwear; to be graded/judged again.

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Apple, already half-dressed in her white gown, was at a loss; particularly when her handlers just attempted to change her gown into her already-discarded swimsuit. “Bakit (Why)?” she asked. None could eloquently explain to her the technical glitch that happened. Tempers flared; but no words were spoken.

With the repeat of the swimsuit competition done, the candidates paraded in their evening gowns. By then, people were shouting the numbers of the candidates they were supporting. Number 11 was among them.

When the special awards were given, Apple’s name was called for Miss Photogenic. She was fixing her gown then; ironing the skirt with her palm. Unaware that she won something. Two other candidates had to tap her on her shoulders, and then signal to her that she was being called. Apple looked up, a smile growing on her face, and then strutted in front to claim her prize.

But Apple didn’t make the final cut (top five).

And so off the stage she had to go with the other candidates who also didn’t place.

Backstage, she was misty-eyed. But I’d say she was on a better state; another losing candidate can be heard wailing inside the makeshift dressing room. Her smile widened again when she saw me.

“How do I feel that I didn’t place? Okay; just okay,” she signed to me. “What’s important is that I showed that I can also compete.”

She wiped the corners of her eyes, even if her smile stayed wide.

“In life, that’s what you do. You show up to fight. Even if you lose, you fought.”

Someone behind me caught her attention. She waved, and then mouthed “What?” to this person. She then gathered the flowing skirt of her gown, quickly turned to me to sign “Thank you”, and then headed to the person who caught her attention.

And as she walked away, into the arms of her friends/supporters, many tried to sign with her. Only one was intelligible: “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”

And there goes Apple Fritz Bela, a Deaf transgender woman who’s now a regular in the trans pageant circuit, helping redefine the sign of beauty… – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR. AND JOSHUA DOLENDO

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‘Labanan ang hamon ng buhay’

Cassie Jannelle Madridazon Gallardo, from Tugatog, Malabon City, was 18 when she ran away from home. She believed then that she can face life’s challenges away from her family. Now 22 and self-identifying as bakla/gay even as she sees herself as babae/woman, she says to people who consider themselves ‘normal’, and yet mock LGBTQIA people, “perhaps you’d also have LGBTQIA children. And they, too, will experience the kind of discrimination you give.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

There are people who will always hold back LGBTQIA people, said Cassie Jannelle Madridazon Gallardo, 22, from Tugatog, Malabon City. But these people should “know that we will keep fighting the challenges of life. We will do so no matter what they say, no matter how many times they mock us,” she said. This is because “I believe that people like us can confront what life throws at us.”

Cassie was 11 when she realized she’s different. At first, she identified as bakla/gay; though this was mostly because of the lack of word to use what she really felt even then.

“Even as a kid, I always wanted to be a girl; always thought I had the heart of a woman who loves only to get hurt,” Cassie said. “I saw myself as someone ridiculed by others but who fights back… Even if I don’t represent the ideal woman, in my heart, I am a woman.”

“People like you who consider yourselves ‘normal’, but who do not respect people like us, perhaps one day, you’d also have LGBTQIA children. And they, too, will experience the kind of discrimination you give.”

Cassie was 18 when she ran away from home and started living with, among others, her employers, friends and even strangers.

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But – to emphasize – Cassie’s decision to leave home was not because she experienced hardships there. Even at a young age, her mother was always supportive of her; and her siblings never gave her a hard time.

But “I said to myself then that I can face the challenges of life without depending on my parents,” she said.

It was while living away from home when she started living as a woman.

“The first name I gave myself was Scarlett. I patterned this after a gay mentor from overseas. The second name I gave myself was Cassie. The name given me at birth was Ronald; but nowadays, I identify with the name Cassie Jannelle Madridazon Gallardo.”

With a smile, though, she said with emphasis: “You may call me Bibe.” This, she said, was the gender-neutral name always used to refer to her, even when she was still a kid.

Cassie now works as a nanny. “I earn P3,000 in a month. I earn P1,500 every 15 days. This is okay for me. It pays for my needs,” she said.

Cassie still has lofty dreams, though. “I dream to become a dance choreographer, working in another country,” she said, adding that “I’m a good dancer” so “my dream is to use my talent.”

It is often when dancing that Cassie said she finds that “fire” in her.

“When it comes to dancing, expect me to be competitive,” she beamed. “Even if there’s a showdown, I don’t back out. With twerking, tumbling, vertical dancing – I won’t let others beat me. Competing when dancing, that’s what I want. You can’t beat me there!”

“I dream to become a dance choreographer, working in another country,” she said, adding that “I’m a good dancer” so “my dream is to use my talent.”

Though she mainly lives away from her family, she is okay with the other members of her family.

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“I am the youngest in the family. The goddess (of the family). I flirt a lot. The one with lots of boys. I’m the one who teases others a lot. I’m the one who’s always lewd. But this lewdness always makes people laugh. The way I present myself can make people crazy; but that’s just the way that I am,” Cassie said.

Cassie recalled how her siblings used to tell her: ‘You’re already gay; don’t do anything that will (further) ruin your being.'” Instead, they said to me, do what’s right.”

And this, said Cassie, is a guiding principle for her.

“I experienced discrimination when I was younger; but I just ignored the haters. With my relatives, though, I know they are proud of me. They know I am a good person. I do not hurt/step on other people,” she said.

Cassie was once hurt by loving; during her elementary days. That was when she told herself that “no one will get serious with me. So I’ll just flirt. My heart is now like a rock. I force myself to flirt with guys, but I never fell in love ever again. If you fall in love, don’t give everything. Leave something for yourself.”

Cassie sees herself as a fighter. “It isn’t difficult (to be LGBTQIA) because I face the challenges of life,” she said.

But she also recognizes that not everyone is like her.

This is why, for younger LGBTQIA people, she said: “Study hard. As long as your parents are there, as long as your siblings are there, study hard. Don’t end up like some of us who get discriminated. Hopefully, with the next generation, the lives of members of the LGBTQIA community (and trans, in particular) will be better.”

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Cassie also thinks that “other people should not judge easily particularly people like us. (Like others, we) just love. And yet we are ridiculed. People shouldn’t be like that. People should treat others as equals.”

“I experienced discrimination when I was younger; but I just ignored the haters. With my relatives, though, I know they are proud of me. They know I am a good person. I do not hurt/step on other people,” she said.

To people who keep holding LGBTQIA people back, “who keep belittling us, know that we will keep fighting the challenges of life. We will do so no matter what you say, no matter how many times you mock us. I believe that people like us can confront what life throws at us.

“But you, people like you who consider yourselves ‘normal’, but who do not respect people like us, perhaps one day, you’d also have LGBTQIA children. And they, too, will experience the kind of discrimination you give.”

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Perya ng buhay

From Bataan, peryante Louise David Flores – who self-identifies as bakla/gay man but lives as a woman – did not get the chance to be educated, so he believes his life won’t amount to anything. He wants other LGBTQIA people to grab all opportunities to better themselves and not have regrets.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“As a gay person, you have to learn to enjoy life. When you’re gay, you are ridiculed. But for me, when people belittle me, I say: ‘Take a rest!’”

So said Louise David Flores, 20, from Dinalupihan, Bataan.

Self-identifying as “bakla” (gay), Louise actually “lives as a girl” – perhaps exemplifying the still commonplace confusion with sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE) particularly among those living outside metropolitan areas in the Philippines.

With his father already dead, and his mother with another family (in Lubao, Pampanga), Louise currently lives with an aunt. “I hardly see (my mother),” he said. “Sometimes, I don’t even see her in a year.”

Louise was in Grade 6 when people teased him, referring to him as gay. “That’s also when I realized I’m really gay. I actually told myself: Maybe I’m really a woman,” he said.

And then one time, “I went home with my make-up on. I also started using women’s clothes then. My family didn’t stop me from living as I am; they accepted me immediately as a girl.”

Louise was in Grade 6 when people teased him, referring to him as gay. “That’s also when I realized I’m really gay. I actually told myself: Maybe I’m really a woman,” he said.

For Louise, it isn’t necessarily difficult to be LGBTQIA in Bataan. “This will depend on you – on whether you choose to enjoy your life,” he said. “Living a sad life or living happy – that’s entirely up to you. I say just enjoy life while you’re still alive.”

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Louise admitted that he also experienced discrimination, such as “when I step out of my house, or when I go to the public market. There are some people who’d call me a faggot,” he said. But “I just ignore them. Really, why give them attention? These people do not know that it’s nicer if they have friends who belong to the LGBTQIA community. So, for me, there’s no need to give them attention. I have lots of friends who accept me for who I am anyway.”

Louise currently works as a “peryante” (one who works in a fair/carnival). “We bring the fair/carnival to different places.”

For Louise, it isn’t necessarily difficult to be LGBTQIA in Bataan. “This will depend on you – on whether you choose to enjoy your life,” he said.

He actually started working early.

“I was 13 when I started working. My first job was in a farm, planting rice. There are lots of things to do in a farm. You can plant rice, harvest rice… you can do things like that.”

And now as a “peryante“, “I make people gamble. Our salary depends on the winnings. Sometimes, we just get twenty pesos for a day’s work. Sometimes we get nothing, particularly if we (the betting house) lose. So we don’t have regular earnings.”

Louise doesn’t believe that LGBTQIA (particularly gay-with-straight-identifying-men, which is still common in provincial areas) relationships are real.

“Among 100 men, only one man will truly love a gay man. And he may already be taken by someone,” he said. “And so I don’t take men seriously. I don’t take relationships seriously because the other party isn’t serious anyway. You can always tell when one is serious.”

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To younger LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “As long as someone wants to send you to school, study. I regret not going to school. I want to have a proper job, but I can’t get one because I did not have formal education.”

This is actually also why Louise has sort of lost hope already. “I don’t think I can still have a good future. Because I didn’t get formal education, I can’t find a good job. Maybe in the future, I’ll be stuck at home. I’ll do nothing but look after my nephews and nieces. Perhaps that’s what future holds for me.”

To younger LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “As long as someone wants to send you to school, study. I regret not going to school. I want to have a proper job, but I can’t get one because I did not have formal education.”

And to people who continue to belittle LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “Your ridicule reflects badly on you. Just because a person is gay, doesn’t mean you have any right to abuse him. Those who do this have narrow minds. Put yourself in the shoes of LGBTQIA people to know what they are going through.”

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The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“It is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

READ:  Briging: ‘Play for your passion’

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A devotion to public service

A former non-government organization worker on Boracay island, Raffy Cooper, 34, is the first gay barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan. While raising two of his three kids, he hopes younger LGBTQIA people to “better yourself until you’re ready to take flight.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

So said Raffy Cooper, the 34-year-old barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan (Malay is where Boracay is).

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Raffy was in Grade 1 when he said he noted having male crushes (his classmates). “I couldn’t explain why I had male crushes then,” he said, adding that he found this “peculiar so I didn’t entertain it then.”

In Grade 6, he became more effeminate; and by high school, “I got interested in using make-up, wearing clothes used by women, and joining gay beauty pageants. My life became complicated because of these.”

Initially, Raffy’s family wasn’t too shocked when they found out he’s gay. “Perhaps because slowly, they noticed I was different.”

Raffy’s aunties also used to dress him up in girls’ clothing, so the “progression” was expected.

But when he started joining beauty pageants, wearing clothes used by women, and even used hormone replacement, “they weren’t very comfortable with those,” he said, adding that the discomfort may have also been because “my family is very religious.”

Raffy has four siblings; all of them are boys. All his brothers didn’t want to have a gay sibling.

“But at the end of the day, with families, no matter the SOGIE you choose, if you love your family and if you don’t bring troubles (for the family), they’ll accept you,” he said. “They’ll come to love you, to accept you. And with what I’ve done in my life, they’re proud of me.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

Overall, by going through everything he did as a gay child, “I think it’s a good experience overall because it allowed me to discover what I can do. It also taught me how to (affect) people for them to realize that even if you are just like that, you still deserve respect.”

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Not surprisingly, Raffy calls for parents of LGBTQIA children to “respect your children. You won’t be able to change them by hitting them or by verbally abusing them, or by discriminating or treating them as less than your other children just because they are LGBTQIA. It’s important to support them so they don’t lose their way. There are parents who do not treat their LGBTQIA children rightly or equally. These LGBTQIA children lose their way; some run away. And when this happens, their lives are ruined. So it’s better to just also respect your LGBTQIA children.”

But he also wants young LGBTQIA people – particularly those still living at home – to obey their parents “because they are raising you. So, study. After studying, when you can support yourself and live away from them, then spread your wings like a butterfly and do whatever you want.”

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Coming as a surprise for many, Raffy actually had a wife; and they have three kids.

“I’m not okay with my wife now,” so “two of my kids are with me now; I send them to school. Our youngest child is with my wife because it’s still a baby.”

Raffy said that having a wife was “somewhat surprising not just for my family but even my community. But what’s important is that I’ve been a good father to my children. I do everything I can to offer the best quality of life to my children, the best education.”

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Raffy believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community. So my children are never underestimated for having a gay father. I think the community even loves them more because I am their father.”

With raising kids as a gay father, “I am more gender-sensitive. Perhaps with straight fathers, there’s this imposition on kids to be macho.”

Raffy’s son, for instance, is not into sports. “He doesn’t like getting dirty or being sweaty. Perhaps if his father isn’t gay, he’d be asked why he’s like that, and he’d be forced to play – say – basketball. For me, it’s okay if he doesn’t like sports. I don’t think (that by not being sporty) he has plans to be part of the LGBTQIA community. But whatever his plans in life are, I’ll support him.”

Raffy Cooper believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community.”

Though he finished BS Biology in college, Raffy’s career path has not be aligned with that field.

“Currently, I’m the barangay secretary of Caticlan. I started working as the barangay secretary last June (2018). This is my first time in public service. I used to work for a non-government organization. Perhaps I caught the eye of the barangay captain, who asked me to work for him. I am enjoying my work because I am directly dealing with people, and I am able to help somehow.”

This is the first time that a member of the LGBTQIA community became a barangay secretary in Raffy’s place, and “my presence there is (deemed) peculiar… a little more colorful. Many are happy with this.”

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Should he choose to also become a local leaders, “my first priority will be empowerment,” Raffy said. “I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is also actually the reigning Queen of Aklan.

When he was younger, he regularly joined beauty pageants, going to far areas just to do so. But he stopped when he had his family.

And then they had Queen of Aklan, and “I got interested to join. Its advocacy was good.”

Malay, where Boracay is, has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Aklan. Meanwhile, Aklan has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Western Visayas.

Boracay is a hotspot for HIV infection because it’s a tourism area. “Here we can say that sex work is also rampant, including members of the LGBTQIA community. This is tolerated, and even accepted, because it’s a product of the tourism industry,” Raffy said. “I’m not saying it’s the main product of the tourism industry, but it’s happening. It’s the reality.”

Raffy thinks that “if we will encourage these people to know their HIV status and teach them how to protect themselves from HIV, the number of people getting infected in Aklan will lessen.” And so for Raffy, “it is very important for a person like me who has the voice for the community to join a contest that will raise awareness about HIV.”

Luckily, he said, he won.

“I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is big on education.

“When you’re LGBTQIA, invest first in your education. Because in the future, you will need a job. You won’t just party or sleep around. It’s okay to discover yourself. But at the end of the day, you have to invest in your education.”

He also sees this as an important tool for self-empowerment.

“To members of the LGBTQIA community, continue to empower yourself. Don’t consider yourself as a lesser human being than other people. You should always be proud of yourself, and always do your best.”

And to people who may continue to frown upon LGBTQIA people: “I think it’s time (for people) to be open-minded that the world is not only filled with straight men and women. There are also people who chose different ways to express themselves/their SOGIE. So we have to be respectful. At the end of the day, your life won’t change by forcing other people to change.”

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#KaraniwangLGBT

The dancemaker

When bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog – 26 years old, from Parañaque City – was told he couldn’t dance, he persevered and eventually formed his own dance group. More than a passion, dancing helped him finance his family’s needs. He now says that “if you really want to dance, even if you’re LGBT, you can – and should – dance.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“For me, even if you’re an LGBTQIA person, you can also dance if you really want to dance. And you can do any genres – ballet, jazz, street dance… There’s no dance that is just for LGBTQIA people. Whoever you may be, whatever you may be, if dancing is your passion, you can dance. Everyone’s equal when dancing. Any genre is accessible for people who want to dance no matter the level of their talent so long as they have the passion.”

So said bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog, 26 years old, a dancer cum choreographer with his own dance group in Parañaque City.

Lee Magdaraog thinks that “it’s also easy for (my family) to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee was in sixth grade when he knew he “may be bakla (gay).” “But I hid this from everyone because I didn’t want to be bullied. I was also afraid to come out because of discrimination,” he recalled. The realization came “when I started getting attracted to other men, but I was ashamed to show it.”

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Fortunately for Lee, “my family accepted me; I have another sibling who’s gay. I also know that they’ll accept me whoever/whatever I may be.”

Lee also thinks that “it’s also easy for them to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee eventually identified as bi.

He discovered dancing unintentionally”.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t really like dancing. I liked singing then. But one person made me try dancing, so I did. There was one problem: I wasn’t very good at it. But it still inspired me, it motivated me. It feels good to dance,” he said.

And then there was one person who belittled Lee, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way. My goal was to become a dancer; it was my dream and I believed I can attain this dream.”

Eventually, he founded his own dance group.

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better so that they can still fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Their dance group has approximately 100 members, divided into five sub-groups. He oversees them all, even if they are – in a way – autonomous. “Dumarating sa punto na nag-lalaban-laban kami (There are times we battle each other),” he said, “pero lagi ko sinasabi sa kanila na kahit ano pa ang desisyon ng judges, hindi kami kalaban. I-enjoy lang nila ang pagsasayaw (but I always tell them that whatever the judges’ decision may be, we’re not really competitors. So better to just enjoy the dancing).”

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His dance group does different dances – e.g. jazz, modern dance, hip hop, fire dance and poi dance. “We try everything, believing that if we can, we should do all dances.”

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better.”

Dancing, said Lee, isn’t cheap.

“To be good at dancing, we join workshops given by good choreographers from all over the Philippines and even globally. This gives us knowledge about dancing,” he said. “By joining these workshops, we are also able to share the knowledge to those who can’t afford to pay to attend these same workshops.”

Lee spends from P150 to over P1,000 to attend a workshop, depending on what the workshop is for, and who is giving the workshop.

Lee’s dance group also gives “street dancing” a literal meaning – i.e. they often rehearse on the streets.

“It’s challenging for us to rehearse on the streets because we can’t control what happens there. Like when it rains, we don’t know where to rehearse. Or sometimes, there’s no proper lighting. We do everything in the dark, just as long as we can rehearse,” he said. “Other dance groups have dance studios, where they can see all the dance moves. But for us, we just have to be meticulous when checking the moves of every member. And because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

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For Lee, while dancing can be challenging, some can make a living from it. “If you’re serious about it, you can earn from this,” he said. “Using your talent, you can earn from this. Like when doing fire dancing, which is in demand particularly during summer. Or poi dancing. Or doing backup dance in corporate events. You can definitely make a living from dancing. But you also have to invest in it.”

In his case in particular, because of dancing, “I’ve been able to help send my siblings to school. I’ve helped in buying my father’s medicines. I also give money for expenses at home. I may not be giving money regularly, but when I have earnings, I try to help out.”

There was one person who belittled Lee Magdaraog, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way.”
“Because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

Lee’s message to LGBTQIA people who want to dance: “It really feels good to dance. There will be lots of difficulties. Because when you dance, you won’t immediately be on top. You have to go through steps, through levels. But if you really want this, if you’re really serious about this, you can attain your dream to be a dancer.”

But aligned with his teaching that dancing is for everyone, he said that “I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change. The young should learn about respect, and dancing, can teach this, along with discipline and nurturing of dreams.”

To people who continue bashing the LGBTQIA community, “I pray for you,” Lee said. “I’m even thankful to you. You challenge/inspire us to do better and succeed in life.”

“I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change.”

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