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.”
Jelly Ace was around nine or 10 when her uncle caged her. Her uncle, she said, “presohon ko sa tangkal/preso sa manok (put me inside the cage for the chickens).” This was because her uncle did not approve with her personhood. “Dili siya musugot (he did not agree with my being).”
Jelly Ace’s uncle – the husband of her maternal aunt – started caring for her when her mother left her to go with her third “bana (husband).” “Naminyo man ako mama ug lain. Naa na siya anak uban so gibiyaan na ko niya (My mother married another man. She had children with that man so she abandoned me),” she said.
At that time, Jelly Ace self-identified as “bag-o nga bayot (literally: “new gay person”; though, as used colloquially, also referring to young gay boys who will replace the older gay generation). “Nakulatahan pud ko… nasumbagan. Kay maglagot man siya nako kay bayot daw ko (I was also bashed… punched. Because he said he was annoyed with me for being gay),” she said.
Initially, Jelly Ace said it was nothing serious. “Mukatawa man siya pagsulod niya sa ako sa kulungan, so mukatawa pud ko (He would be laughing while he placed me inside the cage, so I also laughed),” she said. “Dili ko niya buy-an kuno kung dili ko mulalaki (He said he wouldn’t free me unless I ‘became a man’/masculine).”
But then “buy-an ko niya, udto na o hapon na (he’d free me only at lunch or in the afternoon).” By then, she remembered being hungry, but – not knowing what else to do – she would just sit there, “muhuwat lang jud ko (and just wait).”
Jelly Ace’s uncle wasn’t the only one who abused her. She grew up with three cousins, two of them boys, and like their father (Jelly Ace’s uncle), they had “gaan ila kamot (literally: “light hands”, though also referring to the ease that some people use their hands for abuse),” she said. “Ila pud ko sumbagon (They also used to hit me).”
Her aunt saw Jelly Ace getting abused. “Pero deadma, tan-aw ra siya, wala gihimo (But she was apathetic, she just watched, she didn’t do anything).” Also, “wala pud ko nisumbong sa ako teachers. Maulaw ko (I didn’t tell my teachers. I was ashamed/embarrassed).” Similarly, “I didn’t know makatug-an ka sa pulis, o sa barangay (I didn’t know you could report to the police, or to the village officials).”
From the start, Jelly Ace’s guardians also told her that they were only willing to provide her “gamay nga kaon ug stay lang (some food and a place to stay).” And so, for Jelly Ace to be able to go to school, she had to start working even when she was still in Grade 6 (in the Philippines, usually aged 12).”So mag-sideline ko sa silingan. Mag-inigkaha, nagtinda ug barbeque then iyaha ko tagaan ug kuwarta. Then in the morning, I go to school. Saturday and Sunday, adto ko sa sari-sari store, work pud. Summer, gipatabang ko hugas plato sa silingan kay ganahan man daw siya nako kay masugo man (I had a sideline with a neighbor. At night, I sold barbeque for the neighbor then I’d get paid. Then in the morning, I go to school. During Saturday and Sunday, I also worked in a variety/convenience store. Then during summer, I washed plated for a neighbor who like me because I can follow orders).”
With a smile, Jelly Ace said: “Naka-survive man (I survived anyhow).”
Jelly Ace was also in Grade 6 when – to avoid her male cousins who were hitting her – she kept running away. At that time, she met a gay man who owned a beauty parlor. Whenever Jelly Ace did not want to go home, this gay beautician took her under his care.
When the beautician had “projects (that is, clients to be made-up)”, he took Jelly Ace with him. This also happened when the beautician applied make-up to candidates of beauty pageants for transwomen and/or effeminate gay men. Jelly Ace eventually learned from watching; though – at that point – she also found herself. She no longer identified as “bayot (gay)”; instead, “nasuya ko nila (I envied them), so I knew I wanted to be a girl.”
By the time Jelly Ace was in high school, she was already a “more than okay make-up artist”, having practiced on teachers. She was also already getting paid for this.
When Jelly Ace started college, she was earning enough (both as a make-up artist and as a decorator for event venues) to separate from her guardians. “I left the family for good in 2013. Ako na nag-work for me, bayad apartment, pakaon sa ako-a (I was working for myself, paying rent for my apartment, fed myself). I was 16 then,” she said.
JOINING THE ADVOCACY
Jelly Ace is now a volunteer for Cebu City-based LGBT organization Bisdak Pride Inc. Interestingly, she was first exposed to the organization as a kid. In 2006, “gidala-dala lang ko sa friend nga (I was taken by a friend who was a) member of a gay organization that is also under Bisdak Pride.” Jelly Ace thought “wala lang; abi nako nagdula lang sila, naglaag lang (it was nothing; I thought they were just playing around, just hanging out).”
In 2013, Jelly Ace worked for a BPO company as a sales representative.
Prior to that, “lisod pud. Naka-experience pud ko, one day, one eat (it was also hard. I also experienced having one meal a day).” But because she’s “ambisyosa (ambitious)”, she kept applying for a BPO, and – fortunately – she was eventually accepted. From then on, life became somewhat better. “Wala na ko naglisod (I didn’t have a hard time anymore).”
Having the financial capability allowed Jelly Ace to buy not only necessities – e.g. food – but also “other stuff” to make her happy – e.g. nice clothes. “Keri na gamay (I’m a little better off),” she said.
It was also in 2013 when she started volunteering for the LGBT community. She said that it made her happy at least trying to help others like her. “My heart is in advocacy,” said Jelly Ace, who is helping out with reaching out to other LGBT people in Cebu City in Bisdak Pride’s community organizing efforts.
Jelly Ace knows her mother’s other families – including the three siblings from the first husband, and the eight siblings from the third husband. “Kaila sila sa ako tanan (They all know me),” she said.
She is not particularly close to them, though, particularly since her mother’s life is detached from Jelly Ace’s. “Usahay na lang mi nagkita sa inahan. Naanad na ko nga ako na lang buhion ako kaugalingon (I only see my mother sometimes. I am now used to just supporting myself).”
It was only in 2015 when she first met her father. On her being trans, “sa una, okay lang daw (at first, he said it’s okay),” Jelly Ace said. But eventually, “nadunggan nako, he said kontra nako ang bayot, wala ko anak nga bayot (I heard from others that he said he is against gay people, and that he doesn’t have a gay child).”
As for her uncle, “friends na mi ron (we are now friends),” she said. The last thing she heard about him, “na-addict na siya ron (he became a drug addict).” But Jelly Ace stressed that even if he never once said he is sorry for the harm he did to her, “wala man ko nagdumot nila (I do not hold grudges against them).”
Jelly Ace is optimistic her life has changed for good. Since she resigned from her work in the BPO industry, she now plans to find another job, and maybe even continue her schooling. “Mutigom sa (I’ll save first),” she said.
For those whose lives mimic hers, Jelly Ace said for them to remember that “this too shall pass. Okay lang man na siya. Naay (It’ll be okay. There’s) good in everyone,” she said.
Even her uncle, she said, had a good side: he cooked really, really well, “bisan gamay lang pakan-on niya sa ako-a (even if he only fed me a little).”
For Jelly Ace, in life “bisan ang kapait, nakatuon man pud ko nga people will not stay; people will come and go, bisan ang bad (even in my life’s bitterness, I also learned that people will not stay; people will come and go, even the bad). So let it be,” Jelly Ace ended.