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So you want to be HIV+?

While it may not be pervasive, and therefore may not necessarily need to be given lengthy coverage as this could simply sensationalize it, its very existence nonetheless means that it should not just be ignored. So that at least looking into bug chasing seems to be a worthy endeavor.

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Bug chasing a la Pinoy

In GayRomeo.com (or, for the tamer, PlanetRomeo.com), I came across one barebackpozzer’s profile, whose shoutout stated, verbatim:

“Online: bottom/top slut likes fuck now, anyone interested? i have nice pozz load! i like pozz other young ass | only bareback.”

Closer inspection showed that barebackpozzer is, basing on his profile, a 24 year old gay Caucasian who is in the city of Manila. Standing 171 centimeter tall, and weighing 67 kilograms, he – who has little body hair, albeit has a designer stubble – is single, and is looking for sex dates sans the use of condoms (as he claims, “Safer Sex: Never”).

As he further elaborated – again, verbatim – in his profile:

“i am for vacations there, from france here. i am young fit guy. i am wild in bed like fucking ass and getting my ass fucked like hell. i am into fisting, like gang bang, pissing, even scat/shit play… anyone interested? i only do bareback…and i have nice load hiv pozz cumload for you… so write me.”

It may be because of the size of his penis (he claimed it’s XL), a big lure for size queens (or even princesses). Or because many, arguably affected by colonial mentality, are big on Caucasians. Or because, in truth, barebackpozzer – despite/inspite of his HIV serostatus – is actually a good catch (“a 12 in a scale of 1 to 10,” as many are wont to say).

But that many actually responded to his invite highlighted not only barebackpozzer’s appeal, as an individual, to those who come across his profile; but, by extension, of what he is offering, that is: HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

And while barebackpozzer himself refused to be interviewed on the record for Outrage Magazine (despite his willingness to “just chat”; as he said, he can “be cited, not quoted”), his profile, nonetheless, piqued my interest on the presence of bug chasing in the Philippines.

This – for me – is a tricky situation to be in: while it may not be pervasive, and therefore may not necessarily need to be given lengthy coverage as this could simply sensationalize it, its very existence nonetheless means that I can’t just ignore it. After all, with the likes of barebackpozzer and his takers actually existing, at least looking into bug chasing seems to me a worthy endeavor.

No study is known to have been done on bug chasing in the Philippines. But here is what’s worth highlighting: a main driver of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines is the continuing high prevalence of HIV among high risk groups, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), largely due to the noted high prevalence of unsafe behaviors among the members of this key population at higher risk.

‘I WANT’ IN FOCUS

That the world is no stranger to HIV goes without saying. There was a time when it was pigeonholed as a “gay disease”; but not anymore, since we know it affects (and is affecting) everyone. It is already widely accepted that the virus that weakens the immune system (i.e. HIV) could eventually progress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which could weaken the body so that it will be unable to fight off opportunistic infections (OIs), which – in turn – could lead to death.

It is thus, well, peculiar (for lack of a better word) for some men to search (at times openly, too) for someone who is HIV positive, hoping to be infected with the virus. As the practitioners would say: the “bug chasers”, as they have come to be known, looking for their “gift givers”. And there actually are “bug parties” that allow for the meeting/s between the bug chasers and the gift givers to happen.

Sadly, there remains a dearth in the body of knowledge about this. For instance, as early as 1999, Drs. DeAnn Gauthier and Craig Forsyth explored through a qualitative research the then emerging trend of gay men who forego condom use and the development of a barebacking subculture; just as they also noted that some of the barebackers were in search of HIV.

It was in 2003 when Dr. Richard Tewksbury became the first researcher to acknowledge the Internet connection of bug chasing, with the bug chasers using the Internet noted to post their interests in seroconversion. His 2006 research furthered this, analyzing the behaviors, attitudes and demographics of bug chasers and gift givers.

Still other researchers dealing with this include: Blechner who, in 2002, touched on “Intimacy, pleasure, risk and safety” at the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy; Crossley who, in 2004, dealt with gay men’s narratives, unsafe sex and the ‘resistance habitus’ in the British Journal of Social Psychology; Hatfield who, in 2004, explored the story of the bug chasing phenomenon in a paper presented at the National Communication Association Conference; Moskowitz and Roloff who, in 2007, dealt with sexual addiction and the bug chasing phenomenon in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity; and LeBlanc who, in 2007, did an exploratory study of bug chasers in Sociological Imagination.

No similar study is known to have been done in the Philippines.

What is known, however, is the worsening HIV situation in the Philippines (among only a handful of countries to register an increase in the HIV infection rates, when the global trend is seeing a decline in these numbers). Earlier, in July during the 2012 National Dialogue on HIV and Human Rights, the National AIDS Registry of the Department of Health (DOH) reported an “exponential increase” in the new reported HIV cases in the country. In fact, more than half (60%) of the cumulative infections reported in the country were in the last three years alone; and from one new case detected every three days in 2006, the reported HIV incidence has increased to about one every two to three hours (or eight to 10 per day) in the first quarter of 2012. The 2012 figures are expected to reach over 22,000, and this number – if the trend is not halted – could reach over 35,000 by 2015, according to the National Epidemiology Center (NEC).

Here is what’s worth highlighting: a main driver of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines is the continuing high prevalence of HIV among high risk groups, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), largely due to the noted high prevalence of unsafe behaviors among the members of this key population at higher risk.

Only this September, there were 316 new reported HIV cases in the Philippines. Most of the cases (96%) were males; with the main mode of transmission reported to be sexual contact (312). And – worth pointing out – males having sex with other males were the predominant type of sexual transmission (82%).

How many of these HIV-infected MSM actually sought out to be infected with HIV is anybody’s guess; but that there are MSM who actually bug chase should be something – by itself – worth a closer consideration.

Bug chasing, by itself, could be a “matter of concern, as it puts one’s health into risks,” Dr. Jojo Sescon of the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) said. However, “there are a lot of things that need to be learned in terms of learning the context of how bug chasing practice has evolved (in the Philippines).”

REASONING OUT

According to one 090SPARKS, a HIV-positive PlanetRomeo.com user, he has yet to meet anyone who openly asked for him to give his “gift” to. But he remembers “one guy who insisted for me to join orgies. I asked him if he knows of my HIV status, as stated in my profile. We just ended having a fight because he didn’t think my status should be an issue (in my participation in these orgies); and his way of thinking irritated me,” he said in Filipino.

Thus, while barebackpozzer openly promoted gift giving, 090SPARKS is not directly asked; those who want to have sex with him just do not seem to care about his HIV status.

And for 090SPARKS, what these people do not consider is “HIV is something you bring with you for a lifetime.” He believes that even with the likes of him who help spread knowledge and awareness about HIV, “I still encounter many who hold erroneous beliefs – for instance, that it’s okay for two HIV-positive people to have unprotected sex.”

Not surprisingly, according Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor C. Sescon, president of the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), while they have worked with the MSM community, he has “yet to see one who chases people with HIV, and welcomes to be infected with it.” However, there is a need to give current surveillance efforts scrutiny to ascertain “if such ‘nuances’ does exist in the Filipino MSM community.”

In their 2006 study involving 1,228 respondents, Grov and Parsons identified six categories of bug chasers and gift givers, i.e.

  1. The “committed bug chasers” were men who indicated they were HIV-negative and seeking HIV-positive partners. Majority (62.2%) were bottoms, with 7.5% of the sample classified under this category.
  2. “Opportunistic bug chasers” included men who were HIV-negative and indicated that their partner’s HIV status did not matter. Most were versatile (43.6%) or bottoms (46.3%); and 12.1% of the total sample falling in this category.
  3. “Committed gift givers” were men who were HIV-positive and sought out HIV-negative partners. Only five men fell into this category.
  4. “Opportunistic gift givers” were men who indicated they were HIV-positive and that their partner’s status did not matter to them. Most (61.8%) were versatile; and they comprised 26% of the sample population.
  5. “Serosorters” were men who chose their partners according to their HIV status. This is a somewhat interesting category, since, although all the men in the study indicated in their online profiles that they were a gift giver and/or a bug chaser, their behavioral intentions were not consistent with the identity. Some HIV-positive men (8.5%) indicated preference for other HIV-positive men; and some HIV-negative men (12.5% of total sample) indicated preference for other HIV-negative men.
  6. “Ambiguous bug chasers or gift givers” comprised 16.3% of the sample, and this included men who indicated that they did not know their HIV status, so that it was difficult to determine if they were seeking to bug chase or give the gift.

Grov and Parsons concluded in their study that bug chasing and gift giving “might occur among a select few individuals”, and there was “substantial variation in intentions to spread HIV” (with some actually claiming not having any intent to spread HIV) among the respondents who indicated that they were either gift givers or bug chasers.

Various reasons have been raised to explain bug chasing.

For one, there’s belongingness, with – among others – Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf claiming that some bug chasers “want to feel accepted and a part of something”. Other researchers noted the same, including: Blechner whi, in 2002, found that some bug chasers were “lonely and alienated”, so they saw HIV as a path to becoming part of a community that elicits public sympathy and caretaking; and LeBlanc who, in 2007, noted that some identified becoming part of the “community” or “brotherhood” as a reason for bug chasing.

This touches on the self-esteem of the bug chasers, since – as Schoenewolf (2004), for instance, claimed, citing psychiatrist Antoine Douaihy, who works with AIDS patients in Pittsburgh in the US, confusion, depression and mental illness may contribute to a self-destructive behavior like bug chasing.

Secondly, there’s the supposed excitement that goes with it. As Freeman noted in his now-controversial 2003 Rolling Stone article, since many (if not most) people may consider bug chasing as a bad idea, bug chasers may find it stimulating to do “something that everyone else sees as crazy and wrong”. As CBC news reporter Caloz (2001) earlier said, “they are just turned on by the risk”.

In Filipino, “masarap ang bawal.”

This attraction was cited by at least one Grindr user, and another one GayRomeo.com user who agreed to be interviewed: John* and one bigNjuicy (with John one of those who responded to barebackpozzer’s profile), respectively. Both in their 20s, they frequently attend orgies that “take pride in non-use of condoms,” John said. In these sex gatherings, “you don’t know who’s giving you what, so it’s exciting.”

bigNjuicy added the “usual reason”: “Mas masarap pa rin ang balat sa balat. Bahala na kung ano man mangyari.” This is a thought elaborated by yet another GayRomeo.com user, one besthunkmale, with: “Spur of the moment; kung tag-init, wala na discussion.”

Thirdly, for some, bug chasing is considered as chasing a high, somewhat akin to addiction, so that – as Moskowitz and Roloff (2007) noted – the high previously derived by performing other sexual risk taking behaviors is now topped by bug chasing.

And fourthly, bug chasing could mean “getting over it” – in Filipino, “para matapos na”.

For instance, one of Freeman’s interviewees for his Rolling Stone article was quoted as saying that “getting HIV will make safe sex a moot point”, and that after getting infected, “nothing worse can happen to you”.

At least one GayRomeo.com user – a certain hot_dante02 – agreed with this, telling me that “mabuti nga tapos na usapan.”

Sescon supposed that “there are reasons that could have make people practice bug chasing, (including): a) for the thrill of it, (since) there are people who are into risk-taking behavior and this gives them pleasure; b) by choice, as people would think this is a way to gain a more meaningful (serious) relationship; and c) just for the experience, since HIV is ‘just a usual disease’ and there are ARVs that are effective in prolonging people’s lives.”

Bug chasing, by itself, could be a “matter of concern, as it puts one’s health into risks,” Sescon said. However, “there are a lot of things that need to be learned in terms of learning the context of how bug chasing practice has evolved (in the Philippines). But at all times, sexual health providers need to be informed, be keen and be sensitive to be responsive to the health needs (not just of bug chasers, but of the community as a whole),” he added.

There may still be other reasons, but – as earlier mentioned – the lack of studies that locally look into bug chasing somewhat automatically limits analysis of the same.

CLOSER CONSIDERATION

According to Philip A. Castro, program officer for HIV and AIDS of the United Nations Development Programme (Philippine Country Office), since 2010, male-to-male sex constitutes more than 80% of newly reported HIV cases through sexual transmission. Unfortunately, the 2009 Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serologic Surveillance (IHBSS) reported that “condom use at last high-risk sex” among (MSM) was dismal at 32%, considered problematic since the 2009 IHBSS also revealed that the HIV prevalence among MSM actually increased four-fold since 2005, with some sites in the country reaching 1% to 4%. “These alarming statistics highlights the growing concern on unsafe sexual practices (e.g. barebacking, et cetera) among the MSM population,” he said.

For Castro, “the growing epidemic on HIV among the MSM population have led to the review of existing policies and interventions, and the (on-going) development of a more effective and comprehensive package of HIV and AIDS services for the MSM and transgender populations.”

Already, there is an existing HIV prevention program targeting the MSM population, including outreach peer education, condom distribution, and referral to services such as HIV voluntary counseling and testing, STI diagnosis and treatment, and antiretroviral treatment. A challenge being faced now is the 2009 IHBSS revelation that “access to these information and prevention services is wanting considering that only 29% of the MSM surveyed have been reached by prevention services; with several evaluation studies also revealing gaps in the quality of information and services delivered.”

According to UNDP’s Philip A. Castro, “the gay community needs to take ownership of HIV and AIDS as a community concern, and to collectively mobilize to address the problem. “

UNDP Philippines is supporting development of strategic information, which helped enhance understanding on HIV and AIDS among MSM and TG, and inform development of appropriate policies, particularly the 5th AIDS Medium Term Plan (AMTP), the national strategic plan on AIDS for 2011-2016. The UNDP HIV and AIDS Programme undertook a systematic process in informing an improved AIDS programming for the MSM and TG populations. To enhance the understanding of the HIV-related risks and vulnerabilities of the MSM and TG people, the Programme conducted exploratory and in-depth studies on the populations. In addition, the Programme mapped out community-based MSM and TG groups and interventions to generate information on the extent of the AIDS response among the populations in the country.

Building on the above initiatives, the Programme is currently undertaking an assessment of the HIV and AIDS interventions for MSM and TG populations, which aims to identify the strengths and gaps not only of the current national response, but of the key HIV programmes that have been implemented in recent years. These initiatives advance the country’s knowledge base of MSM and TG behaviors and community-based interventions, and help inform the development of effective and evidence-based comprehensive package of services for MSM and TG.

Meanwhile, ASP continues to work with the Department of Health (DoH) on HIV programs for most at risk populations, particularly those belonging to the MSM community, including male sex workers, and people who inject drugs.

Castro admitted that “barebacking (that is the conscious and deliberate act and not just the non-use of condom) and bug chasing are still relatively new and unexplored phenomena, and we are yet to (extensively) understand these emerging phenomena among the MSM and TG populations.”

As such, Castro said that “the gay community needs to take ownership of HIV and AIDS as a community concern, and to collectively mobilize to address the problem. The first AIDS movement was mobilized by the gay community in the US during the time when members of the community were badly hit by the epidemic. Now we’re seeing decreasing rates of HIV among the population in the US. It is the opposite case in the Philippines. Now that we’re seeing an impending explosion of the epidemic among the population, the community needs to take part in the response together with the government and CSOs. Program implementers from government and non-government agencies have only limited capacities, even more so if the population they are trying to reach is complacent and unresponsive.”

The need to “own” the issue is an apt call – something ironically stressed by barebackpozzer himself, when he told me that even with the “negative connotation” attached with his “offer”, “there are takers, you know.”

And again, for as long as there are “takers”, no matter their number, then bug chasing remains a problem needed to be faced.

*NAME/S CHANGED, AS REQUESTED, TO PROTECT THE INTERVIEWEE/S’ ANONYMITY

FURTHER READING

Blechner, M. (2002). Intimacy, pleasure, risk, and safety. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6:27-33.
Caloz, M. (2001). Russian Roulette. CBC News (Canada). 20 November 2001.
Crossley, M. L. (2004). Making sense of ‘barebacking’: Gay men’s narratives, unsafe sex and the ‘resistance habitus’. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 225-244.
Freeman, G.A. (2003). Bug Chasers: The Men Who Long To BE HIV+. Rolling Stone, January 2003. Retrieved from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/828217/posts on November 29, 2012.
Gauthier, D. K., & Forsyth, C. J. (1999). Bareback sex, bug chasing, and the gift of death. Deviant Behavior, 20, 85-100.
Grov, C. (2004). Make Me Your Death Slave: Men who have sex with men and use the Internet to intentionally spread HIV. Deviant Behavior, 25, 329-349.
Grov, C. (2006). Barebacking websites: Electronic environments for reducing or inducing HIV risk. AIDS Care (18), 990-997.
Grov, C., & Parsons, J. T. (2006). Bugchasing and Giftgiving: The potential for HIV transmission among barebackers on the Internet. AIDS Education and Prevention, 18, 490-503.
Hatfield, K. (2004). A Quest for belonging: Exploring the story of the bug chasing phenomenon. Paper presented at the National Communication Association Conference, Chicago, Illinois.
LeBlanc, B. (2007). An Exploratory Study of ‘Bug Chasers’. Sociological Imagination, Vol 43, No 2, 13-20.
Moskowitz, D. A., & Roloff, M. E. (2007). The ultimate high: Sexual addiction and the bug chasing phenomenon. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 14(1), 21-40.
Moskowitz, D. A., & Roloff, M. E. (2007). The existence of a bug chasing subculture. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 9, 347-358.
Schoenwolf, G. (2004). A Psychoanalyst’s Perspective: AIDS and the Death Wish. NARTH. December 22, 2004, Retrieved from http://www.narth.com/docs/deathwish.html on November 25, 2012.
Tewksbury, R. (2003). Bareback sex and the quest for HIV: assessing the relationship in internet personal advertisements of men who have sex with men. Deviant Behavior, 25, 467-482.
Tewksbury, R. (2006). Click here for HIV: An analysis of internet-based bug chasers and bug givers. Deviant Behavior, 27, 379-395.

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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City of Manila passes LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinance

The City of Manila finally has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) to protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos. Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso signed City Ordinance 8695, sponsored by councilor Joel Villanueva, which prohibits “any and all forms of discrimination on the basis of SOGIE”.

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The rainbow rises in the City of Manila… finally.

The City of Manila finally has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) to protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos. Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso signed City Ordinance 8695, sponsored by councilor Joel Villanueva, which prohibits “any and all forms of discrimination on the basis of SOGIE”.

“No harm will come to you while I’m mayor of Manila. Lahat kayo pantay pantay sa mata ng pamahalaang lokal,” Domagoso said before signing ADO.

Called Manila LGBTQI Protection Ordinance of 2020, the ADO prohibits:

  1. Denying or limiting access to employees the promotion, transfer, training and schooling if these are otherwise granted to others;
  2. Refusing employment based on actual or perceived SOGIE;
  3. Denying access to medical/health programs and services based on actual or perceived SOGIE;
  4. Denying admission, getting expelled or dismissed, or preventing a student from graduating or getting clearance based on actual or perceived SOGIE;
  5. Revoking accreditation or LGBTQI organizations in schools and workplaces;
  6. Subjecting any person to verbal or written insult including on any social media platforms;
  7. Refusing services based on SOGIE (e.g. accommodations, renting dwelling, malls, etc); and
  8. Organizing groups and activities that promote/incite discrimination of LGBTQI people.

The ADO also mandates the creation of the Gender Sensitivity and Development Council, which will be tasked to synchronize the city’s programs for the LGBTQI community. This council is also tasked to facilitate and assist victims of stigma and discrimination so that they get legal representation and psychological assistance.

With the ADO, every barangay is mandated to establish LGBTQI assistance desks to receive complaints related to the ADO.

By 2023, it is expected that gender-neutral toilets will be established in all venues in the City of Manila. This will be made a condition precedent to the renewal of business permits of establishments.

Violation of the ADO will be penalized with a fine of PhP1,000 and/or imprisonment of six months for the first offense; increasing to a PhP3,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to a year for the third offense.

The ADO will be funded by 5% of the appropriation to finance the city’s Gender and Development programs.

According to Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas, which helped push for the passage of this ADO: “Based on experience, we know that a law won’t end LGBTQI discrimination and violence but can enable access to justice for people who seek redress. The fight isn’t over.”

And since the ADO has no IRR yet, it also “needs to be monitored for proper implementation.”

Since this also comes on the heels of Zamboanga City passing its own ADO on October 14, Fontanos said that credit should be given to the work of LGBTQI advocates and allies in and outside LGUs tirelessly pushing for structural change.

All the same, “the struggle to pass a national anti-discrimination law also continues and our work to hold those in power to account remains,” Fontanos ended.

*This article was amended on October 30, 11.21AM to include the statements of Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas

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Enter the alter world

Welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual engagements. Though often maligned, it actually also highlights formation of friendships, info sharing, emotional support, and even provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality.

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Some time back, Kurt (a.k.a. @MoanerBottom) opened a Twitter account as a form of revenge. “I found out that my ex had an ‘alter’ account and he was fooling around with different people,” he recalled. And so “I wanted to prove to him that I can also do the same thing.”

Little did Kurt know at that time that he would become a mainstay in the alter world/community. A few months since opening his own alter account, he garnered over 130,000 followers, all of them craving – and even waiting – for what he would post, usually dominated by sexual encounters (“kalat videos,” he calls them) with mostly students, including a basketball varsitarian “who likes to penetrate deeply”, a Blue Eagle who allowed for his orgasm to be videoed, a Tamaraw who also allowed himself to be videoed as he orgasmed, and bending for a Red Lion.

“I must admit that I am a shy person in real life,” Kurt said. But “here in Twitter, it is like I have less shame and more courage to do kalat (contextually: shameless) posts and videos.”

Kurt is, obviously, only one of the people – not just Filipinos – with alter accounts, which many like him, say is similar to a “pseudonym — like Batman to Bruce Wayne, or Superman to Clark Kent; where people can have a separate account from their primary accounts, usually used to express themselves more ‘wildly’ yet more ‘discreetly’/anonymously.”

And so welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual “collaborations”, hookups, fetishes, fantasies and social engagements, with the audiences often never really knowing the content generators/producers/distributors.

Getting noticed

That the alter world is often dominated by sexual content is a given.

Onin (a.k.a. @Onin_NuezPH), for example, sees his alter account “as an avenue for me to express myself and my sexuality. I am able to let everyone know within the community about my sexual desires without the fear of being judged.”

Looking back, it was actually “a friend who is an alter too introduced me in this alter community,” Onin said.

One of the early instances Onin trended was when some of his nude photos circulated on Twitter. Many got curious, asking the person who previously reacted or shared the photos if there were more.

It whetted Onin’s interest; and so he started posting more photos and short videos. His followers quickly increased, reaching more than 145,000.

Taking pride that he is one of the more talked about alters out there, Onin has produced content that may seem trivial… but these have been keeping the alter community and lurkers interested, from balancing a shampoo bottle on top of his erect penis, sharing a photo of his endowment while asking his followers if they want to kneel in front him, a comparison of the length of a deodorant spray with his penis, wearing a see-through underwear, and teasing his latest sexual collaboration.

Standing out

Standing out in a platform where hundreds (even thousands) of alters saturate news feeds is a challenge. After all, it is not an easy feat to attract someone’s attention — what more to make them like, share, or follow an account.

For FUCKER Daddy (a.k.a. @ako_daddy), therefore, it all comes down to the type of content being posted, not just being well-endowed, willing to perform bareback sex, or how often the face is shown.

A licensed professional who has a son, FUCKER Daddy started as a “lurker’ (i.e. one who lurks, or just consumes content/views profiles) on Twitter. At that time, he wrote “my real-life sex stories, hoping it will pick up from there,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, alter peeps seem to be more into live action.”

And so FUCKER Daddy met someone from Telegram, without realizing that the person was “sort of (a) big (personality) on Twitter.” This guy discretely took a short clip of their sexual encounter, and then posted it on his alter account. “It was hit. (And) the rest is history.”

By August 2019, FUCKER Daddy said his inbox started receiving direct messages from different users – e.g. asking for more, congratulating him, wanting to collaborate, and so on.

He actually now has several sex videos in his cam. But he still doesn’t make recording the primary thing when engaging in sex “as my goal is to have hookups; videos are only secondary.”

Besides, he said that “I do not want to spoil the moment for sex and think only of it as merely for Twitter.”

But every time FUCKER Daddy posts a video, he said his over 95,000 followers respond to them “with enthusiasm, getting more curious and intrigued.”

Making a living

The concept of alter, however, isn’t set in stone.

For one, there are actually alter accounts whose owners prefer to use their real names and show their faces (like Onin), mixing their personal and private lives along the way. Following the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent analogy, there are also people who follow the Tony Stark/Iron Man mantra, i.e. openly announcing that they are one and the same.

Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.

Also, one may be part of the alter community without knowing it – i.e. one engages in alter activities without recognizing it as such.

The likes of John (a.k.a. @johnnephelim on Twitter and Instagram), who has over 130,000 followers, comes to mind, using Twitter as a platform “to promote a job.”

“I do not even know that I am involved in the world of alter,” John said, adding that he did not even know what the term meant until it was presented to him. Instead, his account is used to “promote my RentMen and OnlyFans accounts”, just as he also promotes his availability for “personal appointment to people.”

John actually used to work as a brand ambassador, but because of this change in his work, he “can no longer work (in) that (field) because I am doing porn.”

He admitted that “this type of thing is double-edged.” On the one hand, “you can earn a great amount of money,” he said, “but there will be sacrifices.”

He noted, for instance, that the perception of people about me changed; most people judge you right away because of what you do, and not because of who you are as a person.”

But he ignores the naysayers; “I do not mind because this job gives more than what I expected!”

Like John, Onin also promotes his JustFor.Fans (JFF) account on Twitter to respond to the requests of his followers.

“They (my followers) want to see me in action and they are willing to subscribe too,” Onin said, with his exclusive content including: he and his partner having sex, and collaborations with other alters. “You will not earn that much, but pretty enough to compensate for the contents that we are posting.”

Not all alters think alike, obviously. FUCKER Daddy, for instance, won’t monetize his content, saying: “I value sex as it was created. I never sell any (videos) because I think it is something that is worth free. I simply treated it as making memories while those (who) watch put up the numbers.”

Behind the handles

The world of alter has actually already caught the attention of researchers.

For instance, in a study by Samuel Piamonte of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, Mark Quintos of De La Salle University Manila, and Minami Iwayama of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it was found that the alter community may seem overtly sexual, but there is more to it than that.
“The sexual aspect of alter is the core of alter, but it has been enriched by more complex social benefits to users such as including formation of new friendships, sharing of information and advocacies, reciprocations of emotional support, and provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality but find that doing so outside of the alter community could be met with stigma from their peers and family.”

Kurt sees his alter account as an avenue for him to tap his inner self and show the Twitter universe his kalat. Onin uses his alter account to broadcast his sexual side (together with his partner). And FUCKER Daddy uses his alter account as “a constant source of info, hookups, convo… and to learn social demographics as well.”

The evolution, indeed, continues.

Hate from within the community

Yes, yes, yes… with increasing numbers of followers, multiple likes and shares, and the creation of alter “celebrities”, this has not been spared from criticisms.

And sadly, said Kurt, at least in the Philippine setting, the prejudice against alters comes from within the community. “Kapuwa LGBT ang nagsisiraan at nagpapataasan sa isa’t-isa,” he said. “I know… that I cannot please everyone (but) for me it is okay, as long as I know that I am not doing anything wrong.”

Perhaps a “surprise” is the audience’s inability to “appreciate” the free content given them, with Kurt noting that there are times when “they are also pissed off with the things I post.”

This seems to contradict the findings of Piamonte, Quintos and Iwayama, since – here – the alter community can become a fearful place, too.

John, like Kurt, noted how people resort to demeaning others when they do not fit preconceived notions. But he just laughs this off, saying: “Do not hate me because I look good and make money (from) it. Life is too short to be a bitter person. If you do not like what we do, then shut the fuck up.”

The Pandora’s box, so to speak has been opened; and lessons learned along the way can just “make you stronger and bring out the best in you,” said Onin, who like many alters, “just focus on my goals.” And it is exactly because of the existence of this interchange – the content creation, and the love-hate reaction to what’s created – that alter is not going to disappear anytime soon (or at all).

Details and photos of sexual encounters were lifted from the Twitter accounts of the interviewees.

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Anti-discrimination ordinance passes final reading in Zamboanga City; awaits mayor’s signature

Zamboanga joins the growing number of local government units that now has an anti-discrimination ordinance.

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The rainbow rises in Zamboanga City.

The 1st class highly urbanized city in the Zamboanga Peninsula of the Philippines, Zamboanga, joins the growing number of local government units (LGUs) that now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO).

As helmed by Hon. Lilibeth Macrohon Nuño, the ADO passed the third and final reading at the Sangguniang Panglunsod of the City of Zamboanga on October 6.

The ADO is actually not only specific to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Instead, it is a more comprehensive ADO that also prohibits discrimination based on race, color, civil and social status, language, religion, national or social origin, culture and ethnicity, property, birth or age, disability and health status, creed and ideological beliefs, and physical appearance.

The ADO now goes to the desk of Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar for signing.

As the sixth most populous and third largest city by land area in the Philippines, Zamboanga has a population of 861,799 people (as of 2015). The ADO was pushed by local LGBTQIA organization, Mujer-LGBT Organization Inc.

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Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma

The Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. But Covid-19 responses actually do not include them, so what happens to them now?

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Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.  

Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.

Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.

But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.

In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.

The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.

And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.

“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.

Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”

“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.

Painting and creating origami, Kate’s income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students. Everything was affected by Covid-19.
Photo by Fallon Michael from Unsplash.com

What gov’t support?

There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.

In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.” 

DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.  

CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.   

DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.

Pre-Covid-19, Nicole could earn from P3,000 per client; nowadays, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program. 

To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.

Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.

But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.

For drag performer Lumina, Covid-19 “technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home.”

Making ends meet

And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.

In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda

Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.

Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”

Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”

To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”

Bleak future?

In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.

But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.

There are rays of hope.

Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce. 

This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).

And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while trapped inside and hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture… 

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Keeping the faith at the time of COVID-19

Many ask where God is at the time of #Covid19, including #LGBTQIA people who – prior to this – already experienced difficulties because of their #SOGIESC, and now have a hard time with their expression of faith. But #LGBTQIA faith leaders say that this is as good a time as any to also highlight humanity and, yes, the rainbow #pride.

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LGBTQIA people are “no strangers to isolation, hardships and the stress of being alone,” said Bb. Kakay M. Pamaran, Director for Field Education of the Union Theological Seminary Philippines. And while stressing that she is, in no way, trying to “romanticize this, but I think of all people, we know what this level of isolation feels like because we’ve been there… many of us have been there.”

Bb. Pamaran was referring to the isolation/stress of being alone and hardships brought about by Covid-19, with many countries – the Philippines included – forcing people to stay indoors, else risk getting infected. The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”

There are those whose (religious) faith is getting them through; but there are also those who, in times like this, start questioning their faith. This includes LGBTQIA people whose lives, as it is, are often marked by religious persecution. And so for those of faith and who belong to the rainbow family… how does one keep the faith at the time of Covid-19?

RELIGIOUS FERVOR

“When people are afraid, they turn to God,” Bb. Pamaran said. “And the church, for the longest time, has been God’s mouthpiece.”

She, therefore, believes that “the church has a huge responsibility where this is concerned.”

This April, the WHO released “Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19”, which eyes to provide “practical guidance and recommendations to support the special role of religious leaders, faith-based organizations, and faith communities in COVID-19 education, preparedness, and response.”

WHO’s practical recommendations include: discouraging non-essential physical gatherings and, instead, organizing virtual gatherings through live-streaming, TV, radio, social media, et cetera; regulating the number and flow of people entering, attending or departing worship spaces to ensure safe distancing; management of pilgrim sites to respect physical distancing; and actual isolation of those who get ill/develop Covid-19 symptoms.

As stated by the WHO: Faith-based organizations (FBOs) “are a primary source of support, comfort, guidance, and direct health care and social service, for the communities they serve. Religious leaders of faith-based organizations and communities of faith can share health information to protect their own members and wider communities, which may be more likely to be accepted than from other sources. They can provide pastoral and spiritual support during public health emergencies and other health challenges and can advocate for the needs of vulnerable populations.”

Bb. Pamaran agrees – to an extent.

“It is very important, it is imperative for church leaders (and) faith-based organizations (FBOs) to deal with Covid-19 in factual, scientific ways,” she said. This is because “the things you say in the pulpit or all of the platforms that are available to you must always be based on scientific, medical evidence. And you have to exhaust all possible efforts to do your research because people tend to believe whoever is speaking behind the pulpit.”

Bb. Pamaran added that “people turn to superstition if scientific answers are not available. So as faith-based leaders, it is our responsibility to fuse rationality and factual scientific inquiry in these desperate (concerns).”

AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE

According to Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo, Administrative Minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Ekklesia in R. Mapa St., Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Covid-19 is an “eye-opener for us that human as we are, we are finite beings, and we don’t have the control of life.”

But Rev. Jaropillo added that this ought to make people see that “people have contributions to the suffering of life, and the suffering of Mother Earth.”

RAINBOW IN FAITH

As FYI: In 2015, the Pew Research Center (PRC) noted that about 5% of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study’s 35,000-plus respondents identified themselves as members of the LGB population. And of that group, a big 59% said they are religiously affiliated. But only 48% of them reported belonging to a Christian faith group, compared with 71% of the general public.

Meaning: Although many members of the LGBTQIA community may feel that most major faiths are unwelcoming to them, a majority of them are still religiously affiliated (though not necessarily as Christian, but also as part of smaller, non-Christian denominations).

Bb. Kakay M. Pamaran, Director for Field Education of the Union Theological Seminary Philippines, said that “people turn to superstition if scientific answers are not available. So as faith-based leaders, it is our responsibility to fuse rationality and factual scientific inquiry in these desperate (concerns).”

Bb. Pamaran noted that LGBTQIA people may not be going to churches because these are unwelcoming, or “they just don’t go to church because they gave up on church altogether. It was difficult for LGBTQIA people to express their faith pre-Covid-19; and now with Covid-19, it would be harder for them, I would imagine.”

Rev. Jaropillo added that it is, therefore, the church’s role to “open its doors… in ministering to people who need God the most: the vulnerable, poor, women, children, the displaced…”

There are, of course, open and affirming (or ONA, the term used by the United Church of Christ/UCC) churches and/or faith-based organizations, or those that affirm the “full inclusion of LGBTQIA and non-binary persons in the church’s life and ministry.”

And they are just as affected by Covid-19.

According to Bishop Regen Luna of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit Philippines, which is based in the Province of Cavite, the mandate to socially distance meant they had to (temporarily) close, so “Covid-19 had a big impact on us.”

Among others, they had to forego masses, Bible studies, weddings, baptism, et cetera.

Ayaw din namin magkahawahan (We also do not one to infect each other),” he said.

Added Rev. Joseph San Jose, Administrative Pastor of the Open Table Metropolitan Community Church: In the context that we’re a small church, “we don’t have as much of the resources, the facilities that other churches have.”

For instance, the Roman Catholic Church and bigger Protestant churches can broadcast live their masses/worships, “we are unable to do that.”

The composition of the church membership is also proving to be a challenge, geographically speaking. Rev. San Jose, for instance, is in Laguna (approximately 100.3km from Mandaluyong, where the church is located); and members are from the City of Taguig, Quezon City, et cetera. “This is an issue with the Covid-19 lockdowns (that limit mobility of people),” he said.

Bb. Pamaran said that, largely, faith expressions involve corporate worship/gathering in one space. “Without that, faith expressions… significantly change.”

According to Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo, Administrative Minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Ekklesia in R. Mapa St., Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Covid-19 is an “eye-opener for us that human as we are, we are finite beings, and we don’t have the control of life.”

RAINBOW LENS

But Bb. Pamaran wants people to draw something from this experience.

“It is also a good demonstration to non-LGBTQIA persons that this kind of isolation… is the normal for LGBTQIA persons even without Covid-19 as far as going to church is concerned, and in belonging in church communities,” she said.

For Bishop Luna, the pandemic is (similarly) showcasing the resilience of LGBTQIA churches.

Sanay na kami sa hirap (We’re used to hardships),” he said, adding that they now know how to “stretch the budget to sustain a small church.” This is even if their main source of income (i.e. donations, for holding of sacraments like baptism, marriage/weddings, et cetera) is affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Added Rev. Joseph San Jose, Administrative Pastor of the Open Table Metropolitan Community Church: In the context that we’re a small church, “we don’t have as much of the resources, the facilities that other churches have.”

RELATED ISSUES

Covid-19, on its own, isn’t the only problem; just as problematic are its effects on other issues.

In the case of Bishop Luna’s church-goers, for instance, “we have members who are also living with HIV.” Issues re access to life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) medicines have been reported on; particularly affecting those who have no access to treatment hubs/facilities, again because of immobility.

Rev. San Jose admitted that it’s a “personal struggle as a pastor” not being able to help out, particularly at a time when people are asking what churches are doing to help the needy. But “with our situation, it’s almost impossible for us to mobilize in the same way that other churches (have been mobilizing).”

DEALING WITH ‘NEW NORMAL’

Covid-19 introduced a “new normal” even to FBOs – here, largely dictated by going online.

Union Theological Seminary, for one, introduced online courses. Metropolitan Community Church hosts webinars and online conversations. Catholic Diocese of One Spirit Philippines has online services – though, as Bishop Luna said, holding sacraments (e.g. weddings) are still not done this way (thus the rescheduling of pre-booked events to next year). Meanwhile, Open Table Metropolitan Community Church’s Rev. San Jose records sermon/homily for Sunday online “gatherings”; which is also the time when members videoconference to discuss their faith and, yes, Covid-19.

“I think that’s going to be the trend,” said Bb. Pamaran. “This is going to be how we facilitate conversations moving forward.”

Rev. Jaropillo – whose UCCP-Ekklesia also has worship services – said that while churches now also use technology in ministering to people, “we don’t stop there. Aside from virtual worship services, we concretize the love of God through relief operations. We address two things: the liturgical/spiritual ministry through virtual worship services, and the physical need of people. Churches should have a holistic approach (to this).”

“It’s best to respond with creativity,” Bb. Pamaran said.

UNSHAKEN FAITH

At the time of Covid-19, Rev. Jaropillo said that “it’s very natural to doubt and it’s human to question one’s faith: ‘Natutulog ba ang Diyos (Is God asleep)?’ But I believe I don’t need to defend God. God understands the doubts of the people nowadays. So as a church, we need to journey with these people who are in doubt, especially at times of crises like now.”

Bishop Luna agrees.

“Some people ask why God would let something like this happen,” he said, adding that while these questions are unnecessary, that they are asked at all is “natural”/understandable. But he said that times like this offer lessons from God, and people should listen. “We believe in a loving God… We believe that God is teaching us – e.g. how to look after the environment, health, and respect of other creatures. We’ve forgotten these. We also live fast lives; we don’t even think it can end in a blink of an eye.”

For Rev. San Jose, it may be worth echoing what Pope Francis said when asked by a child why there’s human suffering. “Sometimes we just don’t know. It is what it is. There is a mystery of suffering and pain. And it would be very arrogant for us to try to answer very difficult and almost no-answer questions. The progressive faith compels us not to ask where God is, but to ask where we are and what we are doing at this time to be the channel of God’s love, comfort, hope for ourselves and for others.”

According to Bishop Regen Luna of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit Philippines, which is based in the Province of Cavite, the mandate to socially distance meant they had to (temporarily) close, so “Covid-19 had a big impact on us.”

For Bb. Pamaran: “It’s a common question to ask where God is in all these. But perhaps it’s the best time to ask where humanity is in all these. It is the best time to look into our humanity and our creativity, our innovative imaginations to pull through this.”

LGBTQIA OF FAITH

To LGBTQIA people of faith, Bishop Luna calls for prayers – “unified prayers” – while spending time with loved ones, and looking after oneself (e.g. mental health).

Ibigay natin laat ng ito sa Panginoon (Surrender everything to God),” Bishop Luna said, adding: “We believe that this, too, shall pass.”

LGBTQIA people are resilient, continuing to face hardships in life. “We can survive this, too,” he said, “and pass this with flying colors.”

It is also the resilience of the LGBTQIA people that Rev. Jaropillo wants to highlight. That LGBTQIA people find joy/laugh even in dark times is something that can be shared to cheer up communities. “Continue to shine as a rainbow, to inspire other people.”

Covid-19, said Rev. San Jose, is also a good time for the LGBTQIA people to reflect on social justice. “There is a need for us to be more active in engaging in the issues faced by the country, by our community,” he said. “There is really a great need to organize and mobilize.”

“No sector of people understands isolation more than the LGBTQIA community. We can imagine, we can grasp the loneliness and isolation that Covid-19 brings. And so try to remember how you pulled through all these years, and then try to help others do the same,” said Bb. Pamaran.

In the end, “now more than ever, the world needs color; the world needs our color. So be that… for yourself and for others,” Bb. Pamaran ended.

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Being trans at the time of Covid-19 lockdown

#LGBT Filipinos still face legal impediments re their #SOGIESC, so many of the gov’t responses related to #Covid19 exclude them. For #trans community members, interconnected issues include losing livelihood considering many belong to informal sectors, limited access to hormonal medications that could adversely affect mental/emotional/psychological health, and general forced invisibility that excludes them from gov’t support.

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Main photo by Cecilie Johnsen from Unsplash.com

At the moment, LGBTQIA people are (often) excluded in government assistance related to Covid-19, said Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc. There are various (and many of them interrelated) reasons why this is so – e.g. because marriage equality is not recognized in the Philippines, many LGBTQIA Filipinos live alone (“For example, they just rent rooms”) or perhaps couples live together yet are just considered as board mates, so they are not considered to belong to “homes”/”households”. “That’s a difficulty (that affects) access to the assistance of the government.”

It is the intersection/inter-connection of issues that – in truth – define the experience of transgender Filipinos in particular as they try to survive the Covid-19 lockdown.

WANTED: ACCESS TO MEDS

To start, there’s the issue with accessing hormonal medications.

As noted by Jhen Latorre of the Pioneer FTM (Pioneer Filipino Trans men Movement), members of the transpinoy/trans men community already noted issues re accessing testosterone (hormonal medications). Not only because the stocks are limited, ordering is challenging, but also “mahirap ang shipping (we also encounter issues with shipping).” This is even more so for those in provinces.

Robinson added that many trans people access hormonal medications from the black market. For example, some local suppliers buy from Thailand. But there are now issues with stocks, affected by the lockdown that limits mobility of goods (from overseas, as well as locally).

Now, this is worth highlighting: According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founding chairperson of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, “people have a hard time understanding the health impact of hormones to trans people.”

Cordova said that many people now “think that taking hormones is just a luxury; that we just want it, and it’s not even needed.”

She added that often neglected in this line of conversation are the biological/physical, economic/financial, and psychological/emotional impacts of not having these hormonal medications – e.g. there are trans women who work as entertainers, and not having access to the needed meds could affect their physicality, which could affect their means of living.

In the end, “these are all interrelated,” Cordova said. “There are intersectionalities.”

‘FORCED INVISIBILITY’

Obviously this touches on the continuing “forced invisibility” of trans people in the Philippines particularly when talking legally – e.g. the country still doesn’t have gender recognition law, and basically misgenders trans people by legally pigeonholing them according to their assigned sex at birth.

According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founding chairperson of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, “people have a hard time understanding the health impact of hormones to trans people.”

INFORMAL WORKERS

According to Latorre, at least in his group, most of their members have jobs that: 1. allow them to work at home, and 2. still give them regular salaries even during the Covid-19 lockdown.

But there are also those who are affected by “no work, no pay,” he said. So these people now only rely from the support of family members.”

Shane R. Parreno, chairperson of the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization, said that the percentage of members of the trans community who hold regular jobs remains low.

Local figures continue to be limited on this, but at least in the US, 29% of trans people live in poverty, compared to 14% of the general population; and trans people experience unemployment at three times the rate of the general population, with 30% of trans people reporting being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity in the past 12 months.

For Parreno, may trans Filipinos – and LGBTQIA community members, for that matter – are informal workers, e.g. hairdressers, make-up artists/cosmetologists, and tailors/seamstresses. And with “everybody affected by the lockdown, those working in these fields/areas do not have clients, so they do not earn,” she said.

Robinson stressed the same point: There are trans women who work in the beauty industry, fashion industry, et cetera who do not have income now. “So we hope they will not be left out (in the giving of needed support from the government during the pandemic).”

Latorre – who has two kids, but who also did not qualify in the government’s definition of “household” to be given support – said that even before, LGBTQIA families have always been set aside.

And because “there are trans people who are the breadwinners,” Parreno said, “I hope that their SOGIESC won’t be reason for them not to be included in (government support).”

At the moment, LGBTQIA people are (often) excluded in government assistance related to Covid-19, said Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc.

ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE

There’s also the difficulty in getting medical care.

Recognizing that trans people may need to see medical professionals (e.g. when transitioning), Latorre also isn’t aware of clinics that are now open for them to access. This issue is ongoing, however, and is apparent even when there’s no lockdown, since there remain few – if any – trans-specific medical practitioners in the Philippines, perhaps even more particularly in provinces.

Sana di na magtagal ito ng sobra (I hope the lockdown doesn’t last long),” Latorre said, because “alam ko din naman na kailangan pa din to see a doctor lalo na sa too-serious na matters (I recognize that there is still need to see a doctor, particularly for very serious matters).”

As noted by Jhen Latorre of the Pioneer FTM (Pioneer Filipino Trans men Movement), members of the transpinoy/trans men community already noted issues re accessing testosterone (hormonal medications).

HELPING EACH OTHER

For Latorre, “nakakatulong ang organization (trans organizations help).” For instance, members of trans organizations can give tips re transitioning, or – if meds are needed – they can “lend” supplies.

In Cebu in central Philippines, Robinson said that transpinays asked their networks on where to get supplies. And when supplies are really hard to get, “we just advise them on the alternatives – e.g. maybe there are fruits that have high estrogen or anti-androgen properties.”

Some food that are estrogen-rich, and help lower testosterone levels include: soy products like edamame, tofu, soy milk and miso; spearmint and peppermint; licorice root; vegetable oils; flaxseed; and certain types of nuts.

“We give out this information so we have alternatives for them,” said Robinson, adding that those who received the information are “advised to share the same to their contacts.”

For Robinson, “everyone is experiencing difficulties,” she said, so “we have to support each other, fix each other’s crown.”

Latorre also has a practical recommendation: Since trans people are at home during the lockdown, they may want to use this to find time to talk to their families. “Baka ito na ang oras to open up (Maybe this is a good time to open up),” he said.

Cordova said that the lockdown highlights that “it’s about time that we comfort each other. We can’t expect our government, or other people to comfort us.”

Shane R. Parreno, chairperson of the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization, said that the percentage of members of the trans community who hold regular jobs remain low.

Meanwhile, Parreno has practical recommendations.

“Let’s support our government – e.g. when it says for us to stay home, stay home. Talagang malaki ang impact nito (This has a big impact),” she said. “Ipakita natin… na hindi tayo pasaway (Let’s show others we’re not troublesome).”

And in the end, “let’s pray that this will end soon para magkita-kita na tayo ulit, maka-rampa na tayo ulit (so we can see each other again, and wander/jaunt again).”

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