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Call to stop sensationalization of trans stories

When PinoyFTM, agreed to be interviewed by ABS-CBN’s “Bandila”, the group hoped to help educate people about female-to-male transgenderism. Instead, the oldest FTM group in the Philippines now laments the approach used by the TV program, feeling betrayed at the end of the segment.

Screenshot from YouTube of Bandila's interview with select members of PinoyFTM

Screenshot from YouTube of Bandila's interview with select members of PinoyFTM

Screenshot from YouTube of Bandila‘s interview with select members of PinoyFTM

As the oldest FTM group in the Philippines, PinoyFTM is no stranger to receiving requests for interviews or to appear as resource speakers to tackle the topic of female-to-male transgenderism. As education is one of the core focuses and values of our organization, we welcome and appreciate all such invitations. We have, however, on multiple occasions, turned down invitations we believe are not in the best interest of the goals we are fighting for. And more often than not, these rejections are for shows or people who appear to want to sensationalize our story or do not act in a professional manner by wanting to do everything in a rush.

However, despite our apprehension towards rushed requests, when Bandila, an award winning and well respected news program, came to us with their pitch for a segment they wanted to do on trans men, we found ourselves agreeing to do the interview. The decision to accept did not come from the fact that Bandila is popular, although their critical acclaim did make it easier for us to trust that a reliable news show like them would treat our story fairly and responsibly.

Ultimately, the reason we chose to accept the interview was because of what we felt was one of the best pitches made to us by someone not from within the LGBT community itself. Rather than the requests we commonly get from TV shows who make it obvious that they’re only interested in the radical physical changes brought about by our transition and only want to use our story for shock value, we were approached by a Bandila segment producer who had asked to interview three very distinct people:

  1. The organization head or president. The producer explained she wanted them specifically to talk about PinoyFTM as an organization, and what we do and have done for the Filipino trans community.
  2. Someone who could be considered successful. They clarified that it would be someone who has successfully transitioned (not necessarily physically), and could be someone people can look up to as an example that there is hope for trans men in our country.
  3. Someone who has experienced discrimination. The producer asked for someone who would be comfortable sharing their story and experiences with discrimination based on their transgenderism.

In our correspondence leading up to the interview, the producer had been respectful and accommodating, down to the way they framed the story they wanted to create. We had high hopes. There was no reason to believe there would be issues given how well everything was going.

The interview itself was no different. Our representatives did what they were briefed to do and gave in-depth answers to their respective topics. This was nothing new to the interviewees. They have given interviews, participated in talks, and have even been resource speakers on the topic of transgenderism; they were not ill-prepared for the interview despite the short notice.

Likewise, there were no real complaints about how the Bandila team conducted the interview. In fact, they went the extra step of assuring us that there would be no involvement of any members of the clergy as “that had nothing to do with the topic”. We had discussed and agreed that we wanted the focus to be on more important issues, such as discrimination and the lack of protections and rights we have as trans people rather than just physical transition. The shoot ran from the afternoon to evening and after that, we went our separate ways, excited to see the episode.

What we saw was something we would never have expected, and we are shocked and disappointed at how they had edited it in such a way that completely betrayed the original intentions that we agreed on.

Our first grievance is that never once through the whole segment did the hosts ever properly gender the interviewees, choosing instead to label them ‘mga babaeng gusto maging lalaki’ (women who want to be men) repeatedly. Almost no reference or acknowledgement was made to PinoyFTM as an organization (rather ‘Pinoy female-to-males’ as they worded in their report, was used to referred to all trans men) and almost all of the segment was dedicated to the physical aspect of transitioning.

In the first segment which featured our chairman, Nick, was supposed to be about the work we do and our goals and visions. It was almost completely devoted to physical transition and HRT (hormone replacement therapy). The editing chose to cut out so much of what was said, and many thing were taken out of context, such as our access to doctors. While it is true that we are very limited in this regard and that there are no doctors to our knowledge that really specialize in transgender hormone replacement therapy, the way the show chose to only air the part of the interview that discussed what the situation was like years ago, before the group had formally organized, made it look as if that was still the situation now.

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The editing also only chose to air quotes that put trans people in a negative light, and cut to a doctor as if to imply our president was not aware of everything the doctor had to say. We are deeply saddened by this, as it misrepresents not only our organization, but also trans men in general, by portraying us to be reckless and ill informed. Many of what Nick had said had been cut out, and almost none of what he had discussed about our organization ever made it on TV.

The first episode also was the first appearance of a religious figure, completely contradicting what the Bandila team had proactively promised us.

The second episode, which was to be about a ‘success story’, also failed to meet expectations when the news segment chose instead to focus on the interviewee, El’s, pansexuality. While the interviewee had given the info freely, they did so to make a point about how sexuality and gender identity were not synonymous. What happened instead was that the show had made no effort to differentiate pansexuality from transgenderism, confusing many viewers into believing that they were synonymous— the very thing the El had wanted to avoid.

We are also greatly horrified by the way El’s body had been portrayed in a very sexualized manner. Having done interviews in the past as well, El had allowed them to film him exercising without a shirt, assuming they would use the footage in a tasteful manner, showing it as just one of the activities he enjoys doing, such as had been the case with interviews in the past. The decision to blur out his chest also added to the uncomfortably sexualized feel of the shots, none of which we found to be portrayed as in a respectful manner at all.

The third interviewee, Aiju, also laments how the editing had left out how the editing had chosen to cut out more positive parts of his story. Perhaps, we speculated, that was because the story was not up to par with the sort of emotional anguish that Bandila had hoped to show. Maybe they wanted more physical violence or blatant discrimination. Unfortunately though, given both the time frame, and the sensitive nature of the topic which makes almost all those who have experienced and are experiencing more abusive problems are often unwilling to speak up, afraid doing so will put them in greater harm’s way.

We had at least hoped that Bandila would not doctor our stories for their own gain, given their positive reputation as a news show.

We as an organization felt betrayed at the end of the three-part segment. Our attempts to voice our concerns to the segment producer were met with an almost nonchalant defense of what they had done. The response we got was simply ‘some people are going to misunderstand regardless’. It was not an apology. It was an explanation.

We are writing to implore both Bandila and anyone else who claims to be allies to stop in the sensationalization of trans stories. Our stories are not there for shock value or ratings. It saddens us greatly that the trust we had placed on media practitioners claiming to want to help advance our cause has been misused, and we hope that we may find a way to amend the damage the Bandila episode had done.

We would like to thank everyone who has been understanding of us and supported us in this issue. We can only do our best now to ensure incidents like this will never repeat itself.

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