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Op-Ed

Inequality before the law: Cissexual people vs Transexual people

Though not considered as criminals, transsexual people are considered as “non-law abiding” because they are not living according to the sex assigned to them at birth. Sass Rogando Sasot explores how this perceived non-law abiding status makes transsexual people vulnerable to discrimination, which inevitably places them in an unequal relationship with others.

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Though not considered as criminals, transsexual people are considered as “non-law abiding” because they are not living according to the sex that was assigned to them at birth. Looking at specific cases of transsexual females in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Vietnam, this article explores how this perceived non-law abiding status, makes transsexual people vulnerable to discrimination, which inevitably places them in an unequal relationship with others.

The legal weight of our sex assignment at birth

The birth certificate is the legal document that establishes our existence. Through it we become legal persons, and this means that we will possess the capacity to have and to maintain certain rights, and to have duties enforceable by law. One of the important aspects of our legal personality is our sex.

Our sex is legally defined at birth. Let me digress for a moment. This article will not make any distinction between gender and sex as I don’t share the view that “sex” is a biological fact while “gender” is socially constructed. Hence, I use sex and gender interchangeably, as well as female with girl/women, and male with boy/men – but this is not to say that gender is a biological fact. Genitalia, body parts, are biological facts but the label we assign to them and the activity of assigning a particular sex/gender to them is not. As what Anne Fausto-Sterling said in Sexing the Body: gender politics and the construction of sexuality, they are social decisions based on normative views about sex/gender. More importantly, the law does not make any distinction between sex and gender. Assigning a baby’s sex is also assigning the baby’s gender. They are not separate and independent legal processes.

Taking our external genitalia as the cue, the doctor (or whoever attended to our birth) proclaims, and hence assigns us, into either the category of “boy or girl.” This proclamation, however, is not a description of what is between our legs but an act of giving us the first aspect of our legal identity: sex. Along with other details such as name, date of birth, name of parents, the sex that was proclaimed by the doctor gets entered into our birth certificate. In turn, the sex on our birth certificates will be the sex that will be reflected on all our legal documents, such as our passports. It will be also be the sex that will be considered in the application of several laws, such as marriage laws and anti-rape law.

Cissexual people find no problem with the sex to which they were assigned during their birth. In Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and Scapegoating of Feminity, Julia Serrano defines cissexual people as those “people who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sex being aligned.” Transsexual people don’t have this experience. In this article, transsexual is defined using its fundamental meaning: Transsexual people are those whose personal sex identification is “opposite” to the sex they were assigned to at birth. So, a transsexual female (transsexual girl/woman) is someone who was assigned as male at birth but identifies as female, while transsexual male (transsexual boy/man) is someone who was assigned as female but identifies as male.

Transsexual people, if they have the courage to do so, live in accordance to some, if not all, of the gender norms associated with their personal sex identification. For example, transsexual females dress as women; take on a more feminine-sounding name; prefer to be addressed as “Ms” and with feminine pronouns; and some take hormones and/or undergo surgeries to let their physical bodies match those of female cissexuals (females who were assigned as female at birth and who accepts that sex assignment. Because they were assigned as female at birth, we can safely assume that they were born with genitalia associated with being female).

BUT: Transsexual females’s mere personal sex identification, mere living in accordance to the gender norms of their sex identification, and even undergoing sex reassignment surgery do not have any automatic legally binding effect. It is only the doctor’s proclamation at our birth that has that effect. Even if there are laws that allow one’s legal sex to be changed, one is still legally the sex that is written on her birth certificate until the time the proper legal authority approves her change of sex.

The self-identification and actions of transsexual females, though not legally binding, may have a social effect. Socially,other people may recognize and therefore treat transsexual females as females, especially if they pass well enough as cissexual females. Nonetheless, in the eyes of the law they are still males and will be legally treated as such. So for them to be considered as law-abiding, they are obliged to legally identify themselves as males, doing otherwise may be considered illegal.

In Malaysia, abiding by the law does not just stop at legally identifying themselves as male, transsexual females must live publicly as one. Under the Shari’ah Law, mak nyahs (the Malaysia term for transsexual female) “can be persecuted for being a man who dresses like a woman (lelaki berlagak seperti perempuan). In almost every state, this offence carries a jail term of six months (or one year in some states) or a RM 1,000 fine (up to a maximum of RM 5,000 in one state).”

As one is obliged to use one’s legal sex on one’s legal documents, failure to do so may cause one to be denied such legal document. Consider the case of Jenny T. Ramsey, a transpinay (Filipino term for transsexual female), who is now living in Germany. When Jenny went to renew her Philippine passport in the Philippine embassy in Berlin, the embassy did not renew her passport. The reason: Jenny’s sex on her German temporary residence permit says female. It was female as Jenny managed to have her sex legally changed by petitioning a German court. However, such change though legal in Germany, is not recognized in the Philippines as there is no law allowing that change. Moreover, having two legal sex identities is also not legal in the Philippines (and perhaps in all countries in the world). Because of the absence of law that allows legal sex change or of a law that allows two legal sex identities in the Philippines, Jenny was not issued a new passport. In order for her to be able to travel, Germany issued her a passport (Jenny is now a German citizen) .

When it comes to marriage, this is also the case. One’s legal sex is the one that matters. In Hong Kong, there is this case of W, a Chinese transsexual female. Despite having her sex changed on her Hong Kong identity card from male to female, W was not allowed to marry her boyfriend because she is still legally male on her birth certificate, and that is the sex that matters when it comes to marriage.

And in rape law, the non-legality of a transsexual female’s personal and social sex identification can also mean that if she were raped she might not be able to bring those who raped her to justice – well, that is, if the rape law of her country only applies to women who are legally female. In Vietnam, judicial authorities in the north-central province of Quang Binh declined to prosecute the three men who gang raped a female transsexual because she is not legally female.

Inequality before the law: cissexuals vs. transsexuals

Transsexual females are socially marginalized and individually discriminated against because they are not living in accordance with the gender norms of their legal sex at birth. Marginalization and discrimination form and inform each other. Patterns of individual experiences of discrimination of transsexual females produce and reproduce the social process of marginalization. In turn, the social process of marginalization of transsexual females produces and reproduces their individual experiences of discrimination.

In the Philippines, in terms of employment opportunities, transpinays have long been confined to work only among four industries: entertainment, fashion, beauty, and sex. Their marginalization into these professions is brought by the discrimination that transpinays experience in other industries. To see a transpinay working outside these industries is to see the instances of exception rather than the rule. The widespread employment discrimination is one of the issues highlighted by a group of transpinays in the communication they sent in May 2011 to the United Nations under the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In terms of rights, we have seen in the case of W in Hong Kong how her right to marry has not been granted. In the case of the Vietnamese transsexual female, we see how she was denied her right to equal protection of the law.

The discrimination that transpinays experience and failure of W and the Vietnamese transsexual female to access their right can be seen a result of the absence of law. This argument is strong in terms of the case of W and the Vietnamese transsexual female. W’s right to marry could have been granted if there’s a law allowing transsexual females in Hong Kong to marry; while the Vietnamese transsexual female’s right to equal protection of the law could have been respected if the rape law in Vietnam considered the rape of legally male persons as rape. However, this absence of law is not strong in the case of transpinays. An anti-discrimination law would not stop discrimination against them from happening for it only acts as a remedy after they were discriminated. As what Irish Young observed in Justice and the Politics of Difference about the unequal distribution of managerial positions among men and women, the general pattern of discrimination is still “reproduced even in the face of conscious efforts to change it.” Young suggests that understanding why this is so, “entails evaluation of a matrix of rules, attitudes, interactions, and policies as a social process that produces and reproduces that pattern.”

In the case of transpinays, it is not the absence of law per se that produces and reproduces the pattern of discrimination that they experience. What produces these patterns of discrimination is the presence of a law that takes cissexual people’s experience of gender as the norm. This is equally true with the case of W and of the Vietnamese transsexual female, as well as in the case of Jenny who was not issued a Philippine passport because her legal sex under German law is not legal under Philippine law.

What’s the law got to do with it?

So what does the law got to do with producing and reproducing patterns of discrimination? Aren’t we all equal under the law in a democratic state? Let me first answer the latter. Yes we are. But: Cissexual and transsexual people are equal before the law only in the sense that their legal sexes are what are legally binding and not their personal sex identifications. Equality in this sense takes cissexual people’s reality as the legal norm (legal sex = personal sex identification). Because of this legal norm, discrimination against transsexual people can be easily justified because the sex that they personally identified with has no legal weight.

As for the former question, the law produces, reproduces and enforces the prescriptions of gender norms that accompany the proclamation of our sex at birth, specially the gender norm that the sex we should declare ourselves should be in conformity to the sex we were proclaimed at birth. For cissexual people, this prescription is not a problem. For transsexual people, it is; and we have learned how this prescription acts as a constraint to transsexual female’s lives and therefore limit their capability to function as an equal citizen.

As what Elizabeth Anderson said in What’s the point of equality?, to stand in relations of equality with others means to be not oppressed and dominated. Oppression and domination are not the social conditions of freedom but, as Iris Marion Young said, “the social conditions that define injustice.” Oppression and domination, Young respectively defines as “the institutional constraint on self-development” and “the institutional constraint on self-determination.”
The law as we have seen in the cases of transsexual females can be oppressive for the law reinforces the discrimination against them. And as transsexual females are discriminated, they have limited access to opportunities that can contribute to their self development. The can also be a tool of domination of cissexual people. The law’s institutionalization of cissexual people’s experience of gender provides what Young called as the “structured operation of…domination”; and this structure of domination provide the “background, medium, or purpose” that “produce and reproduce” patterns of discrimination against transsexual females.

Dignity

“The counterpart to an individual’s inalienable right to the social conditions of her freedom,” Anderson said, “is the unconditional obligation of others to respect her dignity….” She based the unconditionality of the obligation to respect someone’s dignity from Kant’s notion of a universal inherent dignity, which is “not conditional upon anyone’s desires or preferences, not even to the individual’s own desires.” By considering dignity unconditional, Anderson justified “lifetime [egalitarian] guarantees without resorting to paternalism.” Dignity secures these lifetime guarantees as it is universal and unconditional; and it helps avoid paternalism, for dignity, as it is universal, places someone in equal footing with others. One then doesn’t claim rights on the basis of her inferiority but on her equality with others. Equality guaranteed by the inherency, universality, and unconditionality of dignity, which is what egalitarian political movements assert: the equal moral worth of person.

The qualities of dignity so mentioned are of course normativ: It is what dignity should or ought to be. Normative concepts become problematic when we consider them substantively: The should and ought do get in conflict with what it is in actuality. Whether it is actually inherent or not is a long philosophical discussion, which this article cannot fully cover. I focus instead on the universality and unconditionality of dignity.

Granting that dignity is a quality we inherently have, it is a quality that is not above the influence of social relations. A social order based on unequal social relations can affect the equality of dignity. In an unequal social relationship, the dignity of those who are in the bottom of the ladder depends upon the recognition and evaluation of those who are occupying the higher rung. This of course is contrary to the unconditionality trait of dignity but not to the universality of dignity because recognizing that someone has dignity does not mean that she has no dignity. I assume, and I might be right to assume, that we are still far from a society without a pecking order. Hence, right now other people’s dignity is still under the mercy of other’s recognition. But the good news is, recognition of someone’s dignity can lead to the dismantling of inegalitarian social relations, and by doing so distribute dignity in the process. However this can’t happen by just being recognized by others, people also has to recognize their dignity. As James Tully said in Struggles over recognition and distribution, “recognizing [oneself] and others will have effects in the distribution or redistribution of the relations of power. Of course, the new rule of mutual recognition will itself constitute a redistribution of ‘recognition capital’ (status, respect, and esteem).”

Transsexual people must embrace without condition that they have dignity. And that will begin the process of dismantling inegalitarian social conditions, which includes the legal system that gives structure to their oppression and reinforces the discrimination they experience.

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Op-Ed

Help bi help ourselves

“Let me be blunt here: The Philippines’ LGBT community needs to affirm our existence… And perhaps more importantly, help us create a culture wherein bi people define their own identity. In a gist, help us help ourselves…”

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Bi erasure happens in many ways. 

When people push the idea that bisexuality does not exist. When people continue to refer to us as “lesbian” or “gay”, even if we’ve already self-identified as “bisexual”. When people tell us that we just use the term “bi” to “deny our homosexuality”. When people insist that we are actually straight, and are just experimenting or confused. When people describe bisexuality as a “purgatory” for people who have yet to make up their minds. When people hyper-sexualize us (called as “flirts”, “perverts” and “polygamous” because we are attracted to both males and females).

In all of these, we get brushed off as non-existent.

And this is why – even if we supposedly count as among the letters in the LGBT alphabet – bisexual Pride continues to be weak in the Philippines (particularly when compared with LBT).

The LGBT community itself is part of the “problem”, with many members believing – if not advocating – the erroneous beliefs (cited above) about being bi.

Consider this: In 2016, when we joined the Metro Manila Pride parade, that annual gathering supposedly to highlight (all) LGBT Filipinos, there were only two of us who openly marched as bisexuals, representing Side B Philippines. In hindsight, another group whose members identified as bi was there; but that group was not even considered a “real/actual” organization, just a “gathering of similarly self-identifying people”.

Suffice to say, it continues to be a challenge to have bisexual people come out.

And not extending a hand is not making it easier either. 

But I believe a pro-active approach can help.

Let me be blunt here: The Philippines’ LGBT community needs to affirm our existence. 

Help us steer the conversations about us – e.g. not confuse being bi with just being “discreet”.  Celebrate “Bisexual Awareness Month” every September. Support bi-led activities (e.g. next year Side B Philippines is planning to spearhead a bi awareness campaign and hold numerous activities to ensure bi visibility). And perhaps more importantly, help us create a culture wherein bi people define their own identity. In a gist, help us help ourselves…

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Op-Ed

I may be HIV+ but that still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you

This is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me.

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“I’m HIV-positive.”

That was the short sentence I remember telling this guy I used to date.

Okay – to backtrack – I met a guy while I was in Northern Mindanao. We dated for a while, and – at least I thought – things between us went smoothly for a while. I’d say he wasn’t bad-looking even if he looked somewhat common. He had one of those “if you stay long enough, I can teach myself to maybe even like you” face.

And then one night, we became more intimate than the usual. So I had to stop what we were doing (before we progressed further). And then – after prepping him up by first discussing with him his views about HIV and people living with HIV – I told him I had something important to tell him (if we were to advance what we had).

Thus that short sentence.

His face immediately changed; from what I saw was longing to… shocked. He couldn’t even say a word. And when he was finally able to utter a word, it was just to tell me that “I forgot I had to be elsewhere.”

The alibi was lame. But what made it more insulting was that I wasn’t even that into him to begin with; he was just a possible lay (if it came to that).

But that moment taught me two important things.

On one hand, how the sexuality of so many PLHIVs are tempered by their status.

I have frequently heard of medical practitioners who tell PLHIVs to “already stop having sex now that you’re HIV-positive; dadami pa kayo (you’d abet in increasing the number of PLHIVs)” – all too obviously unaware of safer sexual practices and U=U, among others. Worse, this sentiment is shared by a lot of PLHIVs themselves, who see their status as a “punishment”, and the only “cure” is to stop having sex altogether. Oh, please!

On the other hand, recognizing that being sexual doesn’t disappear (and doesn’t need to vanish) with being HIV-positive, there seems to be this supposition of PLHIVs being “desperate”.

That guy I dated, for instance, had every right NOT to have sex with me (it’s called power over one’s body); but that he had to lie just to get away from me was – to admit the truth – not only discourteous but even insulting. I suppose particularly because… I wasn’t even that into him.

Here’s the thing: Me living with HIV means just that – that I have HIV. But it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my (yes!) sexual appetite and (for that matter) taste/preferences/standards on who to do it with.

And I believe this is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me. And if (some) guys can’t see that, well…

Because remember dearie, just because I am HIV-positive still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you.

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From the Editor

Women are not ‘disgusting’; gay men are just not into them…

Why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

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Time to unlearn sub-/unconscious misogyny.

Here’s the thing: With the demise of Christine Dacera, and with predominantly gay (and perhaps bi) men considered as suspects by the error-filled PNP (Philippine National Police), many members of the LGBTQIA community surfaced to defend members of the rainbow family.

Background info: Christine Dacera, a flight attendant, celebrated her New Year’s Eve with gay/bi friends in a hotel in Makati City. On New Year’s Day, her body was found lifeless. The PNP (pre-empting everything) pushed for questionable narratives – e.g. that she was “raped” (even if the autopsy report couldn’t validate this), and then committed inept acts – e.g. announcing the case to be “solved” when it really wasn’t, jailing three of the people who claimed to have helped Christine that night (with a judge ordering them to release the three; and then basically telling them to, yes, do their job properly), embalming the body before another (independent) autopsy can be done, etc.

It didn’t help PNP at all when one of its top brass stated that “gay men are still men” (Yes, sir, they are; DUH!) and insinuated that gayness can, basically, be cured by alcohol (that is, they’d start having sex with, or even rape women when they’re drunk).

Going online, among the statements of “support” for the gay/bi suspects, however, you’d find statements like “yuck”, gross ang vagina”, “babae, yuck”, “kadiri“, and so on. All these supposedly refer to what gay men “feel” when with women.

And let’s stop spewing these misogynistic statements.

Misogyny – that hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women (Merriam-Webster, 2021) – can be blatant. But it can also be “invisible”. And get this, even members of minority sectors – such as those from the LGBTQIA community – can be misogynistic.

This seeming disdain for women – or their body parts – is actually misogynistic.

If you think this I am making a big “leap” with this claim, consider that in Psychology Today, Dr. Berit Brogaard wrote that “in most cases, misogynists do not even know that they hate women.”

After all, why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

The antiquated – and, well, fatuous – macho culture in PNP has been harming members of the LGBTQIA community. Let’s not become part of the problem by becoming just as antiquated and, yes, just as fatuous.

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From the Editor

To stand united, we also need to watch our tongues…

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power. But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses. And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves.

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I was 28 the first time I was told I’m old. We were in a bar in Malate (the former gay capital of the City of Manila); and then – while partying with friends – this 21-year-old gay guy who was with a friend said: “You’re too old to be in a bar; yuck!”.

Ageism – which refers to prejudice or discrimination on the basis of age – is an issue in the LGBTQIA community. It is an issue that has been tackled repeatedly in the past; though, admittedly, perhaps not as much in the Philippines.

In 2009, for instance, Malcolm Sargeant published “Age discrimination, sexual orientation and gender identity: UK/US perspectives” in Equal Opportunities International”, which noted that LGBTQIA elders suffer from particular discrimination when compared to that suffered by elders in general, and heterosexual elders in particular.

It is, therefore, not surprising that elders have been calling for inclusion; something that Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE (an American organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ elders), said that should be tackled. “Over and over what we hear again from our elders is that they feel invisible and forgotten by the rest of the community, and that includes our younger people… And what we’ve seen is that it’s so powerful when older and younger people come together and engage as activists,” Adams was quoted as saying by Out.com.

These two points – ageism, and the need to dump it if we want to move forward TOGETHER – was re-emphasized to me after hearing from some of PNP’s suspects in the demise of Christine Dacera.

As FYI: Christine, a flight attendant, partied with mostly gay/bi friends during New Year’s Eve. She passed away on New Year’s Day; and the PNP has been “forcing” a narrative that she was “raped”, with a high-ranking policeman even claiming that when gay men get drunk, they “also become men”.

This one’s not to talk about PNP messing everything up; PNP’s assertion that “gay men are still men” (based on this antiquated misconception that “gay men are not ‘real’ men”); PNP’s erroneous belief that alcohol is a “cure” to being LGBTQIA (Hello, CBCP, send some my way!); and PNP’s insinuation that, yes, all men are rapists.

Instead, this is to focus on how “damage” can come from within the LGBTQIA community. And we really need to be aware of this; and even take steps to deal with this.

Now back to ageism and how this happens from within.

When ABS-CBN News interviewed some of the initial suspects (who were released when the court told PNP it, basically, didn’t do its job properly to pin these people down), one of them stated (off-handedly, if I may add; proceed to 56:25 in the YT video below) that they mingled with “mga bakla” in a separate room, but that this room had “matatanda/bakla na may mga edad na” so they may as well move to their room/a different room since “wala namang pogi dito eh“.

Discriminating may have been unintentional (ageism, and yes, lookism); but it’s still there.

The suspects’ names have been unnecessarily dragged by the PNP which committed errors after errors after errors when it dealt with this case – e.g. it prematurely declared the case “solved”; it claimed there was “rape” when the initial autopsy report did not back this claim; its key people even threatened that if the suspects did not willingly surrender, then they should expect the worse (and yes, we all know what THAT meant); and it basically prevented another autopsy from being done to the body when it had the body embalmed sans informing the family, etc.

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends and acquaintances, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power.

But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses.

And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves. Because how can we stand united if we discriminate against people we hope will actually support us (e.g. the LGBTQIA community as a whole, including the elders and, yes, the “not pogi“)?

So let’s be more self-aware as we start dealing with this…

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From the Editor

About sex work (and prostitution) among Filipinos at the time of Covid-19

Various Facebook GCs (group chats) highlight how Covid-19 may have pushed many Filipinos into the sex industry. And yet – except in these GCs – this is largely ignored.

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Facebook just prompted me to “join” three GCs (group chats) related to sex work (and even prostitution). One is for “mga lalaking bayaran“, another for masseurs with ES (extra service; the extra being the sexual favor), and another for “for hire daks Pinoys”.

These aren’t exclusive GCs, actually; and they aren’t new, either. Many others like them abound in Facebook (among other social networking sites).

But upon checking, what struck me with these GCs this time around is Covid-19’s effect/s on the (current) memberships. So many are in this because of desperation. For instance, it is not uncommon to see comments like: “Nawalan lang ng trabaho; sino gusto tumulong para may ipa-Pasko kaming mag-aama“; or “Para tulong lang sa online classes.”

This is another facet of the sex industry (and even prostitution) as exacerbated by the pandemic.

And this face – while at least tackled overseas – isn’t really openly discussed in the Philippines…

IN THE SHADOWS

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, this is worth stressing. Penalties vary, up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking (covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003).

No, the country doesn’t distinguish between sex work and prostitution; here, those in the sex industry are largely considered as in need of being “saved”. Not just the body, too; but also the “soul”.

But – get this – prostitution is actually openly tolerated – e.g. let’s stop pretending we don’t know what many GROs actually do; what masseurs offer when they say “E.S.”; and that there are local government units that give workers (of bars, spas, massage parlors, KTV bars, and so on) “pink cards” to guarantee that they are STI-free and are “sexually clean/safe”.

And really, except for the occasional “saving” of trafficked people (who are then turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development) we see in TV, the deafening silence on this is what’s remarkable.

TRANSACTIONAL SEX

This silence is… worrisome.

Particularly because this continues to happen; and yes (yet again), exacerbated by Covid-19.

What the GC members I’ve come across in Facebook are doing aren’t new, actually. The Philippines – dearies – isn’t excluded from the “oldest profession in the world.” This, obviously, includes male sex workers (befitting the handling of this topic here).

Consider that in 2003, the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation released the 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS3) that noted that about 11% of sexually active young people aged 15-24 did it with someone of the same sex. Of this figure, 87% are men who have sex with men (MSM; meaning they may not self-identify as gay or bi, but have sex with other men).

Here’s what’s worth stressing in UP’s study: Almost half of those who had same-sex encounters also engaged in commercial sex. Approximately 19% paid for sex, while 11% received payment for sexual favors.

At that time, Dr. Corazon Raymundo, project coordinator of YAFS3, stated that it appears that in a fast changing world, the “usual norms and expectations do not hold true anymore.”

REVISIT… EVERYTHING

There are too many interconnected issues that should be considered here…

There’s poverty; and how this forces people to do things they may not otherwise do.

There’s the continuing lack of government support for its people; otherwise, those who do not want to sell themselves wouldn’t be forced to do so – e.g. selling oneself for “online classes”; because of loss of employment; etc.

There’s the pervasive ignorance re the sex industry; this is what leads to the abuse of those involved in it because – since they are considered illegal to begin with – they can’t even access State support if they are abused, etc.

There’s the impact of tech on the industry.

There’s the ongoing hypocrisy re this – e.g. church people want to “save” sex workers; but ask them to give these same people job in the church, and start counting how many reasons they can come up with just to (basically) say “No way!”.

There’s the continuing “punishment” of those in the sex industry; and yet… look at how the patrons get away with “buying” (e.g. the GCs in Facebook blatantly haggle with the service providers, demanding for the absurd while asking to lower the prices).

There’s the continuing ignoring of the sexual and reproductive health concerns of Filipinos.

There’s the silence re this; it’s staring us in the face, and we don’t even talk about this.

And on, and on, and on we go…

In the end, this needs to be tackled. No matter your angle” – e.g. because it inadvertently signifies the adverse effects of Covid-19 on poorer sectors of society; because it highlights government inaction/misaction; because it needs to be monitored as a health issue; because you’re self-righteous and you want to “save” them all; etc. – this shouldn’t, couldn’t be ignored. Covid-19 is re-emphasizing what was already there; and so please… just address this already…

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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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