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Raquela Rios: Courting the Queen

Raquela Rios, hailing from Mandaue in the Province of Cebu, stars in The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (which looks at the plight of transgenders in the Philippines), and helps re-define what it means to be a woman.

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Raquela Rios
Actress, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela

“I was not being positive (with playing the lead role in Queen Raquela). I’m a type of person who prefers to live a life in private. But then a realization dawned on (me). I realized I could serve as an inspiration to many; not just to the transgenders or transsexuals, but to everyone in the society – as a Filipino, as a transgender and transsexual, and as a citizen of a Third World country,” says Raquela Rios.

Her Facebook account has, at one time or another, used Valerija Kushukskina, Snježana Yevteushenko, and Ilena Kokkinopoulou for her profile name – but she may well be more known as Queen Raquela, the main actor in a female role of Poppoli Productions’ documentary movie The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, which won the 2008 Teddy Award for Best Featured Film at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival for Panorama Fims.

She is, of course, Raquela Rios, the MTF transgender hailing from Mandaue City in the Province of Cebu, who, when asked when she realized she was in the wrong body, said: “For as long as I can remember, though I was never a toy-oriented person (like playing with Barbie or with guns), as a kid, I liked to play baha-bahayan and I liked portraying the role of the housewife. At that time, I still had no idea what I am, who I am. But it eventually dawned on me that this is me, this is what I am – and what I am is not a boy, I’m a girl.”

The realization did not make life easy for Raquela.

“It was a bit hard for me growing up since many were against my effeminate behaviour,” says Raquela, who also recalled having to “blend in with the norms.” “Having been taught that homosexuality/transsexuality is a sin and is bad, I was scared, naive, not knowledgeable of the truth. And when people teased me as bakla, I always just cried, picking fights with anyone and everyone to deny the fact that this is me.”

“I don’t know how much of the story can be said to be completely mine,” Raquela Rios says, smiling. Then turning serious: “But then looking at the film – how it was done and how the story line flow – it really talks about the reality of most TGs living in the Philippines, on how they live their life, et cetera, even though it doesn’t talk about sex change and transformation and the likes. It is more about penetrating the lives and their daily encounters.”

Her living differently from the stereotypic normative did not make it easy for others, too, so much so that “at first, I had to be discreet about it, about being me because while I know they knew (my being different, just about everyone was) against it.” In fact, when she reached college, she had to somewhat live two lives – “Every time I was out of the house, away from the eyes of my family or neighbours, I’d come out from my shell,” she recalls.

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Eventually, though – and fortunately – “they came to accepted me (for being me.”

Life being difficult particularly for TGs hasn’t changed much – at least if Queen Raquela the movie is to be used as basis.

Queen Raquela the movie follows the life story of, yes, Raquela, a sex worker Filipino MTF transgender (dubbed, a la TGs in Thailand, a “ladyboy”) who wanted to escape the streets of Cebu City for a (assumed, at least) better life in Paris, France. Stopping working the streets, Raquela instead started working in the Internet porn industry – which was how she met an Icelandic “ladyboy”, Valerie, as well as one Michael, the owner of the Web site she worked for. Valerie is the one to help Raquela go to Iceland; Michael, eventually, offers her access to Paris.
With a character named after her, the first question that comes to mind is exactly how much of the character Raquela’s story is based on the life of the person playing her.

“I don’t know how much of the story can be said to be completely mine,” Raquela says, smiling. Then turning serious: “But then looking at the film – how it was done and how the story line flow – it really talks about the reality of most TGs living in the Philippines, on how they live their life, et cetera, even though it doesn’t talk about sex change and transformation and the likes. It is more about penetrating the lives and their daily encounters.”

READ:  Using art to help those who cannot raise their voices

Like Raquela in the movie, Raquela, too, met Icelandic Olaf de Fleur Johannesson “via social network online – I (have forgotten) what site that was – but I thought he was looking for a date or girlfriend or something, so we (chatted). At that time, I was looking for an online date or a relationship.” However, “I didn’t see any future with him since all he did was talk about his job in the film industry, et cetera. I felt like I had to ditch him because he was not coming over to the Philippines anyway.”

After a few months, however, the filmmaker sent Raquela an SMS, telling her he was coming over to shoot a film. Even then, he was interested in her as the subject of the film even if “I wasn’t interested to be an actress since I never dreamt of becoming one. But I told him I would be happy to help him find his subject until the time we met for real.”

Raquela was persuaded to do some test shots, at which point, “I already grew to like the (developments),” she says, eventually making her accept the role of Queen Raquela.

Not that, from then on, things already went smoothly.

“At first, it was all awkward,” says Raquela. “I was not being positive (with the experience). I’m a type of person who prefers to live a life in private.”

But then a realization dawned on Raquela. “I realized I could serve as an inspiration to many; not just to the transgenders or transsexuals, but to everyone in the society – as a Filipino, as a transgender and transsexual, and as a citizen of a Third World country,” she says.

And how has life changed for Raquela after her foray with, well, fame?

“It bettered my standards in looking for a man in my life,” she beams. And then, on a more serious note: “I can say it empowered me as it (helped teach me maturity) – even if, at the same time, I also gained some recognition and made new friends from all over the world.”

Raquela’s way of seeing has long broadened, as she has also worked as a GLBTQI rights advocate in Cebu City to fight against discrimination and give rights to GLBTQIs (specialization in safer sex practices).

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In her Facebook profile, Raquela states that she is a “pre-op transsexual.” The thing, though, is that this identification is more for other people’s ‘comfort’ than for hers. “To be honest,” she says, “I prefer to be a non-op transsexual. The only reason I (use that descriptor) is because not all know what a non-op transsexual is.”

The point is the deconstruction of the heteronormative – often erroneous – beliefs.
“For me everyone is entitled (to be who and what) they want to be,” Raquela says. “If one wants to undergo sexual reassignment surgery to be happy, go for it. But for me, I choose to be a non-op since I know I am a woman, a transsexual woman. I don’t need (any) process of going under the knife to make me a woman.”

The necessary change, stresses Raquela, is in the recognition of the individual differences.

“If there is a law that recognizes TGs in their own gender, then for me, it will be not necessary to go for any operation just to change one’s identity from male to female or female to male (the deemed identifiers of sex and gender differentiation),” she says.

That there remain stereotypes about transgenders, including association with sex work, is true, but “we are all different individuals and you can’t just conclude one to be such or such,” she says, adding that even if assumptions may prove to be true, too, “we still have to respect every one as human beings – after all, (even for TGs in the sex industry, they still) have to make a living in a harsh world, considering the harsh treatment they experience every day.” And this is even if TGs “could offer a lot of other things just like all of the other people out there (when given the chance).”

These are issues, of course, that the GLBTQIA community, as a whole, needs to deal with – something problematic since “there’s often no unity in (the GLBTQIA community) so that many actually marginalize themselves into gay versus TG versus lesbian versus bisexual. There remains so much hate even within (our ranks),” Raquela says.

Hopefully, however, films like Queen Raquela can help remedy the situation.

“(Through such efforts, hopefully) people will get a glimpse of the life, the struggles of being GLBTQI – especially of living in a country where we are not protected by laws and we are not recognized to have human rights.”

Raquela remains hopeful, nonetheless, inspired by the “the existing sisterhood/brotherhood, too, (in the GLBTQIA community),” she says. “(Our community) is colourful, full of life – as such, it is fun, not just tediously serious all the time.”

What’s next for Raquela?

“To come out of a ‘depression’ stage,” she says, as Raquela continues to finish her studies, yet to decide if she’ll pursue becoming a chef or a haute couture fashion designer. The dream, though, is to “maybe go back to Europe to build a ‘normal’ life – “my experiences (there) opened my eyes to (a TG) life’s possibilities.”

For now, though, remember her as “Queen Raquela, the innocent/naive but street smart girl who touches everyone’s heart.”

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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Emma Watson highlights LGBTQI support, wears ‘trans rights are human rights’ t-shirt

The 28-year-old ‘Harry Potter’ actress showed her support for the rights of all transgender people by wearing a t-shirt that stated: “Trans rights are human rights.”

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Emma Watson highlighted her support for the LGBTQI community via a new social media post.

The 28-year-old Harry Potter actress showed her support for the rights of all transgender people by wearing a t-shirt that stated: “Trans rights are human rights.”

The move may be deemed small, but – at least in raising the issue – this ought to count, considering Watson has 48 million followers in Instagram alone. As of press time, it already had over a million likes.

 

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💖✊🏻 @stonewalluk @mermaidsgender @genderedintelligence

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Watson’s message appears to be in response to the UK government’s discussion of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Trans activists are calling for the GRA to be reformed for it to recognize non-binary identities and makes it easier to legally self-determine gender for trans people of all ages, including an end to requiring that trans statuses be dependent upon medical diagnosis or approval.

This is not the first time Watson showed her support for the LGBTQI community.

In the past, she also wrote about LGBT History Month on Instagram: “It’s 🏳️‍🌈 LGBT History Month in the USA. I have learned so much about feminism and anti-racism through the work of LGBTQIA+ activists. Thank you Sylvia Rivera, Audre Lorde and Marsha P. Johnson!! Sending love to all those I love and wider LGBTQIA+ communities around the world.”

Watson also spearheaded the HeForShe campaign for feminism. Speaking at the UN in 2014, she said: “If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are — we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.”

READ:  Dana: 'Give yourself happiness'

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#KaraniwangLGBT

To live a life in service

Meet Carla Culaste, the trans houseparent of a halfway house for people living with HIV in the City of Manila. It’s a challenging – and yet fulfilling – job, he said, as he stressed to others to learn more about HIV to promote non-discrimination.

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

Carla Culaste, now 26, was around 12 years old when he first visited the Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI). His sister worked for the non-government organization that was founded by his gay uncle, Joshua Formentera. Even then, he said that he was always “impressed” with how it was able to touch the lives of Filipino PLHIVs, providing them a “safe space” when even their own homes failed to do so.

Little did he know that – by the time he’d turn 22 – he’d be working as the houseparent of the NGO’s Abot Kamay Center, a halfway house for PLHIVs who are in need of a helping hand to get back on their feet.

DAILY ROUTINE

From Monday to Friday, Carla sleeps at the center. On weekends, he heads home (in Parañaque, where his family lives). But even if his work is actually supposedly only from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, “as a houseparent, 27/7 ka nakabantay (I watch after them 24/7).”

Part of Carla’s job is to “always check on the clients” – from checking if they have supplies of their medicines, if they actually take their medicines on time, if they eat properly, et cetera. This is particularly true when dealing with new clients who may still have physical limitations and need help in their day-to-day living in the shelter.

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Aside from this, Carla also helps manage clients who may need to be rushed to the hospital, particularly when “wala silang pamilya na willing tumulong sa kanila (if they don’t have family willing to help them).” By extension, therefore, Carla becomes an alternative family member.

Iniisip ko kasi, bilang houseparent, hindi lang ako nanay o tatay sa kanila (As a houseparent, I do not only see myself as a father or a mother to them), Carla said. “Ano rin ako sa kanila… kapatid, kaibigan na puwede nilang takbuhan pag kailangan nila ng makakausap (I am also a sibling, a friend to them; someone they can go to if they need to talk to someone).”

But it is a fulfilling job, particularly when he sees people he helped do well in life. “Nakakasaya rin (It makes one happy),” he said.

GROWING UP TRANS

Carla didn’t finish high school; though if given a chance, he’d like to study again.

As a trans man, his life was not always easy.

The youngest of six kids, he always identified as a trans man.

“Before, hindi nila ako matanggap (In the past, my family couldn’t accept me),” he said. “Against sa religion nila (Being LGBTQIA was against their religion).”

As a child, two of his borther also bullied him; they hurt him verbally, as well as physically.

When he told his parents about it, they just dismissed the bullying, telling Carla that perhaps “naglalambing lang sila (they were just being affectionate)”.

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But Carla said he still chose to be what he is because this is what makes him happy.

By the time Carla had his first partner, “wala na rin sila nagawa (there was nothing they could do but accept me).”

In hindsight, that experience taught Carla an important lesson in life: To be accepting.

Kung paano mo i-treat ang tao… ipakita mo sa kanila na kaya mo silang intindihin kahit magkaiba kayo (In treating people, show them that you can understand them even if you’re different from each other),” Carla said.

EVERYONE’S ISSUE

With her exposure to the HIV community, Carla wants PLHIVs to learn to care for themselves. For instance, not to do things (e.g.vices) that will – in the end – just be bad on/for them. “Huwag matigas ang ulo (Don’t be hardheaded),” he said.

To everyone, he said “huwag kayong matakot sa PLHIVs (don’t be afraid of PLHIVs).” In fact, “matuto tayong sumuporta (sa PLHIVs) hindi lang sa kamag-anak natin (na may HIV). Maging concern din tayo sa iba. Iwasan natin ang discrimination (We should learn to support PLHIVs, not just relatives who may have it. We should show our concern to everyone. We should avoid discrimination).”

Learning also helps, he said, “at bigyan natin ng kaalaman sarili natin tungkol sa HIV kasi dagdag impormasyon yan para sa atin (and for us to add to our knowledge everything about HIV since this is good to our lifelong learning).”

READ:  Using art to help those who cannot raise their voices

For more information on Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI), visit Abot Kamay Center at 2613 Dian St., Malate, City of Manila, 1004 Philippines.
They may also be reached at (+632) 4042911; or email pafpiorg@gmail.com.

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NEWSMAKERS

Heart Evangelista pushes for non-discrimination of LGBTQI people

Actress Heart Evangelista – wife of Sen. Francis Escudero – expressed her support for the SOGIE Equality Bill, the newest version of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB).

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#LoveIsAllWeNeed

Actress Heart Evangelista – wife of Sen. Francis Escudero – expressed her support for the SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) Equality Bill, the newest version of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB).

In an Instagram post, Evangelista said that “everyone has the right to live, work and dream”, and that “the SOGIE (Equality Bill) is a step in the right direction to guarantee the protection of those rights, especially for our friends in the LGBTQIA+ community.”

The SOGIE Equality Bill passed the Lower House in 2017; but the Senate version of the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) – the Senate Bill No. 1271 – remains stalled.

Evangelista added that “last year the bill made great progress but we still have a long way to go.” This is why “my husband and I are in full support of this bill and hope to see it move forward and become a law.”

Escudero himself has been vocal about his support for the LGBTQI community.

READ:  Using art to help those who cannot raise their voices

In 2012, he took part in the “I dare to care about equality”, a photographic campaign spearheaded by the Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy (Bahaghari Center). Then while running for the VP post last election, he expressed his support for civil union for same-sex couples.

Evangelista’s IG post has already been liked over 80,000 times.

Sen. Chiz Escudero stresses ‘our duty to ensure equality’

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Karen Davila expresses support for anti-discrimination bill

TV personality Karen Davila expressed her support for the LGBTQI community in the Philippines by highlighting the relevance of the need for the SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) Equality Bill, the newest version of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB).

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#LoveIsAllWeNeed

TV personality Karen Davila expressed her support for the LGBTQI community in the Philippines by highlighting the relevance of the need for the SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) Equality Bill, the newest version of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB).

The SOGIE Equality Bill passed the Lower House in 2017; but the Senate version of the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) – the Senate Bill No. 1271 – remains stalled.

In a Twitter post that – as of press time – has been shared over 160 times, Davila said that the bill “seeks to protect individuals against sex and gender-based discrimination, which include denial of access to public and health services, employment and education.”

Davila then posted a photo of herself wearing a rainbow pin on her collar.


Davila is actually a vocal LGBTQI advocate.

Earlier, in 2016, Davila received the Bahaghari Media Awards from Outrage Magazine for helping inform/educate the public about LGBTQIA-related issues, thereby aiding in bettering the plight of LGBTQIA people particularly in the Philippines.

Bahaghari Media Awards 2016 celebrates LGBTQIA allies in media

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Jason Mraz opens up about his ‘two spirit’ sexuality, admits having experiences with men

‘I’m Yours’ singer Jason Mraz opened up about his sexuality by saying that he had experiences with men, even while he was dating the woman who became his wife. His wife “laid it out” for him, Mraz said, by calling it ‘Two Spirit’. “I really like that.”

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Screencap of Jason Mraz from the YouTube video of 'I'm Yours'

“I’m Yours” singer Jason Mraz, 41, opened up about his sexuality by revealing that “I’ve had experiences with men, even while I was dating the woman who became my wife.”

Interviewed by Billboard, Mraz said that “it was like, ‘Wow, does that mean I am gay?’”

His wife for three years now, Christina Carano, helped him embrace his sexual identity.

“My wife laid it out for me. She calls it ‘Two Spirit,’ which is what the Native Americans call someone who can love both man and woman,” Mraz said. “I really like that.”

The term “Two Spirit” was coined in the 1990s at a conference for gay and lesbian Native Americans as an umbrella term with no specific description of gender or sexual orientation, according to the New York Times.

Mraz has actually opened up about his sexuality even prior to this. In 2005, for instance, he told Genre that he was “bisexually open-minded” when he told the publication that “I have never been in a sexual relationship with a man. If the right one came along, then sure.”

In 2012, he also indicated that he wasn’t comfortable with labels. “Were we to live in a society that was equal those labels wouldn’t really exist or matter except maybe at the DMV or someplace where, for some reason, you have to put down gender, race or age,” he said to Pride Source. “I don’t get it. I don’t get why sexuality has to be such a big deal.”

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Just this June, in time for the observance of Pride, Mraz wrote a Pride-themed poem, where a line stated: “I am bi your side”. Mraz said that he “didn’t realize (it) was going to be so telling”.

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The young believer

For Ian Jaurigue, it is nice to know that there are already a lot of people who support the LGBTQI community these days. “But as long as there is still inequality on the basis of one’s SOGIE, our call and our fight should be stronger,” he said.

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“As long as there are LGBT advocates who will fight tirelessly for the advancement of our advocacy, things will get better.”

So said 19-year-old Ian Jaurigue, a self-identified “gender advocate”.

And Ian believes that “(the older generation) did a good job when it comes to working for the advocacy, and we need to learn from their experiences and be grateful for it. If they did not start it, the advocacy would not have had moved forward.”

According to Ian, the young advocates today still have a lot to do; and for Ian, this is “not just talk and rant about (the issues).”

But while recognizing the efforts of those who helped start the movement, Ian also recognizes that there are gaps. And these gaps are not helped by the “disconnect” between his generation and the one before it.

“The struggles may have evolved and revolutionized, but we, the younger generation, still need to reflect and learn from what they have accomplished,” he said. Only “by doing this (will we be helped to) have a stronger grasp of our advocacy.”

Also, even if the LGBTQI movement has reached new heights, according to Ian, the young advocates today still have a lot to do; and for Ian, this is “not just talk and rant about (the issues).”

“It is nice to know that there are already a lot of people who support us. But it does not mean that we should settle for these little triumphs. As long as there is still inequality on the basis of one’s SOGIE, our call and our fight should be stronger,” Ian said.

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Incidentally, Ian is also a freelance makeup artist, theater and indie actor, dancer, a student at U.P. Diliman, and… a drag artist. He is known in the drag community as – plainly – Mrs Tan.

“My style is a mixture of dance, comedy, and theater,” Ian said.

Though he is still new in the world of drag, Ian believes that the way he carries himself and how he performs onstage prove that “age is nothing but a number”.

Ian merges his advocacy with his performances, making sure that “every performance brings a certain message and not just a spectacle. I like the feeling when I’m able to give a deeper message to the audience while I’m performing,” he said.

His first foray into the world of drag was when he joined U.P. Samaskom’s Live AIDS. Ian took on the role of a drag queen. But he felt, during that time, that “drag should be more than what I did in Live AIDS; there should be meaning to it.”

Whenever he performs, “I feel a sense of fulfillment and liberation. I’m not just entertaining people, I’m also giving them something to think about. There is pride to it.”

For someone as young as Ian, “Pride is both a celebration and a revolution.”

On the one hand, it is a celebration of the LGBT community’s diversity, accomplishments, and ongoing contributions. But on the other hand, “Pride is also a protest for the members who are not able to take advantage and enjoy their basic human rights, and for those who have died because they are members of the LGBTQI community,” Ian ended.

“It is nice to know that there are already a lot of people who support us. But it does not mean that we should settle for these little triumphs. As long as there is still inequality on the basis of one’s SOGIE, our call and our fight should be stronger,” Ian said.

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