Co-founder, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines
“The personal is political.”
That, says Dee Mendoza, former president of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), was how she became a GLBTQIA advocate.
“Little did I know that the day I became at peace with who I am would be the day I start my activism.” This was back when “my friends were either women who were assigned female at birth, or gay men. No one among them understood or knew what I was going through. In the lonely (but joyful) path to living my true self, I sought after a community – a group of people – whose experience was the same as mine. I met a young trans activist online who then introduced me to two other women who shared my experience. The four of us conceived STRAP. In fully and wholly embracing myself, I took on the responsibility that came along with it – the assertion, defense and celebration of myself. In looking after myself, I needed to look after others like me. What they were subjected to was a possible subjection of myself. When a group of people feels the same way or shares the same experience, a community is born.”
Asking a person when he/she became what he/she is, is in itself discriminatory. It is like asking “when did the leopard recognize its spots?,” Mendoza says. “I was born the way I am, therefore, who I am is innate in me. I am a human being whose gender identity happens to be female. Like the rose’s fragrance, womanhood is every bit a part of my nature. It was formed in my brain as a fetus and grew on my skin when I was born. I may not have been reared in the traditional manner, still I believe I am a woman, therefore I am. The question should then be: ‘When did society begin to not recognize me as a woman?’”
For gender activists, “the confusion began when society made me believe that my physical body is the sole determinant of my gender identity. Because my body manifested that of a typical male body, I should identify and live my life as a man. My inner being, then, should be imprisoned by my physical self,” Mendoza says.
Mendoza recalls her earliest childhood memories to “include paper dolls (because I was never given a Barbie, much to my great dismay), games played exclusively with my female cousins, dreams of being a princess, curtains transformed into dresses and towels wrapped in my head pretending it were my long hair. I had crushes with the local boys, played mother in our bahay-bahayan,” she says. “So you see, my earliest memories were that of me in the traditional female role. No one forced me into it. It was the most natural thing for me.”
It is the “norm,” i.e. to “attack” notions questioning the notion of segregating sex and gender only between male and female/man and woman that led to the establishment of STRAP.
There are challenges needed to be faced for this.
For one, there’s ignorance. “We felt the need to create a group for transpinays because there wasn’t any at that time (it was established). The existing GLBTQIA organizations at that time did not have any idea what transgenderism was all about, (and even those) who claimed to be inclusive of transgenders did not have any clue at all. Simply, no one had heard of the word transgender. In our culture, we only have lalaki (man), babae (woman), gay (bakla), and lesbian (tomboy). All those who were assigned male at birth and chose to love a man and/or choose to identify as a woman were collectively known as the bakla. The concept of gender identity, which transgenderism is all about, was unheard of in our society,” Mendoza says. “It was only fairly recently that the trans movement in the world began. It was even more recently that the trans movement echoed in the Philippines. Because Filipinos were and mostly still are ignorant about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, this is often where the confusion, discrimination, harassment and oppression begin.”
Mendoza adds: “Gender equality cannot be achieved unless people are made aware about the basics of gender itself. This is why we tirelessly give talks about gender and transgenderism. We believe that to create change, people must first be re-educated. To value the beauty of diversity, GLBTQIA organizations must leave their old notions of gender and sex behind, and open up to the new truth and the facts of gender and sex.”
Secondly, there’s complacency. “I think it’s in the Filipino’s nature to just accept what is given. Bahala na. We never question, we just accept. Not all the things that we accept are truths. Most often, they are impositions. The same goes with gender. Blue for boys, pink for girls. One who is assigned male at birth must be registered as male even in one’s death certificate. Life must be linear according to the accepted norms. But now we know that this isn’t the case,” Mendoza says. “STRAP brings this awareness to the fore. We break the old notions and re-orient everyone of the truth.”
And thirdly, tolerance is still what is being done, not acceptance. “We say that the Philippines are tolerant to transpeople. Then again, tolerance is just a bittersweet substitute for acceptance. We don’t want to be tolerated, we want to be accepted and acknowledged in the gender we live our lives in. We don’t want to be tolerated in schools by allowing us to get in the campus’ gate. We want to be accepted as a student who identifies as a woman, and therefore be allowed to wear the female uniform. We don’t want to be tolerated to use the bathroom; we want to be accepted to use the female restroom,” Mendoza says.
Mendoza believes the Philippines still has much to do for equality to become the norm. “So far, here in the Philippines, there is no law that allows or prohibits us to change our sex and name in our birth certificates. There has been controversial news pertaining to this (Jeff Cagandahan and Melly Silverio cases). The thing is, until we are granted by the government the right to a change in our legal documents, and whilst our society continues to employ, educate, care for, insure, and account for, on the merits of one’s gender, as transgender people, we will not have the peace of mind to live our lives,” she says. “Like any civilized, humane and progressive country, we need to create a law that gives the human being the freedom to identify and express his or her gender the way he or she wants it to be expressed. This, or the creation of a gender-less society is what the Philippines needs to be in order to be at par with other countries.”
And it is on this that she sees STRAP’s relevance lies.
“STRAP is the first and only support, contact, information and advocacy group focused on the needs, issues and concerns of girls and women of transsexual experience in the Philippines. It seeks to improve the public understanding of transsexualism, encourage a helpful and supportive community among transpinays, and promote positive, empowering, and dignified images of Filipinas with transsexual experience. Having said that, we illuminate the (otherwise invisible) ‘T’ in the country’s GLBTQIA community. In that sense I would say that STRAP is not only relevant, but vital at the moment,” Mendoza says.
In 2006, Mendoza started acting as chairwoman of STRAP – which continues to be a “very loose organization with an even looser leadership structure.”
While STRAP has already helped initiate and engage in dialogues local and international groups, both from the public and private sectors – e.g. Ayala Group of Companies, owner of Greenbelt 3 in Makati City, due to a discriminatory policy on transgenders applied by select venues in its properties – “what makes STRAP successful is not the grand acts of activism. For me, it is the ability to touch a single person and change his or her opinion and views about themselves and transpeople. What makes me proud the most is to see the members of STRAP reclaim their dignity not as a woman, but as a person. To have the power to once again believe in one’s self and one’s capacities is something to be proud of,” Mendoza says.
The group’s focus now is to empower the transpinays.
“For a very long time, transwomen have been stereotyped and made to believe that their chances in life are limited. In the past we had been made to believe that we could only earn a living solely by being an entertainer, a parlorista, or a prostitute. We were made to believe that we could never have meaningful romantic relationships unless we pay. That we would always be the butt of jokes and everything we say would not matter. For a very long time, transwomen were not allowed to maximize their fullest potential. For a very long time, transwomen have had to subject themselves to the oppression, discrimination and repression directed towards us. STRAP now wants to enlighten the transpinay. We want to tell everyone that we have the power to choose who and how we want to become. That we can live dignified lives. That we can be doctors, teachers, engineers, mathematicians, IT professionals, marketers, et cetera. That we are worthy of true love. That our lives are as valuable as anyone else. That we have a voice and that we can use it to better the world,” Mendoza says.
“I believed, and still do now, that no amount of physiological alteration was necessary to transform myself into a woman. I think therefore I am. I have always been and will always be. Surgeries would not make me more of a woman. There’s no such thing as ‘more of a woman.’ There is just woman, and women came in various forms and shapes: tall, short, big, boyish, feminine, slim, flat-chested, full-bosomed, child-bearing, barren. Cosmetic enhancement is just that,” Mendoza says.
Mendoza is cautious when using the term “transitioning,” that Western expression that means actually acting on changing oneself from the gender assigned at birth to the rightful gender one identifies himself or herself to be.
“When I transitioned exactly is hard to point out. The Filipino way of transitioning does not fully ascribe to the Western definition. I knew I was a woman from a very young age. Even though I was dressed as a man, it didn’t stop me from believing in my true self,” she says. “It wasn’t until my early to mid 20s when I saw an endocrinologist and began my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It was also then when I physically manifested what is traditionally known as a female appearance. This was the time I started connecting the soul with the body.”
In a way, with her support system, Mendoza is still luckier than most.
“At first, I was the white elephant in the family. I was certain they knew the changes that were going on, but they were mum about it. One day, I wrote them a letter explaining my situation. My Mother’s first reaction upon reading it was, ‘I love you as you are.’ I’ve lost only one friend. My guess is my ‘transition’ has shamed her. Then again, perhaps she really wasn’t my friend. I lost a job. It was there where I started wearing more pronounced female clothing. They, of course, did not admit that reason to be so. After that, with an impressive scholastic and work records to back me up, I was on the job market for the first time in my over six years of professional life. I thought it wouldn’t be hard to find a new job because of my experience and credentials. I was wrong. While it would’ve been true if I remained androgynous, what I hadn’t realized was that the conservative corporate world was more interested in what’s between the legs than what is in the brains. Fortunately, now, I have a career in marketing with an equal opportunity employer. I’ve been in the same company for almost six years now,” Mendoza says.
Interestingly, “I would have wished to be born non-GLBTQIA if only to escape the additional struggles we have to go through because of who we are. I say additional because everyone faces challenges in life. Ours are just a bit more because of our otherwise non-conventional identity,” Mendoza says.
Nonetheless, she realizes that “I would not have been the person I am today if it were not because of my history. I wouldn’t have known how much my family loves me despite it all. I wouldn’t have met my friends who are the most understanding and compassionate people. I wouldn’t have been loved by a man who, despite myself, accepts, honors, respects and cherishes the love that I’m able to give. If I did not take the steps to be one with myself, I will never feel complete. I’ll be a living zombie – empty and unfeeling,” Mendoza says.
This is why, largely, she has no regrets in life.
“My journey, though not smooth, is a fun ride. The friend I lost should not really account for as a friend. The job and the potential employers who turned me down didn’t get the chance to know an employee who would’ve impacted their growth. The boy clothes I had to pack benefited the destitute more. No, I have no regrets for choosing my life. I did it on my own terms. I aligned my sails to the wind. Where the wind will take me? I don’t know. I am certain, though, that it will be towards a place I have always wanted and am destined to be.”
If there’s one achievement she can highlight, Mendoza says it is womanhood. “I take pride in the woman that I have become. In fulfilling that, I have become a better person, a better citizen, a better friend, a better child, a better partner,” she says. “A lot of people long to live extraordinary lives. My life’s extraordinary. Now, I just want be like a lot of people.”
If there is one thing GLBTQIAs themselves need to change, it is, for Mendoza, their lack of understanding. “The reason why we started STRAP was because of the lack of understanding about transgenderism even in the GLBTQIA community. Some GLBTQIA people seem to be hostile towards transpinays and transpinoys (even more hostile than their ‘straight’ counterparts). They say, ‘Why can’t you just act straight and still be gay?’ What most in the community do not understand is that transwomen are NOT gay men. Transgenderism is not a branch of homosexuality. We are not cross-dressing gay men. We are not effems – we are not effeminate gay men. We are not pa-girls. WE ARE GIRLS AND WOMEN who happen to be born in the same body most male-identified men were born in. We can choose to love a man (hence making us straight (trans)women or love another woman (hence can we then only be called lesbian)),” Mendoza says. “We are a marginalized group in a marginalized community. We need all the support and encouragement we can get from everyone in the community.”
But Mendoza is inspired to continue doing good by “the women of STRAP. We are a small group of courageous women and we inspire each other. The STRAP girls are self-made, brave, outspoken, driven and can wear high stilettos while being all these. We affirm, lift up, and encourage each other. Our gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, intersexed, and androgynous allies in the community are also very encouraging. They believe in us, and listen to us. They laid the foundation of a revolution that is soon to come,” she says.
Yet other sources of inspiration from Mendoza are her family (“I look at their great love for and even greater faith in me and I know that someday soon they will be proud of the change I will make in our society and of the change I have already made in myself”) and her boyfriend, Lawrence (“He was the first person to fully believe in me even when I have doubts about myself. His loving support is a source of strength. His encouragement to reach for my fullest potential as a person and to advance the transgender cause in the Philippines, his adoptive country, is enough to keep the advocacy torch burning”).
After all is said and done, Mendoza wants to be remembered “for how I lived my life as a person, not as an advocate. I want to inspire as I have been by the women before me and by those who were with me. There is no greater source of inspiration than the life of someone who has walked in their shoes,” she says.
And if given the chance to tell her story, she would summarize it, “to be told this way: Once upon a time, from a walled castle not so far away, there lived a princess. One day, her fairy godmother tore her kingdom’s walls. For the first time, she saw a different world beyond the shattered walls. Her world was opened to a whole new dimension. She was liberated. She felt free. She felt more at home with this new world than she ever did in the one she grew up in. The possibility of living a whole new life like how she had always imagined it to be was now before her. She pursued her desire to be a part of this promising brand new world. She gave up a lot of things, but not the truth about, and the faith in, herself. Then she lived happily ever after.”
Fortunately, that is not the end of it.
VP Robredo extolls LGBTQIA community’s spirit; recognizes a lot of work still needs to be done
Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.
Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that even as the LGBTQIA community marks June as Pride month, a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.
In a messages posted on her Facebook page, Robredo noted the uncertain times. “many of the things we once cherished and held on to are now being questioned and challenged,” she said in mixed Filipino and English. “Sa kabila nito, marami pa ring bagay ang di nagbabago at nagpapatuloy: tulad ng ating laban para sa patas na karapatan, dignidad at kalayaan.“
Robredo noted that “for many decades, the LGBTQIA+ community has been tirelessly fighting for equal rights and representation at the frontlines. It has provided a shelter to the oppressed, a voice to the marginalized, and a family to those who have been abandoned by their own communities. Ito ang dakilang ambag ng LGBTQIA+ community sa ating (b)ayan.”
She added: “Sa bawat Pride March na inyong inoorganisa, isang teenager ang mas nagiging proud na yakapin kung sino siya. Sa bawat awareness campaign na inyong sinisimulan, isang komunidad ang mas nagiging bukas ang isipan. At sa bawat pagpiglas ninyo sa tangkang pag-agaw ng ating mga kalayaan, isang bayan ang mas natututong lumaban.”
There are – nonetheless – members of the LGBTQIA community “who hold positions of power in our society”, such as lawyers, executives, doctors, educators, artists, policymakers and public servants. The VP hopes that they will “use your influence to change mindsets, promote acceptance, and push for reforms on the ground. Now more than ever, we need to set an example to the younger generation. Ipakita natin sa kanila, na wala silang dapat ipangamba at na malaya silang maging kung ano at sino sila,” Robredo said.
The VP similarly recognized that teaching people to open their minds may be challenging, but “huwag sana kayong panghinaan ng loob.”
She suggested doing small steps to push for Pride, including forming support groups; reaching out to the needy; and introducing concepts re SOGIESC to relatives who may not be well-versed on the same.
“Darating din ang araw na babalikan natin ang lahat ng ito at sasabihing, everything was worth the effort. Everything was worth the sacrifice. Everything worth the fight. Push lang ng push, mga besh,” Robredo added.
Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach voices support for LGBTQIA community
Pia Wurtzbach said she’s making a stand so “that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA community have the right to take up space in our society… that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women.”
Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach voiced her support for the LGBTQIA community.
Via an Instagram post, Wurtzbach said she’s making a stand so “that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA community have the right to take up space in our society… that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women.”
She added: “We can learn to accept these concepts by having a dialogue. By listening and understanding our differences. we will grow and uplift one another as one community in strengthening equality and diversity.”
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Learning is always a two-way process.. we listen as we understand each other’s points of view. This #PrideMonth, we stand for the rights and advocacies of the LGBTQIA+ community. 🏳️🌈 Being an ally is someone who gives a sense of a safe and affirming space for our loving community… Let’s provide higher platforms for community members to openly discuss issues and concerns that affect us. 🙏 Here we can discuss our differences and remind ourselves that we are together on this journey, and achieve our shared goals for equality. ❤ . I know we may differ in opinions today.. but our constant discourse will make our tomorrow better because we understand one another better. This will also enable our broader community, especially those with differing views, to ponder on things that matter to our fellowmen. . Let me just make a stand that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA+ community have the right to take up space in our society…that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women. We can learn to accept these concepts by having a dialogue. By listening and understanding our differences.. we will grow and uplift one another as one community in strengthening equality and diversity. 😊🙏❤ Happy Pride! 🥰🏳️🌈
Wurtzbach’s statement of support came after she co-hosted an online discussion involving Kevin Balot, who was crowned Miss International Queen in 2012. Balot reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”
In her Instagram post, Wurtzbach said that even if people had different opinions, it’s still important to provide platforms for community members to openly discuss “issues and concerns that affect us.”
For Wurtzbach, “this will also enable our broader community, especially those with differing views, to ponder on things that matter to our fellowmen… [O]ur constant discourse will make our tomorrow better because we understand one another better.”
This isn’t the first time Wurtzbach expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community.
In 2017, for instance, she called out the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) following a drug bust involving 11 men in Bonifacio Global City. “Because of what PDEA and the news outlet have done, some people are now associating drugs and immorality with being gay. It’s ridiculous,” she said then.
In 2018, she urged decision makers to address the causes that put young people at risk of HIV.
‘Riverdale’ actress Lili Reinhart comes out as bisexual
Lili Reinhart – from “Riverdale” – announced that she is a “proud bisexual woman” in a post on Instagram.
Lili Reinhart – who plays Betty Cooper in “Riverdale” – announced that she is a “proud bisexual woman” in a post on Instagram.
Reinhart’s revelation was linked with her post that she would be attending an “LGBTQ+ for Black Lives Matter” protest in West Hollywood in the US. Underneath a poster for the march, she wrote: “Although I’ve never announced it publicly before, I am a proud bisexual woman. And I will be joining this protest today. Come join.”
Reinhart dated co-star and onscreen partner Cole Sprouse, who played Jughead in “Riverdale.” The two had recently split.
Visibility, obviously, matters.
Earlier in June 2020, a study noted that those who have seen LGBTQIA representation are more accepting of gay and lesbian people than those who haven’t (48% to 35%). They are also more accepting of bisexual people (45% to 31%), and of non-binary people (41% to 30%).
Emma Watson speaks out for trans rights after J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments
“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned.”
Emma Watson – who played Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series – is the latest actor to speak out in support of transgender rights after author J.K. Rowling made controversial comments on Twitter that were deemed transphobic.
On June 6, Rowling posted a tweet equating womanhood with being able to menstruate.
When called out, she seemed to own up to the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or women who claim to be feminist but do not believe transgender women are female). She also backed her perspective via a lengthy post that cited a study criticized for its transphobic bias.
Claiming to have read “all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive,” Rowling wrote. “Women (are told they) must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves… But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume.”
Watson appeared in all eight of the big-screen adaptations of the books by Rowling. By expressing her support for transgender rights, she joins former costar Daniel Radcliffe (who played Harry Potter), and “Fantastic Beasts” star Eddie Redmayne who also voiced their disagreement to Rowling’s warped thinking and defense.
“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are,” Watson tweeted.
In a subsequent tweet, she added that she wants “my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”
Eddie Redmayne joins Daniel Radcliffe in opposing J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans comments
Eddie Redmayne joined “Harry Potter” lead actor Daniel Radcliffe in criticizing J.K. Rowling comments about transgender people. “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process.”
Eddie Redmayne joined “Harry Potter” lead actor Daniel Radcliffe in criticizing J.K. Rowling comments about transgender people.
In a statement, Redmayne said: “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process.”
Rowling wrote the “Harry Potter” series that starred Radcliffe, and the “Fantastic Beasts” series that starred Redmayne. In a series of tweets starting June 6, where she actually owned the TERF tag (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), Rowling used the “I know and love trans people, but” argument by tweeting to her 14.5 million Twitter followers that transgender people are “erasing the concept of sex”.
Redmayne – who similarly starred in “The Danish Girl”, the 2015 biopic of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery – said: “As someone who has worked with both JK Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and nonbinary identities are valid.”
Redmayne continued that “I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.”
Radcliffe said as much earlier, when he wrote for The Trevor Project that “transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations, who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”
Transgender women are women – Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe
“Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations.”
Following the backlash the “Harry Potter” author, J.K. Rowling, got for statements deemed transphobic, Daniel Radcliffe wrote on The Trevor Project that “transgender women are women.”
On June 6, Rowling used the “I know and love trans people, but” argument by tweeting to her 14.5 million Twitter followers that transgender people are “erasing the concept of sex”.
In response, Radcliffe said: “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo (i.e. J.K. Rowling) or I.”
He added that with 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reporting being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity, “it’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”
Radcliffe stressed that while certain press outlets may paint his statement as proof of infighting between J.K. Rowling and himself, “that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now.”
In closing, Radcliffe said: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you.”
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