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Dee Mendoza: Empowering the Transpinay

“The personal is political,” says Dee Mendoza, former president of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). And this was why she became an advocate.

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DEE MENDOZA
Co-founder, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines

A WOMAN IS A WOMAN IS A WOMAN
“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. I may not have been reared in the traditional manner, still I believe I am a woman, therefore I am,” Dee Mendoza, former STRAP president, says, as she continues to aim to empower the transpinay.
All photos by Diana Prado

“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.”

BIG NEED

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.”

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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.

Dee Mendoza: “They say you will never know how it is to be someone unless you walk in their shoes. Try fitting in a size forty and then walk with your ankles suspended four inches above the ground while maintaining balance, grace and poise and most importantly, self-respect and dignity, and you might just know a bit of what it’s like to be me.”

“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.

STRONG LEADERSHIP

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.

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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.

FACING LIFE

“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.

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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.”

GLBTQIA LIFE

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.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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Forever seeking the love…

Forever Diosa may not have personally experienced discrimination as a gay man, but his life – even with supportive family – isn’t always easy. His heart has been broken, for instance. But he believes in using pain to elevate oneself – something, he said, LGBTQIA people should learn.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

People told Forever Diosa that “if being gay is a sickness, then it can be washed away,” he said. So then gay people can just shower every day to wash this away. “But you can’t wash this away. And so there’s that pain when people mock you for being gay… Every time we step out, we have to accept we’d be ridiculed even if we did nothing wrong.”

Forever Diosa (a.k.a. Geraldine Madridano; and lives in Malabon, Metro Manila) was “five years old when I knew I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I knew because I felt it,” he said, adding that nothing, in particular, triggered this realization.

He isn’t surprised, though, since “let’s say it’s in my blood. There are other family members who are also LGBTQIA.”

He has an an uncle, a designer, who’s also part of the LGBTQIA community; a sibling is trans; and another is a lesbian.

“My family is happy I’m gay. Think of it this way: Would they rather have a drug addict for a child, or a gay child? It’s practical; parents know who they’d choose to have as a child,” he said.

“You should know how to respect yourself. And you should know how to respect others.”
“You can say you helped your nieces/nephews, and your parents. But people say it’s different when you have your own child who will look after you in old age,” he said.

His eldest sibling is a policeman – and Forever Diosa is proud of this. “Just think of that: I have a brother who’s a policeman. None can imagine I have a policeman for a brother. A policeman who has two gay brothers. That seems improbable. I am proud of my brother; I salute him because he is proud of us.”

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Not surprisingly, Forever Diosa draws support from his family.

“We can’t say my siblings are perfect. But we’re there to support each other. We support those who need support. Because we can say that at the end of the day, the blood in our veins connect us.”

All too apparent, in a way, Forever Diosa is more privileged.

“I did not experience discrimination as a gay person,” he said; something he attributes to “knowing how to position yourself as a gay person. You should know how to respect yourself. And you should know how to respect others.”

But life isn’t a bed of roses for Forever Diosa.

“Oh, yes, I loved one guy before… We were together for four years,” he recalled.

But then things soured. The guy dumped him… for no apparent reason.

“Until now I want to ask him: What happened to the two of us? I believe that when leaving a relationship, the people involved should talk. That way, if we see each other again, we can smile at each other; we can still be friends.”

But Forever Diosa said that “I am not ashamed to claim him as the guy who hurt me… I don’t regret this experience. I know I was able to help him, and he also helped me.”

He added: “All of us, we have roles to play on Earth. I don’t regret this experience because I survived it. It’s like, his life was extended because of me. Actually… not necessarily because of me. But I became an instrument to help him.”

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But the experience actually changed Forever Diosa.

“In the past, people just called me Diosa. But Diosa died because Diosa was hurt. And Forever Diosa was born to show strength.”

“I believe that when leaving a relationship, the people involved should talk. That way, if we see each other again, we can smile at each other; we can still be friends.”
“All of us, we have roles to play on Earth. I don’t regret this experience because I survived it.”

Forever Diosa believes in – shall we say – limited equality.

“I can’t say I back marriage equality because I’m a religious person. I respect other people’s opinions; but I also respect what’s ‘right’. So I don’t believe in marriage equality for now,” he said.

Somewhat contradictory to this, he added: “I support the need to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill. I may not have personally experienced discrimination, but it could benefit those who are not as privileged as me. There are LGBTQIA people who are not well educated; and they should know their rights. Non-discrimination could also benefit the young, whose parents may eventually rely on. The young need to know/tackle discrimination. This is why we need equality.”

Forever Diosa said that people asked him who will look after him when he gets older.

“You can say you helped your nieces/nephews, and your parents. But people say it’s different when you have your own child who will look after you in old age,” he said.

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And so “I hope to have my own family. I hope to find a woman who will understand my past as a gay man. That’s what I will be looking for.”

Jokingly, he said: “I have a female office mate; we agreed that if she won’t find a BF by the time she turns 37, we’d be an item. She’s not yet 37, and she’s still single. I tell her to find a BF, and that our promise to each other won’t be fulfilled.”

Engaging with younger LGBTQIA people, Forever Diosa said “I tell them, ‘Study well.’ Respect yourself. Love yourself. Only you can elevate yourself. The people around you are only there to support you.”

And to people who continue to ridicule and hurt LGBTQIA people, “thank you; you inspire us to do/be more.”

“I hope to have my own family. I hope to find a woman who will understand my past as a gay man. That’s what I will be looking for.”

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Lesbian and intersex

Noting their difference even as a toddler, Alym Escultura came out as a lesbian while growing up. But they discovered that they are actually also intersex, which they said “complicates their issue for many people” because of “confusion”. As part of Intersex Philippines, Alym now educates people about intersex issues, while pushing for recognition that “intersex people should be included in discourses of equality.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

Myla “Alym” Escultura, 44 and originally from Bicol, thinks they was a toddler when “I knew I’m different. I identified – and accepted – this difference by identifying as a lesbian. But there were questions in me on why my being a lesbian was different from the other lesbian women.”

When Alym was 22. “I realized I’m not just a lesbian, I am also intersex.”

Alym knew of this from resources she obtained online, after talking to people who are also intersex from all over the world, and – just as relevant – from “personal experience”.

“To start, anatomically, I’m different from other women,” Alym said, adding that because of her “personal engagements with other women”, they was able to differentiate the ‘normal’ and ‘not so normal’.

“This difference,” Alym said, “is very vivid/apparent. So I told myself I needed to know more about this.”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym Escultura said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world.”

To date, Alym still hasn’t had chromosomal analysis, mainly because this can be costly. Genetic testing can cost from under $100 to more than $2,000 (or equivalent in peso), depending on the nature/complexity of the test. The figure can still go higher if more than one test is necessary; and these tests may also not be readily available in the Philippines.

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But Alym already owns their being intersex.

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym said.

In their case, for instance, “I am in the shadows/at the fringes of the lesbian community,” they said. “It is already complex to live as a lesbian, and then people realize, ‘What, you’re also intersex?’. You have to explain to people why you identify as a lesbian, and as intersex. People don’t necessarily know that my anatomical features are also different. And it’s hard to explain.”

And then there are the legalities – e.g. “If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym Escultura said.

Alym’s relationship with their family is, at least, fine. “They’re fine with me being a lesbian as long as I don’t bring shame to the family’s name.”

And “when they found out I’m also intersex, they took it as just a normal thing. For them, ‘We already accepted you for what you are. Your being intersex is just an add-on/bonus.'”

From Bicol, Alym eventually moved to Metro Manila.

“Resources that can help give you personal development are limited in the province. So I opted to be in a place where I can develop/cultivate myself. This way, I am not dependent on others,” they said.

For Alym, “you’re already (LGBTQIA), so you should be able to support yourself, be able to defend yourself. You should be able to help others without expecting anything in return.”

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Nowadays, “I don’t have to always tell people about my intersex condition. If they just identify me as a lesbian, that’s fine. But if they ask for more information about me, then I inject the information that I am also intersex.”

But Alym is finding their happiness now; living with their partner for almost three years now.

“If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world. Look for others like you. Nowadays, we already have the Internet and there are online support groups.”

But Alym wants the LGBTQIA community to be inclusive. “We’re fighting for the same things. We’re fighting for inclusion. Similar to the declaration of the United Nations, ‘No one left behind’, we should support each other. We all want equal opportunity. We all want gender recognition. If we join our voices, then our voices will echo louder as we make our demands.”

And to people who ridicule intersex people, “that’s fine; that’s your choice. As long as you don’t do anything to physically harm us. We can take what you throw at us. But let me tell you this: We may be intersex people, but you’ll see that we’re willing and able to help, to build and make change for the better,” Alym ended.

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Intersex Pride

Assigned female at birth, Jeff Cagandahan petitioned the court to change his name and gender marker because of his intersex condition. His case reached the Supreme Court, which sided with him in 2008. He now helms Intersex Philippines, which he hopes will help make the “I” visible in the LGBTQIA community.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

Jeff Cagandahan – 38 years old; from Paete, Laguna – was assigned female at birth, named Jennifer Cagandahan. But even “when I was young, I knew I was different. I couldn’t exactly say when I knew; but I knew even as a kid that I’m different.”

At that time, Jeff said he didn’t know of intersex conditions, but “I knew I’m different because of my ambiguous genitalia. I was assigned female at birth, but my genitalia wasn’t what was usually found in women.”

Jeff said that it wasn’t necessarily difficult being different when he was young. But it became more difficult as he got older.

To start, “I no longer identified as a woman would. I really saw myself as a man.”

This proved to be hard because of the social expectations linked with gender. For instance, while in elementary school, “I found it difficult to wear skirts just because I was assigned female at birth. It was difficult to act as a woman just because I was given a female name at birth. Because I identified as a man, it was hard to live as a woman. I thought and felt as a man, so there was a disconnect.”

Hi parents also do not talk about his condition at home. “And as much as possible, they do not want to talk about this at home.”

And when he started looking for a job, it was also difficult because his gender marker then was female, but his gender expression was masculine. And since it was a time when “female educators were told to wear skirts”, Jeff was also expected to wear skirts for work, befitting his sex assigned at birth.

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“I couldn’t live like that anymore,” Jeff recalled, “so I decided to file a petition in court to change my name and my gender marker.”

MAKING HISTORY

On December 11, 2003, Jeff filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male). His reason: He developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH); this is one of the 40+ intersex conditions.

On January 12, 2005, the RTC granted Jeff’s petition. The RTC ordered the following changes of entries in Cagandahan’s birth certificate:
(1) The name Jennifer Cagandahan changed to Jeff Cagandahan
(2) His gender from female to male

The Office of the Solicitor General appealed the RTC’s decision. The OSG used the Silverio argument – that “Rule 108 does not allow change of sex or gender in the birth certificate”, and that “CAH does not make her a male”.

On December 11, 2003, Jeff Cagandahan filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male).

But in 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) sided with Jeff.

In its 2008 decision, the highest court stated:
“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual… thinks of his/her sex.”

The SC added:
“(The) respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy.To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what courses of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation.”

The decision was written by Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing; with Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. and Arturo D. Brion concurring.

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“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide. I felt relieved after finally getting what I desired for so long. Those were very happy days for me,” Jeff said.

LIFE CHANGES

How did people react?

“With my family… even before the SC decision, they already knew/treated me as male.” Meanwhile, “I live in a small town, and people already know me there; but they knew more of me when the court’s decision was released. A lot of people understand my situation. But it can’t be avoided that there are still people who still don’t understand my condition.”

“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

There have been major changes in Jeff’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

And because of the court’s decision, “I can now help others like me.”

One of the advocacies of intersex people is to stop gender mutilation. The LGBT community does not give this attention, said Jeff, because it’s particular to the intersex community.

But “this is one of our advocacies because we believe that a person, a child should be able to decide his/her gender. A person should be able to choose the gender he/she wants to live as.”

BECOMING AN INTERSEX ADVOCATE

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I became an advocate because I don’t want younger intersex people to experience the struggles I experienced. I want to take steps to make things easier for them.

Jeff is actually new to advocacy… even if the SC decided on his case in 2008.

“It took me so long to be an advocate because I had to learn self-acceptance first. It’s hard to help others when you can’t even help yourself. So I taught myself first about this; and to accept it. And then I became an advocate,” he said. “I accepted my intersex condition as a mission. A mission to help others. Intersex people should not be ashamed of their condition. To intersex people, you are not alone. I am here.”

There have been major changes in Jeff Cagandahan’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

Jeff also co-founded Intersex Philippines as a support group for intersex people in the Philippines.

NO LONGER INVISIBLE

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” he said. “I believe that through proper education,. and through sharing positive awareness about us, people’s minds will change.”

Moving forward, Jeff’s message to the LGBT community is: Always include “I”.

“It makes me happy that through the rainbow community, I meet other intersex people. This is because there are intersex people who ‘hide’ in the lesbian community, in the gay community,” he said.

It’s also “heartening that allies now approach to ask how they can help us. I hope you will continue helping, and include in your advocacies the intersex community.”

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

To intersex Filipinos, “Don’t be ashamed. Do not be ashamed that you are intersex. Be proud. I always believed that God did not make a mistake in creating us.”

EDUCATE THYSELF

And to people whose ways of seeing intersex people still haven’t changed, “it may be better to speak directly to us. Talk directly to those who experienced discrimination and struggles so you understand what we’re going through.”

Jeff added: “We’re also people; just like you. If you have rights, so do we. We just dream of living normally… properly. There’s nothing wrong with this.”

So “continue to educate yourselves about intersex conditions. And if you have questions, I am willing to talk, Intersex Philippines is willing to talk… so you can better understand this issue.”

For more information, email jeffcagandahan@yahoo.com, or contact 09155159819.

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#KaraniwangLGBT

The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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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.”

“It is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

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People You Should Know

What it’s like to be a lesbian artist in this generation

Meet Pixie Labrador, an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, who laments the under-representation of lesbians in the music industry, which is unfortunate because she believes that music can help mainstream discussion of LGBTQIA issues. “Lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that… some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art,” she says.

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Photo courtesy of Pixie Labrador

“Lesbian artists in the Philippines are not being represented enough. In fact, if I’m being honest, it would’ve taken me a while to name a few at the top of my head, which is alarming and something I’m not proud of. It’s a shame because we are part of such a talented, inspiring community, and very few people recognize it.”

That, according to Pixie Labrador, is the current state of representation of lesbian artists in the Philippines.

And for her, this is bad because “lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that the close-mindedness of some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art.”

Pixie is an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, with over 9,095 monthly listeners on Spotify. Her most popular song on Spotify – “What’s it Like” – is about unrequited love, but uses just the right amount of pronouns for fans to openly identify her pride on her gender identity. The same song – which has a stanza that goes: “And I know from a distance| That I can’t compare | To the burn in her eyes | Or the love that she bears | It’s too much to hand over | But you never cared | For as long as your heart was with her” – is also included on her first album, “Does It Hurt””.

“Sometimes people would assume that in my music, I’m talking about being in love with a man (even) when the pronouns I use are very clear in the lyrics of the song,” Pixie quipped. “It’s another case of heteronormativity and invalidation, and It needs to be stopped.”

Being a lesbian “kind of” affects her craft/music, Pixie said, “in the sense that my music is heavily targeted towards the queer community, and it’s mostly based off of my personal experiences on loving other women.” However – and Pixie stressed this – “although I feel that rather than saying ‘being a lesbian’ is affecting my music, it’s really more of just me being my genuine self, if that makes sense. Like, I don’t write because I’m a lesbian. I’ll write what I feel and think regardless of what I identify as, simply because it’s something I love to do.”

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But by and large, for Pixie, sexuality does not really matter when creating music.

“That’s the great thing about art: anyone can make it, and it’s so expressive and limitless. I don’t think it would make sense to have sexuality matter in making music. I feel like it disregards people who are questioning or unsure of their own sexuality, as well as people who just don’t give a damn about labels, which is also entirely valid. It just so happens that I have a specific style of writing that touches on my sexuality, but it doesn’t mean everyone has to do it that way. Basically, you don’t have to question yourself to make music. Just do it.”

TOUCHING LIVES

Pixie is actually fortunate that “my audience, my family, and my friends have all been so accepting and supportive of me… When I started writing more frequently, and was trying to find my own unique style, writing in regards to loving as a lesbian just came so naturally to me. I published ‘Maybe’ and the response was so overwhelming. I didn’t realize how many people I’ve helped with just one song. So after that, there was a click in my head that made me think: ‘This is what people need: LGBT representation by LGBT creators.’ So I wanted to give exactly that. Eventually, my fans started giving me nicknames like ‘Lesbian Queen’, ‘WLW Icon’, ‘Queen of The Gays’, and things like that. It’s because of them that it kind of became my branding. My family seems to recognize this too, and they’re all for it as well. My parents show their support by coming to whatever gigs they possibly can, even though they’re heard me live dozens of times. I feel really blessed.”

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Pixie is also “lucky enough to not have experienced discrimination during gigs, and hopefully I never will. Most of the gigs I’ve been to were at safe spaces, and I’m glad I can feel comfortable working with trustworthy organizations, and in certain venues.”

MUSIC FOR THE STRUGGLE

Pixie recognizes, however, that the struggle of the LGBTQIA community particularly locally is far from over.

“There is still so, so much we need to fight for before we can even get close to the kind of acceptance we hope to achieve. Every time I think we’re getting closer to our goal, I would see something on social media, like a news headline, about something terrible that’s happened to someone in the community. It’s truly devastating,” she said.

But for Pixie, “the LGBT community is really the strongest bunch of individuals that I know. Despite the challenges that come with being our true selves, we push through every day, 365 days a year. We might not be where we want to be right now, but I know our struggles will all be worth it someday.”

And how does Pixie use her platform as an artist to help the LGBTQIA community?

“I’d like to think that as an I artist, I touch on topics that are very real and relatable, especially to people who are still figuring themselves out. It’s actually quite cliché when you think about it. ‘Maybe’ is about falling in love with your best friend. ‘For You’ is about being in love. ‘What’s It Like’ and ‘Use Me’ are about unrequited love. It’s not all that different from mainstream media. When it comes to my writing, I don’t talk about the LGBT community in such an ‘in your face’ kind of way; but it’s more of using real, firsthand experiences to make unaccepting people realize we’re not as alien as they think we are. We are capable of feeling what they do, and we deserve to be loved just as much as them. I think this whole thing also applies to the community itself. By writing about these things so casually, I’m putting out a message that basically says ‘Hey, I’m gay, and it’s okay to talk about it.’”

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And so, as an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, “to me, it feels really empowering to be fighting for equally every single day, and with every song that I write and put out into the world. It’s so heartwarming to see milestones of the LGBT community being recognized – like the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, or the Metro Manila Pride March reaching over 70,000 attendees, for example. In a more personal case, I’ve gotten messages from listeners saying that my music has given them the courage to come out, or has just helped them through difficult times in general. There may be pitfalls every now and then, but I do strongly believe that we are progressing towards a more love-filled world; and it’s a nice feeling to think that I am and always will be a part of what made that happen.”

BETTER REPRESENTATION

But it wouldn’t hurt if – as she earlier mentioned – lesbian artists in the Philippines start getting being represented enough.

“It would be nice if the media (shone) light on a more diverse range of lesbian artists. Like people of different skin tones, different body types, different ethnicities, et cetera. Because there’s no right or wrong way to ‘look like’ or ‘be’ a lesbian. It doesn’t have to feel so limiting,” she said. “Plus, there may be a number of under-appreciated but extremely talented lesbian role models whom the world needs to know about.”

But at least for now, her music is helping fill a void as Pixie Labrador continues to be a lesbian artist particularly in this generation.

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NEWSMAKERS

Pinoy wins Mr. Gay World 2019

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

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Screencap from John Jeffrey Carlos' video for Mr. Gay World 2019

Pinoy rainbow pride.

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

The 41-year-old local of General Trias, Cavite is not new to pageantry, first trying his luck to represent the country in the same pageant in 2016. He placed fourth runner-up then, losing to John Raspado, who ended up winning the first Mr. Gay World title for the country.

Carlos is actually also already relatively known in various circles – e.g. in Facebook and Instagram, where his repeatedly “liked” photos range from showcasing living a luxurious lifestyle in Manila, traveling from one country to another, flexing his muscles during a workout, or wearing swimming trunks and posing provocatively for no other reason but to satisfy the fantasies of his social media followers.

Carlos – who obtained his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Cavite State University, where he also played for the men’s varsity volleyball team – also appeared in some movies directed by the late Wenn Deramas, such as “Moron 5.2: The Transformation” (2014) and “Wang Fam” (2015).

“When it comes to pageantry, the best trait of Filipino representatives [in general] is they always surprise people with their biggest ideas, just like what Catriona Gray did [in Miss Universe],” he said to Outrage Magazine in an earlier interview.

Perhaps typical of many beauty titlists who are new to their advocacies, Carlos only recently partnered wth Mental Health PH, an organization that promotes awareness about mental health through social media, a few days after winning the Mr. Fahrenheit 2019 title.

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All the same, he said that “I think it’s a very good platform for me to push my advocacy, as it is very timely and relevant, especially with the LGBTQI community… We’ve heard so much about mental health issues and things are getting worse. In my own little way, I want to spread awareness about depression, so people will know what to do in case they feel some of the symptoms of this mental illness, affecting us and our loved ones.”

As Carlos wears the second Mr. Gay World title for the Philippines, he stressed: “We have to reach out to people with depression. Together, we can turn this illness to wellness.”

Carlos – who competed with 21 other contestants in Cape Town, South Africa – has a partner and they’ve been living together for the past seven years.

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