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Gandang Elden

#Cotabato City-based Elden Lopena – who realized he’s gay when he’s 16 – did not immediately accept his #SOGIESC; but his exposure to the #LGBT community persuaded him he belonged, leading to self-acceptance. Now a successful cosmetologist in #Maguindanao, he also teaches younger LGBTQIA people to be better versions of themselves.

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.”

Elden Lopena, a 54-year-old hairstylist from Cotabato City, realized he’s gay when he was 16. “I just graduated from high school then,” he recalled. “I realized I’m gay when I got attracted to a male classmate, and we had sex.”

At first, Elden said he couldn’t accept he’s gay. “Gradually, I realized this makes me happy; particularly when I saw my (LGBTQIA environment). I was happy with the LGBTQIA circle I had, and this made me happy to be gay.”

Elden has three siblings (“I am the eldest”), so “it wasn’t easy for me to come out as gay. Although I knew my parents knew I’m gay, I still came out gradually.”

Elden thinks his parents really knew he’s gay when “I started hanging out in salons, and they heard of this. Later on, they (even) encouraged me to work in a salon. They told me: ‘Whatever makes you happy, do it.’”

Elden entered the beauty industry when he was in college.

“When my parents couldn’t send me to school anymore, I decided to work. Later, I realized I had to develop myself as a hairstylist. So I stopped going to school to focus on this,” he said.

It never occurred to Elden he’d be a hairdresser for life.

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“When I was young, I wanted to be an engineer or a doctor. But my parents couldn’t afford to send me to school; I had to find a way to send myself to school (at first). When I discovered this industry, I realized I should just focus on this. I underwent trainings, attended seminars. By then I realized this is meant for me. I also learned to love it. Until we see we can survive, then progress comes.”

At first, Elden said he couldn’t accept he’s gay. “Gradually, I realized this makes me happy; particularly when I saw my (LGBTQIA environment). I was happy with the LGBTQIA circle I had, and this made me happy to be gay.”

Elden opened his own salon in 1991.

“I had a small capital. I just added staff later. My (first salon) was simple – it just had a simple chair and a mirror. My initial capital was P15,000. I spent it on beautifying the area,” he said.

Elden thinks his salon worked because he focuses on satisfying his customers.

“Even if your place isn’t that beautiful, just give clients the best service,” he said.

As he is getting older, “we have to be stronger. You should enjoy life,” Elden said.

And for him, “the most important thing for us to do as we get older is to leave lessons to the young. Me, I am a hairstylist and a trainer. So I teach those who want to be in this industry; who want this line of work. This makes me happy: Training people (such as TESDA students).”

Elden said that younger hairstylists now do not have enough proper training. “We always need training to update our skills.”

“Even if your place isn’t that beautiful, just give clients the best service,” he said.

As a local of Cotabato City, Elden said “there really are people who judge us because of differences in beliefs. There are different cultures in Cotabato City. Dealing with this isn’t easy for (LGBTQIA people). For instance, as a gay man, I organize shows for gays here. One time, I organized an event in this gym. Things were initially okay until I was told we couldn’t hold the show there because we’re gay. I still fought for it. But I realized we still need their understanding.”

LGBTQIA people are considered ‘haram’ (taboo) in Islam, added Elden. “To deal with that, we often just don’t react in any way. It’s better to act this way to avoid aggravating those who may have more adverse reactions to us. We respect various religions. But I also expect people to respect me as a gay person.”

Elden added: “We want people to understand our humanity. So, little by little, we educate ourselves, and we educate others… To date, people are slowly starting to better understand us… no matter their culture.”

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Incidentally, Elden is also an HIV advocate, saying that “I became an HIV advocate when I found out that male-to-male sex is the main mode of HIV transmission.”

As he is getting older, “we have to be stronger. You should enjoy life,” Elden said.

“The rate of HIV infection in Cotabato is already high… (so) we’re now trying to educate more people here about HIV,” he said.

For Elden, “as a gay person, we have to be good at what we do; we have to excel in everything. You don’t have to be mediocre just because you’re gay. Show you can do things.”

To achieve this, “first, love yourself. Look after yourself,” Elden said, adding that LGBTQIA people should “love your parents.”

In the end, “focus on respecting others so people also respect you. To younger LGBTQIA people: Life goes on. So continue dreaming. Never stop respecting others… and yourself. That way, society will accept you.”

And for him, “the most important thing for us to do as we get older is to leave lessons to the young.”

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