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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.”

Sana yung mga baklang kabataan, kung may kabutihang matutulong sila, tumulong talaga sa magulang (For young gay people, if they can do good, they should do good particularly to help their parents),” said Jorie Salvano Garnado, 39. “Gipalaki sila sa magulang nila para makatulong. Huwag muna unahin ang lalaki; unahin muna ang mga magulang (Their parents raised them so they can be of use/they can help. Don’t prioritize your BFs; focus on your parents first).”

Originally from Negros Occidental, Jorie’s parents are actually separated, though not after having seven kids (two eventually died at a younger age). His mom now has four other kids with a different husband; and his dad, another kid with another wife.

In 2016, Jorie moved to Manila, joining an auntie who told him he could look for a job in the big city.

Nagtitinda ako kakanin para makatulong ako sa magulang ko (I sell snack foods to earn to help my parents),” he said. “Kasi mahirap po ang buhay sa probinsiya (Life is hard in the province).”

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Jorie wakes up before 4AM, and is on the street immediately after then. By 10AM, he is done with selling the breakfast goodies. He takes a breather from 10AM to 12PM, and then heads out to the streets again after 12PM to sell the snack fares. He usually heads home around 6PM.

On a good day, he could earn as much as P1,000 per day; he divides this into two, sending the P500 to the province, and using the other P500 to pay for his living here (e.g. rent, food, his personal loans, and his BF). He actually earns more than enough, saying “nakaluwag na kami (my earnings have made things easier/lighter for everyone)”. Aside from some savings, he was able to help those in the province start a livelihood (“babuyan”/piggery), as well as built a better house.

“At least di ako nag-perwisyo sa iba, naghingi kahit saan (At least I don’t pester others, or ask others for support),” he said.

Also because he’s a main source of money for them, Jorie said he never encountered being bullied by family members. “Hindi ko naranasan na bugbugin ng mga kapatid ko (My siblings never hurt me),” he said, “kay lahat naman ng gusto nila binibigay ko sa kanila (because I always give them what they ask from me).”

Looking back, Jorie said he knew he’s gay at around 12 years of age. “Tanggap naman ako ng magulang ko na ganito ako (My parents accepted me as a gay person),” he said, because “yung bakla pala, yun pala ang makatulong sa kanila (who’d have thought it’s the gay person who would end up helping/supporting them)?”

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There were times – he recalled – when he was verbally abused (by community members) for being gay, taunted as “bakla, bakla (faggot, faggot)!”. “Okay lang po, tanggap ko po. Wala ako magawa eh ang Panginoon nagbigay sa akin na ganito ako (I’m fine with it; I accept it. I can’t do anything about this; God made me like this).”

Jorie’s “boss” now, someone called Ate Tisay, was the one to persuade him to become a street vendor. She told him not to work a regular job; instead, be his own boss by selling on the streets. His only capital: His saliva (for calling out to people). “Kung gusto mo kumita, mabilisan (If you want to earn fast, this is it),” he said. “Kung mangamuhan ka, isang buwan bago ka makakain (If you work a regular job, it’d take you a month before you can earn).”

Not that this line of work is easy, Jorie said. He has to walk all day, basically; chase people’s break times (if he misses the break time of regular clients, then they won’t buy from him anymore for that day, so it’s loss earnings for him); and it can also be dangerous at times (if there are “bad people who choose to do something bad with you”).

Now, “days off” for him include the weekends, though having a special someone (and spending on him) is a “necessity” as it helps him relax.

“Kung iiwanan ako ng jowa ko… okay lang na iwanan niya ako sa ere basta mga magulang ko mga kapatid ko andiyan lang (if he decides to leave me hanging, that’s fine, so long as my parents and my siblings are there for/with me).” For Jorie Garnado: “Lalaki lang yan (He’s just another man).”

Jorie met his BF from Facebook; and just after a day of chatting, they moved in together. They’re still together after five years.

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Nagtatrabaho din siya para makatulong siya sa akin, sa housekeeping (He also works – in housekeeping – to be able to help out),” he said.

Their relationship, Jorie said, is based on being able to help each other. “Kung may problema siya, tulungan ko siya. Kung ako may problema, tulungan niya rin ako. Wala naman ibang tao makatulong sa akin, siya lang (If he has problems, I help him. And if I have issues, he helps me. No one else helps me out but him).”

Despite this, “kung iiwanan ako ng jowa ko… okay lang na iwanan niya ako sa ere basta mga magulang ko mga kapatid ko andiyan lang (if he decides to leave me hanging, that’s fine, so long as my parents and my siblings are there for/with me).” For Jorie: “Lalaki lang yan (He’s just another man).”

Jorie intends to continue doing what he’s doing until he turns 50; and then he wants to go back to the province. There, he said, things are easier (e.g. there’s no rent to pay). He also acknowledged that in the province, “basta todo kayud ka lang, basta may lakas ka pa, mapakinabangan ka pa (so long as you work hard, for as long as you still have strength, then you’re still of use to the world/to people).” For younger LGBTQIA Filipinos, Jorie said they should aim for something higher in life. But that “dapat magtrabaho sila sa kabutihan; huwag sa kasamaan (they should do so doing good things, not doing bad things).”

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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Sa isang banda ng bahaghari

Cavite local Edson Julianda Gloriaga is part of a band, where he found a way to express his being part of the LGBTQIA community. He now says for others to use music to showcase what they can do without heeding those who are only there to pull others, like LGBTQIA people, down.

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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.”

Edson Julianda Gloriaga, 25, from Bailen, Cavite knew he’s gay since he was seven years old. “Doon ko naramdaman na iba ang pagtingin ko pagdating sa lalaki. Tapos mas gusto kong babae ang kasama ko; mas gusto kong kakumpitensiya ang babae kesa lalaki (That was when I noticed that my feelings for other men were different. I also preferred hanging out with women. I preferred playing/competing with girls, not boys).”

At first, Edson’s father couldn’t accept him – something he believes is because of machismo, e.g. the male members of his family are brusque, with his uncles even regularly get into fights because of machismo.

Nandiyan yung times na nabubugbog ka; bubugbugin ka kasi hindi ka tanggap (There were times when I was physically abused because I was not accepted),” he recalled.

“You will be ridiculed, you will be denigrated… even by your own family because you are gay, and they believe you’ll amount to nothing. But if you convert this into something positive, it will be your inspiration, your motivation to show to them that no matter what happens, no matter what I choose to do in life, I can improve to contribute better in society.”

By the time he was in fourth year high school, when Edson was already earning his own money, family members started to accept him. At that time, too, “I told them that this is the real me, I can’t change this. And I can stand up for my chosen gender identity.”

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Not surprisingly, Edson believes that “particularly at first, it’s hard to be an LGBTQIA person in (the Province of) Cavite.” However, “you learn to turn this negative experience into something positive. You teach yourself to be motivated by this… You will be ridiculed, you will be denigrated… even by your own family because you are gay, and they believe you’ll amount to nothing. But if you convert this into something positive, it will be your inspiration, your motivation to show to them that no matter what happens, no matter what I choose to do in life, I can improve to contribute better in society.”

Edson was in high school when a friend urged him to join a band.

He started as a musician (a flute player who became a clarinet player). But in 2010, he stopped being part of a band because he moved to Manila; this lasted for almost four years.

“When I returned to Bailen, Cavite, my training started again; this time as a color guard of Banda Kabataan #77,” he said.

“We also earn from being in a band, even if money isn’t that big, but for us, for people whose lives revolve around music, you don’t pay attention to money. For us, as long as you are enjoying what you’re doing, then money is not a big issue.”

Being part of a band is a “stress reliever for me,” said Edson, adding that this also: 1) allowed him to travel far and wide; and 2) allows him to explore himself to ascertain what else he can do as an individual.

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Not surprisingly, while “we also earn from being in a band, even if money isn’t that big, but for us, for people whose lives revolve around music, you don’t pay attention to money. For us, as long as you are enjoying what you’re doing, then money is not a big issue.”

Unlike his gender identity (at least in the beginning), his family is supportive of him being part of a band. This may be because family members are also band members. For instance, his cousins are also in bands, so “for my family, my being part of a band is a non-issue… But they tell me to always be careful, to look after myself. And that if this is where I can improve myself, then continue being in it.”

Being part of a band, said Edson, allows him to “show my talents to others, share these to others, particularly to those who intend to join bands. I want to share my talents, and everything I have learned.”

This is why he said he’d be “happier if all LGBTQIA people in my place join bands because in bands, no one will ridicule them or will look down at them. People who belong to bands know that LGBTQIA people can contribute a lot to bands.”

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t listen to what other people will say because – you need to remember – they do not feed you, they do not provide you sustenance, they do not dress you, they do not provide you housing. They’re just people looking to disparage you; people who want to put you down.”

Edson already had five boyfriends (the first one was in college); none of these relationships lasted long.

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But Edson learned life lessons from having relationships.

“A former BF cheated on me, so while in one relationship, I also cheated. That former cheating BF replaced me with another gay guy, and I had a hard time accepting it. That cheating ex-BF replaced me with my friend. Now I know better; that I should not do to others what was done to me because they may also do it to other people who will also unintentionally get hurt,” he said.

To younger LGBTQIA people, “continue doing what you want to do. Know yourself better by being certain with your gender identity,” Edson said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t listen to what other people will say because – you need to remember – they do not feed you, they do not provide you sustenance, they do not dress you, they do not provide you housing. They’re just people looking to disparage you; people who want to put you down.”

And to people who continue to discriminate against LGBTQIA people, “ang masasabi ko lang huwag nilag tingnan sa physical figure ang katangian ng isang tao, bagkus alamin nila kung ano ang nasa loob ng taong yun, kung bakla man siya o tomboy (I say: Don’t judge people based on their physical attributes. Instead, know people for who they really are),” Edson said. “Lagi nating tatandaan na kung ano ang kayang gawin ng lalaki at ng babae, kaya ding gawin ng isang bakla o ng tomboy (Remember that what men and women can do, LGBTQIA people can do, too).”

“I’d be happier if all LGBTQIA people in my place join bands because in bands, no one will ridicule them or will look down at them. People who belong to bands know that LGBTQIA people can contribute a lot to bands.”

In the end, to survive – and even thrive – in life, “Turn bad experiences to motivate you, to inspire you to show to them that no matter what happens to me, no matter what other people say, I will stand proud. I will stand proud because I am not alone; I am with God, who accepted me for who I am. I know these people will also accept me one day because they will also be proud of me,” Edson ended.

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Rainbow under the spotlight

Trans beautician Airah Austria also hosts events, which she said allows her to poke fun at people’s misconceptions about LGBTQIA Filipinos while sharing lessons about acceptance. She now tells younger LGBTQIA people: “Don’t mind the bullies; just do good in life.”

Published

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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.”

Airah Austria, 37, was in Grade 3 in elementary school when she discovered – for herself – that she was “different” from boys her age.

Yung boys, masculine; pero ako, I feel feminine. Tapos ang gusto ko kalaro, mga girls. Mahilig ako sa mga larong pambabae, especially Barbie, mga paper dolls (They were masculine and I was feminine. My playmates were girls; I liked playing only games stereotypically associated with girls, especially with Barbie and paper dolls),” she recalled.

This realization made her admit then that “I discovered I’m gay.”

Airah was, in a way, luckier. Though a product of a broken family, her grandmother – who raised her – accepted her “for who I am and what I am.”

To other LGBTQIA people, especially those younger than she is, “study well. Make yourself productive so people won’t also discriminate against you. We, ourselves, decide our own fates.”

Outside her home, of course, she also experienced discrimination and bullying – e.g. getting taunted for being “different”.

But – particularly as she gets older – Airah said “binigyan ko ng magandang pananaw para maging diretso yung pananaw ko din sa buhay (I looked at these in a positive light. I did this so that I would also have a positive outlook in life).”

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A few years back, while working in a salon, Airah remembered singing with who’s on the radio. “One of our clients was a road manager. He asked me if I wanted to work in comedy bars (as a host/singer). I took this chance. So now I’m in this industry because I enjoy hosting any kind of events, and I love singing a lot.”

Being in this line of work is not (always) easy.

“This line of work can get difficult,” Airah said. For instance, she doesn’t always earn well. “There are also times when the person who asked you to host is a friend, and he/she asked for a discounted rate, you give in.”

Not that this really bothers Airah.

“Giving discounts is okay for me as long as I am happy with what I am doing. This is what’s more important for me. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing, nothing is really that difficult to do.”

Airah was, in a way, luckier. Though a product of a broken family, her grandmother – who raised her – accepted her “for who I am and what I am.”

Discrimination can also be hurled her way even when she’s onstage.

“As a singer/comedienne, when I encounter discrimination while onstage, I try to make light of the situation. But I also make it a point to leave messages for them to realize that we’re also humans created by God, and that we need to be respected. Just like them, we’re also normal people,” she said.

Just as she is about to turn 38, Airah said she is focusing on saving money “so that when I’m older, I won’t be in a pitiful state. I have encountered some older LGBTQIA people who go from one parlor to another, asking for money to sustain them. I don’t want that to happen to me. So I work hard now. So that when I get older, someone would look after me. Even if they’re only doing this because I have money.”

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Airah used to have a partner for 12 years. That turned sour when the guy got another woman pregnant, something Airah sadly said was “bound to happen because I can’t bear him children.”

And this makes her sad and “at times lonely,” she said, “especially since my grandparents are gone, and I am all alone… But kaya naman (I can bear this loneliness).”

Looking forward, Airah believes she’d continue doing what she’s doing “for as long as I can sing, for as long as I can stand onstage… I’ll try to continue making people happy.”

“As a singer/comedienne, when I encounter discrimination while onstage, I try to make light of the situation. But I also make it a point to leave messages for them to realize that we’re also humans created by God, and that we need to be respected.”

Her message to those who continue to bully LGBTQIA people: “Please stop. Because we are also human beings; we were also created by God. Ginagawa lang namin yung pamamaraang alam naming tama, na ikaliligaya din namin. Because at the end of the day, tayo-tayo din ang magtutulungan (We live our lives just as we see fit; and in ways that also make us happy. At the end of the day, people should help people). So please stop discrimination.”

And to other LGBTQIA people, especially those younger than she is, “study well. Make yourself productive so people won’t also discriminate against you. We, ourselves, decide our own fates.”

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Airah is big on resilience while just doing what’s good.

“Don’t mind those people who discriminate against you as long as you do good to your fellow citizens, you do good to your country. LGBTQIA people are not doing anything wrong as long as we don’t step on others, and we live with dignity,” Airah ended.

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Gay in the highlands

What is it like to be gay and belong to an ethnic tribe in the Philippines? For Romnick Ampi, he only knew of acceptance and being encouraged to live a better life, showing that LGBTQIA people can achieve more. And he hopes for this to be the general concept – i.e. that looking down on LGBTQIA people stop to focus on what they can achieve in life.

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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.”

Romnick Ampi, 27, from Barangay Meohao in Sitio Palusok at the foot of Mount Apo in Mindanao, was in elementary school (“Around 12 years old”) when he knew he’s gay/a member of the LGBTQIA community.

“At that time,” he said, “hindi ko maiwasan magkagusto sa kapuwa ko gender (I couldn’t help myself from getting attracted to other men).”

At first, Romnick thought that what he was feeling wasn’t real. “But I observed that what I really feel for men is different. Yung puso ko ay parang puso pa rin ng babae (Like heterosexual women, I was attracted to men).”

But – belonging to the Manobo ethnic tribe (his mother is Visayan, while my father is Diangan) – Romnick said he only knew of acceptance.

“And even when I go to more mountainous areas, no one is surprised with a gay man like me. No one there bullies people with the same gender as me.”

“Yes, I told my family about me being gay. They did not have bad reactions. I am happy that they even support what I do. They particularly support my means of living that is aligned with my being part of the LGBTQIA community,” he said.

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Romnick noted – and stressed – that “nirerespeto po nila gaya ng pagrerespeto nila sa kaloikasan atsaka ng mga ninuno. So sa tao po, nirerespeto nila kung ano po ang LGBT (members of our tribe respect LGBTQIA people, just as they respect nature and our ancestors. They respect people, including LGBTQIA people),” he said. “We are not discouraged to live as LGBTQIA people,” even if part of this acceptance is anchored in the stereotypical expectation that LGBTQIA people (gay men and trans women, in particular) “bring… happiness particularly during local celebrations.”

This acceptance makes Meohao an ideal place for Romnick. In fact, he said, if one goes even higher in mountainous areas, it’s common to see members of the LGBTQIA community. “And even when I go to more mountainous areas, no one is surprised with a gay man like me. No one there bullies people with the same gender as me.”

Not surprisingly, “ang feeling ko ay happy, sa tingin ko ay walang kalungkutan na mangyayari ditto sa Meohao dahil nakita ko naman na ang lugar na ito ay peaceful at mapagmahal yung mga tao (I feel happy here; I feel that there’s no sadness here. The place is peaceful. And people here are loving/accepting),” he said.

“Members of our tribe respect LGBTQIA people, just as they respect nature and our ancestors. They respect people, including LGBTQIA people.”

Romnick’s family was originally from Davao, but because of his father’s belonging to the Manobo tribe, they moved to Meohao.

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Romnick has four siblings; he is the only one who goes to school. “All the others stopped going to school because of financial issues,” he said. “This is why I am studying hard so I can graduate and then be able to help them. I particularly want to help my siblings make a living.”

Romnick currently takes up Bachelor of Science in Food Technology at the University of Southern Mindanao, a course that is in line with his field of interest – i.e. events organizing.

“Perhaps this is also God’s gift to me – to take a course that is in line with the skills I now have,” he said.

Now moonlighting as an events organizer, Romnick had an early start working. “I discovered I have skills in organizing events when I was still in elementary school. While watching my teachers do the decorating in school events, such as the closing ceremonies, they told me to give decorating a try,” he said.

And nowadays, “per event, I earn from P5,000 – at least for the smaller events.”

Now single, Romnick said that not having a boyfriend is, for now, ideal. “Mas mabuti yung wala pa akong jowa para makapag-focus ako sa family ko at sa sarili ko (This way I can focus on my family and myself).”

To people who belittle LGBTQIA people, Romnick said “don’t look down on us.”

For him, LGBTQIA people thrive – and this is even if they are not supported by their parents/families. “Because LGBTQIA people are skillful. They will find ways to make a living,” he said. “I’m seeing it now in the world, and for myself, that LGBTQIA people can do good things even if they’re (just) LGBTQIA people.”

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This is also what he eyes to do in life: Do acts so that others to see that not all gay men are weak, that gay people are also skilled. “What heterosexual people can do, LGBTQIA people can do, too.”

To people who belittle LGBTQIA people, Romnick Ampi said “don’t look down on us.”

Particularly for younger LGBTQIA people, Romnick advised: “Huwag kayong huminto o huwag kayong ma-discourage kahit sa ano man yung sasabihin ng ibang tao. Dahil hindi nila alam ano ang feelings ninyo as… LGBT. At ipagpapatuloy ninyo dahil alam ko sa bandang huli… and Panginoon nga may plano sa ating lahat (Not to stop being who they are; or be discouraged because of what other people say. These people do not know what you feel as LGBTQIA people. So just continue being who you are because I know that in the end, God has plans for all of us).”

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All the world’s a salon

With many people belittling LGBTQIA people, trans hairdresser Maureen Mejia Chan says “we should consider making something of ourselves”, such as by opening a business. And in her case, by being an entrepreneur, she ended up becoming her family’s breadwinner, while proving to the world that LGBTQIA people can go the distance.

Published

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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.”

Siyempre kung magbukas ka ng business, dapat tutukan mo, dapat alam mo. Hindi lang pag gusto mo magbukas (magbubukas ka). Kasi pag ganun ang nangyari… wala din. Siguro mag-la-last lang siya ng one year kasi ikaw mismo may-ari hindi mo alam eh ang trabahong pinapasukan mo (Of course, if you open a business, you have to give it your complete attention.  You need to know about the business you’re going into. You don’t open one just because you feel like it. Because if you open one without intending to pay close attention to it, it won’t succeed. Perhaps it will just last for a year. It won’t last because even you, as the owner, do not know what you’re getting yourself into).”

That, in a gist, is the advice that can be given by Maureen Mejia Chan, 28 years old, a trans entrepreneur from San Antonio Village, Makati City.

Maureen, in fact, recommends for others to also open a business in a field they’re familiar with. “Particularly for LGBTQIA people, this is a good step to better your position in life. When you have a business, people can’t just belittle you. I want you to open business so people won’t look down on you. Having a business means having something to be proud of.”

BECOMING MAUREEN

Maureen knew she’s trans when she was still in elementary school.

Sinusuot ko yung mga bra ng mama ko, tapos yung panty niya… yung kumot naming, nilalagay ko sa ulo ko para (kunwari meron akong) mahabang buhok (I used to wear my mother’s bra, her underwear. And I used to put a blanket on my head, pretending it was my long hair),” she recalled.

In high school, Maureen fell in love with a man, which – she said – made her realize “that what I was feeling was what people said those belonging to the ‘third sex’ experienced.” This continued in college, when she continued to engage with other men; leading to where she is now.

Also in high school, Maureen had a friend whose name was… Maureen. “I said to her: I want that to be my name.” And so the name stayed.

Sa pamilya namin, walang bading or transgender na sinasabi (kaya) hindi ako matanggap (There are no gay men or transgender people in my family. So they couldn’t accept me),” Maureen said.

In fact, they tried to turn her “straight” by making Maureen work in the farm, tilling land and doing what were deemed stereotypically masculine jobs (and as if there are no gay farmers).

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But seeing Maureen not changing, “unti-unti, natatanggap nila ako (they slowly accepted me).” Perhaps, she added, because “napapakita ko sa kanila na hindi lang ako basta-basta bading katulad ng ibang bading na naglulustay ng (pera nila). Tumutulong ako sa kanila. Pinapaaral ko yung mga pamangkin ko, ang mga kapatid ko. Tapos nakakatulong din sa kanila (I was able to show them I am not just a faggot… like some who just waste their money doing undesirable things. I help them. I send my nieces and nephews to school, as well as my siblings. I also financially support other family members).”

Maureen admits that “mahirap ang maging isang trans dahil hindi pa open-minded ang mga tao. Pero kahit mahirap, eto na ako eh; masaya ako ditto. So kahit na dinidiscriminate nila ako, okay lang. Basta alam ko sa sarili ko na wala naman akong ginagawang masama at hindi ako nakaka-apak ng tao (It’s hard to be a trans person because many people are still not open-minded. But even if it’s hard, this is me. I’m happy being like this. So even if I encounter discrimination, it’s okay, as long as I know I’m not doing anything bad and I don’t hurt others).”

Maureen, in fact, recommends for others to also open a business in a field they’re familiar with. “Particularly for LGBTQIA people, this is a good step to better your position in life. When you have a business, people can’t just belittle you. I want you to open business so people won’t look down on you. Having a business means having something to be proud of.”

Maureen encountered actual LGBTQIA discrimination before.

While in Tarlac, after work, they decided to party, drinking with some boys in a bar. These boy started picking on them, eventually bashing us. “That was the most painful experience I had: to be bashed. We never thought something like that could happen to us.”

Note that when this happened, Maureen – and her friends – never considered filing official complaints so as not to complicate matters. Instead, “we just move to another place and party there,” she said. That is, experiencing discrimination in one place just makes them avoid the same and look for another place; no rectifications done, only moving on.

In the end, “I’m happy like this, so I choose to be like this.”

ENTER THE TRANS ENTREPRENEUR

Maureen was able to finish Practical Nursing in the Dominican College of Tarlac in (school year) 2007-2008. “But I took that course just to be able to say I didn’t only finish high school;

that I also have a college degree.”

Though she already did the hair and make-up of school-mates and teachers in school, “nagsimula ako sa trabaho (sa salon) doon sa dati kong amo; kinuha niya ako sa Tarlac tapos dinala niya ako dito. Pinasa-pasa ako [I started working (in a salon in Metro Manila) when my former boss hired me all the way from Tarlac. He brought me here (to Metro Manila); and I got passed around (from one salon to another).”

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After seven years, Maureen decided to open her own salon. The total capital she spent reached approximately P200,00.

Actually, she said, it’s hard to open a salon, particularly if you don’t have equipment. “Kailangan mo bumili ng materyales na medyo mahal; at mga gamot (You have to buy equipment that can be expensive; you have to buy your stocks of beauty products).”

Luckily for her, “at least my (regular) clients still avail of my services even if my salon is quite far from where I used to work.”

Maureen: “It’s hard to be a trans person because many people are still not open-minded. But even if it’s hard, this is me. I’m happy being like this. So even if I encounter discrimination, it’s okay, as long as I know I’m not doing anything bad and I don’t hurt others.”

Despite the challenges, “ito ang gusto ko (this is what I wanted to do),” Maureen said. “Although nakatapos naman ako ng (course sa college) pero dito ako dinala eh. Ito siguro yung talent ko… Ito talaga ang hilig ko (I may have finished a course in college, but life brought me here. Perhaps this is where my talent lies… but this is what I really liked to do).”

Looking at where she is now, “hindi ko ma-imagine na ito na ang kahihinatnan ng buhay ko ngayon. Kasi dati, basta makapagtrabaho lang ako, makakain, makapaglalaki syempre, makapagbigay ng sustento doon sa family ko, yun na. Hindi ko naisip na magtatayo ako ng parlor (Never in my mind did I imagine I’d reach this level in my life. In the past, I was already fine just having a job, food to eat, be able to give money to my boys, send money to my family… I thought that was that. It never really occurred to me I’d open my own beauty parlor).”

But then, she said, “I thought: Do I get old without attaining anything? Of course, people should have dreams. So, slowly, I worked to attain mine; I saved money; my old employer (Mommy Doods) taught me how to run a salon… And when I already knew the ins and outs of running a salon, I opened my own. I still can’t believe I already have my own salon.”

A salon isn’t always profitable, Maureen admitted, and “you don’t earn a lot every day.”

Particularly, from September to December, a salon can earn a lot; but outside this period, “we don’t earn a lot. So what you earned in December, you use to cover the expenses for the lean months.”

Pag sinabing business, akala nila ang yaman-yaman mon a. So nakakautang ka rin lalo na kung medyo mahina. Pero kahit papaano naman nakakaraos, nakakabayad ng upa, yung pagkain naming, naayos naman… okay na (When you have a business, people immediately think you’re rich. This isn’t so; you still need to borrow money, particularly if you’re not earning a lot. But you get by somehow. You can pay the rent, buy your food… so it’s all okay),” she said.

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Maureen is dreaming bigger, wanting to open more salons in the future. So she’s not training her staff who may man these future salons.

Sa lahat ng gustong magka-parlor, dapat siguro mag-aral muna lalo na yung may-ari. Pag ang may-ari kasi marunong, hindi ka pagmamalakihan ng mga trabahante mo. Pag ang may-ari di marunong… siyempre magsasara ka talaga (To people who want to own a business, it’s good if you study about your kind of business first. If you know about your business, your employees will respect you. When running a salon for instance, if the owner doesn’t even know how to cut hair, that salon will eventually close),” she said.

CHOOSING IT ALL

Maureen has a boyfriend now, and they’ve been together for almost three years now. The good thing is that he has a job, she said, just as Maureen also has her job.

Ang iniisip kasi ng ibang tao, lalo na yung hindi pa open-minded, ang akala nila kung makikipagrelasyon ka sa ibang lalaki, akala nila pera ang habol nila. Hindi nila alam na hindi lahat (Close-minded people think that when an LGBTQIA person has a relationship with a  straight man, the latter is just after the former’s money. They don’t know that this isn’t true for everyone),” she said. “Siguro naka-tiyempo lang ako ng ganung klaseng lalaki na nagtatrabaho hindi lang para sa sarili niya kundi para sa family niya. Nagtutulungan naman kami; kung sino ang meron, siya nagbibigay (Maybe I was just fortunate to meet a guy who works not just for himself but for his family. We help each other. The person who has the resources helps the other who does not).”

One time, Maureen recalled being made to choose between love and her work/business. But Maureen’s a realist, saying that her business is her “bread and butter”, and that if she gives this up, they’ll both suffer. “So we talked about this, and I explained to him that this isn’t just good for myself but also for our family.”

Maureen: “When you have a business, people immediately think you’re rich. This isn’t so; you still need to borrow money, particularly if you’re not earning a lot. But you get by somehow. You can pay the rent, buy your food… so it’s all okay.”

LIFE LESSONS

Para sa mga LGBTQIA na party lang nang party, sige, mag-party lang sila; lustayin nila pera nila kasi doon sila masaya eh (For LGBTQIA people who love partying, continue doing so as long as you have money. Spend your money on partying if it makes you happy),” Maureen said. “Saka lang nila ma-re-realize pag naubos na ang pera nila, pag medyo nagkaka-edad na (But these party people will only realize they’re wasteful when they’re broke, or are already getting older).”

For Maureen, “it will be difficult if you wait until you’re already old before you start thinking about your future. That’s already too late. You won’t achieve anything anymore by then.”

And so she wants particularly younger LGBTQIA people to “enjoy your youth. But when an opportunity (to open a business) arises, grab it.  Don’t dilly-dally. An opportunity like this is rare.” In the end, Maureen said that “many people think LGBTQIA people won’t amount to anything. They don’t think we can achieve something even if they don’t know what we can actually do.”

Because for her, “tayong mga LGBT… andaming gusting mangyari para makatulong. So hangga’t anong meron, sige lang tayo nang sige (LGBTQIA people are never contented; we want to achieve a lot. We want to do more so we can help our parents, help our families. So we don’t stop trying to do more. For as long as we can, LGBTQIA people persevere).”

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Searching for Beauty

Trans hairdresser Bella Abac partially makes a living by joining beauty pageants, intending to do so for as long as her body can. It is in these beauty pageants that LGBTQIA Filipinos like her push for equality… to a certain point, ending up promoting the limiting gender binary even as they also call (at least onstage) for better treatment of LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming 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.”

Para sa akin po, ang attraction ng pagsali ko po ng pageants, pakiramdam ko po kasi sa sarili ko na parang doon ko lang nailalabas lahat ng kasiyahan ko (Beauty pageants are appealing to me because they allow me to express my happiness),” Bella Abac, 24, said. “Feel ko po na hindi makukumpleto ang pagka-trans ko kung hindi sumasali ng pageant ng mga trans kasi po (dito ay) napapatunayan ko sa mga tao na karapat-dapat pa ring respectuhin, na kahit bakla ka, may talino at talent kang maipapakita sa kanila (I feel incomplete as a trans woman if I don’t join a pageant. It allows me to show to people that I still merit respect).”

Bella is, obviously, one of the now-regular trans “beauconeras (regular beauty pageant competitors/contestants)”, a staple – if you must – in a beauty pageant crazy country like the Philippines.

GROWING UP TRANS

Bella always identified as a woman. “Since nung nagkaisip na ako, nalama kong babae pala ako. Puso (ko ay) babae (For as long as I can remember, I always identified as a woman; in my heart, I am a woman),” she said.

But it was only in high school when she came out. “Nung bata pa ako may komportable po akong makipaglaro sa mga babae. Kaya masasabi ko po na naramdaman ko na trans ako dahil sa mga nakakahalubilo ko, nakakasalamuha na mga barkada (As a kid, I was more comfortable hanging out with girls. I’d say I knew I’m transgender because of the company I kept),” she said.

At the start, Bella tried to hide her true self from her family, particularly since she was the firstborn male child and grandchild. But when she deemed she already looked feminine enough, she then started living as a trans woman.

Nung nag-out po ako… siguro nabigla din sila (When I came out, perhaps they were also surprised),” Bella said. “Pero never naman po nila akong pinagbuhatan ng kamay (But they never hurt me).”

Having grown in a generally welcoming family, Bella Abac said family acceptance is important because this will have affect particularly the minds of young LGBTQIA people.

Pastora Raquel, Bella’s grandmother (who raised her) said she noted that when Bella was in high school, she had all-female friends. And so, even then, she already suspected Bella is trans.

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Minsan… parang tinatanong ko ang sarili ko, bakit nagkaganito ang apo kong ito (Sometimes I ask myself why my grandchild is like this),” Nanay Paz said, “pero wala naman ako magagawa kundi tanggapin (But there’s nothing I can do but accept her).”

It is also acceptance that Nanay Paz wants other parents/guardians to learn; to “learn to love your children instead of driving them away.” It’s a choice, she said, of accepting them as they are, or losing them if they are not accepted. And for her, “I’ve learned to just accept it without reservations.”

Now and then, Nanay Paz worries for Bella, “particularly in these times” when people can get in trouble even if they did nothing wrong. But she said “sinabi ko lang sa kanya, mag-ingat siya… Baka ako ang unang manigas diyan (kung may nangyari sa kanya) (I just tell her to be careful… If something happened to her, I don’t think I can bear that. Perhaps I’d die myself).”

Having grown in a generally welcoming family, Bella said family acceptance is important because this will have affect particularly the minds of young LGBTQIA people. “Maaring mag-rebelde po sila o maaring maglayas. At baka maging against pa sila sa pamilya nila (They may rebel or run away if they are not accepted. They may even think badly and be against their own families).”

After coming out and openly hanging out with other trans women, Bella was introduced by a close friend to beauty pageants; this friend encouraged her to join, and she, herself, wanted to manage Bella.

PART OF THE INFORMAL SECTOR

Based in Bacoor, Cavite, Bella now works as a hairdresser.

Right after high school, Bella’s aunt helped her study hairdressing in a vocational school. By the time she was 19, she was already working.

Masasabi ko po na sapat ang kinikita ko sa salon. Sa isang araw po, kahit P100 lang po; then pinaka-maximum po, P1,000 (I can say I earn enough while working in a salon. In a day I can earn at least P100, reaching to P1,000),” she said.

Bella doesn’t get regular salary; instead, she gets a cut of the day’s profit of the salon where she works at. She is, therefore, further driven to entice people to avail of the services that they offer, since having more customers means possibly earning more.

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Having work helps Bella in joining pageants since she has (some) money to spent.

BEAUCONERA’S LIFE

Bella “only” joins pageants as a hobby; it’s just for fun for her, and only when she has spare time.

She learned that in this industry, “hindi siya ganun kabigat (it isn’t financially burdensome),” she said; at least just give some money to the handler/s for them to be able to travel to the venue of the pageant, and then while there, at least feed them.

Usually, a candidate spends from P100 per pageant, though this obviously goes up to thousands, depending on one’s entourage and on where the pageant is being held. A big chunk of the expenses goes to the “handlers”.

In Bella’s case, “mahigit kumulang P500 din nagagastos ko per pageant (personally, I spend approximately P500 per pageant).”

Bella Abac: “I feel incomplete as a trans woman if I don’t join a pageant. It allows me to show to people that I still merit respect.”

The handlers actually do just about everything for the candidate (aside from competing), from providing the clothes to be worn, providing hair and make-up, and even training (e.g. walking, answering questions, et cetera) as needed.

The arrangements with handlers vary (e.g. some take a bigger cut of the earning, some charge fees outright whether a contestant wins or loses, and still some do it for free). And in Bella’s case at least, “it’s your call how to divide the prize money.”

The biggest cash prize Bella won totaled P4,000, after she placed first runner-up in pageants in Batangas and Nueva Ecija. “Yung kalahati po, para na po sa akin, pang-suporta po sa bahay para sa… pagkain po, unang-una po sa bigas (I kept half of that amount to myself, spending it for expenses at home… for food, to buy rice),” Bella said.

The other half, she gave to her handler. “Para fair po (To be fair),” she said, as well as to avoid possible grumblings from people who may complain that it was them who helped her clinch a title.

In total, Bella already joined around 20 beauty pageants.

And she plans to be a beauconera for as long as she is able to compete, perhaps until she reaches 40.

CONFRONTING, YET ENDING UP PROMOTING THE STATUS QUO?

A handful of trans beauconeras actually believe in “separate but equal”.

In Bella’s case, “if you ask me if trans women should be allowed to join beauty pageants like Miss Universe, I’d say: ‘No’.”

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Bella’s belief is anchored in recognizing segregation; that “may mga inilaan naman pong patimpalak para sa mga kabaklaan… kaya hindi natin kailangan pang panghimasukan ang pageant na para lang sa kababaihan (There are pageants just for us. So we shouldn’t impose upon them to accept us to join pageants just for them).”

But this belief is also anchored in the continuing dominant belief of sex/gender binary that, obviously displaces members of the LGBTQIA community.

Dapat pa rin po nating irespecto ang kanilang pagka-babae (We should respect their womanhood),” Bella said.

Being a woman, for Bella, means being able to nurse a child. “Para sa akin po, ang babae ay isang ina na handing kumalinga sa kanyang anak. Kaya dapat irespeto ang kababaihan (For me, to be a woman is to be a mother who cares for her child. So women should be respected).”

The words “hindi ‘tunay’ na babae (not a ‘real’ woman)”, “purong babae (pure woman)” and “pusong babae (literally, woman’s heart; though also weaker heart/cowardly disposition)” also easily get thrown around in trans beauty pageants, referring to the personhood of the candidates themselves, thereby – knowingly or not – pushing for the anti-trans (and anti-LGBTQIA) narratives.

Pageants remain relevant, said Bella Abac, as they allow people to voice out their opinions on particular issues; thereby, they allow the promotion of these issues that – hopefully in the long run – promote equality.

LIFE LESSONS

Bella already had three boyfriends; none lasted. But she’s saying that “I’m not saying that trans relationships don’t last long because there are relationships that involve us that work out.” For Bella, it always “depends on the people involved”, since relationships can help develop people.

And being developed, said Bella, also happens in pageants. Which is why she recommends joining them (particularly to younger members of the LGBTQIA community). “Malay natin yung mga batang trans may kakayahan na maaring mahasa sa pamamagitan ng pagsali ng mga pageants (It’s a way for us to know if they have skills that can be developed through these pageants).”

The world of beauty pageants is “round” – one day you win, one day you won’t. So Bella Abac said not winning may be disappointing, but it isn’t everything.

Pageants remain relevant, said Bella, as they allow people to voice out their opinions on particular issues; thereby, they allow the promotion of these issues that – hopefully in the long run – promote equality. “Pageants can help solve a lot of problems facing different countries,” she quipped.

The world of beauty pageants is “round” – one day you win, one day you won’t. So Bella said not winning may be disappointing, but it isn’t everything. “Masaya (na rin ako) na nag-enjoy ako, at may sumusuporta pa rin sa akin kahit papaano (At least I enjoyed myself. And there are people who supported me somehow).”

To people who continue to look down on LGBTQIA people, Bella said that “kahit ano pang pangyuyurak sa aming pagkatao ang inyong gawin, kahit na kami ay inyong laitin, naniniwala pa rin ako na karapat-dapat pa rin kaing respetuhin (no matter how many times you step on us, and even if you belittle us, I believe that we deserve to be respected).”

But turning inwards, she added: “Sa kapuwa ko (LGBTQIA), gumawa muna tayo ng tamas a kapuw nang sa ganun ay wala silang masabi (To my fellow LGBTQIA people, let’s do something good so people won’t have anything bad to say about us).”

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Queen Bhee

Bhee Garcia, a trans woman hairdresser in Makati City, believes LGBTQIA people can be empowered by not focusing on negativities thrown their way. Once derided as “bakla (gay)”, she even reclaimed this reference to her identity to show she can turn it into something unique and empowering.

Published

on

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.”

Bhee Garcia – a 23-year-old transgender woman from Makati City – grew up being called “bakla (gay)”. But she did not shy away from the (derogatory) term; instead, “pinalandi ko (contextually: I glamorized it/I made it work)”. And so – while she was also called, among others, Barbie, Amanda, Miranda and Nica – it was this name that stayed with her. “Bhee – it was used to mock me before, but I made it beautiful and my own.”

Bhee added that “di naman big deal sa akin (ang pangalan) as long as may respect ang pagtawag sa akin (What name people use to refer to me is not a big deal as long as they address me with respect)”.

Bhee knew she was transgender since high school. “Alam ko na sa sarili ko na babae ako… simula nung makihalubilo ako sa mga babae at alam ko na belong ako sa kanila (I knew I’m trans when I started mingling with girls and I felt I belonged).”

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As the youngest of eight siblings (and the only member of the LGBTQIA community), Bhee’s family didn’t have negative reactions when she came out. “Prinoprotektahan nila ako (They even protect me),” she said. “May mga nakakasalamuha ako na… matatalim ang mata, ayaw nila makita na bakla ang anak mo o kapatid mo, so pinoprotektahan nila ako (You come across people who do not want to be with LGBTQIA people, and my family protects me from them).”

Not that this spared Bhee from bullying. For instance, in high school, when she already started wearing make-up, people used to taunt her. But Bhee said that though this may have also made her shed some tears, she also learned not to give people power over her personhood; “I just try to see the positive in life’s experience.”

She studied cosmetology, and eventually ended up working as a hairdresser in a beauty salon/parlor.

Her job isn’t always easy; one time, a client yelled at her, doubting her skills. But she learned that – aside from being adept at her work – people skills can also make her succeed. And the latter is helped being developed by a good working environment. “Sa salon kasi, masaya pag marami kayo (Working in a salon is fun if there are many of you),” she said.

Earning is “okay lang (just okay)” when working in a salon, Bhee said, though this is always – and obviously – dependent on the customers.

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Actually, “mas mataas ang pangarap ko kesa ini-expect ng iba (my dreams are bigger than people expect my dreams to be),” she said. Lie when she was younger, she wanted to be a “supermodel, a beauty queen”; but “di ko pinush sarili ko (I didn’t push myself to be this). I just pushed myself to have an income, to have money and be able to help my family.”

Bhee had a four-year relationship before. And while it didn’t last, she said that even if there are people who say that relationships with transgender women do not last, it doesn’t mean “you don’t deserve to be loved,” she said.

Bhee wants younger LGBTQIA people to just “go lang nang go (persevere).” “Ako, nararamdaman ko kayo bilang trans sister; nararamdaman nyo sana na ako, lumalaban din sa buhay (I feel you as your transgender sister; I hope you know that I, too, fight to live),” she said.

She wants LGBTQIA people to not focus on the negative hurled our way. “Kailangan natin isaisip na tayo, tinatanggap dapat ng lipunan (We need to realize that society should accept us),” Bhee said. So “hindi (natin) dapat isipin ang mga negatibo na sinasabi ng mga tao (We souldn’t think of the negative things people say about us).” But at the same time, for non-LGBTQIA people to “change your way of looking at us. See us as equals; not as less-than-human that you can step on.”

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