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Harissa: Be true to yourself

Meet Cebu City-based Harissa, here as part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine launched to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living. Because she is somewhat tomboyish, people erroneously assume she’s a transman. She just shrugs this off. “Basta lipay ka sa kaugalingon nimo (As long as you’re happy with yourself),” she said.

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Cebu City-based Harissa was in Grade 2 when “I started feeling that I like other girls,” she said in the vernacular. At that time, I had a crush with a classmate.” After that, “ma-o to, padayon na (from then on, it persisted).”

Harissa was in Grade 5 when her mother asked her about her sexual orientation. “‘Unsa ka?’, nangutana ako mama (‘What are you?’ was my mom’s question),” she said. “I just said, ‘Bayot ko (I’m gay).”

To her surprise – and happiness – “they said kung asa ko happy, didto pud sila (what makes me happy, they’d support).”

Now 20 years old, Harissa have had five “serious” girlfriends.

The first and second GFs, “mga schoolmates,” she laughed. The third is a friend of a friend. The fourth was when she was in college. And the fifth, “gikan (from) FB.”

At times she heads back to her hometown, Liloan, located north of Cebu. And she’s happy to say “it’s not hard for me to be me when I’m home.” Her “ig-agaw (cousins)” would teasingly call her “tomboy – I just laugh it off.”

Interestingly, though, “dili nila dawaton nga mu-uyab ko (they don’t accept my having GFs).”

But on this, Harissa doesn’t pay much attention. “Kung unsa ila opinyon, bahala sila (Whatever their opinions are, I let them be),” she said. “Basta totoo ako sa aking sarili (So long as I’m true to myself).”

Harissa, who is now studying Mass Communications (in her third year), said that because she is somewhat tomboyish, people erroneously assume she’s a transman. She just shrugs this off. “Basta lipay ka sa kaugalingon nimo (As long as you’re happy with yourself),” she said.

It helps, of course, that she’s been exposed to lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) via Cebu City-based Visayan LGBT organization Bisdak Pride. But this, too, is where she draws her drive to help members of the LGBT community. “If I know nga makatabang ta, angay nga mutabang ta. Daghan pud mahimo sa LGBT community, so kita jud mutabang sa atong mga igsoong LGBT (If I know I can help, I’d help. We can do a lot for the LGBT community, and we all should help our fellow LGBT community members).”

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No less human

Assigned female at birth, Andy Andres used to “hide” behind the #lesbian community, until he discovered he’s actually #intersex. Life hasn’t been easy for him, getting discriminated for being different. He hopes people will eventually accept them. “God did not only create man and woman. Because if this is so, then who created us?”

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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.”

Andy Andres – 30 years old and the youngest of six siblings from the Province of Pampanga – was assigned female at birth. In 2008, “I had myself checked because of pain in my lower abdomen/tummy,” Andy said, adding that even then, “I was apprehensive because I may be discriminated because my condition is ‘different’.”

Even as a teenager, “I asked my mother why – even if I was already 13, 14 or 14 – I still didn’t menstruate. My breasts also didn’t develop. My mom told me to just wait. I told her my case may be different. Because based on my genitalia, mine was different.”

Andy’s apprehension to see a doctor was based on the knowledge that “when people discover you’re different, people immediately discriminate against you.”

After seeing a doctor, Andy was told of his intersex condition: congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

GROWING UP DIFFERENT

The name written on Andy’s birth certificate is ‘Marissa Andres’.

And without knowledge of the intersex condition, “I hid my identity by claiming I’m a lesbian,” Andy said, adding that in the past, “I didn’t know better.”

There was a time when “I used clothes for women, but I was never attracted to men. That may be also why I pretended I was a lesbian. At least, by pretending to be a lesbian, I can act in a masculine manner.”

Even then, though, he already identified as a man.

And even then, “my family accepted me.” But yes, there was a time when even a sibling bullied him.

Andy started using his chosen name because of work.

“In the company I first worked with, they placed me in the women’s quarter because that was the sex in my birth certificate. There, I experienced bullying. They told me my birth certificate says I’m a woman, but my breasts did not develop, and I didn’t menstruate. They asked me what I am; and I couldn’t explain my situation to them,” he said.

It was hard for Andy to even go to the toilet. “I presented myself as a man, but I went to the female toilet,” he said. “Some people even told me, ‘Maybe you’re an alien.’ It hurts. But I can’t do anything about this, so I just ignore them.”

There was also a time when Andy was rejected for a job. “They had a physical check-up, and I was rejected due to this,: he said.

Andy was “so depressed I considered killing myself. There was a time when even I didn’t accept myself.”

Andy’s apprehension to see a doctor was based on the knowledge that “when people discover you’re different, people immediately discriminate against you.”

GROWING WITH KNOWLEDGE

After knowing he’s intersex, “initially, it was difficult for me to accept that I am intersex. I asked: ‘Of all the people, why me?’ I’m not a bad person, I did no wrong; even my family did no wrong. So why me? I was depressed.”

Andy disclosed to his family, and “I saw their expressions, they looked happy. They were happy I found the answer to a question I asked them that they couldn’t answer. They said at least it’s not my ‘fault’, unlike LGBT people. I don’t think they meant to discriminate. But they said that with me, at least I can choose (what I want to be).”

The support of family and friends helped Andy survive.

“Now, I have fully accepted my condition. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s already here; God gave this to me. I think God gave this to me because He has a reason/purpose. God won’t do this without reason,” he said.

After knowing he’s intersex, “initially, it was difficult for me to accept that I am intersex. I asked: ‘Of all the people, why me?’ I’m not a bad person, I did no wrong; even my family did no wrong. So why me? I was depressed.”

LIVING FOR THE FUTURE

Andy has a partner now.

“Not to boast, but I may be intersex, but I already had a number of girlfriends,” he beamed. “I don’t believe physical traits matter when looking for true love. As long as you can love the person, and that person can’t accept you, there won’t be a problem.”

Andy added: “I disclosed my condition to all my girlfriends; even before I started wooing them. If a girl doesn’t accept me, I move on. But there are some who stayed.”

Andy has yet to amend his original birth certificate because of financial issues. “So when I have saved enough, I’ll prioritize this,” he said, “to legally change the name ‘Marissa’ in my birth certificate.”

And for Andy, there’s always more that can be done.

And this starts with acceptance.

“To younger intersex people, accept who you are, what you have/are. Don’t give in to depression. If you are depressed, many can help you. Never consider killing yourself because that will be a waste. There are different ways to live (productively). No matter what you’re going through, trust God,” he said.

Andy also recognizes that haters will always exist.

“To those who mock us, continue with what you’re doing,” he said, laconically. “But I also hope they will eventually accept us. God did not only create man and woman. Because if this is so, then who created us? I hope you also see us as humans who also get hurt and fight hardships in life.”

“To younger intersex people, accept who you are, what you have/are. Don’t give in to depression. If you are depressed, many can help you.”
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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.

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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.”

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.

“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.”

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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Defining who you are…

Before discovering she’s a woman, Ruffy Yulo – an intersex person with Klinefelter syndrome – said people gossiped that she “just wanted” to be a woman so she “can sleep around.” The mockery of intersex experience, she now says, ignores the difficulties intersex people go through.

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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.”

Assigned male at birth, Ruffy Yulo, 42 from Ortigas/Pasig City, was already 29 when she discovered “I’m actually intersex.”

She recalled though that, earlier, “when I was 19, when I went to the doctor, I would always get checked. The doctor would always say I have hormonal imbalance.”

But one day, when she was 29, she met a doctor in a gathering for gay and bi men. “The first time he saw me, he asked me what I was doing in that gathering.”

The doctor then mentioned to Ruffy that she may be/is intersex; and “it was the first time I heard of such a condition,” considering her sex assignment at birth.

In hindsight, though, there were “clues” in her life on her condition.

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation),” she said. But she recalled that “one time, we went to the pediatrician who looked after me. I heard him say: ‘Did I not tell you in the past to fix this?’.”

And so when she was told she’s intersex, “I thought I’d just do the test (karyotyping). If I see from the test that I’m not intersex, that’s okay.”

But when Ryffy took the test, “I found out that I was actually a mosaic, I was really surprised. I was happy, but at the same time, I was also very confused.”

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation).”

LIFE LIVED HARD

There was a time when Ruffu met someone who’s intersex. “That time, I thought, their case is very complicated. But their situation also made it easy for them… like explaining to those who’d mock them. I was young then; and that’s what I thought – that it was easier for them.”

But after finding out she, herself, is intersex, “it turns out I was wrong. When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

For example, as an adolescent, “when my body started changing, I had difficulty going to the toilet. When I go to the male toilet, I would get questioned: ‘Ma’am, this is the male toilet; yours is on the other side.’ There came a point when I wouldn’t even go to a toilet anymore. I’d just contain myself, and use a toilet when I’m in a place with (gender-neutral facilities).”

And when she applies for a job, “I always get to the second interview. But when I undergo medical exams, I never get any more calls.”

Ruffy said: “There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

BODY AUTONOMY

For most people who know Ruffy, “from the time we were classmates to the present time, they all consider me as gay. So even if I explain my situation as an intersex person, they will not understand. In fact, I tried several times,” she said.

There were times when people gossiped about her in school, for instance.

“When we were supposed to have a reunion, I was not able to attend. There were rumours that I (had gender affirmation surgery as a trans woman). That I had surgery because I just wanted to sleep around. Those were the stories that went around. But the truth was, I was already at risk for testicular cancer. That was the main reason why I had myself checked.”

The doctor who can do the surgery Ruffy needed here in the Philippines only had around 70 cases. “Unlike in Thailand, when I went there, I met my doctor and he already did over a thousand cases. In those 1,000 cases, he did (surgery) on two intersex individuals already. So I felt a lot safer (with him).”

It was a costly procedure, Ruffy admitted.

“But, you know, at that time when I did this, I didn’t have a choice. I was already at risk of having testicular cancer. And things needed to be removed. I also told my parents then that since there are many issues with my body, I wanted to fix everything in one go. At that time I was at risk to get testicular cancer, I had hernia… and there was that issue with my being intersex,” she said.

After her surgery, when Ruffy returned to the Philippines, she bled. “So I rushed myself to the hospital. There, while the doctor was checking me, I was surprised when nurses started gathering around me. They left their patients. They were all there trying to ask me several questions. I felt that the questions were irrelevant. They asked: How do you do sex? Why do you think you bled? Did you insert something inside you? Some of them I found really offensive,” Ruffy recalled. “But at that time, I had very little choice but to answer them. I thought, too, that maybe it’s for my own benefit.”

“When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

In hindsight, Ruffy said that “there (isn’t a lot of study done about the intersex condition). In fact, when I was talking to a physician, he told me that when they were still in medical school, there’s only one chapter covering this topic. What they know is so limited, so that every time they encounter an intersex person, they tend to ask a lot because it’s their only chance to get answers.”

To Ruffy, though – and she stresses this – if intersex people think that getting (non-necessary) surgery is the answer, “the solution for them to be happy, let me say this isn’t the solution. In fact I discourage intersex individuals to undergo surgery. To start, it’s costly. Secondly, it’s hard. Take my case, for instance, after undergoing the procedure, there were complications. One of the complications for me was… like I had early menopause. So the tendency was… for my bones to be more brittle.”

ON FINDING LOVE

“We know that a lot of men want someone who’s ‘normal’. They want someone who can conceive. They want someone they can grow old with… while caring for their grandchildren. This is something I can’t give,” Ruffy said.

So for a time, she didn’t date. “I mean, I also tried dating. But it’s challenging; it doesn’t work out. From the very start, even before we go on a date, I already tell them (that I am intersex).”

The doctor told her not to immediately disclose. “There was an instance after the surgery – when the doctor told me not to immediately disclose – when not disclosing gave me more problems. The guy thought I lied to him. Even if, in fact, that was not the intention.”

FINDING THE COURAGE

To younger intersex people, Ruffu said that “it’s totally normal to be scared. I will not say that you will instantly be courageous. But if you are facing hardships, these challenges are not exclusive to intersex people. Bisexuals, gays, lesbians and (even) heterosexuals – people from all spectrum, we all encounter difficulties. Perhaps it’s just more complicated for intersex people.

“But, you know, don’t limit your way of thinking that you’d amount to nothing. In fact, there are more chances to improve.”

“There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

That there will always be people who will look down on (or at least look differently at) intersex people does not escape Ruffy.

“What I learned over time is that it is the people who discriminate who have problems. They may be afraid that what other people experience, it will also be done to them. For instance, a person may say another person is not capable. It may be because that person is the one who is not capable. They are only projecting to others their lack of capability,” she said. “The truth is, if we give others a chance, there’s more to everyone (than meets the eye).”

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Trans in Baguio

Van Sanchez, the trans woman vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan, believes LGBTQIA people should be strong in fighting for what they feel in their hearts. For her, it’s time to show haters that “we’re already here, and we’re standing up for our human rights.”

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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.”

Van Sanchez, 25 years old from Baguio City, realized she’s trans when she was 15. This wasn’t… surprising for her, since “there are other LGBTQIA people in (my) clan,” she said. “There are 11 of us brothers and sisters. Two of us are ‘bakla’. We also have one sibling who’s a lesbian. So we’re totally complete in the family – we have lesbian and gay members.”

Perhaps it is this that made her family more accepting of her, since when Van’s parents found out she’s trans, “they didn’t react badly… They still fully support us.”

This isn’t to say Van’s life was always easy.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”

This is why “I’m here advocating for gender equality.”

“If I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this.”
“I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

Van was elected to be part of Sangguniang Kabataan in 2018, she said “representing the LGBTQIA community.” She also won as the vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

For Van, “it’s not difficult to be a public official. It’s not difficult even for me who’s part of the LGBTQIA community as a trans woman. The work you do is the same.”

Van thinks that being LGBTQIA is somewhat easier in a city like Baguio.

“Here in Baguio City, it’s not that hard to live as a trans person. Particularly now that there are people like us who advocate for gender equality in the city. I have yet to see locals discriminate against people like us,” she said.

She noted – and acknowledged – though that “perhaps they just don’t discriminate as much. It’s not bad to be trans here because people know about us… and they somehow accept us already.”

Van believes “fighting” starts within.

While completing a degree in education, “I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

“I also don’t believe in these when teaching. What matters more is how you teach your students; that you share your knowledge to them. Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van said.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”
“We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Now, “if I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this,” Van said, adding that “trans people and LGBTQIA community members should be united in fighting for our human rights.”

And to those who discriminate against LGBTQIA people, Van said: “Good luck. We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that. We’re here standing in front of you, and we’re here standing up for our rights. In the end, we’re all humans, and we’re equals in the eyes of God.”

“Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van Sanchez said.
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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.”

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.”

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.

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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#KaraniwangLGBT

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.

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.”

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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