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Here comes… Gothic drag

Patruni Chidananda Sastry started doing drag at the age of 12, “though I didn’t know it was drag,” they said. Now, Patruni says that drag is equivalent to sports, drama, dance, music and more. “It’s a package of all in one. So if you don’t like our art, I believe you should have a better reason; and to get one, you should dress up one day.”

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PHOTO: MANAB DAS; MODELS: PATRUNI SASTRY AND SAJIV PASALA

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.”

Patruni Chidananda Sastry started doing drag at the age of 12, “though I didn’t know it was drag,” they said. At that time, “I was learning and pursuing Indian classical dance, ‘Kuchipudi’, where the young boys dress up as girls and perform on mythological contexts. It was through this that… I dressed as a girl to present a dance piece.”

It took Patruni more time to “conventionally call it drag”, when – starting 2019 – they started to “imbibe the idea of drag in Hyderabad.”

Patruni also recalled that at that time, Hyderabad didn’t have any drag culture.

“Conventional drag has been (reported on) pretty late in India, around 2018-2019,” they said.

This was also the time when Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (the archaic British “anti-buggery law” that prohibited sexual contact between two men even if they consent) was decriminalized.

“Before that, drag was there as a part of multiple art forms, but not many people used the word ‘drag’. It was not a separate entity of art,” Patruni said.

As such, Hyderabad had never seen someone perform drag and “in an interim discussion with a couple of friends, the idea of hosting a drag show crossed my mind. I was looking for drag queens who can perform for the show and was desperate to get someone… to dress up. Irritated by my constant push, a friend got back to me saying, ‘If you can’t do it yourself, don’t ask others to do it!’.”

That was when Patruni decided to do drag.

“After performing on the first show in June 9, 2019, I found the intersectionality of dance, performance art and theater in drag; and I felt it relevant to pursue it from thereon,” they said.

And so with the passing of time, “my drag has been my way to showcase a visible medium of gender nonconformity and the politics of fashion within the country.”

PHOTOS: MANAB DAS; MODELS: PATRUNI SASTRY AND SAJIV PASALA

GOTHIC DRAG

Here’s an interesting thing, though: Patruni actually once referred to what they do as “Gothic drag”.

“My style of drag is inspired by the Tranimal Drag style by Austin Young and Speaky Blonde,” they said, adding that “I was also inspired by Daniel Lismore, who’s style gave me a new way to reflect drag.”

In Tranimal drag, the idea of beauty, glamour and fashion is questioned to the core; the notions of what is aesthetic and what’s not are tossed; and the gender is wiped out of the body to ensure the body is genderless.

“The art of Tranimal becomes available as we use available objects from trash bags to big liners, broken jewelry to face paints… and put it on the body in a non-choreographic way to create an image,” Patruni said.

And so “Gothic drag was one of my explorations where I could bring my Tranimal soul to dwell with the nature of Black and Red, drag and mixed gendered representation of the spooky soul. This style of drag dismissed the idea of beauty, privilege and glamour of the conventional drag, and points out that drag is away from the idea of perfectness. (It is) anti-beauty and privilege less.”

FAMILY… FOR ART

It was actually Patruni’s mom who “helped me dress up as a woman at my first drag show when I was 12 years of age,” they smiled. “And even when I started doing drag as an adult, they were interested in knowing the purpose of art than my choice of choosing the art. They have been extremely supportive and have never stopped me from my gender expressions. At times they are curious to know the why, what and how about the art form and encourage me to push my boundaries time and again.”

FROM INDIA… TO THE WORLD

Patruni – who identifies as a gender fluid pansexual person – recognizes that much of the world that’s exposed to Western culture will be familiar with drag via the likes of RuPaul and Hollywood iterations.

But they said that “drag as any other art form is supposed to be diverse.”

This may be particularly true when “looking through the compass of Indian drag history, where drag has always been diverse and evolving.”

“Sometimes I feel that drag was something which was picked up from India, where men were dress up as women and women dress up as men in more than 50 art forms for centuries,” they said.

The first citation of Roopanurupam (which is drag in Sanskrit) was in Natya Shastra around 200 BC; and because of the colonization, the art transcended to Victorian Era, which then followed to other parts of the world.

“Hence for me, the Indian context has a lot more space worth researching,” they said.

PHOTOS: MANAB DAS; MODELS: PATRUNI SASTRY AND SAJIV PASALA

Patruni added: “In Indian drag, there is glamour as well as performance. But when I see the representation in Western drag as shown in RuPaul, I find glamorization as something which is ‘given’, as ‘important’. There is no harm to be beautiful, and there is no right and wrong since art is personal, but drag is way more than that. And when only one aspect of it is highlighted across the world and other versions are not equally given opportunity, that brings up the idea that ‘This is the only right way to do’, which is wrong.”

For Patruni, “I believe all the drag is valid and matter, and we all have to be represented and respected (to) share a holistic vision of drag.”

IS DRAG ANTI-WOMEN?

Drag has also been criticized for being anti-women. For instance, the very definition of drag often excludes women dressing up as men; and drag may be (mis)construed as “playing woman”.

But Patruni said that “drag is both gendered and genderless.”

In India, for instance, there is a very rich culture of having drag in all gender forms – e.g. in Manipuri dance, a woman performs a man’s roles; while in Jatra drag, a man performs in roles of women. There are also forms like Buta Kola and Theeyam where the performing body is neither man nor a woman.

However, perhaps because of the limitations of drag as often portrayed in the West, the “anti-women perspective” is bound to surface.

“Though women perform as bio-queen or drag kings, their entry into the mainstream culture is not so visible,” Patruni said. “It’s equally important to have multiple bodies come and explore the art, and restricting it for only one body/gender type is equivalent to killing the art. Drag can be performed by anyone irrespective of their gender sexuality, caste, race or privileges; and it’s high time we include all performing bodies into the mainstream drag.”

PHOTOS: MANAB DAS; MODELS: PATRUNI SASTRY AND SAJIV PASALA

RAISING A CAUSE

Drag artists/performers have also been criticized for “hijacking” many of women’s issues – for example, male drag artists/performers become the “spokespeople” of women’s issues.

In Patruni’s case, for instance, one of their endeavors was to deal with witch-hunting as an issue still affecting many Indian women. It is easy to argue that women, not drag artists/performers, should be speaking about their own issues.

Patruni said that “as an artist, it is important to question oneself about how we are doing it, why we are doing it, and for whom we are doing it. And one should also keep in mind the spaces artists are standing at while raising a cause. It is important to understand what these spaces are where we can articulate a certain thing, and what are some spaces which we should.”

Patruni recognizes that “when it comes to women’s issues, we need to understand that the (most) drag performers are not biological or transgender women, and hence cannot claim the spaces of women. Their issues are real (and it should) come from them, and not be snatched (by those doing) drag.”

However, adding to the conversation can be done by drag queens.

“As drag is a visual medium, they can add more value to a cause. As a society, all the genders need to have awareness and co-work to make the changes,” Patruni said, stressing – all the same – that “we need to step aside to give space to women to talk about women’s issues.”

And while women voice their issues, “let the men clean up their patriarchal mess. And that’s where drag can help.”

UNDER THE LENS

To highlight Gothic drag, Patruni worked with ace photographer Manab Das for a “photo performance”.

In India, “Goth” hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – e.g. in connection with a Bollywood actor passing away while staying in a Gothic hotel (“Palazzo Magnani Feroni”) Italy.

“The Goth culture has always been tabooed… in Indian context,” Patruni said.

Patruni likened this Goth shaming with witch shaming, particularly as used in India to refer to self-aware women.

With the merging, therefore, came this output that highlighted everything Patruni is about – e.g. the interdependencies of the illusioned gender and the spooky esthetics of Goth.

PHOTOS: MANAB DAS; MODELS: PATRUNI SASTRY AND SAJIV PASALA

ACCEPTANCE THROUGH DRAG

That drag continues to be misunderstood goes without saying. And so if there’s a lesson about drag that Patruni thinks people should know of, it’s “the lesson of acceptance… as it builds, survived and made the art of drag visible. And all individuals – may that be performers, audience, curators, event organizers, TV promoters, et – need to practice that art of acceptance to make it more popular, diverse and heartful.”

For those who continue to look down on drag, “maybe you should consider taking drag therapy,” they said. “Dress up someday and you will fall in love with your self.”

For Patruni, drag is equivalent to sports, drama, dance, music and more. “It’s a package of all in one, and drag performers are happiest people in the world. So if you don’t like our art, I believe you should have a better reason; and to get one, you should dress up one day.”

And so for those who want to do drag, Patruni said for them to just do it.

“Drag is very easy. All you need to do is to do it. The rest comes as you go along. Anyone can be a drag performer and no one can keep you away from being one,” Patruni ended.

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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Lester Cristal’s wish to highlight minorities through films

Meet Lester Cristal, who eyes to make films that touch people… while pushing the issues of minority sectors.

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When he was six years old, Lester Cristal remembered being woken up by the “loud annoying laugh of my father and his friends in the military.” He rolled out of bed, rubbed the sleep off his eyes, and then went down the stairs to see his father and his friends laughing at Dolphy portraying a stereotypical gay man in some movie.

“Right there and then I told myself that I was going to become a director,” Lester said, though at that point in time, it was just to elicit the same reaction he saw from his father and his friends, stereotypical “macho” men who did not openly show emotions.

Seemingly providential, Lester eventually studied filmmaking at De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde. There, he started to embrace his queerness. This added a layer to his desire to make films – i.e. he realized did not only want to make people laugh, but to also tackle – this time “properly” – queerness (as opposed to the stereotypical depictions of Dolphy).

Lester recognizes that “films have always been a powerful medium in… influencing and educating people about certain topics and personal experiences.” But for decades, “stereotypical films about us have been (made and marketed to cater to the) taste of predominantly heterosexual audiences, which included my father and his friends. No one really took the time to really get to know us and our stories.” But with the emergence of queer cinema, this is changing and “I want to take part in it.”

QUEER ONSCREEN

With him behind the camera, the first film Lester made was SWELAS (2018), a short film that first landed on CineMaybank 2018, winning second best film and best screenplay. Showcasing the “famed craft of my hometown, Marikina”, it was also “a love letter to my father and to all our Filipino craftsmen.” 

This was followed by KLOSETA (2019), which starred Ramon Busa, the president of the Home for the Golden Gays, and Zar Donato. This was “drafted out of my remorse towards my grandmother’s death.”

Lester also produced other short films and music videos, such as TONIGHT! (2019) and ANG’GULO (2019). The latter earned him and his production top prizes at local and intercollegiate film festivals, such as the .giff Festival of New Cinema, INDIE-UN Film Festival; as well as participating in international film festivals like Audience Awards LGBTQ Film Festival and Asian Pacific Film Festival.

PLUS.MINUS. is Lester’s latest film, telling the story of minority people in the already minority LGBTQIA community – i.e. a shoemaker owning a failing business amid an innovating industry, an urban migrant who’s trying to redeem herself from failing to fulfill her Manila dream, a lonesome gay watchmaker in his golden age thriving to be alive again, and an aspiring drag queen who desires to be loved.

Similar to his other films, “I always intend to present the concept of micro within the macro, personal stories against a backdrop of a larger one, a face in the crowd, human stories in the context of a societal one,” Lester said.

The movie was nominated for the 2020 Best Short Film on the Philippines’s oldest award-giving body for cinema, FAMAS Awards. It was also a finalist for last year’s Gawad Sining by the University of the Philippines.

INSPIRED BY EXPERIENCE

“I’m always open (to) experiencing new things, and these new experiences are my sources of inspiration,” Lester said, adding that these sources may be as “trivial” as talking to random strangers. But for him, “this approach enables me to make films that is relatable somehow.”

As a queer person making queer films, Lester knows he may be pigeonholed as a queer-centric filmmaker. But he’s not worried.

“I will not mind if I will be pigeonholed as an LGBTQIA filmmaker solely making films for this market because there’s a need for it,” he said. “We need diversity in representation and I can contribute to it, along with my fellow queer filmmakers.”

This also touches on his dream to at least be remembered as a filmmaker “who made a difference,” and as someone who “contributed somehow to the good of cinema and of this world.”

In the end, Lester believes that film can push LGBTQIA-related discourses forward.

“First, it is important to make positive LGBTQIA representations in cinema. Second, while it is important to tell coming out stories that are key to LGBTQIA experiences, it is just as important to present LGBTQIA characters in ‘normal’ situations. We are an oppressed group, it is important for us to frame our issues we feel passionate about in a way that connects to people on a personal level. This way, we can show who we really are and hopefully will open doors to a conversation about our experiences,” Lester ended.

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Constant challenge for a gay man of faith to highlight Pride

The church – generally speaking – is a challenging context because it may have a pro-LGBT position, but it can still continue to have anti-LGBT practices, said Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo of UCCP. “The church should repent and detoxify herself from the long history of toxic interpretation of the scripture that fuels discrimination and othering of the homosexual community.”

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CARLO GABRIEL EVIDENTE OF HUMANS OF ILOILO

“We cannot deny the fact that to discuss faith is challenging in the LGBT community because the church has a long history of demonizing gender non-conforming people,” said Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). 

This is why for Rev. Jaropillo, as “an openly gay minister of the UCCP and student of theology”, observing LGBT Pride is not easy because of the challenges in crying out/getting LGBT voices heard and in listening to the voices of the people who need God the most.

“As a church person, Pride reminds me of the Exodus story that provides the movement from victimization to resistance: crying-out,” Rev. Jaropillo said. “The Hebrew word for this is ‘za-ak.’ It is not a crying out that comes from resignation to defeat or a sense of helplessness. ‘Za-ak’ is a cry that demands a response; a cry that calls for justice; a cry that calls for liberation. It is only after ‘crying out’ of the Hebrew people in Exodus story that God responds saying: ‘I have seen the affliction of my people… have heard their cry… know their suffering and have come down to deliver them [Raquel, L. G. T. (2015). Crying-out Resisting Asserting Celebrating Proclamation and Poetry].”

Photo courtesy of Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo

The church – generally speaking – is a challenging context because it may have a pro-LGBT position, but it can still continue to have anti-LGBT practices.

Rev. Jaropillo started working to promote LGBT-related issues in the faith community in 2015, after experiencing for himself “gender discrimination from my former parish assignment in Iloilo City.” But he also found support from UCCP, which has a pro-LGBT statement called “Let Grace Be Total”, which “means that LGBTs should not be discriminated against, but should be unconditionally accepted in the fellowship and membership of the church,” Rev. Jaropillo said. 

In UCCP’s case – and in his experience – “until now, many members and clergy still dwell in the heteropatriarchal interpretation of the scriptures, which leads to an exclusivist interpretation of the Bible.”

And so “the challenge now for advocates like me within the UCCP is how to educate our faithful on how to approach the scripture in the spirit of great reverence, humility and life affirming, nurturing and inclusive hermeneutics.”

Rev. Jaropillo eyes this as an opportunity to educate as it can be “an opportunity to put our faith into action and to be inclusive and all embracing community. The church cannot claim to be a progressive or prophetic church unless it deliberately works for inclusivity and acceptance, not mere tolerance of LGBTQ people.”

To evidence an affirming and welcoming position in the church, Rev. Jaropillo recommends:

  1. The creation of a gender desk in national offices, jurisdictional areas and conferences or dioceses tasked with the oversight of the church’s gender equality advocacy;
  2. Designing of a continuing study for the clergy and church workers on the Biblical theological reflections on LGBT and sexual Orientation and gender identity and expressions (SOGIE);
  3. Creation of a Christian education and nurture committee to supervise the liturgical life of the church;
  4. For the church to work for equal gender representation in the higher judicatories in the church up to the local church leadership; and
  5. Supporting the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in legislative bodies.

“The church should repent and detoxify herself from the long history of toxic interpretation of the scripture that fuels discrimination and othering of the homosexual community,” Rev. Jaropillo ended.

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Intersex. And here to stay.

Meet #intersex Filipino MJ Bobis, who was assigned female at birth and then – in high school – discovered he’s actually male. “There will always be people with closed minds. They assume that God only created man and woman. But they should know we’re here. We’re intersex,” he says.

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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.”

MJ Bobis, 24, from the city of Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija, doesn’t think LGBTQIA people can really avoid discrimination.”

“There will always be people with closed minds, he said. Specific to intersex people, “they assume that God only created man and woman. But they should know we’re here. We’re intersex.”

Assigned female at birth, he was given the name Mary Jane Bobis. “But after high school, I discovered I’m actually male,” he said.

MEDICAL CONDITION

Following karyotyping (a laboratory procedure that allows a doctor to examine one’s set of chromosomes; it is a process of pairing and ordering all the chromosomes, thus providing a genome-wide snapshot of an individual’s chromosomes), it was determined that his karyotype is 46,XY.

MJ’s case is called XY gonadal dysgenesis, also known as Swyer syndrome, a type of hypogonadism in a person whose karyotype is 46,XY. People with XY gonadal dysgenesis typically have atypical or female external genitalia caused by incomplete intrauterine masculinization with or without the presence of Müllerian structures. And so they are often raised as girls. But – as in MJ’s case – identity may not eventually be aligned with the sex assigned at birth.

A year after the karyotyping, MJ had ultrasound to ascertain if he’s really male. He underwent ultrasound scan as part of physical examination and assessment of genital anatomy.

“I had surgery when I was 22 to remove a testicle – an undescended one (called cryptorchidism). I also had hernia,” he recalled. “I underwent another karyotyping. The result was the same: 46,XY. ‘Twas normal male karyotype.”

That he had to go through so much to find himself doesn’t escape MJ.

“Knowing I’m intersex pained me initially. Of all people, why me? But then I realized with the help of my parents that there’s nothing wrong with being intersex. God has a purpose why you turned like that. The hurt I felt disappeared.”

To younger intersex people, MJ said: “Don’t be afraid. You have to (discuss) your condition early on. This way, you start accepting at a young age.”

LIVING WITH HARDSHIPS

MJ is actually the eldest of three kids; he also has a sister and a brother.

“My parents were also surprised when they first knew. But they did their own research, and had me checked while young. And so we knew of my condition – neither male nor female,” he said.

It wasn’t easy for MJ.

“In primary school, it didn’t bother me since I didn’t have to think of it as a kid. But in high school, I noticed my female classmates already had their monthly periods, while I didn’t.”

MJ also wasn’t attracted to men. “I desired women,” he said.

And because he was assigned female at birth, “I initially identified as a lesbian; I didn’t know better, and that I’m intersex.”

“Knowing I’m intersex pained me initially. Of all people, why me? But then I realized with the help of my parents that there’s nothing wrong with being intersex. God has a purpose why you turned like that. The hurt I felt disappeared.”

FINDING HIS SPACE

Surgery was raised to MJ in the past to modify his body, “but a doctor told me this is really only aesthetic. The process also takes time. So I was asked if I want to undergo this. I said I’ll think about it. I don’t want to preempt my decision by saying I don’t want it.”

MJ, nonetheless, intends to change his gender markers, like his name. Hopefully, soon. “All the legal requirements are complete; I shouldn’t have a problem to do this.”

MJ actually finished B.S. Business Information Management, but he does not work in the business sector. Instead, “I’m a dialysis technician in a dialysis center in Cabanatuan. My field of work is not related to my degree; from business to the medical field.”

MJ said that his first job was in an office. But “people there didn’t understand me – why I didn’t menstruate; why my body is like this. And then I entered the medical field. Here, I met people who accept me. If you tell them you’re intersex, they grasp the concept. You don’t have to explain to them.”

With many people, “even if you explain, they don’t understand it. But for many of those in the medical field, you just tell them once, and they understand it.”

LIVING NORMALLY

MJ has a partner now; also from/in Cabanatuan. “Siguro three years na kami (We’ve been together for maybe three years now),” he said with a smile. “Pero hindi naman kami nagbibilangan ng taon (But we don’t count the years we’ve been together).”

To younger intersex people, he said: “Don’t be afraid. You have to (discuss) your condition early on. This way, you start accepting at a young age.”

He also knows there are people with closed minds on this. “We did not undergo surgeries, or modify our bodies (to become what we are). This is us; and God also made us. I hope you understand. If not, well, thank you. That’s all.”

With many people, “even if you explain, they don’t understand it. But for many of those in the medical field, you just tell them once, and they understand it.”
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Pride beyond the sash and the crown

“Beauty can influence people,” Miss International Queen 2015 Trixie Maristela said, somewhat succinctly, but also realistically. “But education is power.”

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All photos courtesy of Ms Trixie Maristela

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.”

The arguments against and for beauty pageants continue to rage on. On the one hand, there are those who would (rightfully) argue that pageants disempower particularly candidates (and even the viewers) through their objectification as they try to emulate an established “set” of often Western-defined notion of what’s beautiful. But on the other hand, there are those who would defend the “power” (over their bodies, personhood, et cetera) that the contestants choose to wield by joining these pageants.

And even while the discourse continues, Miss International Queen 2015 Trixie Maristela sees joining a pageant, and eventually winning a title as a means to push an advocacy. 

In her case in particular, it is to highlight the relevance of education to empower the members of the LGBT community. “Beauty can influence people,” Maristela said, somewhat succinctly, but also realistically. “But education is power.”

MAKING A NAME

Maristela was a regular beauconera (beauty pageant contestant) prior to joining Miss International Queen in Pattaya City, Thailand. She won, for instance, the (erroneously named) Miss Gay Manila also in 2015, and “Eat Bulaga’s” Super Sireyna Philippines beauty pageant in 2014.

But when she became the second transpinay to win Miss International Queen (after Kevin Balot), “members of the LGBT community from different parts of the world took notice,” she said.

With that attention also came an awakening… that she can do so much more for the community.

“It fueled me to work harder and show everyone how great we can be if we will not be limited and if we will be allowed to be who and what we want to be in life,” Maristela said.   

THOSE WHO CAN, TEACH

Maristela believes in the value of education.

“(Education) gives you a voice that actually matter,” she said. “People will listen (when you’re learned). And I guess that is what the transgender community needs – so that everyone, especially non-LGBT people, will lend their ears and listen to our stories.”

Maristela is currently finishing her Master’s Degree in Professional Accounting in Australia; afterwards, she plans to do more volunteer works for LGBT Filipinos.

It can be argued that while education is integral, accessing it can be a challenge. The Human Rights Watch, for instance, stated that LGBT students across the country experience bullying and discrimination in schools because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This – along with lack of economic capacity, among other reasons – forces many LGBT youth to discontinue or take their education for granted.

This is why for Maristela, despite the obstacles that you may encounter when it comes to education, finding a way to gain access to it is important. “Education, regardless what academic degree you (end up taking), can help you be more in life,” she said.

LENDING A HAND

Getting educated may also be informal – e.g. Maristela, for one, believes that learning can happen from “idea sharing”, so that she hopes she can also “coach young transwomen on how to empower themselves, be respect(ed), and be able to speak up so that their voices will be heard,” she said.

This is particularly important for her because the Philippines “continues to lag behind our neighbors like Taiwan and Australia, which are more progressive in terms of gender-related topics.” Maristela noted that to date, the Philippine government does not even provide any form recognition, much more protection of the rights of LGBT Filipinos.

And because there is still a lack of tangible support for Filipino LGBTs, Maristela believes that Pride ought to be taught, and this Pride “can be as basic as having the dignity and self-esteem whenever we go outside – knowing that we are productive beings and we contribute something to the society.”

So Maristela wants particularly the younger LGBT Filipinos to “keep your head up high and never be ashamed of who you are. Now is the high time to forge unity among our ranks. Show love and understanding, even to those who don’t understand us. Never let anyone bring you down. We are strong and resilient; and yet patient. We are all loved.”

And again, Maristela may be speaking as a beauty queen, but one who is aware that Pride can be taught by moving beyond the stereotypical beaucon narratives.

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‘Don’t ‘fix’ people; let them decide who or what they want to be’

An intersex person, Charm Ison initially hid his identity by identifying as a lesbian. Now learning more about his condition, he believes parents who want to ‘fix’ their children while still young should let these children grow up first and choose who/what they want to be. “Let them think for themselves, and decide for their future.”

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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.”

Charm Ison, 28 from Taguig, was christened ‘Charmaine Anne’ as a kid when she was assigned female at birth.

“I was nine or 10 years old when I had my first menstruation and my breasts started developing,” Charm recalled. “That was also the time when I noticed my ambiguous genitalia.”

Charm mentioned this to his Mom “but she just ignored me. (So even then) I hid what I am.” Even then, “people… did not understand the way I see/perceive myself.”

Charm was actually not delivered by a doctor but by a midwife.

“My Mom didn’t reach the hospital; she delivered me in a clinic. My aunt (who was there) told me I was (assigned) female at birth. But she said that even then, she noticed my ambiguous genitalia,” Charm said.

The eldest of six children, Charm’s parents separated. So his aunt adopted him, and his grandmother raised him.

While growing up, Charm asked his aunt to elaborate on the “ambiguity” she observed, “but she told me not to get checked because we don’t know what will be done to me.”

“I hid my identity by identifying as a lesbian. But the moment I could think for myself, I already thought of myself as a man, acting as one.”

A WORLD OF CONFUSION

Charm recalled that when he was young, “they asked me: What do you want to be when you grow up? They made me wear girls’ clothes, but I wanted boys’ clothes. They gave me Barbie dolls, but I wanted to play with balls and toy guns.”

And so perhaps not surprisingly, while growing up, “I hid my identity by identifying as a lesbian. But the moment I could think for myself, I already thought of myself as a man, acting as one.”

But Charm was – in a word – confused.

In Grade 6, Charm had a masculine haircut and joined a gang/fraternity. And then in high school, he grew his hair long and tried to be more feminine “even though I really felt I’m a man,” he recalled, adding he “tried everything. “I even joined a beauty pageant. And onstage, I acted feminine… I even entertained male suitors. But after these, behind the scene… when I leave the stage, when no one sees me, I still acted masculine. I couldn’t hide what’s in my heart.”

Charm was in college when he came out as a lesbian, though “only because that’s what I only knew. So for me, it’s easier to hide my identity by claiming to be a lesbian.”

NOT ALONE

One day, Charm saw a show on TV about an intersex person.

“It made me realize I am not the only one with questions,” he said. “(That) person also had ambiguous genitalia. And this made me think… (even if) my questions were still unanswered. So I still kept praying… that I’ll be okay, that I’d be normal.”

For Charm, “there was a disconnect with the way I thought of myself and my attraction, versus my physical traits. Feminine characteristics were surfacing but I saw myself as a man.”

“Let kids choose what they want to be when they grow up. Let them choose if they want to be male or female. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves.”

Charm was in college when he came out as a lesbian, though “only because that’s what I only knew. So for me, it’s easier to hide my identity by claiming to be a lesbian. At least people stop asking me about (my condition).”

And then Charm discovered an intersex group, and “I started to slowly understand this condition,” he said. For Charm, it helps to be with people experiencing what he’s experiencing; and “I can be honest in this group.”

So that now, “I’m now trying to be comfortable/at ease with this. So that even if people discover I belong to the intersex community, I hope they will accept me.”

FACING CHALLENGES

Life hasn’t always been easy, said Charm.

“There are instances when they belittle you; when they underestimate you,” Charm said. “But this didn’t hinder me. I show to them that even if I’m like this, I can do anything that others can do, male or female.”

Even now, only some people know of Charm’s condition.

“Many people think I’m a lesbian. And for now, this is fine with me. Because I don’t know if people will accept me the moment they know I am hiding something about who I am,” he said.

Charm added: “People are only used to binaries – e.g. male and female, gay and lesbian. But now, intersex people are surfacing. Hopefully people will become more aware of (intersex conditions). And for people to accept that people like us also exist.”

“I’m now trying to be comfortable/at ease with this. So that even if people discover I belong to the intersex community, I hope they will accept me.”

ONGOING STRUGGLE

Charm told his Mom about his condition, “but she doesn’t understand it.” Even his aunt, who helped raise him, “she still doesn’t understand this. Actually, my aunt didn’t even want me to join an intersex group. She’s worried my life will be scrutinized.”

But now with people who share the same experiences as he does, and “even if our conditions are different… belonging to a group makes me happy.”

To date, Charm still hasn’t undergone tests to check his intersex condition. “I need to save a lot of money to get myself checked,” he said. “I also have a lot of questions. Can I bear children? Can I impregnate? Is it possible to change the gender marker in my birth certificate from female to male so I can marry a woman? I still want to be able to marry a woman.”

But self-awareness has dawned at least.

“This is me; and I want to know and discover myself. It is my right to know who/what I really am,” Charm said.

“If you choose to be male or female, affirm/uphold it. Follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself.”

LET PEOPLE BE

“To younger intersex people going through what I’m going through, have faith in yourself. Show who you really are. Don’t be afraid to know who you really are. If you choose to be male or female, affirm/uphold it. Follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself,” Charm said. “We need to show who/what we really are.”

“I also have a lot of questions. Can I bear children? Can I impregnate? Is it possible to change the gender marker in my birth certificate from female to male so I can marry a woman? I still want to be able to marry a woman.”

But this struggle isn’t for intersex people alone.

“To (parents of intersex people), let your child decide for himself/herself. When these kids grow, they will have their own perspectives/perceptions. Let these kids choose what they want to be when they grow up. Let them choose if they want to be male or female. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves,” Charm said.

And parents who want to ‘fix’ their children while still young should not “have them undergo surgery. Because when they grow up, they may choose a different sex to the one assigned to them; or different sex characteristics may develop. Their life will be wasted. Let them grow up first, think for themselves, and decide for their future,” Charm ended.

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#KaraniwangLGBT

Pansexual in Mindanao: ‘Falling in love with a person’s soul, not the body parts’

Bex, 37, was originally from Marawi City, where growing up #pansexual was challenging, not helped by the “oppressive” #Islamic culture there. Now based in #Cotabato City with a sister that comprehends her #LGBT struggle, she said there are still people who are not open to the idea of pansexuality; though she tells them to “just let people be 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.”

When Bex, now 37, was growing up in an Islamic community in Marawi City in Mindanao, she remembered how things were “pretty… should I say oppressive? In that place, if you’re not Muslim, you’re the minority. And you’re not allowed to dress a certain way. Or speak a certain way. We were in our homes by 6 P.M. because we had to be careful because everyone was a target. That was the environment there.”

She said that without the benefit of hindsight, “it was ‘normal’ for us. But now that I’ve grown up, I’m realizing it really wasn’t normal.”

There was this feeling of “confinement”, of “suffocation” that stays on.

And so when she had a chance, Bex moved to Cagayan de Oro City; and then – eventually – to Cotabato City.

LETTING PEOPLE BE

Bex said she knew “for a very long time that I’m not straight. As early as six years old, I knew that something was different.”

When she was in high school, she already started experimenting. “At first I dated women. But it didn’t stop there. And so at some point – I guess it was already in my early 30s – I decided that I don’t confine myself in the gender binary.”

Now, Bex said “I accept myself as a pansexual.”

Bex had to come out. “I think (that was) in my mid-20s. I think my Dad already figured it out when he was still alive, when I was still in high school. But we didn’t talk about it. But then when my Mom sort of had that confirmation that I was seeing women, she didn’t take it very well. She thought I was just acting out. At some point… maybe she was blaming herself, trying to make sense of it all. At this point I don’t even think she’s fully accepting. Just tolerating it, and living with it.”

But Bex now says that “if people can’t accept that, I’m not saying it’s a problem. But if they don’t understand it, then they should learn. If they want to understand it, then they should learn about it. I mean, if you’re not open to the idea of pansexuality, so be it. I guess you just have to let people be themselves.”

“At first I dated women. But it didn’t stop there. And so at some point – I guess it was already in my early 30s – I decided that I don’t confine myself in the gender binary.”

FOCUS: PANSEXUAL

“I don’t fall in love with a person’s body parts. I fall in love with their soul. To me, that’s how I see, how I view pansexuality as,” Bex said.

She understands that “it can be confusing to other people who are on the outside looking in. Before, people even told me I’m just being selfish; like I just want the whole buffet,” she said, somewhat sardonically. “But I guess it’s not about what other people think. It’s what you are at peace with. You know, being accepted by other people is one thing, but the most important thing is that you accept yourself.”

Even now, “you don’t really feel free to tell everyone who you are. You don’t really feel – all the time – that you’re safe. So, of course, I still need to be careful,” Bex said.

Bex said she didn’t “literally come out, telling people that I’m gay. At that time I only told people, ‘Oh, I’m dating this person.’ I guess it got confusing for them, too, because I didn’t only date women. They saw that I dated men. I also dated a gay man. So I think it was necessary for me to tell people that this is what I identify as.”

“But I guess it’s not about what other people think. It’s what you are at peace with. You know, being accepted by other people is one thing, but the most important thing is that you accept yourself.”

HEAD OF A FAMILY

Bex has a younger sister; 10 years younger than her.

“I’m not sure how it was for her (when I came out) because for a very long time – because of my sexuality – I detached myself from my family, including her,” she said.

But when her sister started attending college, “I made a decision to take her under my wing.”

At that point in time, too, their mother had to leave the country.

“I don’t fall in love with a person’s body parts. I fall in love with their soul. To me, that’s how I see, how I view pansexuality as.”

Recently, Bex learned that her sister has “very strong feelings about gay people. Like, she would say that it’s not fair that gay people can’t marry. She would say that it’s not fair that gay people are having such a hard time. She understood what my struggles were,” she said, misty-eyed. “She understood what my struggles were (while) growing up and having to look for a family elsewhere because I didn’t feel like I was accepted (by) my own (family).”

NEW LIFE

“I actually gave in to a friend’s request to come see Cotabato. I had very low expectations,” she said, adding that she initially thought Cotabato City would be similar to Marawi City, which she left because it was stifling.

But when she arrived in Cotabato City, “it was actually very different. I (would) travel and I’ll just wear shorts; short shorts. In Marawi City, everyone would look at you if you’re wearing skimpy shorts. But here, it’s just normal for them. Also, what amazed me was that I saw a lot of gay people; like… loud and proud gay people.”

As a graphic designer who does most of her work online, “I can take my job anywhere I go. (This) made it easier for me to move to Cotabato just like that.”

Actually, coincidentally, “a couple of months (after checking Cotabato), I met someone on Tinder (dating app). Coincidentally, (she) was living in Cotabato City. So we met up a month later in Cotabato City. And (another) month later, I moved to Cotabato City.”

“Pansexuality can be confusing to other people who are on the outside looking in. Before, people even told me I’m just being selfish; like I just want the whole buffet.”

WANTED: INCLUSIVE RAINBOW

Bex thinks that “right now the LGBT community is growing; the (number of) letters (in the acronym) is growing. So they’re just putting (the plus sign) on it. But there are still people who need to feel that they are included. That they’re part of this community. That it’s not just for the ones (represented by the available) letters on the acronym,” she said.

There may be others who used to also feel trapped as she once did.

And so Bex said: “My message to the members of the LGBTQ+++ community who are still trying to find themselves is that, you know, you’ll get there. It will get better. I mean, just be happy. Don’t overthink things. There are always people who will be there for you, but you have to also make an effort. Don’t play a victim, you know. There is so much in this world waiting for you. And there is so much that you can give.”

And in the end: “If they hate us, then it’s their problem. Like I’ve always said, ‘Hate is a poison that you ingest.’ So if you have hate in you, you’re harming yourself more than whatever it is you’re hating.”

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