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Op-Ed

In defense of honesty

Sass Rogando Sasot writes about the sexual ethics dimension of the Laude-Pemberton tragedy. “Your life is far more precious than the thrill, the excitement, and the utterly empty and ultimately useless affirmation of your womanhood brought by having sex or relationship with men who weren’t able to clock you. Disclosure is not about thinking of your womanhood as fake. Disclosure is accepting the fact that your womanhood is different from the womanhood of women born with vaginas. That our womanhood is different doesn’t mean it is inferior, invalid, immoral, or illegitimate. Disclosing who we are is an exercise in self-acceptance,” Sasot says.

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The Laude-Pemberton double tragedy has been analysed from different angles — from sovereignty to inhumanity. The recent, but unexpected, confession of Pemberton that he arm-locked Laude after finding out that Laude was dressed in blue when she was born stirred the passion of trans activists because it bears resemblance to the “trans panic defense.” I won’t deal with whether this defense must be admitted as a mitigating factor in the Laude case. BuzzFeed first trans writer Meredith Talusan, a transpinay, wrote about this extensively in The Failed Logic of “Trans Panic” Criminal Defenses. The transpinay literary enfant terrible Miyako Izabel offers a contrarian view in Trans Panic: A Matter of Law or of Neuroscience? 

Outrage Magazine’s editor asked me to write an article about Pemberton’s confession. At first, I said pass; but the subject kept bugging me. This article is about a dimension of the Laude-Pemberton tragedy that must be brought to light in order to save more lives and to encourage others to live authentically. This is a product of critical self-reflection and frank conversations with the members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), the pioneer trans support and advocacy group in the country.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Honesty is about practicing self-acceptance: accepting our unique path to being girls and women. Asking trans women to be honest is encouraging them to be not ashamed of how their girl and womanhood unfolded. There is nothing wrong with being a trans woman; thus, there is nothing wrong about being honest about it every time.”

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Honesty is about practicing self-acceptance: accepting our unique path to being girls and women. Asking trans women to be honest is encouraging them to be not ashamed of how their girl and womanhood unfolded. There is nothing wrong with being a trans woman; thus, there is nothing wrong about being honest about it every time.”

DECEPTION AND HONESTY

Though conceding that Pemberton committed a crime, the controversial intersex lawyer Bruce Rivera highlighted the alleged “deception” Laude committed. He even offered some curious suggestions on how to avoid this tragedy in the context of sex work. And they are not all utterly ridiculous: here in the Netherlands, in the red light district, blue lights illuminate the windows of sex workers who are trans women. Bruce entitled his article “Pemberton and Deception.” Though I agree with some of his points, I find this reductionist title very problematic: Pemberton is named, while Laude’s reduced into a “deception.” It conveys a message that this tragedy is about Pemberton and deception when in its complexity it is about Pemberton AND Laude AND the unfortunate choices they BOTH made that tragic evening. Though we shouldn’t always judge an article by its title, titles inevitably color our prose. That’s why Bruce’s article was perceived as insensitive.

But it wasn’t just the title that was insensitive. Some of them were forcefully highlighted by Babaylanes President Meggan Evangelista in her article teeming with pathos: “There is little Love and no justice for Jennifer Laude.

“Many would use Jennifer’s fate as a reminder for other trans women to be “honest” to their cisgender partners,” Meggan wrote. “I’m curious how can this people in the LGBTQ community reconcile their call for trans women to be “honest” and their perpetual outcry for freedom in Pride marches. I ask this in the sense that a trans woman enjoys freedom when she lives her life and expresses her gender the way she wants. To ask her to be “honest” is telling her she’s a fraud. There’s an irony in all this and it’s vicious.”

Contra Meggan, reminding trans women to be honest to their partners is not about “telling her she’s a fraud.” That’s a very simplistic understanding of the function of honesty in the context of trans women’s sex and love life. Trans women live in the closet twice: the first time is when they try to hide that they are not the gender the doctor declared upon their birth; the second, when they conceal their life history, even to those they have an intimate relationship with. Without honesty, we live inside the closet. But closets are not for those who are seeking to live authentically.

Live authentically!  Isn’t that the message Geena Rocero imparted when she decided to come out? She came out despite the fact that she had passed quite well as a non-trans woman in the industry she was working in. Is Geena’s honesty telling us that “she’s a fraud”? Why are we celebrating Geena’s honesty on Ted, while frowning at those who are suggestion that trans women must be honest with their partners? Part of the answer is that the discourse on disclosure is currently dominated by transphobic demands. Accordingly, reminding trans women to be honest is all about forcing them to accept that they are “really” men. And that is why we must reclaim from bigots and ignoramuses what honesty entails. We must propagate a discourse of disclosure informed by ethics and our lived experience as trans women and not by our wishful thinking.

Honesty is about practicing self-acceptance: accepting our unique path to being girls and women. Asking trans women to be honest is encouraging them to be not ashamed of how their girl and womanhood unfolded. There is nothing wrong with being a trans woman; thus, there is nothing wrong about being honest about it every time. As we can learn from the Teduray People in Mindanao, our path to womanhood is as valid and legitimate as the path to womanhood of girls and women born with vaginas. We invalidate the legitimacy of our girl — womanhood if we don’t take the courage to fully accept how our girl — womanhood came to be. And there cannot be acceptance without honesty. To paraphrase Gerard Doyle in Being You: How to Live Authentically: Unlocking the Power of the Freedom Code and Incorporating the Philosophy of Adaptive Freedom, dishonesty is a major roadblock to acceptance, which requires openness to flourish. Acceptance without honesty is a delusion.

Surely, there are people who chose to be in the closet. Let us indeed respect their choices. But respecting their choice doesn’t entail being blind and silent of the debilitating consequences of living inside the closet. In the context of the second closet, paranoia is one of these consequences. Geena even mentioned this in her Glamour News interview. She said she carried this paranoia with her every day. Rene, one of the members of STRAP who has already undergone sex affirmation surgery, described how she experienced this paranoia: The more she was able to hide to the guy her birth history, the more she feels her womanhood is affirmed by the guy, but the more her paranoia escalates.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Surely, there are people who chose to be in the closet. Let us indeed respect their choices. But respecting their choice doesn’t entail being blind and silent of the debilitating consequences of living inside the closet.”

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Surely, there are people who chose to be in the closet. Let us indeed respect their choices. But respecting their choice doesn’t entail being blind and silent of the debilitating consequences of living inside the closet.”

Other trans women even go as far as constructing a different past in order to present themselves as women born with vagina. Can you imagine the web of lies they have to create and the resulting psychological, if not physical, tragedy that would ensue when that web collapses? Geena had something to say about this in her same interview with Glamour News:

“…the stress of constantly editing her life for her boyfriend proved too much. “One day he asked if I was ever a Girl Scout,” she recalls. “But I was a Boy Scout.” It was yet one more detail she had to gloss over, and, for some reason, the final straw. She felt sick and ran into the bathroom. “My head was spinning, and everything was going dark, like I was about to faint,” she says. “I was at the point of a breakdown.”

Even the cause célèbre of the Philippine trans community knows very well that living with constant paranoia is not living life in freedom. Paranoia will prevent you from forming an enduring intimate relationship and it will eventually make you really crazy.

ETHICAL SEX REQUIRES CONSENT AND CONSENT REQUIRES DISCLOSURE

I strongly agree without reservations that Laude didn’t deceive Pemberton by simply living as a woman. She is a woman. Period. She is, to use Meggan’s words, “[living] her life and [expressing] her gender the way she wants.”

To those who are confused, it’s okay to be confused, but don’t let your confusion lead you to kill people. Educate yourself. On the other hand, I also agree with Bruce: Laude concealed the genitalia she had. Based on Barbie’s testimony, Laude might have even exerted efforts to conceal it. For example, by asking Barbie to leave the room because Barbie was easily clockable. Throw rocks at me, but this act was deception. However, acknowledging this doesn’t entail invalidating Laude’s womanhood. Laude’s womanhood is not a deception. Again, her action during that night was the deception. But hold your rocks: I strongly believe that Pemberton must still go to jail. And I highly doubt that his invocation of self-defense can satisfy all the elements of the principles of the law of self-defense: innocence, reasonability, proportionality, avoidance, and imminence.

I’m not suggesting that we should always disclose what’s between our legs and that non-disclosure is always deception. For example, you don’t need to inform immigration officials at the airport which genitalia you have and they don’t have the right to ask it: your genitalia had nothing to do with border security. During job interviews, questions about your genitalia are very inappropriate and unnecessary, and can even count as sexual harassment — unless of course having a particular genitalia is essential in performing the job. I can go on and on discussing situations like these but this article is not enough.

But in the context of being a trans woman in intimate relationships, being honest about our genitalia is an important ingredient of the consent of people who would like to be intimate with us for a night or for life. This issue is not tacenda. We trans women must have a sisterly, open, and frank talk on how we negotiate sexual consent with those who don’t know we are trans.  I opened up this topic recently on the FB group of STRAP.  On the issue of disclosure, sexual consent and its relation with our bodies, here are some of the views of STRAP members who participated in that discussion:

Clara replied concisely: “I go for full disclosure. Nothing will be lost when we do it.”

Svetlana: “If we always live the truth…Everything will be alright. We prefer honesty most of the time especially from men. If we want to gain trust, we should be honest. Hence, the disclosure of who we are as a woman.”

Carolina: “For me, I go by the principle on a “need to know basis”. As long as you have not asked, I will not disclose. On the other hand, I write immediately in my profile in dating sites that I’m a trans woman so that things won’t get so much complicated…Sexual consent for me means both have agreed to have sex in their own volition, without doubts and reluctance; and of course, both of you should know and respect your boundaries and limitations…And our bodies really matter in getting that sexual consent because there are men who don’t like to have sex with women like us.”

Satine: “Sexual consent for me is disclosing my identity as pre op trans before dealing with any men may it be just a friendly date or casual hook up. I always have to make sure that he knows my trans status before going any further. And by that I mean, he has to fully accept me and deal with it. Take me whole or don’t take me at all…Being passable won’t guarantee you safety. Disclosure will.”

Anna: “While we do not owe anyone any explanations nor do we owe disclosure of what’s between our legs, I think this changes when we are about to have a sexual contact/relationship with someone. While some men might be ok with whatever, others may not. So for me, sexual consent is giving someone a choice if he/she wants to proceed with the act.”

Marielle extended what Anna said: “I’ve been meaning to express my view on this one but have hesitated because of the boldness of it.

Sex is a physical activity where sex body parts play a key role. Outwardly presenting oneself as a woman, it is natural for the other partner to assume your physical makeup is that of a [cisgender girl], thus vaginal sex…Therefore, as trans women ,full disclosure is a safe, responsible and honest thing to do. Our assumptions of bodies and body parts associated to one gender is pre-wired in our brains. And we have expectations of the physical sexual characteristic of the people we sleep with. For a man to be suddenly confronted with a “big surprise” can, as we know now, lead to uncharacteristic actions that may be ignited by the heat of the moment…

This is the bold part: Anything that begins wrongly will always end up wrongly…Whilst I understand the great sense of self affirmation brought about by passing, there are responsibilities. And full disclosure should be on top of it.”

There are also STRAP members who are sex workers who shared why some trans women sex workers conceal their trans status. The reason is economic strategy.

Bella said that she knows a lot of sex workers who don’t disclose their trans status. “The main reason is,” she said, “the money is consistent.” Customers will be less demanding if you conceal your trans status. Though the pay is higher, she said that men who go for trans women are more demanding. Bella gave an example: “If I conceal my trans status, men would just be satisfied with oral sex. But if I go with men who prefer trans women, they demand threesomes. And finding another trans woman to have a threesome with,” Bella said,“could be very difficult.” That’s why having men who don’t know her trans status, Bella reflected, yields more consistent income.

Meanwhile, Satine, who is also a part-time sex worker, said that though she has never been with a client to whom she hid her being a trans woman, she is aware that “some sex workers [don’t] disclose because they fear having a specific market (men who are only into trans…), which means less potential clients = less income.”

Paulina, also a sex worker, confirmed that among trans women sex workers she knows, concealment of one’s trans status is quite common.“Most of the time,” she said, “the men don’t find out. However, when men find out, the least-worst result is an argument; and we all know what’s the worst-case scenario.” Paulina shared that she almost got killed when she didn’t reveal her trans status to a client. That’s why she now always disclose her trans status.

But no illusions: disclosure will not guarantee perfect safety. Nothing in this world could do that. There will be always assholes in this world. Even anti-hate crime laws, SOGIE 101, or TRANS 101 trainings  cannot keep you alive from a man who is going ballistic after discovering that you have a penis while you are giving him a blow job. What you do is RUN for your life, and don’t ever do that again.

But, based on the experiences of the STRAP members I spoke with: non-disclosure in intimate settings will lead you to trouble. From a crude consequentialist perspective, disclosure in intimate relationships yields more positive results than non-disclosure. Non-disclosure can be death. But from a deontological perspective, disclosure is a moral duty in sexual and romantic relationships because honesty is a fundamental aspect of being in a relationship.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “To those who are confused, it’s okay to be confused, but don’t let your confusion lead you to kill people. Educate yourself.”

Sass Rogando Sasot: “To those who are confused, it’s okay to be confused, but don’t let your confusion lead you to kill people. Educate yourself.”

LESSONS OF THE LAUDE-PEMBERTON TRAGEDY

I’ve been a trans activist for quite some time, and I will be retiring very soon. As I retire, I don’t want to impart a message that wishful thinking and lack of critical self-reflection will do my sisters any good. I have grown out of my naiveness. Thus, instead of telling my sisters to wait for Kingdom Come of the world where genitalia don’t matter in sex, I now prefer to tell them Montaigne’s sobering advice: “We must live in the world and make the most of it as we find it.” Further, my years of experiences as an activist and my new journey as a scholar made me realize that rights must always come with corresponding responsibilities and vice versa. Without rights, you diminish the individual into a mere presence. Without responsibilities, society is impossible.

We all have the right to choose our own sexual or romantic partners; and this right has accompanying duties. Honesty is one of them. This right implies that people have a right to reject anyone as their sexual or romantic partners. Thus, we are not entitled to a sexual or romantic relationship just because we have the right to choose our own sexual or romantic partners. We don’t have this entitlement because we need the consent of those who we want to be intimate with. We are not entitled to consent. We must work hard to secure it. And we have a duty to be honest as we get someone’s consent. More significantly, consent must be sought not during, not after, not after a big surprise, but BEFORE any intimate act.

This is a fact in all intimate relationships: People feel violated, duped, and abused when you, no matter who you are, don’t disclose an information that is a fundamental or an important factor in  making a decision on who they want to be in a sexual or romantic relationship with. WAKE UP, SISTER: Men are not open zippers. The happy endings in “tranny surprise porns” is a fantasy. In the real world, engaging in “tranny surprise” practices may not only be fatal, it is ALWAYS unethical. Not all men will give their consent to be in a sexual or romantic relationship with women like us. LIVE WITH IT. And you cannot determine which man would without disclosing an information that would help him forge his consent.Yes, there will always be rejection, but being rejected upfront is much safer and emotionally better than being rejected after you disclose your trans status at a much later period.

The Laude-Pemberton tragedy bears two important lessons. To men like Pemberton: Don’t take the law in you hands if you discovered that the person you are having sex or relationship with is not someone you would have given your consent to had you known that she was not born with a vagina. To be angry is an understandable response because you felt you were duped. And to paraphrase Sherry F. Colb in Is There a Moral Duty to Disclose that You’re Transgender to a Potential Partner?:

 “We might consider this strong feeling to be either a form of homophobia, a form of transphobia, or both of the above and not worthy of respect. Yet in intimate relations, we could choose to treat these “hang-ups” as part of a person’s own identity and not rightly subject to invalidation or dismissal.”

But violence will not redeem your slighted manly ego. You will just ruin your life.

And to women like Laude: Your life is far more precious than the thrill, the excitement, and the utterly empty and ultimately useless affirmation of your womanhood brought by having sex or relationship with men who weren’t able to clock you. Disclosure is not about thinking of your womanhood as fake. Disclosure is accepting the fact that your womanhood is different from the womanhood of women born with vaginas. That our womanhood is different doesn’t mean it is inferior, invalid, immoral, or illegitimate. Disclosing who we are is an exercise in self-acceptance.  Non-disclosure will not protect you nor will it encourage wider societal acceptance of women like us.

“If we want to be loved,” Sidney Jourard wrote in The Transparent Self, “we must disclose ourselves. If we want to love someone, he must permit us to know him. This would seem to be obvious. Yet most of us spend a great part of our lives thinking up ways to avoid becoming known.”

Save your beautiful life from paranoia and death.

The failure to recognize and learn from these twin lessons condemn us to repeat this preventable tragedy. And that is vicious.

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Lifestyle & Culture

To come out or not to come out? That is the question

For a “conservative culture” like in the Philippines, where the influence of religion and the opinion of the elders are greatly valued, should the idea of coming out be on the table whenever possible?

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Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels.com

Gone are the days when hiding or staying inside the closet is the “ideal thing to do” — or is it?

Many members of the LGBT community are saying that coming out and being proud of one’s true self may be the best way to fully enjoy everything. There are others who are claiming that it can even help transform one’s life.

But for a “conservative culture” like in the Philippines, where the influence of religion and the opinion of the elders are greatly valued, should the idea of coming out be on the table whenever possible?

ONLINE DISCUSSIONS

On Facebook, discussions about this topic had attracted many users – where people from different walks of life share their reactions and thoughts about it.

One person said that the process of coming out is lifelong.

Another user posted a message saying that there is no right time or right way to do it.

And there were those who asked why some people express hate towards someone who chooses to stay in the closet.

MEDIA PORTRAYALS

At least in the recent months, the issue of coming out had also been one of the subjects of some of the non-fiction stories in the Philippine media.

For instance, on iWant’s “Beauty Queens” the topic was discussed in almost all six episodes.

Rica, the youngest child of Dahlia, came out as a transgender woman. It blindsided the entire family. Dahlia disowned her daughter after leaning it. While the oldest sibling, for the longest time, refused to call her “Rica”.

The plot thickened when it was revealed that Dahlia was in a relationship with another woman. And that she was just waiting for the right time to tell it to her family.

Isa lang ibig sabihin nito, Mommy (This only means one thing, Mommy): You have been a practicing lesbian. But you rejected me when I came out. How could you?” Rica asked her mother.

In the Pinoy BL (boys love) web series “Gameboys”, the topic of coming out was also tackled in some episodes.

Cairo, one of the main characters, was partly blamed by his brother London for the health condition of their father.

Dahil sa selfishness mo, nandito tayo sa ganitong sitwasyon. Hindi ko nga alam kung ano ang pumasok sa isip mo at ginawa mo ‘yun (Because of your selfishness, we are in this situation. I do not know what you were thinking when you did that),” London said.

Alam ko naman na kasalanan ko ito lahat. Araw-araw ko sinisisi ang sarili ko. Ako nga, ako nga ang may kasalanan. Hindi ko dapat ginawa ‘yun eh. Sana ako na lang. Alam ko, mali nga ako, kuya. Kuya alam ko mali ako, pero hindi ko ginusto ‘yung kay Papa. Hindi ko ginusto na magkasakit siya (I know that everything was my fault. I blame myself everyday. It was me, it was my fault. I should not have done that. I wish it was me. I know that what I did was wrong, but I did not want that to happen to Papa. I did not want him to get sick),” Cairo responded.

The story took a turn when he had a conversation with his mother after his father passed.

“Ma, I am sorry,” Cairo said.

“Why are you apologizing?” his mom asked.

“I am sorry I am gay,” Cairo answered.

“Cairo, do not be sorry. You do not need to apologize for being who you are. Kung dapat may mag-sorry dito, ako ‘yun. Anak, walang mali sa iyo. Ako ‘yung nagkulang (If there is anyone who needs to say sorry, it should be me. There is nothing wrong with you, son. I was the one who had shortcomings). I knew all along. I did not make an effort to gain your trust para maramdaman mo na puwede ka magsabi sa akin (I did not make an effort to gain your trust so you can feel that you can tell me), his mom said.

Coming out is one of the biggest and most important decisions any person will make. Finding the right moment can be as crucial as the decision itself.

READING THROUGH

Studies show that there are benefits in revealing one’s identity, including feeling good by the person coming out (i.e. he/she will experience less anger, less depression, and higher self-esteem).

“In general, research shows that coming out is a good thing. Decades of studies have found that openness allows gay people to develop an authentic sense of themselves and to cultivate a positive minority sexual identity,” said Richard Ryan, co-author of one such study.

It is also believed that when a person comes out, it will allow him/her to develop as a whole individual, have greater empowerment, and makes it easier to develop a positive self-image.

Another study also noted that when a person accepts his/her true self, it will not only bring happiness but can also be good for the health. 

“Coming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant policies that facilitate the disclosure process,” said Robert-Paul Juster, author of yet another study.

While there are countless positive effects of coming out, there are also some disadvantages when someone decides to leave the closet – to a name a few: bullying, harassment, rejection from society, and violence.

In a 2018 survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 65% of the 7,233 15-year-old respondents said that they were bullied at least a few times a month.

In a school setting, it is a known fact that someone who demonstrates a “different” behavior may be susceptible to bullying. 

Coming out is one of the biggest and most important decisions any person will make. Finding the right moment can be as crucial as the decision itself.

DECIDING TO COME OUT

According to The Cass Theory by Vivian Cass, there are six stages that a person will go through when he/she decides to come out.

Stage 1 – Identity Confusion: This is where you begin to ask yourself if you identify differently than what you were assigned at birth.

Stage 2 – Identity Comparison: You start accepting the possibility that you may have a different gender identity and face social isolation that come with it.

Stage 3 – Identity Tolerance: Your acceptance of your new gender identity increases and you begin to tolerate it.

Stage 4 – Identity Acceptance: At this point, you have resolved most of the questions concerning your gender identity and have accepted it.

Stage 5 – Identity Pride: By this stage, you begin to feel proud of being part of the community.

Stage 6 – Identity Synthesis: Finally, you start integrating your gender identity in all aspects of yourself and life.

And in the end, this is what coming out is: A long — and sometimes endless — journey to finding oneself.

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Op-Ed

5 Ways to empower kids to end bullying

For members of Gen Z, bullying was a top concern, with 86% of respondents saying that not being bullied is a daily priority and 30% saying that out of 20-plus societal issues, bullying is the problem they most want solved globally.

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From the classroom to the internet, bullying can lead to children developing a poor self-image or lead to bullying others. In fact, members of Generation Z believe bullying is the biggest issue facing their generation, according to a survey of American youth ages 6-17, commissioned by the Boy Scouts of America*.

The interesting thing, though, as stressed by this study: 84% of those surveyed said they want to be a part of the solution. In fact, the survey similarly found:

  • 97% said being kind to others is important.
  • 79% said improving their community is important.
  • 50% said the reason they focus on some of these issues because their parents are passionate about them.
  • Bullying was a top concern among respondents, with 86% of respondents saying that not being bullied is a daily priority and 30% saying that out of 20-plus societal issues, bullying is the problem they most want solved globally.
  • Other top concerns respondents want to help solve are hunger (28%) and care for elders (27%) at the local level; animal rights (28%) and recycling (28%) at the national level; and poverty (28%) and human rights (26%) at the global level.

Now how to help kids learn how to overcome, avoid and break down the cycle of bullying:

Promote more time unplugged and outdoors. 

It is important for parents to promote healthy, face-to-face social interactions. Outdoor activities allow children to work together, solve problems and bond in a way that typically can’t be achieved through a screen. They also give children a break from the cyber-world, where bullying is often prevalent.

Encourage kindness. 

Ninety-seven percent of Gen Z members surveyed said being kind is important. Encourage kids to act on that feeling and remind them that it doesn’t take any extra energy to be kind. Serve as a role model by making kindness a foundation in your family.

Educate and equip. 

Parents should educate their children about why bullying is never OK, equip them with the knowledge they’ll need to recognize it and encourage them to report and safely respond to all forms of bullying they observe.

Use the buddy system. 

In scouting, the buddy system pairs kids together to help ensure the well-being of one another. This approach is used for practical and safety reasons that can also be applied to everyday life. A pair or group of kids are less likely to get bullied, and buddies can be supportive by being an upstander.

Explore differences. 

As a family, look for ways to get involved in activities that include families from different backgrounds and cultures. Introducing kids to ideas and lifestyles different from their own can be an enlightening experience, and that knowledge can help break down some of the barriers that contribute to bullying, such as fear and misunderstanding.

*Yes, yes, the Boy Scouts of America (and scouting as a whole, for that matter) continues to have issue particularly with openly accepting LGBTQIA people – i.e. it is a “bully” itself. But… here’s hoping it learns its own advise.

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Love Affairs

Acceptance and love as sources of Pride

For many LGBTQIA people, self-acceptance is difficult to achieve, even if it is generally accepted that only when one lives one’s own truth can he/she/they know true self-acceptance and the joy that comes with it. Lucky for Ahds who met Anna who loves him, even as they get the support of accepting families.

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In 2015, Ada (or Ahds, as his friends and close relatives call him), was working in Toronto when he met Anna, the best friend of a cousin.

It “completely changed my life,” he beamed.

Ahds recalled that there were people who doubted their relationship.

During their first year together, he admitted that they experienced difficulties in terms of finances (and adjustments to being together). But Ahds said that even though things were a bit tough, it was okay because at least they had each other.

“May mga kaibigan kami na nagsasabi na hindi kami magtatagal, na maghihiwalay din kami (There were some friends who said that we would not last, that we would just part ways),” he said.

But they gave being together a try, eventually proving the the naysayers wrong.

LOVE CELEBRATED

On June 18, 2016 Ahds and Anna got married.

“Nag-decide kami na magpakasal kasi gusto ko ma-experience kung ano ang pakiramdam ng kinakasal, at gusto ko rin may kasama ako sa buhay habang tumatanda ako (We decided to get married because I wanted to experience how it feels like. I also want to have someone in my life while growing old),” Ahds said.

When they celebrated their wedding anniversary this year, Ahds said in a Facebook post: “The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know it is right if you love to be with that person all the time.”

“Basta anniversary namin, nagse-celebrate kami kahit kami lang dalawa. Mababaw lang ang kaligayahan namin. At bawal sa amin ang mga nega, ang gusto naming pareho masaya lang kami (Whenever we celebrate our anniversary, it is okay even if it is just the two of us. We find happiness in simple things. And we do not like negative things, we just both want to be happy),” he said.

Ahds added: “Tsaka masaya kami dahil tanggap kami ng family namin pareho (Further, we are happy because our families accepts us).”

FAMILY ACCEPTANCE

But for as long as he can remember, his family was always supportive of him and his decisions – at least as long as he doesn’t put himself in harm’s way.

“When I was three years old, lalaki na ako (I already identified as a boy). I still remember when I was in elementary, I was already attracted to girls. Masaya ako kapag nakikita ko ang crush ko na malaki ang tanda sa akin (I was happy when I saw my crush, who was older than me).”

He can actually still remember how things were when he was young.

Noong bata ako, naaalala ko kung paano ako tinanggap na walang pag-aalinlangan ng tatay ko. Madalas niya ako dinadalhan ng bola ng ping pong. Tanggap ako ng pamilya ko kung ano talaga ako (When I was young, I remember how I was accepted without reservations by my father. He also liked to give me ping pong balls to play with. My family accepted me for who I am),” Ahds shared.

He was able to grow up “normally”, in a sense that his family supported whatever he wanted to do, as long as it would not harm him.

“When I was growing up, naririnig ko palagi na sinasabi sa akin na ‘Tomboy ‘yan’, siguro dahil na rin sa kilos at pananamit ko. Minsan, masakit sa pandinig (I always heard people call me ‘lesbian’, perhaps because of how I acted and the way I dressed. Sometimes, it pained me),” Ahds continued.

But it was not something he dwelled on. He knew that the people who mattered most in his life – his family – did not have a problem with who he really was and accepted him regardless of what other people said.

And that type of love has helped Ahds reach for his dreams, while providing for his family.

Ahds left to work overseas (for 22 years now); first heading to UAE in 1998 when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. After several years, he found his way to Canada… and Anna’s arms.

ACCEPTING AND LOVING

For many LGBTQIA people, self-acceptance is difficult to achieve, even if it is generally accepted that only when one lives one’s own truth can he/she/they know true self-acceptance and the joy that comes with it.

Equally important is acceptance [NOT mere tolerance] within the family – e.g. a study on LGBT youth acceptance and rejection revealed that it directly affects identity development, behaviors, physical and mental health. Those who experience rejection may experience serious consequences on physical and mental health.

And here, Ahds said he’s somewhat luckier, finding both acceptance and love, now his two sources of Pride.

Ahds believes that, yes, things will get better… eventually.

But while the road there may prove challenging, it starts with self-acceptance at least.

“Huwag kayo mahihiya na ipaalam sa madla kung sino kayo at kung ano ang totoong nararamdaman ninyo. Lalo na sa sarili mo, ilabas mo kung ano ka talaga. At para sa pagmamahal naman, para makamtam ang tunay na kaligayahan, dapat walang lihiman (Do not be afraid to let other people know who you are and what you really feel. Especially to yourself, show what you really are. And when it comes to love, for you to achieve real happiness, there should be no secrets),” Ahds said.

And who knows – like Ahds – this could also help others be led to having Pride.

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Op-Ed

‘Let us reclaim our crown, or what that represents, our right to be recognized as women’

STRAP: “Everyone’s opinion matters but if that was done without grounding yourself in the intersectional narratives and the lifelong struggles that speaks of our personhood, that you are contributing to the exacerbation of our problem.”

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Statement of The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (which was established in 2002), in reaction to the stance of Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen in 2012, who reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”

“If I can teach the world acceptance and love, I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here.”

ANGELA PONCE
Miss Universe Spain 2018

Angela Ponce’s mere presence in the presentation of candidates for the 2018 Miss Universe was already enough to spark debate not only within pageant circles but within the greater society. But to many other Filipina transwomen, 2018 was doubly special not only because Catriona won Miss Universe but because some of us were also rooting for Angela to win. 

Angela is the first out transwoman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and the first from Spain, a Catholic nation which colonized many countries including the Philippines; and with colonization and the Christianization came the enforcement of gender binary and restrictive ideas on gender and sexuality as well as the erasure of gender transcending pre-colonial identities such as the Babaylanes, the Asogs, the Bayoguins among other names use in pre-colonial Philippines. 

So with Angela winning Miss Universo Spain and officially representing her country in the 2018 Miss Universe, it becomes such a reflective and introspective moment for many Filipino queers who are within themselves trying to make sense of decolonization. 

Angela failed to snag the crown or at least a spot in the finals; however, an unprecedented special walk and segment became the most touching moment for many if not cathartic for some. Angela’s powerful last line that “…she does not need to be Miss Universe, she only needs to be here” was enough to break the hearts of many transwomen who for many decades have been fighting for recognition and inclusion in all spaces, including pageantry. 

That moment in Miss Universe and the 2012 case of Miss Canada finalist Jenna Talackova were very important moments wherein transwomen or transpinays as we call ourselves, needed to heed others for recognition and acceptance of our self-determined gender identities. 

If you come to think of it, Jenna and Angela among some other transwomen over the years, needed to explain fervently why we are women too, and why we need to be recognized and allowed to participate in events for women. The immutability of our birth registration and sex assignment and the absence of gender recognition deprived us of many opportunities, including scholarships, jobs, career advancements, proper media representation and inclusion, travel, marriage, adoption among so many others. 

It is already a long process of discrimination and even violence that we experience everyday growing up as trans in our society. From the catcalls, to the heckling, dead naming to the occasional brutality that usually leads to murder such as that of Jennifer Laude who had to be a poster child of transphobia and transmisogyny. Incidentally Jennifer was nicknamed “Ganda” for she was indeed beautiful, yet vilified and mutilated not only by her American murderer but our fellow Filipinos who seemingly enjoyed dead-naming and misgendering her in social media platforms. 

Jennifer’s case is still connected to Angela’s, because this proves, it is not only in pageantry do we experience exclusion and discrimination, we experience it everywhere else.

How many times have transpinays shared experiences of being humiliated in immigration counters around the world for the mismatch of their gender presentation and passports? Many of them detained and deported and other undocumented cases of violence in the process of proving their humanity not just womanhood. How many times have transpeople been rejected from jobs especially those not identifiable with being queer ( e.g. beauty salons, fashion design, cultural dancer, etc.) just because their gender presentations are viewed as unprofessional or unacceptable in work spaces? How many countless times, other than that of Gretchen Diez’s case, wherein transpinays were not allowed to use the female toilets and changing rooms because they are not considered to be “real women”? 

In the plight for gender recognition, transpeople are viewed as fake versions or impostors of the gender they are identifying as. 

Take note that the issues of transpinays don’t end in the recognition of gender but looking at other areas of life, oppression takes shape in the form of color, race, socio economic class, level of education, religion, etc

Well, not only transpinays experience discrimination in those areas, everyone does, maybe implicitly. But transpinays go through more because we must first be accepted as women, beautiful or not. Now imagine if you are a transpinay, from the province, with dark skin, poor, did not finish high school, Christian, could not speak in English. I bet her life is going to be tremendously difficult. 

Having said all of these, we want to educate everyone especially our fellow transpinays, that the inclusion of transwomen in pageants and the recognition of their gender identities is a simple step towards equality, diversity and inclusion, it is not in any way asking for “too much”. For maybe we are asking something “little”, just allow us to be here for our battle for that crown is still uncertain. But at least we are battling for it just like other women, for we are women too. 

We have the right to self-determination and self- identification. It is nice to have a pageant of our own as they say, but we created those since other pageants are not allowing us to join for we are not women. 

Angela’s battle is every transwoman’s and transpinay’s for that matter. Just because some of you are content with joining “Miss Gay” or other exclusive pageants, do not forget that our battle for equality does not end with pageants, it is only beginning. It is a simple step of recognizing our rights to be women and a platform to educate society that gender is not between your legs, that your anatomy is not why you will wear that crown. 

It is even difficult to write a piece on pageantry and defending it while we are not even dissecting the issues of beauty and womanhood and how pageants are not exactly the end-all, be-all of being a woman. But for transpinays, it is a platform for recognition and inclusion. Don’t take away our sash.

As we continue to position ourselves everywhere in our society because we have as much right, we seek our fellow transpinays and the greater Philippine queer society to engage with us on discussions of our human rights issues. Everyone’s opinion matters but if that was done without grounding yourself in the intersectional narratives and the lifelong struggles that speaks of our personhood, that you are contributing to the exacerbation of our problem. 

We ask our fellow transpinays to listen to us if you don’t know much, now that is not asking for too much. Because honestly, transpinays have been here, even before Spain came. Now we want to reclaim our crown, or what that represents, our right to be recognized as women.

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Op-Ed

‘All women – cis or trans – ought to enjoy the same fundamental rights and opportunities’

“Denying trans people access to a single-sex space when they fully identify as the sex to which it is confined, risks perpetuating forms of oppression that we would never tolerate if they applied to other groups.”

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Reaction from Mujer LGBT+ Organization on the stance of Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen in 2012, who reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”

By Toni Gee Fernandez
President/Executive Director, Mujer LGBT+ Organization

Equality is defined as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities. That means, one right and opportunity can both be exercised and enjoyed by two or more individuals. The same principle is true in the context of womanhood.

A woman, regardless if she is Cis* or Trans*, ought to enjoy the same fundamental rights and opportunities of another woman, too.

Treating trans people as individuals of the gender identity they claim to be is a sign of basic respect. A recognition of their authenticity. Denying trans people access to a single-sex space when they fully identify as the sex to which it is confined, risks perpetuating forms of oppression that we would never tolerate if they applied to other groups.

While their anatomy and surgical history may be relevant in the context of medical care, it is not supposed to be relevant in everyday life. At the same time, by breaking down sex into ambiguous components and arguing that trans women lack some of them, or have too many residual male components, we imply that trans women are not women, or not the right kind of women — which is utterly discriminatory and oppressive.

This is why Mujer LGBT Organization, Inc. denounces the segregationist remarks of Kevin Balot.

We have to realize that pageant contestants and pageant queens are more than their ravishing long gowns, two-piece suits and national costumes. More than anything else, they are their causes and the issues they want to shed light on.

Besides, a trans woman in a socially deemed single-sex competition like pageants – i.e. Miss Universe – allows a room for debunking myths, shattering stereotypes and educating the public, and therefore reforming an oppressive status quo one step at a time.

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Editor's Picks

Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma

The Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. But Covid-19 responses actually do not include them, so what happens to them now?

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Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.  

Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.

Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.

But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.

In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.

The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.

And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.

“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.

Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”

“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.

Painting and creating origami, Kate’s income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students. Everything was affected by Covid-19.
Photo by Fallon Michael from Unsplash.com

What gov’t support?

There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.

In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.” 

DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.  

CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.   

DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.

Pre-Covid-19, Nicole could earn from P3,000 per client; nowadays, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program. 

To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.

Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.

But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.

For drag performer Lumina, Covid-19 “technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home.”

Making ends meet

And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.

In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda

Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.

Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”

Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”

To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”

Bleak future?

In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.

But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.

There are rays of hope.

Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce. 

This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).

And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while trapped inside and hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture… 

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