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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

Op-Ed

I may be HIV+ but that still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you

This is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me.

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“I’m HIV-positive.”

That was the short sentence I remember telling this guy I used to date.

Okay – to backtrack – I met a guy while I was in Northern Mindanao. We dated for a while, and – at least I thought – things between us went smoothly for a while. I’d say he wasn’t bad-looking even if he looked somewhat common. He had one of those “if you stay long enough, I can teach myself to maybe even like you” face.

And then one night, we became more intimate than the usual. So I had to stop what we were doing (before we progressed further). And then – after prepping him up by first discussing with him his views about HIV and people living with HIV – I told him I had something important to tell him (if we were to advance what we had).

Thus that short sentence.

His face immediately changed; from what I saw was longing to… shocked. He couldn’t even say a word. And when he was finally able to utter a word, it was just to tell me that “I forgot I had to be elsewhere.”

The alibi was lame. But what made it more insulting was that I wasn’t even that into him to begin with; he was just a possible lay (if it came to that).

But that moment taught me two important things.

On one hand, how the sexuality of so many PLHIVs are tempered by their status.

I have frequently heard of medical practitioners who tell PLHIVs to “already stop having sex now that you’re HIV-positive; dadami pa kayo (you’d abet in increasing the number of PLHIVs)” – all too obviously unaware of safer sexual practices and U=U, among others. Worse, this sentiment is shared by a lot of PLHIVs themselves, who see their status as a “punishment”, and the only “cure” is to stop having sex altogether. Oh, please!

On the other hand, recognizing that being sexual doesn’t disappear (and doesn’t need to vanish) with being HIV-positive, there seems to be this supposition of PLHIVs being “desperate”.

That guy I dated, for instance, had every right NOT to have sex with me (it’s called power over one’s body); but that he had to lie just to get away from me was – to admit the truth – not only discourteous but even insulting. I suppose particularly because… I wasn’t even that into him.

Here’s the thing: Me living with HIV means just that – that I have HIV. But it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my (yes!) sexual appetite and (for that matter) taste/preferences/standards on who to do it with.

And I believe this is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me. And if (some) guys can’t see that, well…

Because remember dearie, just because I am HIV-positive still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you.

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From the Editor

Women are not ‘disgusting’; gay men are just not into them…

Why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

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Time to unlearn sub-/unconscious misogyny.

Here’s the thing: With the demise of Christine Dacera, and with predominantly gay (and perhaps bi) men considered as suspects by the error-filled PNP (Philippine National Police), many members of the LGBTQIA community surfaced to defend members of the rainbow family.

Background info: Christine Dacera, a flight attendant, celebrated her New Year’s Eve with gay/bi friends in a hotel in Makati City. On New Year’s Day, her body was found lifeless. The PNP (pre-empting everything) pushed for questionable narratives – e.g. that she was “raped” (even if the autopsy report couldn’t validate this), and then committed inept acts – e.g. announcing the case to be “solved” when it really wasn’t, jailing three of the people who claimed to have helped Christine that night (with a judge ordering them to release the three; and then basically telling them to, yes, do their job properly), embalming the body before another (independent) autopsy can be done, etc.

It didn’t help PNP at all when one of its top brass stated that “gay men are still men” (Yes, sir, they are; DUH!) and insinuated that gayness can, basically, be cured by alcohol (that is, they’d start having sex with, or even rape women when they’re drunk).

Going online, among the statements of “support” for the gay/bi suspects, however, you’d find statements like “yuck”, gross ang vagina”, “babae, yuck”, “kadiri“, and so on. All these supposedly refer to what gay men “feel” when with women.

And let’s stop spewing these misogynistic statements.

Misogyny – that hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women (Merriam-Webster, 2021) – can be blatant. But it can also be “invisible”. And get this, even members of minority sectors – such as those from the LGBTQIA community – can be misogynistic.

This seeming disdain for women – or their body parts – is actually misogynistic.

If you think this I am making a big “leap” with this claim, consider that in Psychology Today, Dr. Berit Brogaard wrote that “in most cases, misogynists do not even know that they hate women.”

After all, why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

The antiquated – and, well, fatuous – macho culture in PNP has been harming members of the LGBTQIA community. Let’s not become part of the problem by becoming just as antiquated and, yes, just as fatuous.

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From the Editor

To stand united, we also need to watch our tongues…

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power. But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses. And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves.

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I was 28 the first time I was told I’m old. We were in a bar in Malate (the former gay capital of the City of Manila); and then – while partying with friends – this 21-year-old gay guy who was with a friend said: “You’re too old to be in a bar; yuck!”.

Ageism – which refers to prejudice or discrimination on the basis of age – is an issue in the LGBTQIA community. It is an issue that has been tackled repeatedly in the past; though, admittedly, perhaps not as much in the Philippines.

In 2009, for instance, Malcolm Sargeant published “Age discrimination, sexual orientation and gender identity: UK/US perspectives” in Equal Opportunities International”, which noted that LGBTQIA elders suffer from particular discrimination when compared to that suffered by elders in general, and heterosexual elders in particular.

It is, therefore, not surprising that elders have been calling for inclusion; something that Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE (an American organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ elders), said that should be tackled. “Over and over what we hear again from our elders is that they feel invisible and forgotten by the rest of the community, and that includes our younger people… And what we’ve seen is that it’s so powerful when older and younger people come together and engage as activists,” Adams was quoted as saying by Out.com.

These two points – ageism, and the need to dump it if we want to move forward TOGETHER – was re-emphasized to me after hearing from some of PNP’s suspects in the demise of Christine Dacera.

As FYI: Christine, a flight attendant, partied with mostly gay/bi friends during New Year’s Eve. She passed away on New Year’s Day; and the PNP has been “forcing” a narrative that she was “raped”, with a high-ranking policeman even claiming that when gay men get drunk, they “also become men”.

This one’s not to talk about PNP messing everything up; PNP’s assertion that “gay men are still men” (based on this antiquated misconception that “gay men are not ‘real’ men”); PNP’s erroneous belief that alcohol is a “cure” to being LGBTQIA (Hello, CBCP, send some my way!); and PNP’s insinuation that, yes, all men are rapists.

Instead, this is to focus on how “damage” can come from within the LGBTQIA community. And we really need to be aware of this; and even take steps to deal with this.

Now back to ageism and how this happens from within.

When ABS-CBN News interviewed some of the initial suspects (who were released when the court told PNP it, basically, didn’t do its job properly to pin these people down), one of them stated (off-handedly, if I may add; proceed to 56:25 in the YT video below) that they mingled with “mga bakla” in a separate room, but that this room had “matatanda/bakla na may mga edad na” so they may as well move to their room/a different room since “wala namang pogi dito eh“.

Discriminating may have been unintentional (ageism, and yes, lookism); but it’s still there.

The suspects’ names have been unnecessarily dragged by the PNP which committed errors after errors after errors when it dealt with this case – e.g. it prematurely declared the case “solved”; it claimed there was “rape” when the initial autopsy report did not back this claim; its key people even threatened that if the suspects did not willingly surrender, then they should expect the worse (and yes, we all know what THAT meant); and it basically prevented another autopsy from being done to the body when it had the body embalmed sans informing the family, etc.

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends and acquaintances, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power.

But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses.

And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves. Because how can we stand united if we discriminate against people we hope will actually support us (e.g. the LGBTQIA community as a whole, including the elders and, yes, the “not pogi“)?

So let’s be more self-aware as we start dealing with this…

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From the Editor

About sex work (and prostitution) among Filipinos at the time of Covid-19

Various Facebook GCs (group chats) highlight how Covid-19 may have pushed many Filipinos into the sex industry. And yet – except in these GCs – this is largely ignored.

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Facebook just prompted me to “join” three GCs (group chats) related to sex work (and even prostitution). One is for “mga lalaking bayaran“, another for masseurs with ES (extra service; the extra being the sexual favor), and another for “for hire daks Pinoys”.

These aren’t exclusive GCs, actually; and they aren’t new, either. Many others like them abound in Facebook (among other social networking sites).

But upon checking, what struck me with these GCs this time around is Covid-19’s effect/s on the (current) memberships. So many are in this because of desperation. For instance, it is not uncommon to see comments like: “Nawalan lang ng trabaho; sino gusto tumulong para may ipa-Pasko kaming mag-aama“; or “Para tulong lang sa online classes.”

This is another facet of the sex industry (and even prostitution) as exacerbated by the pandemic.

And this face – while at least tackled overseas – isn’t really openly discussed in the Philippines…

IN THE SHADOWS

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, this is worth stressing. Penalties vary, up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking (covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003).

No, the country doesn’t distinguish between sex work and prostitution; here, those in the sex industry are largely considered as in need of being “saved”. Not just the body, too; but also the “soul”.

But – get this – prostitution is actually openly tolerated – e.g. let’s stop pretending we don’t know what many GROs actually do; what masseurs offer when they say “E.S.”; and that there are local government units that give workers (of bars, spas, massage parlors, KTV bars, and so on) “pink cards” to guarantee that they are STI-free and are “sexually clean/safe”.

And really, except for the occasional “saving” of trafficked people (who are then turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development) we see in TV, the deafening silence on this is what’s remarkable.

TRANSACTIONAL SEX

This silence is… worrisome.

Particularly because this continues to happen; and yes (yet again), exacerbated by Covid-19.

What the GC members I’ve come across in Facebook are doing aren’t new, actually. The Philippines – dearies – isn’t excluded from the “oldest profession in the world.” This, obviously, includes male sex workers (befitting the handling of this topic here).

Consider that in 2003, the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation released the 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS3) that noted that about 11% of sexually active young people aged 15-24 did it with someone of the same sex. Of this figure, 87% are men who have sex with men (MSM; meaning they may not self-identify as gay or bi, but have sex with other men).

Here’s what’s worth stressing in UP’s study: Almost half of those who had same-sex encounters also engaged in commercial sex. Approximately 19% paid for sex, while 11% received payment for sexual favors.

At that time, Dr. Corazon Raymundo, project coordinator of YAFS3, stated that it appears that in a fast changing world, the “usual norms and expectations do not hold true anymore.”

REVISIT… EVERYTHING

There are too many interconnected issues that should be considered here…

There’s poverty; and how this forces people to do things they may not otherwise do.

There’s the continuing lack of government support for its people; otherwise, those who do not want to sell themselves wouldn’t be forced to do so – e.g. selling oneself for “online classes”; because of loss of employment; etc.

There’s the pervasive ignorance re the sex industry; this is what leads to the abuse of those involved in it because – since they are considered illegal to begin with – they can’t even access State support if they are abused, etc.

There’s the impact of tech on the industry.

There’s the ongoing hypocrisy re this – e.g. church people want to “save” sex workers; but ask them to give these same people job in the church, and start counting how many reasons they can come up with just to (basically) say “No way!”.

There’s the continuing “punishment” of those in the sex industry; and yet… look at how the patrons get away with “buying” (e.g. the GCs in Facebook blatantly haggle with the service providers, demanding for the absurd while asking to lower the prices).

There’s the continuing ignoring of the sexual and reproductive health concerns of Filipinos.

There’s the silence re this; it’s staring us in the face, and we don’t even talk about this.

And on, and on, and on we go…

In the end, this needs to be tackled. No matter your angle” – e.g. because it inadvertently signifies the adverse effects of Covid-19 on poorer sectors of society; because it highlights government inaction/misaction; because it needs to be monitored as a health issue; because you’re self-righteous and you want to “save” them all; etc. – this shouldn’t, couldn’t be ignored. Covid-19 is re-emphasizing what was already there; and so please… just address this already…

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Enter the alter world

Welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual engagements. Though often maligned, it actually also highlights formation of friendships, info sharing, emotional support, and even provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality.

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Some time back, Kurt (a.k.a. @MoanerBottom) opened a Twitter account as a form of revenge. “I found out that my ex had an ‘alter’ account and he was fooling around with different people,” he recalled. And so “I wanted to prove to him that I can also do the same thing.”

Little did Kurt know at that time that he would become a mainstay in the alter world/community. A few months since opening his own alter account, he garnered over 130,000 followers, all of them craving – and even waiting – for what he would post, usually dominated by sexual encounters (“kalat videos,” he calls them) with mostly students, including a basketball varsitarian “who likes to penetrate deeply”, a Blue Eagle who allowed for his orgasm to be videoed, a Tamaraw who also allowed himself to be videoed as he orgasmed, and bending for a Red Lion.

“I must admit that I am a shy person in real life,” Kurt said. But “here in Twitter, it is like I have less shame and more courage to do kalat (contextually: shameless) posts and videos.”

Kurt is, obviously, only one of the people – not just Filipinos – with alter accounts, which many like him, say is similar to a “pseudonym — like Batman to Bruce Wayne, or Superman to Clark Kent; where people can have a separate account from their primary accounts, usually used to express themselves more ‘wildly’ yet more ‘discreetly’/anonymously.”

And so welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual “collaborations”, hookups, fetishes, fantasies and social engagements, with the audiences often never really knowing the content generators/producers/distributors.

Getting noticed

That the alter world is often dominated by sexual content is a given.

Onin (a.k.a. @Onin_NuezPH), for example, sees his alter account “as an avenue for me to express myself and my sexuality. I am able to let everyone know within the community about my sexual desires without the fear of being judged.”

Looking back, it was actually “a friend who is an alter too introduced me in this alter community,” Onin said.

One of the early instances Onin trended was when some of his nude photos circulated on Twitter. Many got curious, asking the person who previously reacted or shared the photos if there were more.

It whetted Onin’s interest; and so he started posting more photos and short videos. His followers quickly increased, reaching more than 145,000.

Taking pride that he is one of the more talked about alters out there, Onin has produced content that may seem trivial… but these have been keeping the alter community and lurkers interested, from balancing a shampoo bottle on top of his erect penis, sharing a photo of his endowment while asking his followers if they want to kneel in front him, a comparison of the length of a deodorant spray with his penis, wearing a see-through underwear, and teasing his latest sexual collaboration.

Standing out

Standing out in a platform where hundreds (even thousands) of alters saturate news feeds is a challenge. After all, it is not an easy feat to attract someone’s attention — what more to make them like, share, or follow an account.

For FUCKER Daddy (a.k.a. @ako_daddy), therefore, it all comes down to the type of content being posted, not just being well-endowed, willing to perform bareback sex, or how often the face is shown.

A licensed professional who has a son, FUCKER Daddy started as a “lurker’ (i.e. one who lurks, or just consumes content/views profiles) on Twitter. At that time, he wrote “my real-life sex stories, hoping it will pick up from there,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, alter peeps seem to be more into live action.”

And so FUCKER Daddy met someone from Telegram, without realizing that the person was “sort of (a) big (personality) on Twitter.” This guy discretely took a short clip of their sexual encounter, and then posted it on his alter account. “It was hit. (And) the rest is history.”

By August 2019, FUCKER Daddy said his inbox started receiving direct messages from different users – e.g. asking for more, congratulating him, wanting to collaborate, and so on.

He actually now has several sex videos in his cam. But he still doesn’t make recording the primary thing when engaging in sex “as my goal is to have hookups; videos are only secondary.”

Besides, he said that “I do not want to spoil the moment for sex and think only of it as merely for Twitter.”

But every time FUCKER Daddy posts a video, he said his over 95,000 followers respond to them “with enthusiasm, getting more curious and intrigued.”

Making a living

The concept of alter, however, isn’t set in stone.

For one, there are actually alter accounts whose owners prefer to use their real names and show their faces (like Onin), mixing their personal and private lives along the way. Following the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent analogy, there are also people who follow the Tony Stark/Iron Man mantra, i.e. openly announcing that they are one and the same.

Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.

Also, one may be part of the alter community without knowing it – i.e. one engages in alter activities without recognizing it as such.

The likes of John (a.k.a. @johnnephelim on Twitter and Instagram), who has over 130,000 followers, comes to mind, using Twitter as a platform “to promote a job.”

“I do not even know that I am involved in the world of alter,” John said, adding that he did not even know what the term meant until it was presented to him. Instead, his account is used to “promote my RentMen and OnlyFans accounts”, just as he also promotes his availability for “personal appointment to people.”

John actually used to work as a brand ambassador, but because of this change in his work, he “can no longer work (in) that (field) because I am doing porn.”

He admitted that “this type of thing is double-edged.” On the one hand, “you can earn a great amount of money,” he said, “but there will be sacrifices.”

He noted, for instance, that the perception of people about me changed; most people judge you right away because of what you do, and not because of who you are as a person.”

But he ignores the naysayers; “I do not mind because this job gives more than what I expected!”

Like John, Onin also promotes his JustFor.Fans (JFF) account on Twitter to respond to the requests of his followers.

“They (my followers) want to see me in action and they are willing to subscribe too,” Onin said, with his exclusive content including: he and his partner having sex, and collaborations with other alters. “You will not earn that much, but pretty enough to compensate for the contents that we are posting.”

Not all alters think alike, obviously. FUCKER Daddy, for instance, won’t monetize his content, saying: “I value sex as it was created. I never sell any (videos) because I think it is something that is worth free. I simply treated it as making memories while those (who) watch put up the numbers.”

Behind the handles

The world of alter has actually already caught the attention of researchers.

For instance, in a study by Samuel Piamonte of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, Mark Quintos of De La Salle University Manila, and Minami Iwayama of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it was found that the alter community may seem overtly sexual, but there is more to it than that.
“The sexual aspect of alter is the core of alter, but it has been enriched by more complex social benefits to users such as including formation of new friendships, sharing of information and advocacies, reciprocations of emotional support, and provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality but find that doing so outside of the alter community could be met with stigma from their peers and family.”

Kurt sees his alter account as an avenue for him to tap his inner self and show the Twitter universe his kalat. Onin uses his alter account to broadcast his sexual side (together with his partner). And FUCKER Daddy uses his alter account as “a constant source of info, hookups, convo… and to learn social demographics as well.”

The evolution, indeed, continues.

Hate from within the community

Yes, yes, yes… with increasing numbers of followers, multiple likes and shares, and the creation of alter “celebrities”, this has not been spared from criticisms.

And sadly, said Kurt, at least in the Philippine setting, the prejudice against alters comes from within the community. “Kapuwa LGBT ang nagsisiraan at nagpapataasan sa isa’t-isa,” he said. “I know… that I cannot please everyone (but) for me it is okay, as long as I know that I am not doing anything wrong.”

Perhaps a “surprise” is the audience’s inability to “appreciate” the free content given them, with Kurt noting that there are times when “they are also pissed off with the things I post.”

This seems to contradict the findings of Piamonte, Quintos and Iwayama, since – here – the alter community can become a fearful place, too.

John, like Kurt, noted how people resort to demeaning others when they do not fit preconceived notions. But he just laughs this off, saying: “Do not hate me because I look good and make money (from) it. Life is too short to be a bitter person. If you do not like what we do, then shut the fuck up.”

The Pandora’s box, so to speak has been opened; and lessons learned along the way can just “make you stronger and bring out the best in you,” said Onin, who like many alters, “just focus on my goals.” And it is exactly because of the existence of this interchange – the content creation, and the love-hate reaction to what’s created – that alter is not going to disappear anytime soon (or at all).

Details and photos of sexual encounters were lifted from the Twitter accounts of the interviewees.

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Op-Ed

Simple but effective tips on how you can better protect trans women

Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it. So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.

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These are simple but effective tips on how you can better protect the trans women in your lives in the context of a night that could go wrong. Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it.

So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.

1. PICTURE.

If you are hooking up with someone, ALWAYS send a picture of the person you are hooking up with to people you trust with your life. If you are hooking up with someone from a club, bar, or any public place, ask your friend to take your picture with the person you’d be with. This can be de done discreetly or with the permission of the other person. When asking permission, tell the person that you’re taking his/her picture for security purposes.

2. ADDRESS.

If you are going to someone else’s house for a booty call, send your GPS location via Whatsapp OR text the address of your location to people you trust.

3. WAIT.

If you are walking someone home or dropping them off, do not leave until the person is already inside his/her house. Do not let your drunk or high friend go home alone, either invite your friend to your house or accompany them home.

4. “I’M SAFE” CALL/TEXT.

Always demand an “I’m safe” call/text from your friend as soon as they’re home.

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