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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

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 hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture… 

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Health & Wellness

The mental cost of Covid-19 lockdown

As the country copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. This is even if experts warn that the crisis could have a “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

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Photo by Ian Panelo from Pexels.com

“Three of my closest friends committed suicide last week,” John Albert shared in a post. “I could not believe the news when I heard it. I saw them before the lockdown; everything seemed fine.”

I chatted with John Albert, and in a short online conversation, he said that one of these friends was a lesbian. Her body was reportedly found by a barangay tanod who was patrolling their area. When they checked the phone beside her, there were 30 missed calls and 57 unread notifications. According to John Albert, the last message his friend sent was to her brother: “Ang hirap pala ng ganito, nag-iisa ka lang at wala kang makausap. Nalulungkot ako pero wala akong choice. Sana matapos na itong lockdown.”

But John Albert’s lesbian friend isn’t the only such case – at least it seems – of members of the LGBTQIA community dealing with the mental strife brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tere, a transgender woman who started her transition this January, lives in a small apartment and is used to doing things on her own, in her own way. But it changed on March 17, when Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte enforced the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, which halted just about everything.

Most people were forced to adjust to what is only available. And in Tere’s case, this meant “temporarily” moving back to her parents’ house. And there, she does not exactly feel fully welcomed.

“For some reason, my father always scolds me. He wants me to do this and that, always asking me questions about my decision to transition and what will happen to my future,” shared Tere, who lamented that all her movements are being monitored so she cannot do her usually routine. “It had already come to a point that I just stay in my room the whole day and cry. I started questioning myself, too.”    

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind.
Photo by Alan Cabello from Pexels.com

FOCUS ON MENTAL STATE

“The new normal” – as people are now referring to the time of Covid-19 – is also testing how strong one’s coping mechanism is, particularly with the need to socially isolate that could trigger loneliness, which the American Psychological Association says increases the risk of premature mortality

After all, two of the major factors that may contribute to a person’s mental health is the sudden change in physical and social environments. And so: What if you are someone who is struggling to manage how you think, feel and behave given the current controlled environment?

At this point, there’s the acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic not only attacks the body’s immune system, but also wreaks havoc on the mental state of people. 

A recent chat with Filipino persons living with HIV (PLHIV), for instance, showed that aside from the paranoia about the disease (e.g. how it spreads, the constant danger of being in close contact with someone who has it), the battle with one’s self can just be as difficult.

Sadly, there are no available outlets to release these anxieties, just the confines of your home/room/house. And for many, this is proving to be very difficult.

Perhaps even more so for LGBTQIA people going through additional difficulties because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT

John Albert’s lesbian friend’s demise highlights how bad things can turn out.

And suicide isn’t “rare” in the Philippines – even if still not as widely discussed. In 2016, the World Bank reported that the Philippines’ suicide rate was 3.20 per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate has actually been growing since 2000.  

And as the country slowly copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. 

In a paper published in Lancet Psychiatry, scientists already stressed the need to also prioritize mental health, since a crisis could have “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”

WHO stressed that: “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior are also expected to rise.”

But there are steps that can be taken.

US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added practical ways to cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind. And perhaps apt to stress is the need to help each other. Just as Cebu City-based transgender woman Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc., said, this is the right time to “fix each other’s crown.”

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Op-Ed

Covid-19 for people living with HIV

With persons living with HIV voicing their concerns regarding COVID-19, especially if their immunocompromised status makes them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the AIDS Society of the Philippines provides the following advice for prevention.

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Rendering created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@cdc) from Unsplash.com

By AIDS Society of the Philippines

How can Persons Living with HIV protect themselves from COVID-19?

Recently, persons living with HIV have been voicing their concerns regarding COVID-19, especially if their immunocompromised status makes them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The AIDS Society of the Philippines acknowledges and empathizes with the key affected population, and provides the following advice for prevention.

Adhere to ARV regimen

Continue to faithfully take your anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and ensure you have enough supply of ARVs. Reach out to your treatment hub, primary care facility, or community-based organization so they can help expedite your ARV refill despite the community quarantine in NCR. Call them to set an appointment before you visit.

Maintain a strong immune system

Continue to maintain a strong immune system with proper diet and enough sleep. Currently, there is no COVID-19 data specifically about persons who are immunocompromised. However, Dr. John Brooks from the HIV/AIDS Division of the CDC said publicly that, most likely, the risk for severe illness will be greater for persons at lower CD4 cell counts and those who aren’t virally suppressed.

Follow general precautions vs. COVID-19

Continue to follow DOH and WHO advice in COVID-19 prevention. This includes frequent handwashing, practicing cough hygiene, avoid touching the mouth, eyes, and nose, social distancing (maintain 3 feet distance), working from home, going out as little as possible, and seeking medical care when you have fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

If you have been exposed to a Person Under Investigation or Person Under Monitoring (PUI and PUM) for COVID-19, contact your treatment hub or primary care facility to request for advice. Home quarantine will likely be required, even without symptoms. If symptoms appear, visit your nearest government hospital for triaging and indicate the presence of co-morbidities.

Keep in touch with friends and family

Continue to take care of your mental health by reaching out and staying in touch with friends, family members, and support groups remotely or through the Internet. Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. But advise family and friends that due to your status, you have to limit your exposure to others. Finally, encourage other PLHIV and fellow Filipinos.

We stand with you in this difficult time. Stay strong—we will get through this together.

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Lifestyle & Culture

It’s 2020, time to teach teens ‘safe’ sexting

This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex. It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.

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Photo by Cristofer Jeschke from Unsplash.com

Preaching sexual abstinence to youth was popular for a number of decades, but research repeatedly found that such educational messages fell short in their intended goals. Simply telling youth not to have sex failed to delay the initiation of sex, prevent pregnancies, or stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Since the advent of photo- and video-sharing via phones, children have received similar fear-based messages to discourage sexting – the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images (photos or video) usually via mobile devices. Unfortunately, messages of sexting abstinence don’t seem to be reducing the prevalence of adolescents sharing nudes.

Consequently, in a new paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, say that it is time to teach youth “safe” sexting.

“The truth is that adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality, and some are now doing so via sexting,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., co-author and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “We need to move beyond abstinence-only, fear-based sexting education or, worse yet, no education at all. Instead, we should give students the knowledge they need to make informed decisions when being intimate with others, something even they acknowledge is needed.”

Hinduja and co-author Justin Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, acknowledge that although participating in sexting is never 100 percent “safe” (just like engaging in sex), empowering youth with strategies to reduce possible resultant harm seems prudent.

Hinduja and Patchin collected (unpublished) data in April 2019 from a national sample of nearly 5,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17, and found that 14 percent had sent and 23 percent had received sexually explicit images. These figures represent an increase of 13 percent for sending and 22 percent for receiving from what they previously found in 2016.

The authors do want youth to understand that those who sext open themselves up to possible significant and long-term consequences, such as humiliation, extortion, victimization, school sanction, reputational damage, and even criminal charges. But they also want youth who are going to do it anyway to exercise wisdom and discretion to prevent avoidable fallout.

“This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex,” said Hinduja. “It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.”

Simply telling youth not to have sex failed to delay the initiation of sex, prevent pregnancies, or stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.
Photo by Jack Sharp from Unsplash.com

Hinduja and Patchin provide suggested themes encapsulated in 10 specific, actionable messages that adults can share with adolescents in certain formal or informal contexts after weighing their developmental and sexual maturity.

  1. If someone sends you a sext, do not send it to — or show — anyone else. This could be considered nonconsensual sharing of pornography, and there are laws prohibiting it and which outline serious penalties (especially if the image portrays a minor).
  2. If you send someone a sext, make sure you know and fully trust them. “Catfishing”– where someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fraudulent romantic relationship (and, often, to send sexts) — happens more often than you think. You can, of course, never really know if they will share it with others or post it online, but do not send photos or video to people you do not know well.
  3. Do not send images to someone who you are not certain would like to see it (make sure you receive textual consent that they are interested). Sending unsolicited explicit images to others could also lead to criminal charges.
  4. Consider boudoir pictures. Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts. They can still be intimate and flirty but lack the obvious nudity that could get you in trouble.
  5. Never include your face. Of course, this is so that images are not immediately identifiable as yours but also because certain social media sites have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that automatically tag you in any pictures you would want to stay private.
  6. Make sure the images do not include tattoos, birthmarks, scars, or other features that could connect them to you. In addition, remove all jewelry before sharing. Also, consider your surroundings. Bedroom pictures could, for example, include wall art or furniture that others recognize.
  7. Turn your device’s location services off for all of your social media apps, make sure your photos are not automatically tagged with your location or username, and delete any meta-data digitally attached to the image.
  8. If you are being pressured or threatened to send nude photos, collect evidence when possible. Having digital evidence (such as screenshots of text messages) of any maliciousness or threats of sextortion will help law enforcement in their investigation and prosecution (if necessary) and social media sites in their flagging and deletion of accounts.
  9. Use apps that provide the capability for sent images to be automatically and securely deleted after a certain amount of time. You can never guarantee that a screenshot was not taken, nor that another device was not used to capture the image without you being notified, but using specialized apps can decrease the chance of distribution.
  10. Be sure to promptly delete any explicit photos or videos from your device. This applies to images you take of yourself and images received from someone else. Having images stored on your device increases the likelihood that someone — a parent, the police, a hacker — will find them. Possessing nude images of minors may have criminal implications. In 2015, for example, a North Carolina teen was charged with possessing child pornography, although the image on his phone was of himself.

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Literary Pieces

Posteng Bato

Elmo Ellezo writes about the apathy of those who have more in life, even if – by choosing to lend a hand – they can help effect changes in other people’s lives.

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Ni Elmo Ellezo

May mga taong umangat lang sa buhay,
parang naging katulad ng bahay na bato ang puso.
Kasing tigas at wala ng pakiramdam sa iba.

Parang bato,
posteng bato na naghihiwalay sa kanilang sa sarili
sa reyalidad ng malawak na mundo.
Bingi sa mga ingay sa labas.
Binulag ng mga bakod at posteng bato,
ayaw tumanaw sa kabilang bahagi ng mundo.

Gwardyado, akala moy kaaway ang mundo,
Ayaw makibahagi oh umambag sa mga walang laman ang kaldero
Ayaw makipagkapwa tao.
Naka-kandado pati ang kanilang mga puso.

Tanging paraan na silay mamulat ay delubyo.
Kapag tinumbahan na ng mga posteng bato.
Kapag binaha na katulad ng mga nakatira sa estero.
Kapag nagutom, namatayan na katulad ng mga ordinaryong tao.

Anong klaseng mundo ang nililikha nitong mga posteng bato.
Mga kaaway ang mahihirap at walang tiwala sa kapwa tao.
Makasariling pag uugali at walang pakialam sa mundo.

Sana maibalik ang aking pagkabata.
Walang mga poste at bakod na naghihiwalay sa sinasabi kong kapwa.
Kung saan ang daigdig ay pinagsasaluhan ng lahat.
May pagkakaugnay ugnay, tiwala at pakikipag kapwa.

Munti kong panalangin ay mawasak ang mga posteng bato.
Mga posteng batong isinasara ng bakal at mga kandado.
Mga posteng batong nagpapamanhid sa kalagayan ng dumadaing na mundo.
Ang posteng batong naglilikha ng taong bato ang puso.

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Op-Ed

Being LGBTQ+ means nothing

Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

We’ve heard it all before — a woman who still espouses misogyny, Filipinos who can be insulting towards their own skin color, a devout Christian who has little knowledge about the Bible and the history of Christianity, a gay person who is against the rights of other LGBTQ+ folks. These seemingly self-contradictories show that our identity is nothing but superficiality.

Our identity does not hold the substance of what we’re all about.

Having a certain identity does not follow that we know all there is to understand about it.

More importantly, it does not immediately give us the authority or credibility to speak on behalf of a larger group we supposedly belong to. Otherwise, we only cause much harm and misinformation.

What does a community mean? Fumbling through the dictionary, we would find similar definitions that basically sum up as “a group of people sharing a commonality of interests, attitudes, characteristics, values, goals – even history – and living in a particular location or within a greater area”. Applying this to the so-called LGBTQ+ community, since LGBTQ+ persons obviously do not live in the same quarters or have exactly the same lived experiences (hence the need for the acronym with a plus sign), we need to take only the spirit of the word — that is, a community is a social state of more than skin-deep commonality.

People who label themselves as LGBTQ’s do not see the whole picture if they go against equality and the principle that human rights must be bestowed to all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, physical appearance and so forth. Such people who proclaim they are “part of the LGBTQ+ community but…” are merely disruptive tumors. They are not part of the community but only a part of the problem, which is compounded by ignorance, indifference, hate and discrimination.

So before we open our mouths and ascribe to some sort of community or identity, let’s be truly certain first that we know what it’s all about. Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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