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Janfred Palikpikan: Challenging HIV stigma in faith communities

The life of Janfred Palikpikan changed when he learned about his HIV status. Now as an advocate for the rights of PLHIVs, he believes in the need for a paradigm shift in Biblical teachings that continues to malign and intently condemn homosexuals as immoral perverts, and abomination. “I would like to challenge the ministers of God. To take a second, third, fourth look again at the Holy Scriptures and make a paradigm shift on what they have been lecturing from the start of their ministries,” says Janfred.

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This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email editor@outragemag.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

Janfred Palikpikan learned about his HIV status after a failed local medical examination as he was slated to travel for overseas employment in Singapore through one of POEA’s accredited list of recruitment agencies. He Googled the overseas job vacancy through workabroad.ph, and part of the requirement before the job offer is given was to undergo a medical exam through its partner clinic.

“We paid for our medical exam. I think it was P2,500. I could recall it was my second time to apply in the same recruitment agency kasi nag-fail ako sa (because I failed in the) first application screening after I intentionally held on to my beard or goatee, and the client didn’t like that. It took me another month to try (to have a second chance),” Janfred recalled.

After a month lapsed, he applied again to the same agency, knowing fully well how to groom himself this time. The initial screening and interview went well this time, and after two days he was asked to report for endorsement to medical exam.

Ang sabi sa amin ng agency was, if all goes well, mabilis papasok ‘yung result ng medical exam. After 24 hours, kapag walang sabit, aawardan ka na ng clean bill of health and contract in two weeks’ time. Kaso we were also warned that maraming sumasabit sa (Our agency said that if all goes well, the medical results would be quickly retrieved. After 24 hours if there are no problems, a clean bill of health is given, and a contract is awarded in two weeks. But we were also warned that many encounter problems in their) medical exam based on their past experiences. I didn’t actually know what that meant, pero it just came to me as something passé,” said Janfred.

Janfred had to apply because he was getting a little desperate from his regular high-paying call center day job in the Philippines. His job grade hasn’t increased from his current employer that time for the last three consecutive years, and the wonderful success stories he heard of people making it to the “great metropolis SG or Dubai were all so good to be true they seemed so enticing enough I couldn’t bear (working here) any longer.”

“I had to apply, I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and take the risk. The heck, anyway, as I was already able to save a certain amount that could serve as buffer for my expenses while and if I get there (in Singapore). And so I went through the medical process after I successfully passed the initial screening and client interview the second time around,” said Janfred.

As soon as Janfred and other applicants went to the clinic a few blocks away from the agency along P.Faura St., they were briefed for a few minutes how the process and what the 5ml blood extraction was all about. It just all came to him as SOP. However, after my medical exam, he was informed by the agency to report to the clinic ASAP as there was a “minor problem”. This made him shrug in fear.

But at that time, he thought that “baka may kulang lang silang di nagawa sa akin since ang bilis lang namin i-process na parang mass laborers going to war (Maybe they wanted to do more tests to me since everything felt rushed, and it seemed like we were being processed as mass laborers going to war).”

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As soon as he reached the clinic, it took around 10-20 minutes before he was approached by a skinny lady who then asked him to follow her to a small isolated room. The room looked like a small storage area for excess office supplies, but there was an office table and three vacant chairs where she gestured for him to seat. Janfred sat across her as she sat behind the table. She then started probing him questions about his lifestyle and behavior that made him feel a bit uncomfortable.

“Why are we having this conversation?” asked Janfred.

And then she told him that his blood had reacted to HIV antibodies through the ELISA screening method they normally use, and that it was foolproof.

“Sir, if you have antibodies for HIV, then you’re HIV positive,” said the skinny lady.

He was asked to submit again another extraction of the same amount of blood, so they can ascertain after two weeks his HIV status. This time the test was for free. The skinny lady told him that they will send his blood to San Lazaro’s STD/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory (SACCL) clinic, which is where blood samples that test positive are sent for confirmatory testing.

Janfred willingly complied. The skinny lady was nice enough to say that if there was anything that she can do to comfort him, he can just call her.

FACING THE STATUS

“I really couldn’t wait that long, so I went to San Lazaro and after less than two weeks. And I was confirmed HIV+. I remember that day – February 11, 2008 – was the day I tested positive, the eve of my birthday (February 12). On February 21, I received my confirmation letter at SACCL,” remembered Janfred.

Janfred had to collect himself after the news. He remembered his knees were literally shaking the moment he walked and left the partner clinic until the confirmation. In the weeks after that, he went to St. Luke’s in E. Rodriguez for another opinion, but the physician couldn’t do anything.

“The more than one week of waiting for confirmation was the most gruesome thing anyone could experience. It’s like a death sentence one couldn’t bear. In that more than a week of waiting, I became bedridden,” said Janfred.

He had to file for emergency sick leaves, and he also remembered his sudden depression became obvious during dinner on his birthday. All the food he ate was tasteless. During family times, he barely smiled and just went to bed for days. His parents knew something was incredibly wrong.

Janfred’s mind was racing all the time, as his thought seemed to jumble. “This is it….finally. I had a explanations why I was having sores in my mouth, some even as many as four at the same time, and the sores just wouldn’t disappear (my excuse back then was it was viral/airborne). Finally, that explained why I would get so skinny easily without skipping any meal or while even staying focused in gym for even three to four times a week. Finally, that explained why I would get migraines so bad and uncommon for young people such as me. Finally, that explained why I would get tired easily, never realizing that my normal routine would just require I travel short distances from work, to gym, to home daily. Finally, that explained why my libido and urges drastically dropped from the usual because my body was mustering all the energy left for me to walk, work out, and work… Finally, my double life caught up with me. It was payback time. I knew something was wrong, but I was in denial that it’s AIDS,” he remembered thinking.

Janfred eventually disclosed his status to close friends.

“Only to those who are civilized, educated, matured and knowledgeable people. I will still not confess publicly as the stigma is prevalent socially and societally,” said Janfred.

RISK FACTORS

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Janfred first heard of HIV when he was in high school, and the thought of that touching his own life never crossed his mind.

“I was living a devout rightful, so-so Christian life,” said Janfred.

This was, at least, the reputation he had.

Reality was farther from that, though.

Janfred can identify some of the factors that may have got him infected with the virus.

“I was engaging in risky sexual anonymous activities/encounters with people I didn’t know – ni pangalan di ko alam (even the names evaded me). My sexcapades included those in Manila’s old slum theatres along Sta.Cruz; though I only engaged in fellatio. I had sex in male bath houses, and I remember I had two exclusive memberships back then; though I remember never getting bottomed. I have been active in Guys4men.com (now PlanetRomeo.com), and I even posted my mobile number publicly in static channels in Cable TVs during the wee hours in the morning. I would bravely cruise on my own in the U-belt area at 12:00 midnight untuil 4:00 AM. I was always successful sneaking out quietly while they were all asleep (at home). I remember attending from one to three orgies, with more than three participants; as well as asking sexual favors along our street from passers-by,” said Janfred.

FUTURE PLANS

Janfred had to re-examine his options in the short, medium and long term goal. His graveyard shift at work didn’t help his condition.

“I knew I had to go (leave work) ASAP, but I still stayed with my employer for more than a year. The materialistic goals had to go. No more dream house. No more dream car. No more abroad plans (for now). I had to lessen expensive impulsive buying,” he said.

Upon diagnosis, “I had a CD4 count of 404, but when I left my employer, it was down to 234 only. My plan was go back to school and get a masters degree because I got stagnant in the BPO for seven years,” said Janfred.

HIV humbled Janfred at a time when he thought he felt invincible. At a time when he should be concerned of wealth accumulation rather than compromised health.

“There are always two sides of a coin. I can never plot the same objective I originally conceived before my HIV diagnosis. When you are HIV+, you need to look at what options you have and I was able to reposition myself. Even now I continue to do so. I didn’t lose any friends. But I had to scale down on irrelevant activities I deem as tiresome and strenuous. Hence, I had to let go of activities with colleagues. I lost prospective partners but it’s because it was my choice not to engage in the same activities again. I fear they might get stigmatized if I tell them. I am single as the task of looking after myself now is more important. With family, I became closer to mom and sisters,” said Janfred.

MEDICAL & SOCIAL SUPPORT

Janfred always got his support from siblings and his mother who helped him even until now, particularly when he had to undergo his ARV trial period.

“What I would do to give my mom a comfortable life,” he sighed. “Right now she continues to be our breadwinner until I dont know when. She’s quite exhausted and reaching retirement. We neither have a house, a car, or a (place our own in some) province,” said Janfred.

Janfred is already taking the ARV medicines. He underwent his trial period on April 20, 2010 because his CD4 went down. Now it still fluctuates depending on his exposure to stress from his current employment.

With his medicines, the problems he had been encountering are – for him – touch on his appearance. “Good thing I didn’t develop any severe side effects, particularly on my skin. The only problem I observe is an abnormal bulge on my belly, which I am currently burning through workouts and cardio exercises. I also noticed my thighs got thinner so I made some research and found out (the medicines I am taking) could make one’s extremities smaller and belly bigger. Even my family noticed it too,” said Janfred.

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VULNERABILITIES FROM THE CHURCH

Janfred believes that what drove him to be vulnerable to HIV is how society as a whole looks at homosexuals as people who are condemned, sinful and unnatural.

“My culture – including my family, which is very patriarchal (Oh yes, I have a father but he always looks down on gays and fags and makes fun of them on TV, makes slur comments even now!) – gave me reasons to believe while I grew up that I wasn’t appreciated for what I am. My father imposes a tyranical hold on the household while maintaining a sense of proximal abandonment (he’s near yet so far); we didn’t connect at all,” said Janfred.

This is something that Janfred said he noticed with fellow PLHIVs: the absence of a father; the lack of a much more loving father figure.

Not having a loving father is supposed to be “remedied” by a loving church.

“I read a passage somewhere in the bible that says (I forgot the verse though) ‘If you have an earthly father who forsakes you, you have a Father in heaven.’ And of course where does one learn their doctrines and mores? From the church,” said Janfred.

However, Janfred said that the various church denominations maligns and uses passages in the Bible to intently condemn homosexuals and lesbians as immoral perverts, and abomination.

“So here we are, at one side we have an absence of love and respect from our earthly biological father; and on the other, a church that has taught us that our Father in heaven is not inclusive (of us). To whom should we go then? If this kind of mentality has been planted in our minds and way of thinking, then we have been pushed to do activities underground including sex. In the words of Dr. Erlinda Senturias, (we go) ‘KKK’, which means, kataas-taasan, kadilim-diliman, kasulok-sulukan (on high areas, in dark places, and in narrow paths),” said Janfred.

Janfred believes that is the reason why there is now a spike in HIV cases reported in the Philippines alone. The source of the problem is moral in nature, and mores affect how people behave as a society. People have been led to believe that being gay is a bad thing, which is not.

And while priests and pastors continue to verbally condemn gays as people receiving zero-redemption, “this is in contrast to how I see myself. I see myself as someone who is full of love ,and that I just want to share my love to someone I fancy – though I haven’t found him yet. Now I’m looking for someone like me, an HIV+ too, so that we can look at each other’s back with support,” said Janfred.

Janfred adds that the Bible talks about love as the most important element that sums up everything in the Bible in one word. He is guided by this question he so loves that he adopted from the Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, Executive Director of INERELA, who said: “About your gender, are you sure it’s the real voice of God you are hearing and not from what the church has taught you about Him?”

“I would like to challenge the ministers of God. To take a second, third, fourth look again at the Holy Scriptures and make a paradigm shift on what they have been lecturing from the start of their ministries,” said Janfred.

Janfred added that knowledge of the Bible has brought this country in a pandemic stage on HIV, and that people should embrace the sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBT people since acceptance could help remedy the issue at hand.

“‘Let it go’ is what I would like to say to the aggressors. Stop the stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction, and misaction!” Janfred ended.

Connect with Janfred at janfred_palikpikan@yahoo.com.

Red Trese is a Certified Associate Acupuncturist of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care who is obsessed with discovering alternative and complementary therapies to boost his CD4 count. As a servant-friend at The Well, an LGBT wellness center based in Metro Manila, he sits among other people living with HIV (PLHIV) to laugh, cry, and just talk about anything about living with the virus. Here he writes his journey on the challenges and on how to do everything right as a PLHIV in the Philippines. Email Red Trese at thelgbtwell@gmail.com.

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Lesbian and intersex

Noting their difference even as a toddler, Alym Escultura came out as a lesbian while growing up. But they discovered that they are actually also intersex, which they said “complicates their issue for many people” because of “confusion”. As part of Intersex Philippines, Alym now educates people about intersex issues, while pushing for recognition that “intersex people should be included in discourses of equality.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Myla “Alym” Escultura, 44 and originally from Bicol, thinks they was a toddler when “I knew I’m different. I identified – and accepted – this difference by identifying as a lesbian. But there were questions in me on why my being a lesbian was different from the other lesbian women.”

When Alym was 22. “I realized I’m not just a lesbian, I am also intersex.”

Alym knew of this from resources she obtained online, after talking to people who are also intersex from all over the world, and – just as relevant – from “personal experience”.

“To start, anatomically, I’m different from other women,” Alym said, adding that because of her “personal engagements with other women”, they was able to differentiate the ‘normal’ and ‘not so normal’.

“This difference,” Alym said, “is very vivid/apparent. So I told myself I needed to know more about this.”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym Escultura said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world.”

To date, Alym still hasn’t had chromosomal analysis, mainly because this can be costly. Genetic testing can cost from under $100 to more than $2,000 (or equivalent in peso), depending on the nature/complexity of the test. The figure can still go higher if more than one test is necessary; and these tests may also not be readily available in the Philippines.

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But Alym already owns their being intersex.

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym said.

In their case, for instance, “I am in the shadows/at the fringes of the lesbian community,” they said. “It is already complex to live as a lesbian, and then people realize, ‘What, you’re also intersex?’. You have to explain to people why you identify as a lesbian, and as intersex. People don’t necessarily know that my anatomical features are also different. And it’s hard to explain.”

And then there are the legalities – e.g. “If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym Escultura said.

Alym’s relationship with their family is, at least, fine. “They’re fine with me being a lesbian as long as I don’t bring shame to the family’s name.”

And “when they found out I’m also intersex, they took it as just a normal thing. For them, ‘We already accepted you for what you are. Your being intersex is just an add-on/bonus.'”

From Bicol, Alym eventually moved to Metro Manila.

“Resources that can help give you personal development are limited in the province. So I opted to be in a place where I can develop/cultivate myself. This way, I am not dependent on others,” they said.

For Alym, “you’re already (LGBTQIA), so you should be able to support yourself, be able to defend yourself. You should be able to help others without expecting anything in return.”

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Nowadays, “I don’t have to always tell people about my intersex condition. If they just identify me as a lesbian, that’s fine. But if they ask for more information about me, then I inject the information that I am also intersex.”

But Alym is finding their happiness now; living with their partner for almost three years now.

“If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world. Look for others like you. Nowadays, we already have the Internet and there are online support groups.”

But Alym wants the LGBTQIA community to be inclusive. “We’re fighting for the same things. We’re fighting for inclusion. Similar to the declaration of the United Nations, ‘No one left behind’, we should support each other. We all want equal opportunity. We all want gender recognition. If we join our voices, then our voices will echo louder as we make our demands.”

And to people who ridicule intersex people, “that’s fine; that’s your choice. As long as you don’t do anything to physically harm us. We can take what you throw at us. But let me tell you this: We may be intersex people, but you’ll see that we’re willing and able to help, to build and make change for the better,” Alym ended.

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Intersex Pride

Assigned female at birth, Jeff Cagandahan petitioned the court to change his name and gender marker because of his intersex condition. His case reached the Supreme Court, which sided with him in 2008. He now helms Intersex Philippines, which he hopes will help make the “I” visible in the LGBTQIA community.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Jeff Cagandahan – 38 years old; from Paete, Laguna – was assigned female at birth, named Jennifer Cagandahan. But even “when I was young, I knew I was different. I couldn’t exactly say when I knew; but I knew even as a kid that I’m different.”

At that time, Jeff said he didn’t know of intersex conditions, but “I knew I’m different because of my ambiguous genitalia. I was assigned female at birth, but my genitalia wasn’t what was usually found in women.”

Jeff said that it wasn’t necessarily difficult being different when he was young. But it became more difficult as he got older.

To start, “I no longer identified as a woman would. I really saw myself as a man.”

This proved to be hard because of the social expectations linked with gender. For instance, while in elementary school, “I found it difficult to wear skirts just because I was assigned female at birth. It was difficult to act as a woman just because I was given a female name at birth. Because I identified as a man, it was hard to live as a woman. I thought and felt as a man, so there was a disconnect.”

Hi parents also do not talk about his condition at home. “And as much as possible, they do not want to talk about this at home.”

And when he started looking for a job, it was also difficult because his gender marker then was female, but his gender expression was masculine. And since it was a time when “female educators were told to wear skirts”, Jeff was also expected to wear skirts for work, befitting his sex assigned at birth.

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“I couldn’t live like that anymore,” Jeff recalled, “so I decided to file a petition in court to change my name and my gender marker.”

MAKING HISTORY

On December 11, 2003, Jeff filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male). His reason: He developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH); this is one of the 40+ intersex conditions.

On January 12, 2005, the RTC granted Jeff’s petition. The RTC ordered the following changes of entries in Cagandahan’s birth certificate:
(1) The name Jennifer Cagandahan changed to Jeff Cagandahan
(2) His gender from female to male

The Office of the Solicitor General appealed the RTC’s decision. The OSG used the Silverio argument – that “Rule 108 does not allow change of sex or gender in the birth certificate”, and that “CAH does not make her a male”.

On December 11, 2003, Jeff Cagandahan filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male).

But in 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) sided with Jeff.

In its 2008 decision, the highest court stated:
“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual… thinks of his/her sex.”

The SC added:
“(The) respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy.To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what courses of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation.”

The decision was written by Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing; with Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. and Arturo D. Brion concurring.

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“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide. I felt relieved after finally getting what I desired for so long. Those were very happy days for me,” Jeff said.

LIFE CHANGES

How did people react?

“With my family… even before the SC decision, they already knew/treated me as male.” Meanwhile, “I live in a small town, and people already know me there; but they knew more of me when the court’s decision was released. A lot of people understand my situation. But it can’t be avoided that there are still people who still don’t understand my condition.”

“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

There have been major changes in Jeff’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

And because of the court’s decision, “I can now help others like me.”

One of the advocacies of intersex people is to stop gender mutilation. The LGBT community does not give this attention, said Jeff, because it’s particular to the intersex community.

But “this is one of our advocacies because we believe that a person, a child should be able to decide his/her gender. A person should be able to choose the gender he/she wants to live as.”

BECOMING AN INTERSEX ADVOCATE

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I became an advocate because I don’t want younger intersex people to experience the struggles I experienced. I want to take steps to make things easier for them.

Jeff is actually new to advocacy… even if the SC decided on his case in 2008.

“It took me so long to be an advocate because I had to learn self-acceptance first. It’s hard to help others when you can’t even help yourself. So I taught myself first about this; and to accept it. And then I became an advocate,” he said. “I accepted my intersex condition as a mission. A mission to help others. Intersex people should not be ashamed of their condition. To intersex people, you are not alone. I am here.”

There have been major changes in Jeff Cagandahan’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

Jeff also co-founded Intersex Philippines as a support group for intersex people in the Philippines.

NO LONGER INVISIBLE

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” he said. “I believe that through proper education,. and through sharing positive awareness about us, people’s minds will change.”

Moving forward, Jeff’s message to the LGBT community is: Always include “I”.

“It makes me happy that through the rainbow community, I meet other intersex people. This is because there are intersex people who ‘hide’ in the lesbian community, in the gay community,” he said.

It’s also “heartening that allies now approach to ask how they can help us. I hope you will continue helping, and include in your advocacies the intersex community.”

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

To intersex Filipinos, “Don’t be ashamed. Do not be ashamed that you are intersex. Be proud. I always believed that God did not make a mistake in creating us.”

EDUCATE THYSELF

And to people whose ways of seeing intersex people still haven’t changed, “it may be better to speak directly to us. Talk directly to those who experienced discrimination and struggles so you understand what we’re going through.”

Jeff added: “We’re also people; just like you. If you have rights, so do we. We just dream of living normally… properly. There’s nothing wrong with this.”

So “continue to educate yourselves about intersex conditions. And if you have questions, I am willing to talk, Intersex Philippines is willing to talk… so you can better understand this issue.”

For more information, email jeffcagandahan@yahoo.com, or contact 09155159819.

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The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“It is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

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People You Should Know

What it’s like to be a lesbian artist in this generation

Meet Pixie Labrador, an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, who laments the under-representation of lesbians in the music industry, which is unfortunate because she believes that music can help mainstream discussion of LGBTQIA issues. “Lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that… some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art,” she says.

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Photo courtesy of Pixie Labrador

“Lesbian artists in the Philippines are not being represented enough. In fact, if I’m being honest, it would’ve taken me a while to name a few at the top of my head, which is alarming and something I’m not proud of. It’s a shame because we are part of such a talented, inspiring community, and very few people recognize it.”

That, according to Pixie Labrador, is the current state of representation of lesbian artists in the Philippines.

And for her, this is bad because “lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that the close-mindedness of some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art.”

Pixie is an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, with over 9,095 monthly listeners on Spotify. Her most popular song on Spotify – “What’s it Like” – is about unrequited love, but uses just the right amount of pronouns for fans to openly identify her pride on her gender identity. The same song – which has a stanza that goes: “And I know from a distance| That I can’t compare | To the burn in her eyes | Or the love that she bears | It’s too much to hand over | But you never cared | For as long as your heart was with her” – is also included on her first album, “Does It Hurt””.

“Sometimes people would assume that in my music, I’m talking about being in love with a man (even) when the pronouns I use are very clear in the lyrics of the song,” Pixie quipped. “It’s another case of heteronormativity and invalidation, and It needs to be stopped.”

Being a lesbian “kind of” affects her craft/music, Pixie said, “in the sense that my music is heavily targeted towards the queer community, and it’s mostly based off of my personal experiences on loving other women.” However – and Pixie stressed this – “although I feel that rather than saying ‘being a lesbian’ is affecting my music, it’s really more of just me being my genuine self, if that makes sense. Like, I don’t write because I’m a lesbian. I’ll write what I feel and think regardless of what I identify as, simply because it’s something I love to do.”

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But by and large, for Pixie, sexuality does not really matter when creating music.

“That’s the great thing about art: anyone can make it, and it’s so expressive and limitless. I don’t think it would make sense to have sexuality matter in making music. I feel like it disregards people who are questioning or unsure of their own sexuality, as well as people who just don’t give a damn about labels, which is also entirely valid. It just so happens that I have a specific style of writing that touches on my sexuality, but it doesn’t mean everyone has to do it that way. Basically, you don’t have to question yourself to make music. Just do it.”

TOUCHING LIVES

Pixie is actually fortunate that “my audience, my family, and my friends have all been so accepting and supportive of me… When I started writing more frequently, and was trying to find my own unique style, writing in regards to loving as a lesbian just came so naturally to me. I published ‘Maybe’ and the response was so overwhelming. I didn’t realize how many people I’ve helped with just one song. So after that, there was a click in my head that made me think: ‘This is what people need: LGBT representation by LGBT creators.’ So I wanted to give exactly that. Eventually, my fans started giving me nicknames like ‘Lesbian Queen’, ‘WLW Icon’, ‘Queen of The Gays’, and things like that. It’s because of them that it kind of became my branding. My family seems to recognize this too, and they’re all for it as well. My parents show their support by coming to whatever gigs they possibly can, even though they’re heard me live dozens of times. I feel really blessed.”

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Pixie is also “lucky enough to not have experienced discrimination during gigs, and hopefully I never will. Most of the gigs I’ve been to were at safe spaces, and I’m glad I can feel comfortable working with trustworthy organizations, and in certain venues.”

MUSIC FOR THE STRUGGLE

Pixie recognizes, however, that the struggle of the LGBTQIA community particularly locally is far from over.

“There is still so, so much we need to fight for before we can even get close to the kind of acceptance we hope to achieve. Every time I think we’re getting closer to our goal, I would see something on social media, like a news headline, about something terrible that’s happened to someone in the community. It’s truly devastating,” she said.

But for Pixie, “the LGBT community is really the strongest bunch of individuals that I know. Despite the challenges that come with being our true selves, we push through every day, 365 days a year. We might not be where we want to be right now, but I know our struggles will all be worth it someday.”

And how does Pixie use her platform as an artist to help the LGBTQIA community?

“I’d like to think that as an I artist, I touch on topics that are very real and relatable, especially to people who are still figuring themselves out. It’s actually quite cliché when you think about it. ‘Maybe’ is about falling in love with your best friend. ‘For You’ is about being in love. ‘What’s It Like’ and ‘Use Me’ are about unrequited love. It’s not all that different from mainstream media. When it comes to my writing, I don’t talk about the LGBT community in such an ‘in your face’ kind of way; but it’s more of using real, firsthand experiences to make unaccepting people realize we’re not as alien as they think we are. We are capable of feeling what they do, and we deserve to be loved just as much as them. I think this whole thing also applies to the community itself. By writing about these things so casually, I’m putting out a message that basically says ‘Hey, I’m gay, and it’s okay to talk about it.’”

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And so, as an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, “to me, it feels really empowering to be fighting for equally every single day, and with every song that I write and put out into the world. It’s so heartwarming to see milestones of the LGBT community being recognized – like the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, or the Metro Manila Pride March reaching over 70,000 attendees, for example. In a more personal case, I’ve gotten messages from listeners saying that my music has given them the courage to come out, or has just helped them through difficult times in general. There may be pitfalls every now and then, but I do strongly believe that we are progressing towards a more love-filled world; and it’s a nice feeling to think that I am and always will be a part of what made that happen.”

BETTER REPRESENTATION

But it wouldn’t hurt if – as she earlier mentioned – lesbian artists in the Philippines start getting being represented enough.

“It would be nice if the media (shone) light on a more diverse range of lesbian artists. Like people of different skin tones, different body types, different ethnicities, et cetera. Because there’s no right or wrong way to ‘look like’ or ‘be’ a lesbian. It doesn’t have to feel so limiting,” she said. “Plus, there may be a number of under-appreciated but extremely talented lesbian role models whom the world needs to know about.”

But at least for now, her music is helping fill a void as Pixie Labrador continues to be a lesbian artist particularly in this generation.

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NEWSMAKERS

Pinoy wins Mr. Gay World 2019

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

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Screencap from John Jeffrey Carlos' video for Mr. Gay World 2019

Pinoy rainbow pride.

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

The 41-year-old local of General Trias, Cavite is not new to pageantry, first trying his luck to represent the country in the same pageant in 2016. He placed fourth runner-up then, losing to John Raspado, who ended up winning the first Mr. Gay World title for the country.

Carlos is actually also already relatively known in various circles – e.g. in Facebook and Instagram, where his repeatedly “liked” photos range from showcasing living a luxurious lifestyle in Manila, traveling from one country to another, flexing his muscles during a workout, or wearing swimming trunks and posing provocatively for no other reason but to satisfy the fantasies of his social media followers.

Carlos – who obtained his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Cavite State University, where he also played for the men’s varsity volleyball team – also appeared in some movies directed by the late Wenn Deramas, such as “Moron 5.2: The Transformation” (2014) and “Wang Fam” (2015).

“When it comes to pageantry, the best trait of Filipino representatives [in general] is they always surprise people with their biggest ideas, just like what Catriona Gray did [in Miss Universe],” he said to Outrage Magazine in an earlier interview.

Perhaps typical of many beauty titlists who are new to their advocacies, Carlos only recently partnered wth Mental Health PH, an organization that promotes awareness about mental health through social media, a few days after winning the Mr. Fahrenheit 2019 title.

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All the same, he said that “I think it’s a very good platform for me to push my advocacy, as it is very timely and relevant, especially with the LGBTQI community… We’ve heard so much about mental health issues and things are getting worse. In my own little way, I want to spread awareness about depression, so people will know what to do in case they feel some of the symptoms of this mental illness, affecting us and our loved ones.”

As Carlos wears the second Mr. Gay World title for the Philippines, he stressed: “We have to reach out to people with depression. Together, we can turn this illness to wellness.”

Carlos – who competed with 21 other contestants in Cape Town, South Africa – has a partner and they’ve been living together for the past seven years.

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People You Should Know

Overcome doubts to be happier version of yourself, says gay Ateneo grad who topped 2018 bar exams

Openly gay, Atty. Sean James Borja obtained the highest score of 89.3060%, leading the 1,800 aspiring lawyers who passed the bar exams.

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Photo credit: Facebook/Atty. Sean James Borja

“Definitely there were a lot of times I doubted myself but I’m happy to say that I did overcome those doubts and insecurities and I’m just happy to be me right now.”

These are the words of now Atty. Sean James Borja, an Ateneo de Manila University alumnus, who topped the 2018 bar exams.

Openly gay, Borja obtained the highest score of 89.3060%, leading the 1,800 aspiring lawyers who passed the bar exams.

Interviewed by ABS-CBN News Channel following the Supreme Court’s announcement of the results of the 2018 bar exam, Borja was asked if he had ever felt that “being gay did not make you worthy to follow your aspirations.”

Borja was quoted as saying that “definitely… I guess especially during grade school — you know how grade school is like when you’re being bullied for being different and it was during that time… where you think you’re not good enough to be at the top; to be a lawyer to fulfill your dreams just because of who you are.”

When Borja delivered his valedictory address for class 2018 of the Ateneo Law School, Borja actually talked about his being part of the LGBTQIA community.

The rest of the top 10 are:

  • Marcley Augustus Natu-el, University of San Carlos, 87.53%
  • Mark Lawrence Badayos, University of San Carlos, 85.842%
  • Daniel John Fordan, Ateneo de Manila University, 85.443%
  • Katrina Monica Gaw, Ateneo de Manila University, 85.421%
  • Nadaine Tongco, University of the Philippines, 85.032%
  • Patricia Sevilla, University of the Philippines, 84.859%
  • Kathrine Ting, De La Salle University-Manila, 84.857%
  • Jebb Lynus Cane, University of San Carlos, 84.805%
  • Alan Joel Pita, University of San Carlos, 84.693%
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The 2018 bar exam posted a passing rate of 22.07%, which is lower than the previous year’s passing rate of 25.5%.

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