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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).”

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

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.

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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Outrage Mag’s MDCTan recognized for ‘Art that Matters for Literature’ by Amnesty Int’l Phl

Outrage Magazine head Michael David dela Cruz Tan was cited by Amnesty International Philippines as a human rights defender whose works help bring changes to peoples’ lives, particularly via the establishment of the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines.

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Outrage Magazine head Michael David dela Cruz Tan was cited by Amnesty International Philippines as a human rights defender whose works help bring changes to peoples’ lives, particularly via the establishment of the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines.

Tan – who received “Art that Matters for Literature” – is joined by co-awardees Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender – Organization; Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender – Individual; and Lorenzo Miguel Relente, Young Outstanding Human Rights Defender.

These awards are part of “Ignite Awards for Human Rights”, given to human rights defenders (HRDs) in recognition of the impact their work bring in changing peoples’ lives through mobilization, activism, rights-based policy advocacy and art. First of its kind, it is Amnesty International Philippines’ top honor given to human rights defenders in the country.

According to Tan, getting the recognition is an honor, particularly as “it recognizes our work in highlighting the minority LGBTQIA community in the Philippines. But this also highlights that for as long as there are people whose voices are ignored/left out of conversations, those who are able to should take a stand and fight for them.”

In a statement, Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines section director said that “this season’s recipients come from varying human rights backgrounds, from press freedom and right to education to gender equality and SOGIESC rights, but they share one dedication, that is to fight for basic rights of Filipinos. They truly ignite the human rights cause, speaking up against injustices and exposing inequalities on behalf of those who, otherwise, will not be heard.”

Olano added: “Amnesty International Philippines strongly believes that our individual and collective power as a people working towards transforming and uplifting each other should be given due recognition and appreciation despite the political turmoil the country has been experiencing for a few years now. It is necessary to shine a spotlight on those individuals who continue to pave the way for collective action.”

Michael David C. Tan – who received “Art that Matters for Literature” from Amnesty International Philippines – at work while providing media coverage to members of the LGBTQIA community in Caloocan City.

The nominations for Ignite Awards 2020 was opened exactly a year ago (May 28), and it took the organization a year to finalize the nominations and vetting process together with its Selection Committee and Board of Judges chaired by Atty. Chel Diokno.

May 28 also marks Amnesty International’s 59th anniversary.

“When people lead in taking a stand for human rights especially in difficult situations, it emboldens many others in their struggles against injustice. Our Ignite Awardees’ commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of repression and inequality that ordinary people are experiencing amid this pandemic. Throughout and certainly beyond the immediate crisis, these human rights defenders will continue to stand up on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society. Together, we will call on the government to ensure access to universal healthcare, housing and social security needed to survive the health and economic impacts of Covid-19, while ensuring that extraordinary restrictions on basic freedoms do not become the new normal,” Olano said.

Michael David C. Tan – also a winner for Best Investigative Report in 2006 from the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) – has continuously tried to highlight “inclusive development”.

Tan – who originated from Kidapawan City in Mindanao, southern Philippines – finished Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. In 2007, he established Outrage Magazine, which – even now – remains as the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines.

Among others: In 2015, he wrote “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report” for UNDP and USAID to provide an overview on the situation of the LGBTQIA movement in the country, and where the movement is headed; and in 2018, he wrote a journalistic stylebook on LGBTQIA terminology to help media practitioners when providing coverage to the local LGBTQIA community.

Tan – also a winner for Best Investigative Report in 2006 from the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) – has continuously tried to highlight “inclusive development”. For instance, speaking at a 2019 conference on human rights and the Internet organized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), he said that “there is a disconnect between what’s online and what’s happening on the ground. And this stresses one thing: The need to not solely rely on making it big digitally, but also go beyond the so-called ‘keyboard activism’.”

Michael David C. Tan – seen here giving SOGIESC and HIV 101 lecture to over a thousand students in Quezon Province – said that “for as long as there are people whose voices are ignored/left out of conversations, those who are able to should take a stand and fight for them.”

Along with Tan, this year’s awardees join 2018’s recipients: Sen. Leila De Lima, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender-Individual; DAKILA Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender – Organization; Floyd Scott Tiogangco, Outstanding Young Human Rights Defender; and Cha Roque, Art that Matters for Film.

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SATC star Cynthia Nixon says she never had any doubt she’d embrace having a trans child

Cynthia Nixon admitted that she doesn’t know how parents must feel if their children come out at a much younger age. But she said that she never had any doubt she’d embrace having a transgender child.

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Screencap from the Instagram account of Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon – former “Sex and the City” star – opened up about being the mother to a trans son, Samuel, 23, who she revealed was transgender in June 2018. Appearing on the “Homo Sapiens” podcast, she told hosts Alan Cumming and Chris Sweeney that her child “didn’t come out to me as trans until he had just started college – and there was no inkling of this for me, about him before that.”

Nixon also admitted that she doesn’t know how parents must feel if their children come out at a much younger age.

But she said that she never had any doubt she’d embrace having a transgender child, particularly after reading an article about parents dealing with a similar thing.

“Before I ever had an inkling my kid might be trans I read a really extensive article (about) all of these parents of pre-pubescent kids who were really struggling with this,” she was quoted as saying. “There was one dad who said, ‘At a certain point, the decision seemed to me I could have a dead son or a live daughter’ and it’s like, after you say that, what more is there to say?”

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bka88yRFSC3/

She added: “You can make all the arguments that you want… but the fact is, as a parent, as a human, you should listen to what people tell you about themselves.”

Nixon has another son with wife Christine Marinoni

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NEWSMAKERS

Demi Lovato expresses support for trans community: ‘Trans rights are human rights’

“I’m Hispanic, but I’m white-passing, so I’m like… what is my responsibility as an ally? I learned that I have to put my fears aside and speak up for all of the people of color that I love, that I don’t know, and the people that are being treated poorly and abused and killed.”

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Screencap from the Instagram account of Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato – the 27-year-old “Sorry Not Sorry” singer – expressed her support to the trans community, writing on Instagram that “Trans rights are human rights!”.

This actually came after she participated in the book launch of a friend of hers, @alokvmenon, who launched a new book called #BeyondTheGenderBinary. Lovato participated in her friend’s Instagram chat, where she talked about being an ally to both people of color and the trans community.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAjaYiDhOn5/

“I’m Hispanic, but I’m white-passing, so I’m like… what is my responsibility as an ally? I learned that I have to put my fears aside and speak up for all of the people of color that I love, that I don’t know, and the people that are being treated poorly and abused and killed,” she said during the chat.

Lovato added: “I need to put my fears aside… I just didn’t want anyone to question my intentions… I’m gonna be an ally, and I think people need to do the same with the trans community. I really consider myself an ally.”

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Trans kagawad at the COVID-19 frontline

As a frontliner during the COVID-19 pandemic, trans barangay kagawad Kristine T. Ibardolaza of Antipolo City said that her work may be risky, but it’s gratifying because she is one of those who help the needy. Right now, she said, everyone’s fighting, but “this is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic.”

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“It’s very risky to be at the frontline because (in the case of COVID-19) we can’t see the enemy,” said Kristine T. Ibardolaza, a barangay kagawad of Barangay Mayamot in Antipolo City, one of the frontliners facing COVID-19 pandemic. “But as days (pass), I am able to say that it’s gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

A barangay kagawad (in English, barangay councilor) is an elected government official, a member of the Sangguniang Barangay/Barangay Council of a particular barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines. As local leaders, they are directly in touch with people at the grassroots/communities.

With the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) due to Covid-19, barangay officials were tasked by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to helm the response to the COVOD-19 pandemic. And so “with our barangay captain… we pack food for our constituents, while monitoring how they are doing. We also give them hope that this, too, shall pass,” Kristine said.

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

The barangay – Mayamot – that Kristine serves is big. “It’s like a municipality,” she said, with “more or less 80,000 registered voters.” The number doesn’t include the other family members of these voters – e.g children.

“As much as possible, we want to reach everyone/all families,” Kristine said. But “sorry to say we still haven’t done this… for instance in the food packs made. But at the moment, I think we’ve reached 70% of the families; going to 80%.”

Service delivery is also proving to be challenging.

“I’m not sure if some people think this is a joke; they act like there’s a fiesta. Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

Already, Kristine – with the other local officials – have been working round-the-clock.

After packing the goods during the day, for instance, and “with help from the sitio chairman, we decided to distribute goods at night, when more people are asleep and are indoors.” This is because when visits are done during the day, people tend to congregate; and this is to be avoided in the time of COVID-19.

“We thought a pandemic like this only happens in movies. It never occurred to me that at a time when I’m the elected barangay kagawad, I’d face a problem like this,” Kristine said.

Kristine said it’s also challenging being a public official because sometimes, “nakalimutan ko pala na may pamilya rin ako. At hindi kami exempted sa pandemic na ito (I forget I also have family. And we’re not exempted from the pandemic).”

To other LGBTQIA elected officials, Kristine said: “Let’s be brave. This isn’t a fight only of LGBTQIA people, but of the whole Philippines and the whole world.”

She added that people should “never underestimate the power of prayers. If everyone prays, this will (soon) end.”

“Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

But Kristine said that bickering has to stop.

“Right now, everyone’s fighting; even within the LGBTQIA community. This is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic,” she said. “This is the time when we should be loving ourselves the most. This is the time when we should express our love to our loved ones. A simple smile for our frontliners. This could lift their spirits.”

And in the end, “everyone – no one is exempted – is experiencing difficulties. Hopefully, everyone is also eyeing a better future after this pandemic.”

As days pass, “I am able to say that (my work is) gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

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#KaraniwangLGBT

Defining who you are…

Before discovering she’s a woman, Ruffy Yulo – an intersex person with Klinefelter syndrome – said people gossiped that she “just wanted” to be a woman so she “can sleep around.” The mockery of intersex experience, she now says, ignores the difficulties intersex people go through.

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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.”

Assigned male at birth, Ruffy Yulo, 42 from Ortigas/Pasig City, was already 29 when she discovered “I’m actually intersex.”

She recalled though that, earlier, “when I was 19, when I went to the doctor, I would always get checked. The doctor would always say I have hormonal imbalance.”

But one day, when she was 29, she met a doctor in a gathering for gay and bi men. “The first time he saw me, he asked me what I was doing in that gathering.”

The doctor then mentioned to Ruffy that she may be/is intersex; and “it was the first time I heard of such a condition,” considering her sex assignment at birth.

In hindsight, though, there were “clues” in her life on her condition.

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation),” she said. But she recalled that “one time, we went to the pediatrician who looked after me. I heard him say: ‘Did I not tell you in the past to fix this?’.”

And so when she was told she’s intersex, “I thought I’d just do the test (karyotyping). If I see from the test that I’m not intersex, that’s okay.”

But when Ryffy took the test, “I found out that I was actually a mosaic, I was really surprised. I was happy, but at the same time, I was also very confused.”

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation).”

LIFE LIVED HARD

There was a time when Ruffu met someone who’s intersex. “That time, I thought, their case is very complicated. But their situation also made it easy for them… like explaining to those who’d mock them. I was young then; and that’s what I thought – that it was easier for them.”

But after finding out she, herself, is intersex, “it turns out I was wrong. When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

For example, as an adolescent, “when my body started changing, I had difficulty going to the toilet. When I go to the male toilet, I would get questioned: ‘Ma’am, this is the male toilet; yours is on the other side.’ There came a point when I wouldn’t even go to a toilet anymore. I’d just contain myself, and use a toilet when I’m in a place with (gender-neutral facilities).”

And when she applies for a job, “I always get to the second interview. But when I undergo medical exams, I never get any more calls.”

Ruffy said: “There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

BODY AUTONOMY

For most people who know Ruffy, “from the time we were classmates to the present time, they all consider me as gay. So even if I explain my situation as an intersex person, they will not understand. In fact, I tried several times,” she said.

There were times when people gossiped about her in school, for instance.

“When we were supposed to have a reunion, I was not able to attend. There were rumours that I (had gender affirmation surgery as a trans woman). That I had surgery because I just wanted to sleep around. Those were the stories that went around. But the truth was, I was already at risk for testicular cancer. That was the main reason why I had myself checked.”

The doctor who can do the surgery Ruffy needed here in the Philippines only had around 70 cases. “Unlike in Thailand, when I went there, I met my doctor and he already did over a thousand cases. In those 1,000 cases, he did (surgery) on two intersex individuals already. So I felt a lot safer (with him).”

It was a costly procedure, Ruffy admitted.

“But, you know, at that time when I did this, I didn’t have a choice. I was already at risk of having testicular cancer. And things needed to be removed. I also told my parents then that since there are many issues with my body, I wanted to fix everything in one go. At that time I was at risk to get testicular cancer, I had hernia… and there was that issue with my being intersex,” she said.

After her surgery, when Ruffy returned to the Philippines, she bled. “So I rushed myself to the hospital. There, while the doctor was checking me, I was surprised when nurses started gathering around me. They left their patients. They were all there trying to ask me several questions. I felt that the questions were irrelevant. They asked: How do you do sex? Why do you think you bled? Did you insert something inside you? Some of them I found really offensive,” Ruffy recalled. “But at that time, I had very little choice but to answer them. I thought, too, that maybe it’s for my own benefit.”

“When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

In hindsight, Ruffy said that “there (isn’t a lot of study done about the intersex condition). In fact, when I was talking to a physician, he told me that when they were still in medical school, there’s only one chapter covering this topic. What they know is so limited, so that every time they encounter an intersex person, they tend to ask a lot because it’s their only chance to get answers.”

To Ruffy, though – and she stresses this – if intersex people think that getting (non-necessary) surgery is the answer, “the solution for them to be happy, let me say this isn’t the solution. In fact I discourage intersex individuals to undergo surgery. To start, it’s costly. Secondly, it’s hard. Take my case, for instance, after undergoing the procedure, there were complications. One of the complications for me was… like I had early menopause. So the tendency was… for my bones to be more brittle.”

ON FINDING LOVE

“We know that a lot of men want someone who’s ‘normal’. They want someone who can conceive. They want someone they can grow old with… while caring for their grandchildren. This is something I can’t give,” Ruffy said.

So for a time, she didn’t date. “I mean, I also tried dating. But it’s challenging; it doesn’t work out. From the very start, even before we go on a date, I already tell them (that I am intersex).”

The doctor told her not to immediately disclose. “There was an instance after the surgery – when the doctor told me not to immediately disclose – when not disclosing gave me more problems. The guy thought I lied to him. Even if, in fact, that was not the intention.”

FINDING THE COURAGE

To younger intersex people, Ruffu said that “it’s totally normal to be scared. I will not say that you will instantly be courageous. But if you are facing hardships, these challenges are not exclusive to intersex people. Bisexuals, gays, lesbians and (even) heterosexuals – people from all spectrum, we all encounter difficulties. Perhaps it’s just more complicated for intersex people.

“But, you know, don’t limit your way of thinking that you’d amount to nothing. In fact, there are more chances to improve.”

“There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

That there will always be people who will look down on (or at least look differently at) intersex people does not escape Ruffy.

“What I learned over time is that it is the people who discriminate who have problems. They may be afraid that what other people experience, it will also be done to them. For instance, a person may say another person is not capable. It may be because that person is the one who is not capable. They are only projecting to others their lack of capability,” she said. “The truth is, if we give others a chance, there’s more to everyone (than meets the eye).”

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#KaraniwangLGBT

Trans in Baguio

Van Sanchez, the trans woman vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan, believes LGBTQIA people should be strong in fighting for what they feel in their hearts. For her, it’s time to show haters that “we’re already here, and we’re standing up for our human rights.”

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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.”

Van Sanchez, 25 years old from Baguio City, realized she’s trans when she was 15. This wasn’t… surprising for her, since “there are other LGBTQIA people in (my) clan,” she said. “There are 11 of us brothers and sisters. Two of us are ‘bakla’. We also have one sibling who’s a lesbian. So we’re totally complete in the family – we have lesbian and gay members.”

Perhaps it is this that made her family more accepting of her, since when Van’s parents found out she’s trans, “they didn’t react badly… They still fully support us.”

This isn’t to say Van’s life was always easy.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”

This is why “I’m here advocating for gender equality.”

“If I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this.”
“I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

Van was elected to be part of Sangguniang Kabataan in 2018, she said “representing the LGBTQIA community.” She also won as the vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

For Van, “it’s not difficult to be a public official. It’s not difficult even for me who’s part of the LGBTQIA community as a trans woman. The work you do is the same.”

Van thinks that being LGBTQIA is somewhat easier in a city like Baguio.

“Here in Baguio City, it’s not that hard to live as a trans person. Particularly now that there are people like us who advocate for gender equality in the city. I have yet to see locals discriminate against people like us,” she said.

She noted – and acknowledged – though that “perhaps they just don’t discriminate as much. It’s not bad to be trans here because people know about us… and they somehow accept us already.”

Van believes “fighting” starts within.

While completing a degree in education, “I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

“I also don’t believe in these when teaching. What matters more is how you teach your students; that you share your knowledge to them. Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van said.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”
“We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Now, “if I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this,” Van said, adding that “trans people and LGBTQIA community members should be united in fighting for our human rights.”

And to those who discriminate against LGBTQIA people, Van said: “Good luck. We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that. We’re here standing in front of you, and we’re here standing up for our rights. In the end, we’re all humans, and we’re equals in the eyes of God.”

“Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van Sanchez said.

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