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JM Cobarrubias: Making milestones

Meet Jesus Manuel (JM) Espiritu Cobarrubias Jr., who believes that “if individually, we erase stereotypes and misconceptions on GLBTQI’s in our own environments. Ipakita natin sa nga ka-opisina natin, sa mga kapitbahay natin, kasabay natin sa simbahan, sa gym, sa kung saan man, na ang GLBTQIA ay parte ng kanilang buhay na di nila dapat pandirihan, na tayo ay minamahal. At tayo ay nagmamahal at nakakatulong sa pamilya, komunidad at bansa.”

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While working in the office of the late former senator Raul S. Roco, a workmate, upon knowing of my homosexuality, commented how I just haven’t met the “right one” – a woman – for me. “When you do, you’ll realize you don’t really want to be one (a woman); that you’re really a man, a real man, made for a woman,” was how she put it. “God will provide, you’ll see.”

Her way of looking was flawed. In so many ways.

But I was forgiving – had to be forgiving.

This is a woman who believes the funniest person in the planet is Joey de Leon (“She-Man is the funniest. Ever,” she once said); whose major source of “celebrity stories,” as she put it, is Tita Swarding (“She knows the latest gossips”); whose concept of homosexuals is largely shaped by those she saw (and still sees) in TV and films, among other media – Herbert Baustista as Jill (opposite Sharon Cuneta as Jack in Jack & Jill, based on Mars Ravelo’s characters created in 1935), who decided to be straightened out, after all; and Dolphy as Pacifica Falayfay, among others.

Media Awareness Network (media-awareness.ca) cites media educators Larry Gross and George Gerbner, who argue that “the media participate in the ‘symbolic annihilation’ of gays and lesbians by negatively stereotyping them (often consigning them to the margins of entertainment media, playing either ‘colourful’ and ‘flamboyant’ characters or dangerous psychopaths), by rarely portraying them realistically, or by not portraying them at all.” This may be because “the commercial structure of the mass media limits the opportunity for representing diverse characters. Too often networks and film companies shy away from portraying gays and lesbians for fear of alienating or offending advertisers, investors, and audiences.”

Inarguably, the bottom line (read: profitability of businesses) drives the decision – a move that does disservice to the GLBTQIA community, only less worse than, say, the acceptance of the GLBTQIAs, themselves, in playing the roles given them.

Enter Jesus Manuel (JM) Espiritu Cobarrubias Jr., and, alas, there’s proof that the times, they are, as Bob Dylan once said, a-changin’.

BIG STEPS

After finishing a Bachelor of Science Development Communication (Major in Community Broadcasting) at the University of the Philippines Los Banos, College in the province of Laguna, where he co-founded the UP Alliance of Devcom Students, Cobbarubias first worked as a call center agent for All Asia Customer Services Inc. in the Light Industry and Science Park from 2000 to 2001 (by then, he already had work experiences as a service crew in Jollibee from 1996 to 1997; and as service crew of ACA Video in 1999).

“I wanted a better job than answering calls every day – I graduated from UP, and I had pride in my self that I can do something,” Cobbarubias says. “So, kahit wala ako kaalam-alam sa mga pasikot-sikot sa Maynila (even if I didn’t know Metro Manila that well), I made a decision to resign from the call center, leave all of my friends and officemates (who all cheered for me by the way), and take my chances.”

At that time, he was thinking that, “salary wise, pareho lang din makukuha ko (I’ll just get the same amount); and the Producer (who is now my best friend) was willing to help me around. May support system ako, kumbaga.”

Looking at finding a job in the corporate world (“I wanted to work in the corporate world, to wear long sleeve polo shirts and neck tie and just look slick,” he says), Cobbarubias ended up working for Probe “by a twist of fate.” In 2001, while working as a call center agent in Cabuyao, Laguna, one of his office mates (a high school classmate) introduced him and some friends to a segment producer from Probe Productions. “That producer (who happens to be my best friend now) asked us if we wanted to apply in Probe – they had an urgent hiring (then) for a PA (production assistant), since, apparently, one of the PA’s resigned. We said, ‘Yes, we want to try.’ So our producer friend convinced his boss (Nessa Valdellon, now the VP for public affairs of GMA 7) to extend the application. So, me and my other officemate (a girl) took a leave from work (we were supported by our supervisor – who also was our friend) to go to the interview. After we were both interviewed, we left the office and went home,” Cobbarubias recalls. Eventually, “I got a call. I got it.”

JM Cobbarubias is hoping that “sana dumami pa ang mga GLBTQIAs na lalantad para matulungan ang ibang tao na ma-realize na hindi lahat ng GLBTQIA ay ‘yung klase ng tao na nakikita nila sa TV or sa pelikula o sa mga indie films na walang saysay (hopefully the number of GLBTQIAs who will come out will increase to help people realize that not all GLBTQIAs are similar to those they see on TV or films or indie films who can be useless).”

LIFE LESSONS

“Working in mainstream media, with no experience (even as an intern), I faced a lot of challenges. You would not believe this, but when I started in Probe, I did not even know how to turn on a PC (personal computer, since we didn’t have computer at home, and I did not really learn from our computer science course in UP),” Cobbarubias says. But since he was hired in March 2001, an election period, “I had to adjust quickly, be a news person” – something not that easy since, at that time, Cobbarubias was impressionable (“Another adjustment for me was on being starstruck – seeing Cheche Lazaro for the first time was like a vision, as she was among the first TV personalities that I got to see in the flesh. And then I remember my first field production assignment, to shoot a video of Richard Gomez in his campaign (he run under a party list in 2001) – I had to have the confidence to talk to him and introduce myself and my crew; I mean, Richard was my childhood fantasy!”).

Eventually, after working as a talent production staff for Probe from 2001 to 2004 (among others, he worked as PA, and then producer/reporter of i-Witness from 2001 to 2003; and as assistant field producer and reporter/producer of The Probe Team Documentaries from 2001 to 2004), Cobbarubias also worked as a talent production staff of GMA Network Inc. from 2004 to 2007.

“What I learned from Probe is to multitask. I started as a PA, but PAs in Probe are not just alalays (assistants). They research, they book interviews, write ex-deal letters, write scripts for spiels, edit segments, and sometimes even do camera-work,” he says, adding with a smile: “I was the best in hidden camera before.” And then in GMA, “I learned to be more flexible and more exposed. Probe was just a little company that held its office in a quiet village. GMA is a major network, so andami nang tao na makakasalamuha (I mingle with a lot of people).”

Cobbarubias’ other positions include serving as host/producer of OUT! (2004), associate producer of Jessica Soho reports (2004 to 2005), producer of Pinoy Abroad (2005), executive producer of Balik-Bayan (2005 to 2007), executive producer of Hot Seat (2007), edit supervisor of Howie Severino’s team in i-Witness (2007), guest host and producer of 100% Pinoy (2007), and edit supervisor of Proudly Filipina (2008).

Still other positions include serving as assistant program manager of QTV News and Public Affairs and GMA Network Inc. (2007 to 2008), and handling of such programs as QTV’s Rx Men, May Trabaho Ka!, and Hired.

For his efforts, Cobbarubias has been given a Certificate of Creative Excellence by the US International Film and Video Festival in 2007 (as executive producer of Balik-Bayan), and the Gold Camera Award by the US International Film and Video Awards in 2008 (as edit supervisor of Proudly Filipina), among others.

Cobbarubias currently serves as the program manager of QTV Public Affairs.

Broadcast media, says Cobbarubias, can be disappointing. “Since we aim for fairness, we can’t let our own personal biases affect our stories – we can’t air a segment that is not complete with all the research, data, statements, et cetera.
So sometimes, even if may alam ka na totoo, di mo pwede gamitin ang trabaho mo (you may know some truths, but you can’t use it at work) to expose it, unless you can present hard proofs,” he says.

And then there’s the fact that “TV is still a business. We can not produce shows if walang kita ang (there’s no profit for the) network. We depend on media buyers, on commercials. Like what happened to OUT!, the first gay and lesbian magazine show in the Philippines, (which) only lasted for three months or 13 episodes because we could not sustain it. Wala kasi (There were not any) commercials, so even if it rated high and was really good to watch, it had to end,” Cobbarubias says.

But Cobbarubias believes that the media can help promote GLBTQIA advocacies. “By making sure that every time we come out with stories that are related to GLBTQIAs, the stories or reports would be balanced, based on facts, and politically-correct in presentation. This way, media helps cure misconceptions and stereotypes on GLBTQIAs,” he says.

CELEBRATING DIFFERENCE

Looking back, Cobbarubias recalls realizing being different when he was five years old. “I remember feeling attraction towards this other kid who rides the same school bus (with me),” he says. “That felt really weird. Imagine, may crush ako na boy (I had a crush on a boy)?” Since he was “in denial,” though, he gave more attention to his girl crushes. “I felt it was wrong to feel that way towards other boys,” Cobbarubias adds.

When he turned 18, Cobbarubias fell in love with a guy, and “I made a decision: Tinanggap ko na, na ako ay isang bakla (I accepted that I am gay). But although, I accepted myself already, I still did not want to tell everyone, (just my closest friends).”

JM Cobarrubias aims to help effect changes. “I want to make a difference. If I can be the first openly-gay Philippine president, why not?!” he says with a smile.

When he was 24, though, he was asked to audition for OUT! (“When the original host resigned from the show after his family asked him to”), so “I prayed and looked for signs if it was time. I consulted close friends, some of whom discouraged me from coming out – they said masisira ang (I will ruin my) on-cam career as I was a reporter/producer in Probe that time. But that offer came at a time I wanted to change things. I was tired of hiding. I was so tired of being a topic of conversations. I was tired of feeling insulted when someone calls me bakla (gay). So I took the chance. I auditioned, and auditioning to the show already meant admitting I was gay. So merely stepping into GMA that day, was already a milestone. Ibang joy ang naramdaman ko (I felt a different kind of happiness/joy),” Cobbarubias says.

Even before getting the hosting job, Cobbarubias said he felt good, having been able to tell people upfront that “I’m gay. It was so liberating.”

Cobbarubias says his family knew he was gay all along. “They were just waiting for me to tell them. They told me that they could not accept that I am gay because they thought I, myself, did not want to be gay,” he says, adding that after coming out, “people loved me more. And respected me more.”

It is, therefore, “coming out on OUT!” that he considers as his biggest achievement. “The impact it made on my life and on other people is amazing. To this day, people still remember it. To this day, I get messages about it. I can’t remember how many gay men have told me that because of my coming out story in OUT! , they had the courage to come out, too.”

If there is one regret for Cobbarubias, it may be that “sana kumain ako nang maraming gulay noong bata pa ako, at sana naglaro ako ng basketball (I should have eaten more vegetable when I was younger, and played basketball). My frustration is my height. I want to be taller. I am just 5’7”,” he jokes.

Looking forward, Cobbarubias’ goal is “to make my family’s dreams come true. That’s my mission in life. I want to be able to make them live their dreams. That’s why I am working hard. I know that greater things are in store for me,” he says. “Siyempre, family muna, then community, then bansa na (Of course, family first, then community, then the country).”

He aims to help effect changes, nonetheless. “I want to make a difference. If I can be the first openly-gay Philippine president, why not?!” he says with a smile.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS

“Right now, (the biggest challenge of the GLBTQIA community) is HIV and/or AIDS, which is fast spreading. The Pinoy gay community should do something about this. We should help prevent its spread and help the ones who have it to not feel discriminated but tulungan na gumaling (help in getting treatments),” Cobbarubias says, adding that some measures that may be helpful include information drives, free check-ups, and giving out of free condoms in places where gay sex is known to happen.

It makes him happy to note, though, that the Filipino GLBTQIA community is more open now. “When OUT! was still on air, it was so difficult for us to get case studies for our segments. Three years after, I did a report for the show 100% Pinoy, and, oh boy, iba na (things have changed). Masculine gay boys danced in front of our cameras – they all want to come out! (and) in my gym, there’s a transsexual who’s not being ridiculed at all (when she changes in the) locker, along with the (heterosexual) guys and straight-looking and acting gays – nobody is talking behind his back,” Cobbarubias says. These are “so cool!”

Cobbarubias believes members of the GLBTQIA community themselves need to take the lead in bettering their situations. “(It is disappointing) when gay people themselves contribute to the perpetuation of misconceptions on gays – take the indie films, puro sex ang tema. Hindi lang naman sex ang inaatupag ng mga bakla. ‘Yan ba ang gusto natin ipakita sa ibang tao? Kung gaano tayo ka-hayok sa sex (take indie films, which mainly deals with sex. Gays go not just deal with sex. So is that what we want to show other people? How sexually deprived we are)?”

The solution, he says, is “if individually, we erase stereotypes and misconceptions on GLBTQI’s in our own environments. Ipakita natin sa nga ka-opisina natin, sa mga kapitbahay natin, kasabay natin sa simbahan, sa gym, sa kung saan man, na ang GLBTQIA ay parte ng kanilang buhay na di nila dapat pandirihan, na tayo ay minamahal. At tayo ay nagmamahal at nakakatulong sa pamilya, komunidad at bansa (Let’s show our peers, our neighbors, fellow church-goers, gym mates, or wherever, that GLBTQIAs are part of their lives and is not source of revulsion; that we are to be loved. And we love, too, just as we help our families, or communities, and our country).”

Cobbarubias is hoping that “sana dumami pa ang mga GLBTQIAs na lalantad para matulungan ang ibang tao na ma-realize na hindi lahat ng GLBTQIA ay ‘yung klase ng tao na nakikita nila sa TV or sa pelikula o sa mga indie films na walang saysay (hopefully the number of GLBTQIAs who will come out will increase to help people realize that not all GLBTQIAs are similar to those they see on TV or films or indie films who can be useless),” he says.

And in that, with his coming out, Cobbarubias is walking his talk, changing representation – thus perceptions – in the media.

Now, if only we can increase the number of GLBTQIAs who will stop discriminating against themselves, thereby depriving themselves of the joys of being gay, as Cobbarubias puts it, then everything may just get better for GLBTQIAs.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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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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