Many – if not most – people from the Hearing community tend to look at members of the Deaf community as having “impairment”; after all, referring to differently-abled people, including the deaf, as “persons with disability” (PWD) continues to be common.
But Jopay, a 28-year-old transpinay from Davao City, said that this notion has to change. Particularly in her case, “I never once wanted to be a Hearing person,” she said in mixed Filipino Sign Language (FSL) and Visayan Sign Language (VSL). “I have always been happy as a Deaf person.”
She admitted that, yes, “there are challenges. But these are not necessarily because of me being deaf. Instead, it’s how society responds to people like us.” And for Jopay, “this has to change.”
Jopay was born deaf. “My mom, they told me, got sick when she was pregnant with me,” she said. The sickness affected the baby (i.e. Jopay), who was born deaf. And so “I never saw myself as anything else but as I am.”
But Jopay said this “never bothered me”, particularly since her family “has always supported me.”
Jopay said that she was six years old “when I knew I’m different,” she said. “I didn’t see myself as a boy at all – I wanted to dress up, wanted to play with toys of girls, wanted to be with girls…”
Because of the lack of term to refer to herself, “I first thought I was gay,” Jopay said. “Everybody thought I was gay.”
And it was that thought of her being gay that was challenging. “My mom didn’t like me being gay,” Jopay said, adding that it didn’t help that her late father used to “tolerate it.”
But Jopay said that “as soon as I turned six, I knew what I wanted to be; what I was.” And so “I started dressing up as a girl, living my life as a girl.”
Her family eventually relented, accepting Jopay for what she is.
Jopay’s immediate family knows minimal sign language, “so it’s hard (communicating with them) even if they’re supportive of me,” she said.
Jopay’s experiences are, by the way, not too different from so many Deaf LGBT Filipinos. There are family members who “already worry about you being deaf, and now have to worry about you being LGBT. And then there are those who may be accepting of you as either deaf or as LGBT, but have a hard time dealing accepting with both. It’s always challenging,” Jopay said.
But at this point in her life, Jopay said she already found happiness in what she is – as a Deaf transwoman, “even if it can be challenging at times.” These challenges primarily revolve around the inability to speak, since “not many Hearing people are willing to learn sign language if only to be inclusive of us,” she said. Her first boyfriend, for instance, was a Hearing person, and “it was a challenge even just to negotiate with him safer sexual practices.”
But Jopay said she never once wished to be Hearing. In fact, she believes that “empowering Deaf LGBT people – including Deaf LGBT people – could help remedy the difficulties we’re encountering.”
In Davao City, part of the empowerment is the formation of a Deaf LGBT organization, called Davao Deaf Rainbow Club – part of the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow – that Jopay now helps to lead. “This is our support group – the group we go to when we want to be with people like us,” Jopay said. “In many ways, this is our ‘other’ family.”
Jopay believes that “the Deaf community should be strengthened. For this to happen, it should work together, not be split. There’s strength in unity.”
Jopay – who finished a course in a computer college in Davao City – is now looking at finding self-fulfillment, “maybe as a businesswoman; or be where I’ll be more accepted,” she said. Though for now, she’s glad she is “doing something that can help others like me.”
“There are Deaf people who wish they can hear, but I don’t. I’m happy as a Deaf transwoman,” said Jopay. Then, with a smile, she jested: “Hearing people gossip and hurt others with their words. I don’t have to hear the painful words they may be throwing at me; and so I stay happy and at peace. And so I stay beautiful.”