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Kyle: ‘With acceptance, there’s happiness’

Meet Kyle, here as part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine launched to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living. Originally from Bacolod, she now lives in Makati, away from people she loves. But while life throws challenges her way, she savors her family’s acceptance of her SOGIE. And with that acceptance, there’s happiness, Kyle says.

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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.”

Kyle, 23, is a lesbian who works as a waitress in Makati City. Originally from Bacolod, the eldest of four siblings sends whatever she can to help her family in the province. She’s been in Manila since 2011, and “life has not always been easy,” she says in her vernacular.

But then smiles as she shares that she has “a special someone” in Bacolod (“My fourth girlfriend,” she laughs). “Being away from each other is difficult, but it’s needed. Kailangan talaga eh (It’s really needed),” she says.

If there’s a “consolation” for Kyle, it’s that “at least we’re accepted by our families; what we have is known by our families, and they’re okay with it.”

And so, while life throws challenges her way, in that acceptance, life is easier. And with that acceptance, there’s happiness, Kyle says.

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Forever seeking the love…

Forever Diosa may not have personally experienced discrimination as a gay man, but his life – even with supportive family – isn’t always easy. His heart has been broken, for instance. But he believes in using pain to elevate oneself – something, he said, LGBTQIA people should learn.

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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.”

People told Forever Diosa that “if being gay is a sickness, then it can be washed away,” he said. So then gay people can just shower every day to wash this away. “But you can’t wash this away. And so there’s that pain when people mock you for being gay… Every time we step out, we have to accept we’d be ridiculed even if we did nothing wrong.”

Forever Diosa (a.k.a. Geraldine Madridano; and lives in Malabon, Metro Manila) was “five years old when I knew I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I knew because I felt it,” he said, adding that nothing, in particular, triggered this realization.

He isn’t surprised, though, since “let’s say it’s in my blood. There are other family members who are also LGBTQIA.”

He has an an uncle, a designer, who’s also part of the LGBTQIA community; a sibling is trans; and another is a lesbian.

“My family is happy I’m gay. Think of it this way: Would they rather have a drug addict for a child, or a gay child? It’s practical; parents know who they’d choose to have as a child,” he said.

“You should know how to respect yourself. And you should know how to respect others.”
“You can say you helped your nieces/nephews, and your parents. But people say it’s different when you have your own child who will look after you in old age,” he said.

His eldest sibling is a policeman – and Forever Diosa is proud of this. “Just think of that: I have a brother who’s a policeman. None can imagine I have a policeman for a brother. A policeman who has two gay brothers. That seems improbable. I am proud of my brother; I salute him because he is proud of us.”

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Not surprisingly, Forever Diosa draws support from his family.

“We can’t say my siblings are perfect. But we’re there to support each other. We support those who need support. Because we can say that at the end of the day, the blood in our veins connect us.”

All too apparent, in a way, Forever Diosa is more privileged.

“I did not experience discrimination as a gay person,” he said; something he attributes to “knowing how to position yourself as a gay person. You should know how to respect yourself. And you should know how to respect others.”

But life isn’t a bed of roses for Forever Diosa.

“Oh, yes, I loved one guy before… We were together for four years,” he recalled.

But then things soured. The guy dumped him… for no apparent reason.

“Until now I want to ask him: What happened to the two of us? I believe that when leaving a relationship, the people involved should talk. That way, if we see each other again, we can smile at each other; we can still be friends.”

But Forever Diosa said that “I am not ashamed to claim him as the guy who hurt me… I don’t regret this experience. I know I was able to help him, and he also helped me.”

He added: “All of us, we have roles to play on Earth. I don’t regret this experience because I survived it. It’s like, his life was extended because of me. Actually… not necessarily because of me. But I became an instrument to help him.”

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But the experience actually changed Forever Diosa.

“In the past, people just called me Diosa. But Diosa died because Diosa was hurt. And Forever Diosa was born to show strength.”

“I believe that when leaving a relationship, the people involved should talk. That way, if we see each other again, we can smile at each other; we can still be friends.”
“All of us, we have roles to play on Earth. I don’t regret this experience because I survived it.”

Forever Diosa believes in – shall we say – limited equality.

“I can’t say I back marriage equality because I’m a religious person. I respect other people’s opinions; but I also respect what’s ‘right’. So I don’t believe in marriage equality for now,” he said.

Somewhat contradictory to this, he added: “I support the need to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill. I may not have personally experienced discrimination, but it could benefit those who are not as privileged as me. There are LGBTQIA people who are not well educated; and they should know their rights. Non-discrimination could also benefit the young, whose parents may eventually rely on. The young need to know/tackle discrimination. This is why we need equality.”

Forever Diosa said that people asked him who will look after him when he gets older.

“You can say you helped your nieces/nephews, and your parents. But people say it’s different when you have your own child who will look after you in old age,” he said.

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And so “I hope to have my own family. I hope to find a woman who will understand my past as a gay man. That’s what I will be looking for.”

Jokingly, he said: “I have a female office mate; we agreed that if she won’t find a BF by the time she turns 37, we’d be an item. She’s not yet 37, and she’s still single. I tell her to find a BF, and that our promise to each other won’t be fulfilled.”

Engaging with younger LGBTQIA people, Forever Diosa said “I tell them, ‘Study well.’ Respect yourself. Love yourself. Only you can elevate yourself. The people around you are only there to support you.”

And to people who continue to ridicule and hurt LGBTQIA people, “thank you; you inspire us to do/be more.”

“I hope to have my own family. I hope to find a woman who will understand my past as a gay man. That’s what I will be looking for.”

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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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And this, too, shall pass…

Carlos C. Bandorin, 60, had a stroke in 2007; and people around him often – with sadness – recall how those he helped left him since then. But there’s no bitterness in Carlos’ voice as he now says that life’s like that… nothing lasts forever.

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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.”

“We know that time passes; that we grow old. We should learn to accept this. Nothing lasts forever.”

So said Carlos C. Bandorin, 60, from Sangandaan, Caloocan City.

Even when he was young, many people called Carlos as “Carlota”, a name obviously derived from his Carlos. But even if his name was already feminized, he said he wasn’t necessarily always “out”.

“In the past, it wasn’t that hard to be gay; you just hid it. Many of us were closet queens, so to speak. In those days, we don’t tell our parents we’re gay. Nowadays, people already do this,” Carlos said.

His mother sort of knew; and Carlos said she was fine with it. “But with my dad, it wasn’t (okay). He was quite strict.”

And so Carlos said he also experienced discrimination. “For instance, people were cruel to us. Even at home, there was cruelty.”

There are six of them. The eldest is a sister; and Carlos is the second to the last child. “I am the only gay member in the family.”

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Looking back, Carlos said that “to have fun, we dressed as women. Me and my friends would attend parties dressed as women. We did it all together – drinking… things like that. That’s what we did to have fun then.”

Carlos said he also had sexual experiences with women. “There were some women who were insistent… so I had sex with them. I was bisexual then – I did it with women, and also with men.”

When he was young, Carlos wanted to be a fashion designer. “I liked drawing when I was young,” he said. But “nothing came of it. Also because life was hard.”

He finished Grade 6. “Our mother also died then; in 1970. So I had to stop going to school.”

And so “I had to focus on making a living then.”

Carlos helped support his nieces/nephews when they were young.

“I was a vendor in the past; I sold snack foods. I sold palabok, guinataan, palitaw, pichi-pichi… That’s what I did then. (But) I also accepted laundry; I helped my sister do laundry. Her children were young then, so I helped her make a living. It was hard to earn in those days,” he said.

When he was young, Carlos wanted to be a fashion designer. “I liked drawing when I was young,” he said. But “nothing came of it. Also because life was hard.”
Nowadays, “my bones hurt; my joints hurt; everything hurts. But I bear the pain. I put up with everything.”

In 2007, Carlos had a stroke.

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“I think I was affected with palsy… because of my work before. I would stay under the sun, then get wet in the rain. So I was affected with palsy.”

Nowadays, “my bones hurt; my joints hurt; everything hurts. But I bear the pain. I put up with everything.”

In the past, “I used to have boyfriends, too. I left them eventually. I had to part with them because I could no longer offer them financial support.”

Carlos said that there were times when he actually loved men. “I shed tears over them because I loved them,” he said. “That’s in the past. It’s done. What’s important is I was able to show them that I loved them. I was able to give them what they needed. And that’s okay for me. I’m happy with my life now.”

Carlos believes that “men are meant to be with women. We need to accept this. That’s how it is. And this is the same with lesbians.”

And then, trying to wipe a tear forming in his eye, he said: “If only we can stop ourselves from loving… But we have to accept this. I tried loving before; but I knew I will just get hurt. So I had to stop myself from loving. I knew I will just cry from getting hurt. So even if I really loved a man, I fought it; I stopped myself. I knew I will just get hurt. I don’t want to get hurt anymore.”

Carlos said that there were times when he actually loved men. “I shed tears over them because I loved them,” he said.
In the past, “I used to have boyfriends, too. I left them eventually. I had to part with them because I could no longer offer them financial support.”

Right now, his family supports him – his sister, and his nieces/nephews. “They all support me now. They all try to help me now so I have money for my needs – for food, for my medicines, for… everything.”

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And because he lives under their care, “I humble myself when there are disagreements, or when I am reprimanded. That way, there’s no disagreement in the house.”

Every Sunday, Carlos goes to church for Bible study. “I am now amending my life. Perhaps that’s what God wants; for me to amend my life. This way life will already be peaceful,” he said.

As part of this “fixing” of his life, “I avoid hanging out with friends, as well as bad habits/my vices. Those things change with the passing of time.”

Every Sunday, Carlos goes to church for Bible study. “I am now amending my life. Perhaps that’s what God wants; for me to amend my life. This way life will already be peaceful,” he said.
“LGBTQIA people should not pay attention to those who ridicule us. Just continue living your life on Earth in peace… and with fear in God.”

Carlos wants younger LGBTQIA people “not to be hardheaded. Obey your parents. Fix your life so you don’t end up like us… Fix your life so you don’t end up sabotaging your own life.”

In the end, he believes that “LGBTQIA people should not pay attention to those who ridicule us. Just continue living your life on Earth in peace… and with fear in God.”

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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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‘Kitilin ang diskriminasyon’

There was a time when Danmer John de Guzman attempted to end his life because of hardships encountered because of his SOGIE. He was told then that instead of ending his life, why not help in ending discrimination? He is now an LGBTQIA activist in Caloocan City.

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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.”

Danmer John de Guzman was 15 years old when he noticed he was “different”. Sure, he said, he had female crushes; but he also felt that he was not like everybody else. And so by the time he turned 16, he already admitted – first to himself – that he’s part of the LGBTQIA community.

It wasn’t easy, he said. Family members used to hit him; and there were times when, stepping out of the house, community members ridiculed him, telling him he is worthless and that he could do no good solely because of his SOGIE. “I just wallowed in tears,” he said. “I just shed tears, in pain because of non-acceptance.”

Danmer said he went through a lot before he accepted himself. Drepressed, he even tried to kill himself. That was the time when family members sort of had a change of heart.

“They told me I didn’t need to kill myself. Instead, I should help in fighting discrimination that kills us.”

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Now 24 years old and based in Caloocan City, Danmer said that his bad experiences helped shape him. As a gay man, “I am progressive and aggressive,” he said. “I always advocate for LGBTQIA people to be recognized.”

But danger sees LGBTQIA issues as multi-layered.

When he was 14, for example, he worked for a paper manufacturer, where he noted that child workers like him (then) were not exactly protected. And then, like these abused child workers, there were LGBTQIA workers who experienced work-related discrimination – e.g. trans people were not hired because the gender identity in their documents were not aligned with the gender expressions prescribed by society for the same.

“It was difficult,” Danmer said.

Danmer said: “I learned that when serving others, you don’t expect a return. Service is sacrifice.”

Danmer is now part of an LGBTQIA organization, and he said that his activism is “sadsad sa bato” (exacting). “We don’t even have money for transportation,” he said. “In my own family, we even sometimes only eat twice a day. I tend to use the money for community organizing.”

Danmer, though, doesn’t see himself stopping doing what he’s doing.

Kapag namatay ka na may dangal at malaki ang naiambag mo sa lipunan ay parang kasingbigat mo ang bundok. Pero kapag namatay ka na waling paglaban, para ka lang singbigat ng balahibo ng pusa (When you die after greatly contributing to society, you will be as heavy as a mountain. But if you died without fighting, you’d be as weightless as a cat’s hair),” he said.

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Besides, Danmer said, “I learned that when serving others, you don’t expect a return. Service is sacrifice.”

Since becoming an LGBTQIA advocate nine years ago, Danmer said he has been telling the younger LGBTQIA people that they should not lose hope. “I always say that our rights will not be given with a snap of a finger. We fight for it. We need to show our capacity to help others.”

Danmer has a partner now; they’ve been living together for almost a year now.

For him, having a partner poses a different challenge, particularly with getting the approval of others. “But we teach that love is not only for heterosexuals. Love depends on who is in your heart,” he said.

His family now accepts his partner; even treating him as another son, one who’s part of an LGBTQIA relationship.

Since becoming an LGBTQIA advocate nine years ago, Danmer said he has been telling the younger LGBTQIA people that they should not lose hope. “I always say that our rights will not be given with a snap of a finger. We fight for it. We need to show our capacity to help others.”

But Danmer said it starts with accepting oneself; and “if we encounter discrimination, we fight it.”

Danmer is even “thankful” to those who continue to mock LGBTQIA people. For him, without the haters, “there would be no LGBTQIA movement”, “no Stonewall Riots”, and “Philippines will not have 25 years of Pride March.” These happened “because you ridicule us.”

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In the end, he said, “we are not here to pick fights with you. But know we will continue fighting for our rights. Just as you always fight for your rights, we will continue fighting for ours.”

Danmer said it starts with accepting oneself; and “if we encounter discrimination, we fight it.”

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#KaraniwangLGBT

The sign of beauty

Meet Apple Fritz Bela, a Deaf transgender woman from Antipolo, who is a regular in the beauty pageant circles. She believes that, no, her being PWD is not reason for her not to compete; and yes, exactly because she’s different, hopefully others will see the real beauty of diversity. And so she says to other PWDs: “Every time we show we can, we’re making a mark.”

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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.”

The first time transgender woman Apple Fritz Bela, 18, joined a beauty pageant was in 2018; and it was a “challenge.” As a Deaf person, she knew that she was already at a disadvantage. For instance, during rehearsals, she did not even have an interpreter (a recurring issue in all pageants she joined, actually), and so she had to resort to just mimicking the other contestants, instead of actually getting the instructions on what she is supposed to do.

That year, she signed to me, “I did not win.”

But for Apple, the challenges she faced as a Deaf beauty pageant contestant (and even the eventual losing) are “minor issues,” she said.

She is, after all, “doing what I want to do.” And while at it, “showcasing that – if/when given the same opportunity – people like me, a Deaf transgender woman, can also shine.”

The first time I met Apple was at the Queen of Antipolo 2019, a beauty pageant helmed by the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization (TAO), helmed by Ms Shane Madrigal with Kagawad Kristine Ibardolaza of Barangay Mayamot. At that time, too, she had no interpreter; but she was gearing to be part of arguably the most prestigious beauty pageant for transgender people in these parts of Luzon.

Apple – at that time seated at the corner of this makeshift dressing room in front of a mall in Antipolo – was surrounded by over five people. These were her “handlers”, the people who made sure she looked her best before she went onstage to compete. All of her handlers are Hearing; and none knows how to sign.

Apple can speak. And so now and then, she would utter words to her handlers – e.g. the light is too bright, turn the fan that way, and so on. But the conversations with others are almost always immediately limited by her inability to hear their attempted responses.

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Apple was chatty with me then; even if it proved difficult because her handlers were moving around her as they dolled her up. But she tried to converse anyway, now and then looking over the shoulder of any person standing in front of her so I could see her sign.

“A friend introduced me to pageantry,” she said, adding – even if it was only a year ago – with a smile: “I was younger then.”

She was shy when she first joined pageants, particularly because of her “difference”, she said. But Apple eventually got the hang of it.

Joining a pageant, said Apple, was an expected “progression” for Apple. Sans knowledge of SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression), she said she feels she is a woman; but that because she has yet to do gender affirmation surgery, she does not see herself as a transgender person. But it is this “feeling as a woman” that sort of encouraged her to join pageants; a means – for her – to celebrate beauty.

Apple was around three years old when she lost her hearing. At first, she said, she could hear; but then she gradually became deaf. Growing up, the hearing continued to deteriorate. She never knew what went wrong; just that she stopped being able to hear.

She was in high school when she started learning sign language. Her sign is a mix of Filipino Sign Language and American Sign Language; and when she doesn’t understand a sign, she almost always reverts back to fingerspelling. And always, she does this with a wide smile.

Apple’s parents are still around – i.e. her father works as a tricycle driver, and her mother is an overseas Filipino worker in Kuwait. She also has a brother. All of them are Hearing. All of them – she said – readily accept her. She still lives with them, helping sustain herself by also giving make-up services.

This makes joining beauty pageants “easy”; a means for her, she said, to show that even Deaf people like her “CAN”. This is a way “to show everyone that even Deaf people have beauty, have brains/intelligence.”

Queen of Antipolo 2019 was, in a word, competitive. And not that surprising because the prize – amounting to tens of thousands of pesos – comes with the “rare opportunity,” said Apple, to “give voice to the transgender community of Antipolo.”

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And so, not surprisingly, the organizers are “strict”. The stage director was a common face behind the scene, barking her expectations – demands, even – for the candidates to do when onstage. No overstaying, she said. Comply with what was agreed upon during rehearsals. Otherwise, “face the consequences” – e.g. a microphone will be turned off even if a candidate is still talking (if she’s talking too long), or worse, she will be singled out by a public announcement before the next exposure is made.

But all these were lost on Apple. Called for an impromptu (and closed door) meeting of the candidates, for instance, she was without an interpreter, left to read lips or get the instructions from attempts to explain by the other candidates.

No worries, she said to me.

“You really just have to follow other people’s leads; you’ll be fine.”

Onstage, the pre-recorded videos of the candidates were already playing (before they were to be called out). Apple’s video was… surprising. In it, she was actually speaking, not signing. Her use of English tentative; but her message was the same: “I want to show to the world that we may be PWDs, but we can just be like everybody if given the chance.”

The competition went fast.

The candidates went onstage for a quick production number. Candidate number 11, Apple, just had to follow everyone’s lead; no mishap happened.

They then introduced themselves. Apple again chose to speak, not sign. It was, she said to me, just a quick introduction anyway; just to say her name, her age, and the barangay/village she came from. “No big deal.”

Even as the other candidates were still introducing themselves onstage, the others (who already finished doing so) were already prepping for the next exposure: the swimsuit competition.

No mishap happened – at least initially. Apple did what she was supposed to do.

But then while she was already being prepped for the evening gown competition, a member of the organizing team went backstage. Some electric fuse exploded; and the computers used by the judges went off before the scores were saved. So the candidates had to return onstage in their swimwear; to be graded/judged again.

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Apple, already half-dressed in her white gown, was at a loss; particularly when her handlers just attempted to change her gown into her already-discarded swimsuit. “Bakit (Why)?” she asked. None could eloquently explain to her the technical glitch that happened. Tempers flared; but no words were spoken.

With the repeat of the swimsuit competition done, the candidates paraded in their evening gowns. By then, people were shouting the numbers of the candidates they were supporting. Number 11 was among them.

When the special awards were given, Apple’s name was called for Miss Photogenic. She was fixing her gown then; ironing the skirt with her palm. Unaware that she won something. Two other candidates had to tap her on her shoulders, and then signal to her that she was being called. Apple looked up, a smile growing on her face, and then strutted in front to claim her prize.

But Apple didn’t make the final cut (top five).

And so off the stage she had to go with the other candidates who also didn’t place.

Backstage, she was misty-eyed. But I’d say she was on a better state; another losing candidate can be heard wailing inside the makeshift dressing room. Her smile widened again when she saw me.

“How do I feel that I didn’t place? Okay; just okay,” she signed to me. “What’s important is that I showed that I can also compete.”

She wiped the corners of her eyes, even if her smile stayed wide.

“In life, that’s what you do. You show up to fight. Even if you lose, you fought.”

Someone behind me caught her attention. She waved, and then mouthed “What?” to this person. She then gathered the flowing skirt of her gown, quickly turned to me to sign “Thank you”, and then headed to the person who caught her attention.

And as she walked away, into the arms of her friends/supporters, many tried to sign with her. Only one was intelligible: “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”

And there goes Apple Fritz Bela, a Deaf transgender woman who’s now a regular in the trans pageant circuit, helping redefine the sign of beauty… – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR. AND JOSHUA DOLENDO

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