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Op-Ed

Learning from the Teduray people: Valuing self-determination

Sass Rogando Sasot writes about “learning to ground my advocacy in the vocabulary rooted in the culture of our people.” As such, “I am mentefuwaley libun. I am a transpinay. And I stand in solidarity with my mentefuwaley sisters and brothers and the rest of the Teduray people in their strug-gle for the recognition of their identity, culture, and the full inclusion of their rights,” she says.

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When I was starting my advocacy work on trans issues in 2001, a time when “transgender” was an “exotic” term in the Philippine lesbian and gay movement, one of the critiques I received was “transgender” was a Western concept. As a teenager, I didn’t take it well. But the beautiful thing about life is our ability to learn and eventually see things with much more insightful eyes. I have learned to consider this critique as an invitation to ground my advocacy in the vocabulary rooted in the culture of our people.

But I, and a lot of women like me, have an uneasy relationship with the word bakla, the word used by Filipinos to refer to both gay men and trans women. Also, bakla is often used as a slur like faggot. Unless bakla is used as a term of endearment, a trans woman being called bakla entails the invalidation and delegitimization of her womanhood: She is not a “real” woman because she is a bakla. In other words, she is “really” a man like the gay men who are also called bakla. Because one of the goals of our advocacy is for society to recognize and respect that our girl- and womanhood are as real and valid as the girl- and womanhood of girls and women who were assigned female at birth, we in the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), decided to coin an identity that would symbolize this advocacy: transpinay. It is a combination of trans and Pinay (a Filipina woman). We launched the term in 2008 as we participated in the LGBT Pride March. The banner we carried during the 2008 Manila Pride March boldly declared: Transpinay: The other Filipina woman.

Nonetheless, I still continued my search for affirmative vocabularies that are rooted in our culture. The lack of gender in our pronouns also lead me to reflect further on my development from being a baby assigned male at birth into a young child who never doubted her female identity into a fierce woman. Did I transition? Or did I unfold?

As I wrote earlier, I feel that “he becomes a she” does not capture what people like me has gone through. Tagalog is one of the very few languages in the world that do not have gendered pronouns. He, she, and it are just “Siya/Sya”. Hence, he or she becoming or changing into another pronoun does not have an equivalent in Tagalog. It’s just “Sya becomes Sya (Sya ay naging Sya).” I feel this is a better starting point in understanding, explaining, and reflecting on the experience of women like me. I am not a he who became a she. I just became I and I unfolded to the outside world the reality contained inside me. Thus, if you are going to describe this experience it’s not a “he who becomes a she” but “Sya ay naging sya at patuloy na nagiging sya (Siya becomes siya and continues to become siya).” I did not transition, I unfolded.

Recently, I stumbled upon the Facebook page of HAPI – Humanist Alliance Philippines, International . I was intrigued by their post on the 17th of May, in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. It said: “Did you know? The Teduray tribe of the Philippines has a concept of transgender: “mentefuwaley libun” for “man who became woman” and “mentefuwaley lagey” for “woman who became man.” I went on to research on the Teduray people living in Southern Philippines in Mindanao. What I discovered made me glow.

Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist (1998)

Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist (1998)

The translation from HAPI doesn’t fully capture what the term means. There’s no man in mentefuwaley libun, and there is no woman in mentefuwaley lagey. According to the Facebook page of UP Mindanao Mentefuwaley the LGBT organization of University of the Philippines – Mindanao, “mentefuwaley” means “transformation.” Meanwhile, libun means woman, and lagey means man. Thus, literally, “mentefuwaley libun” means “transformation woman” and “mentefuwaley lagey” means “transformation man.” The translation “man who became woman” and “woman who became man” are analogous to the sensationalizing “he becomes she” and “she becomes a he.” This is a translation that takes the gender and knowledge-system of the English language as its guide for translation rather than the gender and knowledge-system of the Teduray people from which these terms come from.

To support my argument, let me point to the conversation between some Teduray people and Stuart Schlegel, a cultural anthropologist and specialist on the Philippines, Indonesia and California. Below is an excerpt from Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist (1998), Schlegel’s reflections on what he learned from living with the Teduray people in the 60’s. The full excerpt is available on the Website of the book.

——

One evening I was listening to my next-door neighbor, Ideng-Tong, play her zither, and I commented to Mo-Tong how lovely I found his wife’s music. He said to me, “Mo-Lini, you should hear Ukà (SEE ACCOMPANYING PHOTO BELOW) from LangeLange (a place several mountain crests away from Figel). She is the best of all Teduray zither players. Perhaps, she will come and play for you, and you can put that on your radio.” He used the English word, but was referring to my tape-recorder.

I said, “Just-right, cousin. I would love to hear her play.”

I might have known when I made that reply that word would get to Ukà and she would come when she had a chance. About two weeks later, one of the Figel men told me he had been in Lange Lange and that Ukà said she would come play for me. Not long after that, the celebrated musician came to Figel, and we had a most memorable bamboo zither festival. Ukà stayed for ten days, every evening playing for a couple of hours to those of us gathered around the still-burning cookfire under the big house. Ukà played several different kinds of pieces. Some were slow tunes of well-known love songs; others were fast, intricately repetitive traditional melodies. Some were her own compositions. Other people played their zithers or other instruments from time to time, and there was a bit of singing and dancing, but for the most part people knew that they were hearing the finest zither player of their day, and they urged her to play piece after piece. I made tape recordings and took some photographs, but mostly I just joined my companions in total enjoyment of her music.

One evening as Ukà was playing I asked the man next to me if she was married, because she had come to Figel accompanied by her brother, and her name didn’t indicate any children.

He replied, “Oh no, Mo-Lini, she can’t be married. How could she have children? She is a mentefuwaley libun.”

I had never heard that term before, but it was perfectly clear Teduray and meant “one-who-became-a-woman.”

I said, “Oh, so she is really a man?”

“No,” he said, “she is a genuine woman!” His word for “genuine” was tentu, which means “real” or “actual.”

But if she were really a woman, what did it mean that she became a woman? I was confused. (Remember that this whole conversation was in Teduray and therefore was without pronouns like “he” or “she,” “him” or “her.”)

I asked my companion, “Well, then, when she was born was she a boy or a girl?”

When he replied, I detected a slight in incredulity that I could be so dense concerning a perfectly clear situation. “She was born a boy, Mo-Lini. Don’t you remember? I just said that she is one-who-became-a-woman!”

“So then, cousin,”–I, the dense stranger in his world, forged bravely on–“she is really a man, just dressed like a woman!”

My friend’s disbelief at my inability to see what was right before my eyes seemed to go up a notch, edging toward a puzzlement equal to my own. He said, “Can’t you understand? She is really a woman! She is one-who-became-a-woman.”

So I played my trump card, sure it would clear up all this silliness: “Well, does she have a penis?”

“Yes, of course she has a penis,” he said. “She is one-who-became-a-woman.”

Finally I stopped quizzing him. In my world what identifies a man as “really” a male and a woman as “really” a female are their genitals, but evidently this was not so for the Teduray. In the months following this revelation, I asked several people about this phenomenon. I learned that in their view of things, what made you really a certain gender was the social role you played: how you dressed, how you wore your hair, what you did all day, how you were addressed by people, what gender you thought of yourself as being. And as far as Teduray were concerned, you could be whichever one you pleased. I later met a man who had been born a girl but who had chosen to be male and had lived a long life as a man. Most boys grew up wanting to be men and most girls grew up wanting to be women, but if anyone didn’t and wanted to switch, nobody cared a whit. He or she was not thought of as strange or eccentric and, except that marriage was considered inappropriate, was treated just like everyone else.

Seeing my interest and opacity with regard to these people who changed gender, someone asked me, “Mo-Lini, don’t you have ones-who-became-women and ones-who-became-men in America?”

“Well,” I said, “we have women and men who wear the other’s clothing, and we have men and women who would like to be the other gender.”

“So, you see,” he said, “it’s just the same with you.”

“No,” I had to reply. “Many Americans give such people a bad time. They despise them and consider them bad people.”

“Just because they want to be a different gender?” he asked, amazement on his face. And his next question still rings in my ears: “Why is that? Why are you people so cruel?”

—-

Uka (SOURCE: STUART SCHLEGEL)

Uka (SOURCE: STUART SCHLEGEL)

One can gather from this story that mentefuwaley libun is not about a “man” becoming a woman but the ungendered “one” becoming a woman: “one-who-became-woman.” This is the same with mentefuwaley lagey: “one-who-became-man.” Schlegel might have translated it in this way because his conversation with the Teduray people was conducted in the Teduray language, which like Tagalog, has no gendered pronouns.

The rough Tagalog equivalent of the answer of the Teduray man to Schlegel’s question on why Ukà can’t marry might be: “Siya ay naging babae,” which is the Tagalog translation of “one-who-became-woman.” Replacing the word “one” with man or woman is wrong. The gender of “mentefuwaley libun” is “libun,” which is babae in Tagalog and girl/woman in English. Mentefuwaley only serves as a description of how Ukà’s womanhood came to be. She unfolded into a woman. Mentefuwaley refers to the path to being a man or a woman that the Teduray people recognize and respect and consider as valid and legitimate.

The Teduray people doesn’t consider Ukà’s womanhood as fake. Thus, when Schlegel, who is operating within the gender system of his culture, asked “Oh, she is really a man?” The Teduray man he was talking to told him “No, she is a tentu woman!” Tentu in the Teduray language means “real” or “actual.” More significantly, Ukà’s genitalia are not relevant to the Teduray people in determining her gender. She is a real woman even if she has a penis because she unfolded into being a woman. However, though Schlegel believes that these women have sexual partners, marriage is not necessary for them. “It was perfectly accepted, and I’m quite sure those individuals had sexual partners. The only difference was that they didn’t marry. Marriage was an economic unit for raising children, so there was no need for that among couples who weren’t going to have children,” Schlegel said in his interview by University of California, Santa Cruz in November 1998.

Besides the validity of Ukà’s womanhood, another striking feature of this story is the respected status of Ukà. She is “the best of all Teduray zither players” and the Teduray people celebrate her for that. This is far from the discrimination and violence experienced by trans people outside the Teduray culture.

The Teduray people are an inspiration. They have been respecting the right to determine your own gender long before the birth of the trans movement in the Philippines, long before the advent of gender recognition laws. This right is not a Western invention. The right to determine your gender identity is deeply rooted in the culture of our people, and the culture of the Teduray people serves as our light in reclaiming it.

I am mentefuwaley libun. I am a transpinay. And I stand in solidarity with my mentefuwaley sisters and brothers and the rest of the Teduray people in their struggle for the recognition of their identity, culture, and the full inclusion of their rights in the Bangsamoro Basic Law!

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Op-Ed

I may be HIV+ but that still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you

This is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me.

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“I’m HIV-positive.”

That was the short sentence I remember telling this guy I used to date.

Okay – to backtrack – I met a guy while I was in Northern Mindanao. We dated for a while, and – at least I thought – things between us went smoothly for a while. I’d say he wasn’t bad-looking even if he looked somewhat common. He had one of those “if you stay long enough, I can teach myself to maybe even like you” face.

And then one night, we became more intimate than the usual. So I had to stop what we were doing (before we progressed further). And then – after prepping him up by first discussing with him his views about HIV and people living with HIV – I told him I had something important to tell him (if we were to advance what we had).

Thus that short sentence.

His face immediately changed; from what I saw was longing to… shocked. He couldn’t even say a word. And when he was finally able to utter a word, it was just to tell me that “I forgot I had to be elsewhere.”

The alibi was lame. But what made it more insulting was that I wasn’t even that into him to begin with; he was just a possible lay (if it came to that)

But that moment taught me two important things.

On one hand, how the sexuality of so many PLHIVs are tempered by their status.

I have frequently heard of medical practitioners who tell PLHIVs to “already stop having sex now that you’re HIV-positive; dadami pa kayo (you’d abet in increasing the number of PLHIVs)” – all too obviously unaware of safer sexual practices and U=U, among others. Worse, this sentiment is shared by a lot of PLHIVs themselves, who see their status as a “punishment”, and the only “cure” is to stop having sex altogether. Oh, please!

On the other hand, recognizing that being sexual doesn’t disappear (and doesn’t need to vanish) with being HIV-positive, there seems to be this supposition of PLHIVs being “desperate”.

That guy I dated, for instance, had every right NOT to have sex with me (it’s called power over one’s body); but that he had to lie just to get away from me was – to admit the truth – not only discourteous but even insulting. I suppose particularly because… I wasn’t even that into him.

Here’s the thing: Me living with HIV means just that – that I have HIV. But it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my (yes!) sexual appetite and (for that matter) taste/preferences/standards on who to do it with.

And I believe this is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me. And if (some) guys can’t see that, well…

Because remember dearie, just because I am HIV-positive still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you.

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From the Editor

Women are not ‘disgusting’; gay men are just not into them…

Why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

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Time to unlearn sub-/unconscious misogyny.

Here’s the thing: With the demise of Christine Dacera, and with predominantly gay (and perhaps bi) men considered as suspects by the error-filled PNP (Philippine National Police), many members of the LGBTQIA community surfaced to defend members of the rainbow family.

Background info: Christine Dacera, a flight attendant, celebrated her New Year’s Eve with gay/bi friends in a hotel in Makati City. On New Year’s Day, her body was found lifeless. The PNP (pre-empting everything) pushed for questionable narratives – e.g. that she was “raped” (even if the autopsy report couldn’t validate this), and then committed inept acts – e.g. announcing the case to be “solved” when it really wasn’t, jailing three of the people who claimed to have helped Christine that night (with a judge ordering them to release the three; and then basically telling them to, yes, do their job properly), embalming the body before another (independent) autopsy can be done, etc.

It didn’t help PNP at all when one of its top brass stated that “gay men are still men” (Yes, sir, they are; DUH!) and insinuated that gayness can, basically, be cured by alcohol (that is, they’d start having sex with, or even rape women when they’re drunk).

Going online, among the statements of “support” for the gay/bi suspects, however, you’d find statements like “yuck”, gross ang vagina”, “babae, yuck”, “kadiri“, and so on. All these supposedly refer to what gay men “feel” when with women.

And let’s stop spewing these misogynistic statements.

Misogyny – that hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women (Merriam-Webster, 2021) – can be blatant. But it can also be “invisible”. And get this, even members of minority sectors – such as those from the LGBTQIA community – can be misogynistic.

This seeming disdain for women – or their body parts – is actually misogynistic.

If you think this I am making a big “leap” with this claim, consider that in Psychology Today, Dr. Berit Brogaard wrote that “in most cases, misogynists do not even know that they hate women.”

After all, why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

The antiquated – and, well, fatuous – macho culture in PNP has been harming members of the LGBTQIA community. Let’s not become part of the problem by becoming just as antiquated and, yes, just as fatuous.

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From the Editor

To stand united, we also need to watch our tongues…

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power. But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses. And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves.

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I was 28 the first time I was told I’m old. We were in a bar in Malate (the former gay capital of the City of Manila); and then – while partying with friends – this 21-year-old gay guy who was with a friend said: “You’re too old to be in a bar; yuck!”.

Ageism – which refers to prejudice or discrimination on the basis of age – is an issue in the LGBTQIA community. It is an issue that has been tackled repeatedly in the past; though, admittedly, perhaps not as much in the Philippines.

In 2009, for instance, Malcolm Sargeant published “Age discrimination, sexual orientation and gender identity: UK/US perspectives” in Equal Opportunities International”, which noted that LGBTQIA elders suffer from particular discrimination when compared to that suffered by elders in general, and heterosexual elders in particular.

It is, therefore, not surprising that elders have been calling for inclusion; something that Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE (an American organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ elders), said that should be tackled. “Over and over what we hear again from our elders is that they feel invisible and forgotten by the rest of the community, and that includes our younger people… And what we’ve seen is that it’s so powerful when older and younger people come together and engage as activists,” Adams was quoted as saying by Out.com.

These two points – ageism, and the need to dump it if we want to move forward TOGETHER – was re-emphasized to me after hearing from some of PNP’s suspects in the demise of Christine Dacera.

As FYI: Christine, a flight attendant, partied with mostly gay/bi friends during New Year’s Eve. She passed away on New Year’s Day; and the PNP has been “forcing” a narrative that she was “raped”, with a high-ranking policeman even claiming that when gay men get drunk, they “also become men”.

This one’s not to talk about PNP messing everything up; PNP’s assertion that “gay men are still men” (based on this antiquated misconception that “gay men are not ‘real’ men”); PNP’s erroneous belief that alcohol is a “cure” to being LGBTQIA (Hello, CBCP, send some my way!); and PNP’s insinuation that, yes, all men are rapists.

Instead, this is to focus on how “damage” can come from within the LGBTQIA community. And we really need to be aware of this; and even take steps to deal with this.

Now back to ageism and how this happens from within.

When ABS-CBN News interviewed some of the initial suspects (who were released when the court told PNP it, basically, didn’t do its job properly to pin these people down), one of them stated (off-handedly, if I may add; proceed to 56:25 in the YT video below) that they mingled with “mga bakla” in a separate room, but that this room had “matatanda/bakla na may mga edad na” so they may as well move to their room/a different room since “wala namang pogi dito eh“.

Discriminating may have been unintentional (ageism, and yes, lookism); but it’s still there.

The suspects’ names have been unnecessarily dragged by the PNP which committed errors after errors after errors when it dealt with this case – e.g. it prematurely declared the case “solved”; it claimed there was “rape” when the initial autopsy report did not back this claim; its key people even threatened that if the suspects did not willingly surrender, then they should expect the worse (and yes, we all know what THAT meant); and it basically prevented another autopsy from being done to the body when it had the body embalmed sans informing the family, etc.

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends and acquaintances, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power.

But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses.

And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves. Because how can we stand united if we discriminate against people we hope will actually support us (e.g. the LGBTQIA community as a whole, including the elders and, yes, the “not pogi“)?

So let’s be more self-aware as we start dealing with this…

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From the Editor

About sex work (and prostitution) among Filipinos at the time of Covid-19

Various Facebook GCs (group chats) highlight how Covid-19 may have pushed many Filipinos into the sex industry. And yet – except in these GCs – this is largely ignored.

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Facebook just prompted me to “join” three GCs (group chats) related to sex work (and even prostitution). One is for “mga lalaking bayaran“, another for masseurs with ES (extra service; the extra being the sexual favor), and another for “for hire daks Pinoys”.

These aren’t exclusive GCs, actually; and they aren’t new, either. Many others like them abound in Facebook (among other social networking sites).

But upon checking, what struck me with these GCs this time around is Covid-19’s effect/s on the (current) memberships. So many are in this because of desperation. For instance, it is not uncommon to see comments like: “Nawalan lang ng trabaho; sino gusto tumulong para may ipa-Pasko kaming mag-aama“; or “Para tulong lang sa online classes.”

This is another facet of the sex industry (and even prostitution) as exacerbated by the pandemic.

And this face – while at least tackled overseas – isn’t really openly discussed in the Philippines…

IN THE SHADOWS

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, this is worth stressing. Penalties vary, up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking (covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003).

No, the country doesn’t distinguish between sex work and prostitution; here, those in the sex industry are largely considered as in need of being “saved”. Not just the body, too; but also the “soul”.

But – get this – prostitution is actually openly tolerated – e.g. let’s stop pretending we don’t know what many GROs actually do; what masseurs offer when they say “E.S.”; and that there are local government units that give workers (of bars, spas, massage parlors, KTV bars, and so on) “pink cards” to guarantee that they are STI-free and are “sexually clean/safe”.

And really, except for the occasional “saving” of trafficked people (who are then turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development) we see in TV, the deafening silence on this is what’s remarkable.

TRANSACTIONAL SEX

This silence is… worrisome.

Particularly because this continues to happen; and yes (yet again), exacerbated by Covid-19.

What the GC members I’ve come across in Facebook are doing aren’t new, actually. The Philippines – dearies – isn’t excluded from the “oldest profession in the world.” This, obviously, includes male sex workers (befitting the handling of this topic here).

Consider that in 2003, the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation released the 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS3) that noted that about 11% of sexually active young people aged 15-24 did it with someone of the same sex. Of this figure, 87% are men who have sex with men (MSM; meaning they may not self-identify as gay or bi, but have sex with other men).

Here’s what’s worth stressing in UP’s study: Almost half of those who had same-sex encounters also engaged in commercial sex. Approximately 19% paid for sex, while 11% received payment for sexual favors.

At that time, Dr. Corazon Raymundo, project coordinator of YAFS3, stated that it appears that in a fast changing world, the “usual norms and expectations do not hold true anymore.”

REVISIT… EVERYTHING

There are too many interconnected issues that should be considered here…

There’s poverty; and how this forces people to do things they may not otherwise do.

There’s the continuing lack of government support for its people; otherwise, those who do not want to sell themselves wouldn’t be forced to do so – e.g. selling oneself for “online classes”; because of loss of employment; etc.

There’s the pervasive ignorance re the sex industry; this is what leads to the abuse of those involved in it because – since they are considered illegal to begin with – they can’t even access State support if they are abused, etc.

There’s the impact of tech on the industry.

There’s the ongoing hypocrisy re this – e.g. church people want to “save” sex workers; but ask them to give these same people job in the church, and start counting how many reasons they can come up with just to (basically) say “No way!”.

There’s the continuing “punishment” of those in the sex industry; and yet… look at how the patrons get away with “buying” (e.g. the GCs in Facebook blatantly haggle with the service providers, demanding for the absurd while asking to lower the prices).

There’s the continuing ignoring of the sexual and reproductive health concerns of Filipinos.

There’s the silence re this; it’s staring us in the face, and we don’t even talk about this.

And on, and on, and on we go…

In the end, this needs to be tackled. No matter your angle” – e.g. because it inadvertently signifies the adverse effects of Covid-19 on poorer sectors of society; because it highlights government inaction/misaction; because it needs to be monitored as a health issue; because you’re self-righteous and you want to “save” them all; etc. – this shouldn’t, couldn’t be ignored. Covid-19 is re-emphasizing what was already there; and so please… just address this already…

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Editor's Picks

Enter the alter world

Welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual engagements. Though often maligned, it actually also highlights formation of friendships, info sharing, emotional support, and even provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality.

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Some time back, Kurt (a.k.a. @MoanerBottom) opened a Twitter account as a form of revenge. “I found out that my ex had an ‘alter’ account and he was fooling around with different people,” he recalled. And so “I wanted to prove to him that I can also do the same thing.”

Little did Kurt know at that time that he would become a mainstay in the alter world/community. A few months since opening his own alter account, he garnered over 130,000 followers, all of them craving – and even waiting – for what he would post, usually dominated by sexual encounters (“kalat videos,” he calls them) with mostly students, including a basketball varsitarian “who likes to penetrate deeply”, a Blue Eagle who allowed for his orgasm to be videoed, a Tamaraw who also allowed himself to be videoed as he orgasmed, and bending for a Red Lion.

“I must admit that I am a shy person in real life,” Kurt said. But “here in Twitter, it is like I have less shame and more courage to do kalat (contextually: shameless) posts and videos.”

Kurt is, obviously, only one of the people – not just Filipinos – with alter accounts, which many like him, say is similar to a “pseudonym — like Batman to Bruce Wayne, or Superman to Clark Kent; where people can have a separate account from their primary accounts, usually used to express themselves more ‘wildly’ yet more ‘discreetly’/anonymously.”

And so welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual “collaborations”, hookups, fetishes, fantasies and social engagements, with the audiences often never really knowing the content generators/producers/distributors.

Getting noticed

That the alter world is often dominated by sexual content is a given.

Onin (a.k.a. @Onin_NuezPH), for example, sees his alter account “as an avenue for me to express myself and my sexuality. I am able to let everyone know within the community about my sexual desires without the fear of being judged.”

Looking back, it was actually “a friend who is an alter too introduced me in this alter community,” Onin said.

One of the early instances Onin trended was when some of his nude photos circulated on Twitter. Many got curious, asking the person who previously reacted or shared the photos if there were more.

It whetted Onin’s interest; and so he started posting more photos and short videos. His followers quickly increased, reaching more than 145,000.

Taking pride that he is one of the more talked about alters out there, Onin has produced content that may seem trivial… but these have been keeping the alter community and lurkers interested, from balancing a shampoo bottle on top of his erect penis, sharing a photo of his endowment while asking his followers if they want to kneel in front him, a comparison of the length of a deodorant spray with his penis, wearing a see-through underwear, and teasing his latest sexual collaboration.

Standing out

Standing out in a platform where hundreds (even thousands) of alters saturate news feeds is a challenge. After all, it is not an easy feat to attract someone’s attention — what more to make them like, share, or follow an account.

For FUCKER Daddy (a.k.a. @ako_daddy), therefore, it all comes down to the type of content being posted, not just being well-endowed, willing to perform bareback sex, or how often the face is shown.

A licensed professional who has a son, FUCKER Daddy started as a “lurker’ (i.e. one who lurks, or just consumes content/views profiles) on Twitter. At that time, he wrote “my real-life sex stories, hoping it will pick up from there,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, alter peeps seem to be more into live action.”

And so FUCKER Daddy met someone from Telegram, without realizing that the person was “sort of (a) big (personality) on Twitter.” This guy discretely took a short clip of their sexual encounter, and then posted it on his alter account. “It was hit. (And) the rest is history.”

By August 2019, FUCKER Daddy said his inbox started receiving direct messages from different users – e.g. asking for more, congratulating him, wanting to collaborate, and so on.

He actually now has several sex videos in his cam. But he still doesn’t make recording the primary thing when engaging in sex “as my goal is to have hookups; videos are only secondary.”

Besides, he said that “I do not want to spoil the moment for sex and think only of it as merely for Twitter.”

But every time FUCKER Daddy posts a video, he said his over 95,000 followers respond to them “with enthusiasm, getting more curious and intrigued.”

Making a living

The concept of alter, however, isn’t set in stone.

For one, there are actually alter accounts whose owners prefer to use their real names and show their faces (like Onin), mixing their personal and private lives along the way. Following the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent analogy, there are also people who follow the Tony Stark/Iron Man mantra, i.e. openly announcing that they are one and the same.

Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.

Also, one may be part of the alter community without knowing it – i.e. one engages in alter activities without recognizing it as such.

The likes of John (a.k.a. @johnnephelim on Twitter and Instagram), who has over 130,000 followers, comes to mind, using Twitter as a platform “to promote a job.”

“I do not even know that I am involved in the world of alter,” John said, adding that he did not even know what the term meant until it was presented to him. Instead, his account is used to “promote my RentMen and OnlyFans accounts”, just as he also promotes his availability for “personal appointment to people.”

John actually used to work as a brand ambassador, but because of this change in his work, he “can no longer work (in) that (field) because I am doing porn.”

He admitted that “this type of thing is double-edged.” On the one hand, “you can earn a great amount of money,” he said, “but there will be sacrifices.”

He noted, for instance, that the perception of people about me changed; most people judge you right away because of what you do, and not because of who you are as a person.”

But he ignores the naysayers; “I do not mind because this job gives more than what I expected!”

Like John, Onin also promotes his JustFor.Fans (JFF) account on Twitter to respond to the requests of his followers.

“They (my followers) want to see me in action and they are willing to subscribe too,” Onin said, with his exclusive content including: he and his partner having sex, and collaborations with other alters. “You will not earn that much, but pretty enough to compensate for the contents that we are posting.”

Not all alters think alike, obviously. FUCKER Daddy, for instance, won’t monetize his content, saying: “I value sex as it was created. I never sell any (videos) because I think it is something that is worth free. I simply treated it as making memories while those (who) watch put up the numbers.”

Behind the handles

The world of alter has actually already caught the attention of researchers.

For instance, in a study by Samuel Piamonte of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, Mark Quintos of De La Salle University Manila, and Minami Iwayama of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it was found that the alter community may seem overtly sexual, but there is more to it than that.
“The sexual aspect of alter is the core of alter, but it has been enriched by more complex social benefits to users such as including formation of new friendships, sharing of information and advocacies, reciprocations of emotional support, and provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality but find that doing so outside of the alter community could be met with stigma from their peers and family.”

Kurt sees his alter account as an avenue for him to tap his inner self and show the Twitter universe his kalat. Onin uses his alter account to broadcast his sexual side (together with his partner). And FUCKER Daddy uses his alter account as “a constant source of info, hookups, convo… and to learn social demographics as well.”

The evolution, indeed, continues.

Hate from within the community

Yes, yes, yes… with increasing numbers of followers, multiple likes and shares, and the creation of alter “celebrities”, this has not been spared from criticisms.

And sadly, said Kurt, at least in the Philippine setting, the prejudice against alters comes from within the community. “Kapuwa LGBT ang nagsisiraan at nagpapataasan sa isa’t-isa,” he said. “I know… that I cannot please everyone (but) for me it is okay, as long as I know that I am not doing anything wrong.”

Perhaps a “surprise” is the audience’s inability to “appreciate” the free content given them, with Kurt noting that there are times when “they are also pissed off with the things I post.”

This seems to contradict the findings of Piamonte, Quintos and Iwayama, since – here – the alter community can become a fearful place, too.

John, like Kurt, noted how people resort to demeaning others when they do not fit preconceived notions. But he just laughs this off, saying: “Do not hate me because I look good and make money (from) it. Life is too short to be a bitter person. If you do not like what we do, then shut the fuck up.”

The Pandora’s box, so to speak has been opened; and lessons learned along the way can just “make you stronger and bring out the best in you,” said Onin, who like many alters, “just focus on my goals.” And it is exactly because of the existence of this interchange – the content creation, and the love-hate reaction to what’s created – that alter is not going to disappear anytime soon (or at all).

Details and photos of sexual encounters were lifted from the Twitter accounts of the interviewees.

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Op-Ed

Simple but effective tips on how you can better protect trans women

Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it. So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.

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These are simple but effective tips on how you can better protect the trans women in your lives in the context of a night that could go wrong. Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it.

So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.

1. PICTURE.

If you are hooking up with someone, ALWAYS send a picture of the person you are hooking up with to people you trust with your life. If you are hooking up with someone from a club, bar, or any public place, ask your friend to take your picture with the person you’d be with. This can be de done discreetly or with the permission of the other person. When asking permission, tell the person that you’re taking his/her picture for security purposes.

2. ADDRESS.

If you are going to someone else’s house for a booty call, send your GPS location via Whatsapp OR text the address of your location to people you trust.

3. WAIT.

If you are walking someone home or dropping them off, do not leave until the person is already inside his/her house. Do not let your drunk or high friend go home alone, either invite your friend to your house or accompany them home.

4. “I’M SAFE” CALL/TEXT.

Always demand an “I’m safe” call/text from your friend as soon as they’re home.

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