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Meeting a trans bangkero in Lake Pandin

Meet Merce, here as part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine launched to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living. As a trans bangkero in Lake Pandin, Merce says to other LGBT people: “Hanapin ang kaligayahan at panatilihin ito. Parang pamamangka; sagwan nang sagwan. Maikli ang buhay; huwag sayangin sa hinayang (Find your happiness, and keep it/stick to it. It’s like ferrying a boat, you just keep paddling. Life is short; don’t waste it by regretting).”

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.”

Prior to 2005, 53-year-old transgender man Merce Tolentino left his karinderya (eatery) in Metro Manila to return to Lake Pandin. “Mag-isa lang nanay ko rito (My mom lived all by herself here then),” he said. “Nagkataon din na nagka-dengue ako, kaya umuwi na lang ako (I also had dengue fever then, so I decided to just come back home).”

Merce’s family has always been supportive of him. “Pito kami magkakapatid – pang-lima ako (There are seven of us – I’m the fifth),” he said, adding with a laugh: “Dati, tatlo ang lalaki; ngayon, apat na (Three of the kids were assigned male at birth; but now, there are four of us who are male).”

Merce’s timing to return to Lake Pandin was somewhat good – i.e. upon his reappearance, a group of women who lived off Lake Pandin by making a living there as bangkera (paddlers) and mangingisda (fisherwomen) decided to officially organize their ranks.

And Merce became one of the original members (one of – at that time – two trans men) of the Samahan ng mga Bangkera at Mangingisda ng Lawa ng Pandin.

Yes, Merce “sees myself as a man”; but membership in the organization – particularly in 2005 – was dictated by assigned sex at birth. It was, after all, supposedly an all-female organization; and at that time (though even now), Merce is often considered as “isa lang tomboy (just a tomboy).”

Not that Merce complains, finding an “alternative family” in the association he belongs to. “Masaya naman dito (It’s fun here),” he said. “Tanggap naman nila ako (They all accept me).”

And this even if even now, many do not recognize Merce as a (trans) man, but as “isang tomboy (a tomboy/lesbian).” “Di pa rin yata matanggap na lalaki talaga tingin ko sa sarili ko (Maybe they don’t know how to deal with the way I see myself as a man),” he said, sardonically smiling.

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As a bangkero, Merce earns “sapat lang (just enough),” he said. The association members actually earns as a community; and then at the end of the day, they deduct from their earnings all incurred costs (e.g. to replace the kawayan or bamboo), then divide among the members what’s left. “May panahong malaki ang kita (There are days when we earn well),” he said. “Meron namang matumal (Then there are slow days).”

Not, he said, that he’s complaining. What he earns is, after all, “sakto sa pamilya ko (enough for my family).”

Merce has been living with his partner, Melda, for 20 years now. The two met when Merce was still in Manila; and “sabi ko sa kanya, kung mahal niya ako, susunod siya sa akin dito (I told her that if she loves me, she’d follow me here),” he said. “Sumunod nga (She did).”

Now, “tatlo ang anak namin (We have three kids),” he said, beaming.

Masaya naman dito (It’s fun here),” Merce said. “Tanggap naman nila ako (They all accept me).”

For other LGBT people, particularly “‘yung hinahanap pa lang ang sarili (those who are still finding themselves),” Merce said, “hanapin ang kaligayahan at panatilihin ito. Parang pamamangka; sagwan nang sagwan. Maikli ang buhay; huwag sayangin sa hinayang (find your happiness, and keep it/stick to it. It’s like ferrying a boat, you just keep paddling. Life is short; don’t waste it by regretting).”



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