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Moses Myro Ayuha: ‘When dealing with HIV, visibility is not the same as understanding’

For 32-year-old Moses Myro Ayuha, “visibility cannot be equated with (actually) understanding the HIV issue, particularly PLHIVs.” This is because – for him – tokenistic representation is rife; and with that, “the abuse of the real issues of those infected and affected by HIV.”

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This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email editor@outragemag.com; or call (+63) 9287854244,  (+63) 9157972229 and (+632) 536-7886.

With approximately 30 Filipinos getting infected with HIV every day, and with more than 80% of them men who have sex with men (MSM) including gay and bisexual men, HIV is – without a doubt – one of the biggest issues affecting the LGBT community in the Philippines. But while the issue is frequently raised (e.g. even former versions of the anti-discrimination bill eyed to protect people living with HIV/PLHIVs), for 32-year-old Moses Myro Ayuha, “visibility cannot be equated with (actually) understanding the HIV issue, particularly PLHIVs.” This is because – for him – tokenistic representation is rife; and with that, “the abuse of the real issues of those infected and affected by HIV.”

As a peer educator, Moses Ayuhay now tries to educate people on HIV; while also encouraging people to get themselves tested. He knows on a firsthand basis how debilitating HIV can be “if left unattended,” he said. But he knows, too, “we can deal with it.”
IMAGES COURTESY OF MOSES AYUHA

Ayuha tested HIV-positive over eight years ago. Formerly involved in the sex industry for two years, he remembered “getting so sick,” he said. “I had severe diarrhea, had pneumonia, my senses seemingly vanished (I couldn’t taste the food I was eating, I couldn’t see colors, et cetera), I was losing so much weight…”

His friends told him to get himself tested, but Ayuha “refused to listen to them.” He was earning up to P15,000 a week, so he thought he was living a good life.

Eventually, though, when being sick became more intolerable than just getting tested, “I faced my own demons and got tested.”

When he was told he has HIV (his CD4 count was 55), “my first thought was, ‘Am I gonna die?’”

Ayuha told his family (in Japan), and – sadly – they told him: “Mag-Harakiri ka na; kung magpapakamatay ka, mas hahanga pa kami sa iyo (Kill yourself; if you do, we’d admire you more).”

He was in the hospital when he encountered people from The Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI). This organization for PLHIVs eventually became “home” for Ayuha, since it provided him accommodation and, eventually, employment. This is important for Ayuha because, “until now, I don’t speak to my biological family,” he said, proving that at times, one is not born into a family, but one forms one.

PAFPI was established in September 1998 after members of the HIV community noted the lack of treatment, care and support (TCS) services in the country. The organization aimed to contribute to the national responses not only in advocacy to prevent the spread of HIV, but also in the provision of TCS for people living with HIV (PLHIV), as well as their affected families/loved ones.

Among others, PAFPI gives HIV 101 seminars/workshops (e.g. to youth and overseas Filipino workers and their families); provides temporary housing to people living with HIV (PLHIV), particularly those who were kicked out of their homes due to their HIV status; and extends support in accessing treatment, care and support (TCS) services.

PAFPI marks 18th anniversary, calls for unified responses to curb HIV spread

Ayuha believes that – when discussing LGBT Pride as a whole – “HIV should not be relegated as an afterthought, but as an important issue affecting our community greatly,” he said.

Ayuha is aware, for one, of “profiteering happening in the HIV community”, and for him, this is sad because “people who are really affected by it continue not to receive the support that’s supposed to go to them.” But for him, this also highlights how “underrated pa rin ang usaping ito (this issues continues to be underrated).”

As a peer educator, Ayuha now tries to educate people on HIV; while also encouraging people to get themselves tested. He knows on a firsthand basis how debilitating HIV can be “if left unattended,” he said. But he knows, too, “we can deal with it.”

For people infected or affected by HIV and who are in need of help to access treatment, care and support, contact Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. at 2613-2615 Dian St., Malate, City of Manila; or call (+632) 404-2911 or 528-4531.

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‘Don’t ‘fix’ people; let them decide who or what they want to be’

An intersex person, Charm Ison initially hid his identity by identifying as a lesbian. Now learning more about his condition, he believes parents who want to ‘fix’ their children while still young should let these children grow up first and choose who/what they want to be. “Let them think for themselves, and decide for their future.”

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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.”

Charm Ison, 28 from Taguig, was christened ‘Charmaine Anne’ as a kid when she was assigned female at birth.

“I was nine or 10 years old when I had my first menstruation and my breasts started developing,” Charm recalled. “That was also the time when I noticed my ambiguous genitalia.”

Charm mentioned this to his Mom “but she just ignored me. (So even then) I hid what I am.” Even then, “people… did not understand the way I see/perceive myself.”

Charm was actually not delivered by a doctor but by a midwife.

“My Mom didn’t reach the hospital; she delivered me in a clinic. My aunt (who was there) told me I was (assigned) female at birth. But she said that even then, she noticed my ambiguous genitalia,” Charm said.

The eldest of six children, Charm’s parents separated. So his aunt adopted him, and his grandmother raised him.

While growing up, Charm asked his aunt to elaborate on the “ambiguity” she observed, “but she told me not to get checked because we don’t know what will be done to me.”

“I hid my identity by identifying as a lesbian. But the moment I could think for myself, I already thought of myself as a man, acting as one.”

A WORLD OF CONFUSION

Charm recalled that when he was young, “they asked me: What do you want to be when you grow up? They made me wear girls’ clothes, but I wanted boys’ clothes. They gave me Barbie dolls, but I wanted to play with balls and toy guns.”

And so perhaps not surprisingly, while growing up, “I hid my identity by identifying as a lesbian. But the moment I could think for myself, I already thought of myself as a man, acting as one.”

But Charm was – in a word – confused.

In Grade 6, Charm had a masculine haircut and joined a gang/fraternity. And then in high school, he grew his hair long and tried to be more feminine “even though I really felt I’m a man,” he recalled, adding he “tried everything. “I even joined a beauty pageant. And onstage, I acted feminine… I even entertained male suitors. But after these, behind the scene… when I leave the stage, when no one sees me, I still acted masculine. I couldn’t hide what’s in my heart.”

Charm was in college when he came out as a lesbian, though “only because that’s what I only knew. So for me, it’s easier to hide my identity by claiming to be a lesbian.”

NOT ALONE

One day, Charm saw a show on TV about an intersex person.

“It made me realize I am not the only one with questions,” he said. “(That) person also had ambiguous genitalia. And this made me think… (even if) my questions were still unanswered. So I still kept praying… that I’ll be okay, that I’d be normal.”

For Charm, “there was a disconnect with the way I thought of myself and my attraction, versus my physical traits. Feminine characteristics were surfacing but I saw myself as a man.”

“Let kids choose what they want to be when they grow up. Let them choose if they want to be male or female. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves.”

Charm was in college when he came out as a lesbian, though “only because that’s what I only knew. So for me, it’s easier to hide my identity by claiming to be a lesbian. At least people stop asking me about (my condition).”

And then Charm discovered an intersex group, and “I started to slowly understand this condition,” he said. For Charm, it helps to be with people experiencing what he’s experiencing; and “I can be honest in this group.”

So that now, “I’m now trying to be comfortable/at ease with this. So that even if people discover I belong to the intersex community, I hope they will accept me.”

FACING CHALLENGES

Life hasn’t always been easy, said Charm.

“There are instances when they belittle you; when they underestimate you,” Charm said. “But this didn’t hinder me. I show to them that even if I’m like this, I can do anything that others can do, male or female.”

Even now, only some people know of Charm’s condition.

“Many people think I’m a lesbian. And for now, this is fine with me. Because I don’t know if people will accept me the moment they know I am hiding something about who I am,” he said.

Charm added: “People are only used to binaries – e.g. male and female, gay and lesbian. But now, intersex people are surfacing. Hopefully people will become more aware of (intersex conditions). And for people to accept that people like us also exist.”

“I’m now trying to be comfortable/at ease with this. So that even if people discover I belong to the intersex community, I hope they will accept me.”

ONGOING STRUGGLE

Charm told his Mom about his condition, “but she doesn’t understand it.” Even his aunt, who helped raise him, “she still doesn’t understand this. Actually, my aunt didn’t even want me to join an intersex group. She’s worried my life will be scrutinized.”

But now with people who share the same experiences as he does, and “even if our conditions are different… belonging to a group makes me happy.”

To date, Charm still hasn’t undergone tests to check his intersex condition. “I need to save a lot of money to get myself checked,” he said. “I also have a lot of questions. Can I bear children? Can I impregnate? Is it possible to change the gender marker in my birth certificate from female to male so I can marry a woman? I still want to be able to marry a woman.”

But self-awareness has dawned at least.

“This is me; and I want to know and discover myself. It is my right to know who/what I really am,” Charm said.

“If you choose to be male or female, affirm/uphold it. Follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself.”

LET PEOPLE BE

“To younger intersex people going through what I’m going through, have faith in yourself. Show who you really are. Don’t be afraid to know who you really are. If you choose to be male or female, affirm/uphold it. Follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself,” Charm said. “We need to show who/what we really are.”

“I also have a lot of questions. Can I bear children? Can I impregnate? Is it possible to change the gender marker in my birth certificate from female to male so I can marry a woman? I still want to be able to marry a woman.”

But this struggle isn’t for intersex people alone.

“To (parents of intersex people), let your child decide for himself/herself. When these kids grow, they will have their own perspectives/perceptions. Let these kids choose what they want to be when they grow up. Let them choose if they want to be male or female. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves,” Charm said.

And parents who want to ‘fix’ their children while still young should not “have them undergo surgery. Because when they grow up, they may choose a different sex to the one assigned to them; or different sex characteristics may develop. Their life will be wasted. Let them grow up first, think for themselves, and decide for their future,” Charm ended.

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Pansexual in Mindanao: ‘Falling in love with a person’s soul, not the body parts’

Bex, 37, was originally from Marawi City, where growing up #pansexual was challenging, not helped by the “oppressive” #Islamic culture there. Now based in #Cotabato City with a sister that comprehends her #LGBT struggle, she said there are still people who are not open to the idea of pansexuality; though she tells them to “just let people be themselves.”

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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.”

When Bex, now 37, was growing up in an Islamic community in Marawi City in Mindanao, she remembered how things were “pretty… should I say oppressive? In that place, if you’re not Muslim, you’re the minority. And you’re not allowed to dress a certain way. Or speak a certain way. We were in our homes by 6 P.M. because we had to be careful because everyone was a target. That was the environment there.”

She said that without the benefit of hindsight, “it was ‘normal’ for us. But now that I’ve grown up, I’m realizing it really wasn’t normal.”

There was this feeling of “confinement”, of “suffocation” that stays on.

And so when she had a chance, Bex moved to Cagayan de Oro City; and then – eventually – to Cotabato City.

LETTING PEOPLE BE

Bex said she knew “for a very long time that I’m not straight. As early as six years old, I knew that something was different.”

When she was in high school, she already started experimenting. “At first I dated women. But it didn’t stop there. And so at some point – I guess it was already in my early 30s – I decided that I don’t confine myself in the gender binary.”

Now, Bex said “I accept myself as a pansexual.”

Bex had to come out. “I think (that was) in my mid-20s. I think my Dad already figured it out when he was still alive, when I was still in high school. But we didn’t talk about it. But then when my Mom sort of had that confirmation that I was seeing women, she didn’t take it very well. She thought I was just acting out. At some point… maybe she was blaming herself, trying to make sense of it all. At this point I don’t even think she’s fully accepting. Just tolerating it, and living with it.”

But Bex now says that “if people can’t accept that, I’m not saying it’s a problem. But if they don’t understand it, then they should learn. If they want to understand it, then they should learn about it. I mean, if you’re not open to the idea of pansexuality, so be it. I guess you just have to let people be themselves.”

“At first I dated women. But it didn’t stop there. And so at some point – I guess it was already in my early 30s – I decided that I don’t confine myself in the gender binary.”

FOCUS: PANSEXUAL

“I don’t fall in love with a person’s body parts. I fall in love with their soul. To me, that’s how I see, how I view pansexuality as,” Bex said.

She understands that “it can be confusing to other people who are on the outside looking in. Before, people even told me I’m just being selfish; like I just want the whole buffet,” she said, somewhat sardonically. “But I guess it’s not about what other people think. It’s what you are at peace with. You know, being accepted by other people is one thing, but the most important thing is that you accept yourself.”

Even now, “you don’t really feel free to tell everyone who you are. You don’t really feel – all the time – that you’re safe. So, of course, I still need to be careful,” Bex said.

Bex said she didn’t “literally come out, telling people that I’m gay. At that time I only told people, ‘Oh, I’m dating this person.’ I guess it got confusing for them, too, because I didn’t only date women. They saw that I dated men. I also dated a gay man. So I think it was necessary for me to tell people that this is what I identify as.”

“But I guess it’s not about what other people think. It’s what you are at peace with. You know, being accepted by other people is one thing, but the most important thing is that you accept yourself.”

HEAD OF A FAMILY

Bex has a younger sister; 10 years younger than her.

“I’m not sure how it was for her (when I came out) because for a very long time – because of my sexuality – I detached myself from my family, including her,” she said.

But when her sister started attending college, “I made a decision to take her under my wing.”

At that point in time, too, their mother had to leave the country.

“I don’t fall in love with a person’s body parts. I fall in love with their soul. To me, that’s how I see, how I view pansexuality as.”

Recently, Bex learned that her sister has “very strong feelings about gay people. Like, she would say that it’s not fair that gay people can’t marry. She would say that it’s not fair that gay people are having such a hard time. She understood what my struggles were,” she said, misty-eyed. “She understood what my struggles were (while) growing up and having to look for a family elsewhere because I didn’t feel like I was accepted (by) my own (family).”

NEW LIFE

“I actually gave in to a friend’s request to come see Cotabato. I had very low expectations,” she said, adding that she initially thought Cotabato City would be similar to Marawi City, which she left because it was stifling.

But when she arrived in Cotabato City, “it was actually very different. I (would) travel and I’ll just wear shorts; short shorts. In Marawi City, everyone would look at you if you’re wearing skimpy shorts. But here, it’s just normal for them. Also, what amazed me was that I saw a lot of gay people; like… loud and proud gay people.”

As a graphic designer who does most of her work online, “I can take my job anywhere I go. (This) made it easier for me to move to Cotabato just like that.”

Actually, coincidentally, “a couple of months (after checking Cotabato), I met someone on Tinder (dating app). Coincidentally, (she) was living in Cotabato City. So we met up a month later in Cotabato City. And (another) month later, I moved to Cotabato City.”

“Pansexuality can be confusing to other people who are on the outside looking in. Before, people even told me I’m just being selfish; like I just want the whole buffet.”

WANTED: INCLUSIVE RAINBOW

Bex thinks that “right now the LGBT community is growing; the (number of) letters (in the acronym) is growing. So they’re just putting (the plus sign) on it. But there are still people who need to feel that they are included. That they’re part of this community. That it’s not just for the ones (represented by the available) letters on the acronym,” she said.

There may be others who used to also feel trapped as she once did.

And so Bex said: “My message to the members of the LGBTQ+++ community who are still trying to find themselves is that, you know, you’ll get there. It will get better. I mean, just be happy. Don’t overthink things. There are always people who will be there for you, but you have to also make an effort. Don’t play a victim, you know. There is so much in this world waiting for you. And there is so much that you can give.”

And in the end: “If they hate us, then it’s their problem. Like I’ve always said, ‘Hate is a poison that you ingest.’ So if you have hate in you, you’re harming yourself more than whatever it is you’re hating.”

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No less human

Assigned female at birth, Andy Andres used to “hide” behind the #lesbian community, until he discovered he’s actually #intersex. Life hasn’t been easy for him, getting discriminated for being different. He hopes people will eventually accept them. “God did not only create man and woman. Because if this is so, then who created us?”

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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.”

Andy Andres – 30 years old and the youngest of six siblings from the Province of Pampanga – was assigned female at birth. In 2008, “I had myself checked because of pain in my lower abdomen/tummy,” Andy said, adding that even then, “I was apprehensive because I may be discriminated because my condition is ‘different’.”

Even as a teenager, “I asked my mother why – even if I was already 13, 14 or 14 – I still didn’t menstruate. My breasts also didn’t develop. My mom told me to just wait. I told her my case may be different. Because based on my genitalia, mine was different.”

Andy’s apprehension to see a doctor was based on the knowledge that “when people discover you’re different, people immediately discriminate against you.”

After seeing a doctor, Andy was told of his intersex condition: congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

GROWING UP DIFFERENT

The name written on Andy’s birth certificate is ‘Marissa Andres’.

And without knowledge of the intersex condition, “I hid my identity by claiming I’m a lesbian,” Andy said, adding that in the past, “I didn’t know better.”

There was a time when “I used clothes for women, but I was never attracted to men. That may be also why I pretended I was a lesbian. At least, by pretending to be a lesbian, I can act in a masculine manner.”

Even then, though, he already identified as a man.

And even then, “my family accepted me.” But yes, there was a time when even a sibling bullied him.

Andy started using his chosen name because of work.

“In the company I first worked with, they placed me in the women’s quarter because that was the sex in my birth certificate. There, I experienced bullying. They told me my birth certificate says I’m a woman, but my breasts did not develop, and I didn’t menstruate. They asked me what I am; and I couldn’t explain my situation to them,” he said.

It was hard for Andy to even go to the toilet. “I presented myself as a man, but I went to the female toilet,” he said. “Some people even told me, ‘Maybe you’re an alien.’ It hurts. But I can’t do anything about this, so I just ignore them.”

There was also a time when Andy was rejected for a job. “They had a physical check-up, and I was rejected due to this,: he said.

Andy was “so depressed I considered killing myself. There was a time when even I didn’t accept myself.”

Andy’s apprehension to see a doctor was based on the knowledge that “when people discover you’re different, people immediately discriminate against you.”

GROWING WITH KNOWLEDGE

After knowing he’s intersex, “initially, it was difficult for me to accept that I am intersex. I asked: ‘Of all the people, why me?’ I’m not a bad person, I did no wrong; even my family did no wrong. So why me? I was depressed.”

Andy disclosed to his family, and “I saw their expressions, they looked happy. They were happy I found the answer to a question I asked them that they couldn’t answer. They said at least it’s not my ‘fault’, unlike LGBT people. I don’t think they meant to discriminate. But they said that with me, at least I can choose (what I want to be).”

The support of family and friends helped Andy survive.

“Now, I have fully accepted my condition. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s already here; God gave this to me. I think God gave this to me because He has a reason/purpose. God won’t do this without reason,” he said.

After knowing he’s intersex, “initially, it was difficult for me to accept that I am intersex. I asked: ‘Of all the people, why me?’ I’m not a bad person, I did no wrong; even my family did no wrong. So why me? I was depressed.”

LIVING FOR THE FUTURE

Andy has a partner now.

“Not to boast, but I may be intersex, but I already had a number of girlfriends,” he beamed. “I don’t believe physical traits matter when looking for true love. As long as you can love the person, and that person can’t accept you, there won’t be a problem.”

Andy added: “I disclosed my condition to all my girlfriends; even before I started wooing them. If a girl doesn’t accept me, I move on. But there are some who stayed.”

Andy has yet to amend his original birth certificate because of financial issues. “So when I have saved enough, I’ll prioritize this,” he said, “to legally change the name ‘Marissa’ in my birth certificate.”

And for Andy, there’s always more that can be done.

And this starts with acceptance.

“To younger intersex people, accept who you are, what you have/are. Don’t give in to depression. If you are depressed, many can help you. Never consider killing yourself because that will be a waste. There are different ways to live (productively). No matter what you’re going through, trust God,” he said.

Andy also recognizes that haters will always exist.

“To those who mock us, continue with what you’re doing,” he said, laconically. “But I also hope they will eventually accept us. God did not only create man and woman. Because if this is so, then who created us? I hope you also see us as humans who also get hurt and fight hardships in life.”

“To younger intersex people, accept who you are, what you have/are. Don’t give in to depression. If you are depressed, many can help you.”
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Gandang Elden

#Cotabato City-based Elden Lopena – who realized he’s gay when he’s 16 – did not immediately accept his #SOGIESC; but his exposure to the #LGBT community persuaded him he belonged, leading to self-acceptance. Now a successful cosmetologist in #Maguindanao, he also teaches younger LGBTQIA people to be better versions of themselves.

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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.”

Elden Lopena, a 54-year-old hairstylist from Cotabato City, realized he’s gay when he was 16. “I just graduated from high school then,” he recalled. “I realized I’m gay when I got attracted to a male classmate, and we had sex.”

At first, Elden said he couldn’t accept he’s gay. “Gradually, I realized this makes me happy; particularly when I saw my (LGBTQIA environment). I was happy with the LGBTQIA circle I had, and this made me happy to be gay.”

Elden has three siblings (“I am the eldest”), so “it wasn’t easy for me to come out as gay. Although I knew my parents knew I’m gay, I still came out gradually.”

Elden thinks his parents really knew he’s gay when “I started hanging out in salons, and they heard of this. Later on, they (even) encouraged me to work in a salon. They told me: ‘Whatever makes you happy, do it.'”

Elden entered the beauty industry when he was in college.

“When my parents couldn’t send me to school anymore, I decided to work. Later, I realized I had to develop myself as a hairstylist. So I stopped going to school to focus on this,” he said.

It never occurred to Elden he’d be a hairdresser for life.

“When I was young, I wanted to be an engineer or a doctor. But my parents couldn’t afford to send me to school; I had to find a way to send myself to school (at first). When I discovered this industry, I realized I should just focus on this. I underwent trainings, attended seminars. By then I realized this is meant for me. I also learned to love it. Until we see we can survive, then progress comes.”

At first, Elden said he couldn’t accept he’s gay. “Gradually, I realized this makes me happy; particularly when I saw my (LGBTQIA environment). I was happy with the LGBTQIA circle I had, and this made me happy to be gay.”

Elden opened his own salon in 1991.

“I had a small capital. I just added staff later. My (first salon) was simple – it just had a simple chair and a mirror. My initial capital was P15,000. I spent it on beautifying the area,” he said.

Elden thinks his salon worked because he focuses on satisfying his customers.

“Even if your place isn’t that beautiful, just give clients the best service,” he said.

As he is getting older, “we have to be stronger. You should enjoy life,” Elden said.

And for him, “the most important thing for us to do as we get older is to leave lessons to the young. Me, I am a hairstylist and a trainer. So I teach those who want to be in this industry; who want this line of work. This makes me happy: Training people (such as TESDA students).”

Elden said that younger hairstylists now do not have enough proper training. “We always need training to update our skills.”

“Even if your place isn’t that beautiful, just give clients the best service,” he said.

As a local of Cotabato City, Elden said “there really are people who judge us because of differences in beliefs. There are different cultures in Cotabato City. Dealing with this isn’t easy for (LGBTQIA people). For instance, as a gay man, I organize shows for gays here. One time, I organized an event in this gym. Things were initially okay until I was told we couldn’t hold the show there because we’re gay. I still fought for it. But I realized we still need their understanding.”

LGBTQIA people are considered ‘haram’ (taboo) in Islam, added Elden. “To deal with that, we often just don’t react in any way. It’s better to act this way to avoid aggravating those who may have more adverse reactions to us. We respect various religions. But I also expect people to respect me as a gay person.”

Elden added: “We want people to understand our humanity. So, little by little, we educate ourselves, and we educate others… To date, people are slowly starting to better understand us… no matter their culture.”

Incidentally, Elden is also an HIV advocate, saying that “I became an HIV advocate when I found out that male-to-male sex is the main mode of HIV transmission.”

As he is getting older, “we have to be stronger. You should enjoy life,” Elden said.

“The rate of HIV infection in Cotabato is already high… (so) we’re now trying to educate more people here about HIV,” he said.

For Elden, “as a gay person, we have to be good at what we do; we have to excel in everything. You don’t have to be mediocre just because you’re gay. Show you can do things.”

To achieve this, “first, love yourself. Look after yourself,” Elden said, adding that LGBTQIA people should “love your parents.”

In the end, “focus on respecting others so people also respect you. To younger LGBTQIA people: Life goes on. So continue dreaming. Never stop respecting others… and yourself. That way, society will accept you.”

And for him, “the most important thing for us to do as we get older is to leave lessons to the young.”
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Defining who you are…

Before discovering she’s a woman, Ruffy Yulo – an intersex person with Klinefelter syndrome – said people gossiped that she “just wanted” to be a woman so she “can sleep around.” The mockery of intersex experience, she now says, ignores the difficulties intersex people go through.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Assigned male at birth, Ruffy Yulo, 42 from Ortigas/Pasig City, was already 29 when she discovered “I’m actually intersex.”

She recalled though that, earlier, “when I was 19, when I went to the doctor, I would always get checked. The doctor would always say I have hormonal imbalance.”

But one day, when she was 29, she met a doctor in a gathering for gay and bi men. “The first time he saw me, he asked me what I was doing in that gathering.”

The doctor then mentioned to Ruffy that she may be/is intersex; and “it was the first time I heard of such a condition,” considering her sex assignment at birth.

In hindsight, though, there were “clues” in her life on her condition.

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation),” she said. But she recalled that “one time, we went to the pediatrician who looked after me. I heard him say: ‘Did I not tell you in the past to fix this?’.”

And so when she was told she’s intersex, “I thought I’d just do the test (karyotyping). If I see from the test that I’m not intersex, that’s okay.”

But when Ryffy took the test, “I found out that I was actually a mosaic, I was really surprised. I was happy, but at the same time, I was also very confused.”

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation).”

LIFE LIVED HARD

There was a time when Ruffu met someone who’s intersex. “That time, I thought, their case is very complicated. But their situation also made it easy for them… like explaining to those who’d mock them. I was young then; and that’s what I thought – that it was easier for them.”

But after finding out she, herself, is intersex, “it turns out I was wrong. When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

For example, as an adolescent, “when my body started changing, I had difficulty going to the toilet. When I go to the male toilet, I would get questioned: ‘Ma’am, this is the male toilet; yours is on the other side.’ There came a point when I wouldn’t even go to a toilet anymore. I’d just contain myself, and use a toilet when I’m in a place with (gender-neutral facilities).”

And when she applies for a job, “I always get to the second interview. But when I undergo medical exams, I never get any more calls.”

Ruffy said: “There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

BODY AUTONOMY

For most people who know Ruffy, “from the time we were classmates to the present time, they all consider me as gay. So even if I explain my situation as an intersex person, they will not understand. In fact, I tried several times,” she said.

There were times when people gossiped about her in school, for instance.

“When we were supposed to have a reunion, I was not able to attend. There were rumours that I (had gender affirmation surgery as a trans woman). That I had surgery because I just wanted to sleep around. Those were the stories that went around. But the truth was, I was already at risk for testicular cancer. That was the main reason why I had myself checked.”

The doctor who can do the surgery Ruffy needed here in the Philippines only had around 70 cases. “Unlike in Thailand, when I went there, I met my doctor and he already did over a thousand cases. In those 1,000 cases, he did (surgery) on two intersex individuals already. So I felt a lot safer (with him).”

It was a costly procedure, Ruffy admitted.

“But, you know, at that time when I did this, I didn’t have a choice. I was already at risk of having testicular cancer. And things needed to be removed. I also told my parents then that since there are many issues with my body, I wanted to fix everything in one go. At that time I was at risk to get testicular cancer, I had hernia… and there was that issue with my being intersex,” she said.

After her surgery, when Ruffy returned to the Philippines, she bled. “So I rushed myself to the hospital. There, while the doctor was checking me, I was surprised when nurses started gathering around me. They left their patients. They were all there trying to ask me several questions. I felt that the questions were irrelevant. They asked: How do you do sex? Why do you think you bled? Did you insert something inside you? Some of them I found really offensive,” Ruffy recalled. “But at that time, I had very little choice but to answer them. I thought, too, that maybe it’s for my own benefit.”

“When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

In hindsight, Ruffy said that “there (isn’t a lot of study done about the intersex condition). In fact, when I was talking to a physician, he told me that when they were still in medical school, there’s only one chapter covering this topic. What they know is so limited, so that every time they encounter an intersex person, they tend to ask a lot because it’s their only chance to get answers.”

To Ruffy, though – and she stresses this – if intersex people think that getting (non-necessary) surgery is the answer, “the solution for them to be happy, let me say this isn’t the solution. In fact I discourage intersex individuals to undergo surgery. To start, it’s costly. Secondly, it’s hard. Take my case, for instance, after undergoing the procedure, there were complications. One of the complications for me was… like I had early menopause. So the tendency was… for my bones to be more brittle.”

ON FINDING LOVE

“We know that a lot of men want someone who’s ‘normal’. They want someone who can conceive. They want someone they can grow old with… while caring for their grandchildren. This is something I can’t give,” Ruffy said.

So for a time, she didn’t date. “I mean, I also tried dating. But it’s challenging; it doesn’t work out. From the very start, even before we go on a date, I already tell them (that I am intersex).”

The doctor told her not to immediately disclose. “There was an instance after the surgery – when the doctor told me not to immediately disclose – when not disclosing gave me more problems. The guy thought I lied to him. Even if, in fact, that was not the intention.”

FINDING THE COURAGE

To younger intersex people, Ruffu said that “it’s totally normal to be scared. I will not say that you will instantly be courageous. But if you are facing hardships, these challenges are not exclusive to intersex people. Bisexuals, gays, lesbians and (even) heterosexuals – people from all spectrum, we all encounter difficulties. Perhaps it’s just more complicated for intersex people.

“But, you know, don’t limit your way of thinking that you’d amount to nothing. In fact, there are more chances to improve.”

“There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

That there will always be people who will look down on (or at least look differently at) intersex people does not escape Ruffy.

“What I learned over time is that it is the people who discriminate who have problems. They may be afraid that what other people experience, it will also be done to them. For instance, a person may say another person is not capable. It may be because that person is the one who is not capable. They are only projecting to others their lack of capability,” she said. “The truth is, if we give others a chance, there’s more to everyone (than meets the eye).”

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Trans in Baguio

Van Sanchez, the trans woman vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan, believes LGBTQIA people should be strong in fighting for what they feel in their hearts. For her, it’s time to show haters that “we’re already here, and we’re standing up for our human rights.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Van Sanchez, 25 years old from Baguio City, realized she’s trans when she was 15. This wasn’t… surprising for her, since “there are other LGBTQIA people in (my) clan,” she said. “There are 11 of us brothers and sisters. Two of us are ‘bakla’. We also have one sibling who’s a lesbian. So we’re totally complete in the family – we have lesbian and gay members.”

Perhaps it is this that made her family more accepting of her, since when Van’s parents found out she’s trans, “they didn’t react badly… They still fully support us.”

This isn’t to say Van’s life was always easy.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”

This is why “I’m here advocating for gender equality.”

“If I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this.”
“I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

Van was elected to be part of Sangguniang Kabataan in 2018, she said “representing the LGBTQIA community.” She also won as the vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

For Van, “it’s not difficult to be a public official. It’s not difficult even for me who’s part of the LGBTQIA community as a trans woman. The work you do is the same.”

Van thinks that being LGBTQIA is somewhat easier in a city like Baguio.

“Here in Baguio City, it’s not that hard to live as a trans person. Particularly now that there are people like us who advocate for gender equality in the city. I have yet to see locals discriminate against people like us,” she said.

She noted – and acknowledged – though that “perhaps they just don’t discriminate as much. It’s not bad to be trans here because people know about us… and they somehow accept us already.”

Van believes “fighting” starts within.

While completing a degree in education, “I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

“I also don’t believe in these when teaching. What matters more is how you teach your students; that you share your knowledge to them. Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van said.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”
“We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Now, “if I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this,” Van said, adding that “trans people and LGBTQIA community members should be united in fighting for our human rights.”

And to those who discriminate against LGBTQIA people, Van said: “Good luck. We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that. We’re here standing in front of you, and we’re here standing up for our rights. In the end, we’re all humans, and we’re equals in the eyes of God.”

“Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van Sanchez said.
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