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On the men who fancy us

Many continue not to be accepting of the love between transgender women and their men. Sass Rogando Sasot takes a closer – and personal – look.

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Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there’s no such thing.
Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.”
Wizlawa Szymborska

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a long time. The first itch to pen this came in 2002. I was in Sydney to participate in the Global Human Rights Conference organized by Amnesty International-Australia for the Sydney Gay Games.

Together with the guy I was dating at that time, I was interviewed for a documentary by one of the media covering the Sydney Gay Games. We were interviewed separately. After the interview, my date and I found out that we were asked a common question, which was about his attraction to transsexual women. He was asked to explain what made him attracted to transsexual women and whether he was gay, while I was asked a more prying one.

“Is the attraction of men towards transsexual women just an effect of the influx of ‘shemale porns’? Is this attraction just an expression of hypersexuality?”

“Maybe,” I answered. “But it’s hard to pinpoint a particular cause because attraction and desire are very complex processes. The question shouldn’t be why these men are attracted to us, but why is society forcing us to justify this attraction in the first place. I feel the question arises because people have already pre-judged that being sexually or romantically attracted to people like me is perverted and immoral. The motive is not to understand but to find feed for the initial judgment.”

Then the itch to pen this article came again last year.

On August 11, 2009, a nasty comment was posted by someone named “Tranny Chaser” on a blog entry at rainbowbloggersphils.blogspot.com. It was specifically addressed to Naomi Fontanos, the current chair of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), and to me, with a specific instruction that the administrators of this blog should make it sure that we would be able to read this:

To Sass Sasot and Pau Fontanos:

Please be sure they read the following:

No matter how you put it you still men, When are you going to understand? You are nothing but a sex fantasy, nothing but an excuse for those men who are afraid to accept they are gay, they feel better fucking a man with makeup and tits, somehow inside their mind it makes them feel less guilty. GET IT? you are nothing but a fantasy, a toy. A way to deal with homosexuality without feeling 100% guilty, nothing but whores looking for acceptance, you dont believe it? just ask yourselves how many men actually talk to you just because of who you are? The truth is they talk to you because they want to fuck something like you, because they are curious how you look naked and how you suck dick and fuck, they are curious how your tits grow, look and feel (“are those real”?) sounds familiar? they want to have a fantasy they saw in a movie, Those are just a few of the real reasons and not the ones you tell yourselves. Some of us will tell you, you are beautiful and many other crap because we know that will take you to bed with us maybe not right away but one thing for sure, it will be fast enough, and lets be honest, when bullshit is fed to you, you will give away your ass fast, that’s why here we call you “the easy bullshit one nightstand whores” because that’s what you are. No matter how you put it, you can keep telling yourselves lies, at the end just look in a mirror and look down. What you see? a dick you stupid whores. I know a couple of you, I wont tell if is in person or via internet, lets just say soon I’ll be getting closer or more friendly to one of them so we can become “friends” and then “intimate”, why? well is typical within the Philippine transgenders when they meet some one they like to give their ass fast, I guess not having self-respect and been a whore is a part of your culture, thats why us western guys love to make “friends” with asian transgenders, so easy to fuck when you tell them what they want to hear, so I’m telling you, you so damn easy to fool when bullshit is fed to you and a a nice picture is given, so now I’m among you and I’ll keep my eyes on you. My objective is to show others how whores you all are, activists, divas or not and that you shouldn’t go around pretending to be what you are not. I’ll be around my dear friends. At the end we both are going to have what we want, you will have the best sex of your lives and I’ll have the proof I want.

Tak-grazie-salamat.

This emotional-assault came at my most vulnerable time: I was at the most fragile stage of nursing a broken heart. The threat in this comment made me somewhat paranoid for some time. It made me distrustful of any man who tried to befriend me or even showed interest in me. But in the end, my relentless faith in the benevolence of life and in the eternal presence of love in our hearts stood triumphant.

This article is an expression of that faith and a way of exorcising myself of my own fears.

STRAP2Bashing men is such a seductive activity, specially after an encounter with a man who was born out of the anus. Moreover, the meme that “All men are pigs!” is a strong reinforcing factor for us to engage in this activity. Having three brothers, having studied in an all-boys schools, having guy friends, and having played the field for a while makes me confident to say that I’m adequately familiar with men. If there’s anything I can definitely say about men, it is the fact that men, just like other people of any gender, are very diverse. An encounter with “a particular man” cannot be used as an overarching statement about “all men.” And the same can be said for those men who fancy transwomen.

There are three persistent memes about men who fancy transwomen. First, is the view of transwomen about the men who fancy them: “These men are just using us to fulfill a sexual fantasy.” Second, the view of general society about these men: “These men are perverts.” And third: “These men are ‘really’ gay men who can’t accept they are gay.”

“THESE MEN ARE JUST USING US TO FULFILL A SEXUAL FANTASY…”

What is sexual fantasy? In their paper “Sexual Fantasy”, Harold Leintenberg and Kris Henning defined sexual fantasy as “almost any mental imagery that is sexually arousing or erotic to an individual.”

As sexual beings gifted with the faculty of imagination, we all have sexual fantasies; and most of the time, fulfilling a sexual fantasy includes another person. If we all have sexual fantasies, and if we all fulfill some, if not all, of them with another person (or persons, if you will), what then do transwomen find objectionable about the men who fancy them, who transwomen say are “just” fulfilling a sexual fantasy? In order to have a meaningful exploration of this question, we need to know the context from which this view of transwomen comes.

Perhaps it’s safe to say that in all parts of the world, we, transwomen didn’t grow up in societies that positively accept us for who we are. In our growing years, we transwomen experienced rejection from all social institutions (e.g. the family, school, church) that are supposed to be there to serve as nurturing and nourishing agents to the flourishing of our beings. Furthermore, the rejection that transwomen face is not just the typical rejection that starts and ends with a “No”. Each door that closes to us bears a sign: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” We get so insecure of ourselves: our bodies, our abilities, our existence…

Everyone, of course, has experienced what it means to be rejected. Indeed, being rejected can strengthen our fortitude. But if rejection is such a recurring and persistent and systematic loop of events in your life, healing becomes more difficult, leading you to easily build walls of suspicion around yourself. This type of rejection is what deeply breeds fear.

In this state of being rejected and shamed, cynicism becomes an addictive escape. In the comforts of our solitude, our tears carry the dolorous melody of the most mind-boggling question: “Why?” But deep inside our hearts is the ancient longing for the exquisite joy and pain of loving and being loved by someone; however, the ghosts of being rejected and shamed turn love into a Sisyphean task.

THEN WE ENCOUNTER A SURGE OF MEN WHO FANCY US….

Suddenly, we are desired for “what we are.” Porn, dating sites, chat rooms, bars where men can go to meet us sprang like mushrooms. Our hungry egos suddenly got its food: Attention. From being untouchables, we become “desirables.” To be lavished with this kind of attention provides such a great pull out of our “untouchable status.” Being rejected and shamed almost all of our lives, we find this attention as an irresistible novelty in our lives, which is so refreshing, so fascinating, so addicting, so ego-inflating! In the TS women’s dating/hook-up scene, two terms are being used to describe these men: Tranny Chaser and Tranny Admirer (My view about these terms will be discussed later).

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At first, we became so captivated by the novelty of this attention. Remember how a gazillion of men replied the first time you ever posted an ad on a dating site? How at least 10 private windows popped in your screen after you entered a chat room? How men go gaga over the girls in those TS bars? And of course, we find it intriguing that one of the fastest growing and in-demand genre of porn is those that feature us (well, most specially those that feature pre-op and non-op TS women).

But sooner or later, comes a rude awakening. The attention becomes a tiring cycle, a suffocating prison, a source of suspicion. And in our solitude, the whispers of our need for a more meaningful relationship flutter from our depths to beat on the palm of our reflection.

We ask: “What do these men want from us?” We take a survey of what’s happening around us. We see BS after BS thrown to us by men after men. We see everywhere an extravagant objectification of our bodies and over-sexualization of our being transgender. It seems that it is “only” through sex these men want to connect with us, that every eye gazing at us just seeks to undress us rather than dive into the depths of our being. Just how many men we’ve encountered treated us like an exciting dirty secret that they are so afraid to be discovered by their friends, family, colleagues, and, ehem, wives?

And outside porn, are there any visual representations of what it means to be with a transwoman? You can easily count the movies, television shows, or documentaries that are charming, re-assuring, love-affirming, non-sensationalizing, non-sexualized depiction of relationships between a transwoman and a man. This context is such a fertile ground for the paranoia that “We are just sex objects.”

Now add into this the social-rejection burden that we carry on our shoulders and – Voila! – we resort to playing the role of a victim who escapes into the hell of cynicism, indulging in self-pity and, worse, self-sabotage. We then unconsciously project this cynicism, self-pity, and self-sabotage in every relationship that we enter into.

It takes tremendous depth of emotional intelligence, an integrated sense of self-awareness, and courage to rise above this unconsciousness. It can be such a tall order to transcend the pain that we carry, but it is necessary if we want to invite serenity and stability to enter into our lives and our relationships.

So are these men “just” there to fulfill a sexual fantasy? Some of them are, but not all of them. Truth is, you haven’t met the proverbial “all men”; you’ve only met and dated the men you have attracted. Resorting to any kind of over-generalization is a lazy way of reflecting on things. Making “men-are-just-after-us-to-fulfill-a-sexual-fantasy” as your mantra is to invite a self-fulfilling prophecy. Attracting the same kind of man over and over again is a wake up call that you need to look deeper into yourself. You need to engage in an honest assessment of yourself: “What are the things, inside and outside of your self, that make you a magnet to these men you find disgusting?”

In order to have a relationship that is empowered and dignified by love, care, affection, and meaning, you have to empower yourself first with love, care, affection, and meaning. Magnets cannot ever attract what they are not capable of attracting.

Moreover, we have to remind ourselves that being treated as a sex object is not peculiar to transwomen. Every one gets sexually objectified: children, cisgendered women (women who were assigned female at birth), and yes, even men. This is not a consolation but a statement of fact that we don’t have a monopoly of this experience. Our sexual objectification is not caused by our being transgender but caused by that human practice of reducing the totality of another human being into their sexual value.

Another thing about us being “just” used as a sexual fantasy: Keep in mind that humans are erotic and emotional creatures. Our biological make-up just makes us so. We connect with people in both ways. If a man just connects with you erotically, perhaps it’s because that’s what they are capable of feeling at that moment – do not make a problem out of it, this is what makes those good-old casual sex possible. If he just wants to connect with you erotically, and you want to be connected with him in an emotional level as well, and there’s no sign that he wants to, then just close that chapter in your book, and move on.

If the only thing that binds you to a guy is that “you-are-a-transwoman-and-he-is-turned-on-by-transwomen”, chances are your relationship will be nothing but sexual, and forcing it to progress into something more magical and meaningful is to invite unnecessary suffering in your life. If you encounter this type of man, do not invoke the mantra that “these men are just using us to fulfill a sexual fantasy”. That will only invite self-pity. Instead of it, have the courage to tell yourself that life-saving sentence: “He is just not into me.” Just like everybody else, we have to accept that not every one who enters our lives would be so into us. If we encounter someone who is just not into us, it doesn’t mean that no one will be, unless of course there’s so much defects in your character that living with you becomes mission impossible. So close the chapter, cry if you will, and move on to the next adventure of your life.

But before venturing on to your next adventure, ask yourself whether you yourself have reduced the totality of your humanity into just one dimension: Your being a transwoman. If you do, you will just keep on attracting people who are only interested in you because you’re a transwoman. You are more than that and you are definitely more interesting than that, and you should live your life more than that! Be interesting and engaging enough so that you can attract someone who is interesting and engaging enough as well. Dig deeper into yourself. Exorcise your own demons and live with a sense of self-possession. People who bring out the best in them, inspires other people to do the same. Explore the multi-dimensionality of your being; do not just stop at the sexual dimension. Nurture and enrich other aspects of your self such as your spiritual and intellectual dimensions. Relationships are not built on and they don’t certainly last with two cardboards. When a relationship fails to work out, leave it at that. It’s a relationship that didn’t work out and it doesn’t mean that all relationships will never work out. And as you go on in your heart’s journey, remember to appreciate what comes your way and be compassionate enough to understand those who you feel have caused you hurt.

Every relationship that you enter into, whatever they are and whatever they are based on, provides a lesson that, if learned, cherished, and applied, will transform you into a much more integrated, more stable, and self-aware person.

“THESE MEN ARE PERVERTS”
“THESE MEN ARE ‘REALLY’ GAY MEN WHO CAN’T ACCEPT THEY ARE GAY”

A pervert is someone considered to be engaging in an abnormal, immoral, and repulsive sexual behavior by a majority of people. Let’s call this the deviant-model of perversion. The role of religion and psychiatric institutions in determining what a perversion is cannot be discounted. These two institutions have a long history of repressing, regulating, and controlling sexual behavior. They prescribe and proscribe sexual practices, and create a system of punishment for those who fail to follow them.

Labels are one of the means of taking control of sexual behavior. Packed in these labels are the value judgments assigned to them by the powers-that-be. These value judgments then trickle down to and get entrenched in the thinking patterns of every one else.

Trans-Santacruzan2Let’s take for example the term “homosexual”. Any one labeled as a homosexual bears the cross of being judged as abnormal, immoral, and repulsive. Prior to its delisting from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, homosexuality is considered a psychiatric disorder. To be diagnosed as a homosexual is a sure ticket to a psychiatric ward. One is “cured” of one’s “perversion” by being forced to become a heterosexual because heterosexuality (i.e. someone with a dick should only be erotically/romantically attracted to someone with a vagina, and vice versa) is mandated to be as the “natural” order of things, everything else shouldn’t be allowed to exist. And according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association (ILGA), 76 countries still criminalize “consensual sexual acts between persons of the same sex in private over the age of consent,” five of which have death penalty as punishment.

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This way of thinking confuses laws of nature with laws of men. If something exists that “violates” the laws of nature, that thing will not exist at all! When we encounter something that exists that violates laws of nature, let’s say law of gravity, we re-think the law of gravity; we don’t go on eliminating or changing or punishing the thing so that it fits and obey our existing thinking about gravity. On the other hand, when someone violates the laws of men, we punish and rehabilitate the person so that she/he will become a law-abiding citizen – that or we just get rid of them.

Oftentimes what we consider as “natural” is influenced by whatever we observe in the world of animals (as if humans are not part of nature!). There is a growing amount of evidence that diversity of sexual expression exists in nature: heterosexuality does not have a monopoly of being natural. Yet one must be careful of thinking that “Natural equals good.” That is the caveat offered by Joan Roughgarden in her groundbreaking book, Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. She goes on saying that “…this fallacy…confuses fact with value…[The] goodness of a natural trait is the province of ethical reasoning not science.”

Consider rape. Rape or coercive sex has been observed in the animal kingdom. Yet rape or any form of sexual assault is something that we don’t consider “good”. Rape is something that I, and perhaps every one, can consider as sexual perversion. My basis in judging it as such is not because it’s a sexual expression that deviates from the norm but because it strips someone of their autonomy, violates someone’s personal integrity, thereby inflicting suffering and indignity to other people. This is an example of one of the definitions of perversion that I find more helpful than the deviant-model one: to pervert is to bring someone or something into a bad or worse condition. Harm – in whichever form whether physical, psychological, emotional, et cetera – is central to this definition of perversion.

Using this conceptualization of perversion, we have to ask: What harm then do guys who fancy transwomen have caused just because they are attracted erotically or romantically to transwomen?

I find three reasons, why people think these men are perverts.

First, if there’s any harm that these men have done, it’s not towards people but towards the belief system of those who think that being erotically/romantically attracted to transwomen (specially those transwomen who are pre-op or non-op) is perverted. This belief system is largely genital-centric: Two penises or two vaginas cannot sleep in the same bed. Any violation of this genital-centricism is automatically called a perversion. Isn’t it that this genital-centric belief is what is truly perverted? After all, this belief makes us see people not as human beings but as body parts: penises, vaginas, ovaries, breasts… No meaningful relationship is possible between body parts. Relationships are forged by people who just happened to have these body parts and not the other way around.

Second, these men are judged as perverted because the object of their attraction/affection is considered a pervert in society. The logic goes this way: transwomen are perverts and only perverts can be attracted to them. And again, what harm do transwomen do to anyone just because they are transwomen?

And third, the view that these men are perverts are also largely-influenced by the view that they are “really gay men”. Of course, this is a view brought by the belief that homosexuality or any semblance of it is a perversion. Perhaps when homosexuality has been more understood as just another sexual expression, which is not inherently bad in itself, these men would not bear the stigma of being perverts. Nonetheless, the question remains: Are these men ‘really’ gay men who can’t accept they are gay?

The basis of sexual orientation labels like heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual is the “sex” of the object of our lust or love. Sex has so many determinants (e.g. chromosomes, hormonal level, internal and external genitalia, brain sex, ability to produce sperm, ability to produce eggs). Which one of these is the most valid reference point to determine the sex of the people we are attracted? These sex determinants aren’t always in harmony with each other and they do not remain the same all throughout a person’s life.

Let’s take for example the ability to produce eggs. The sex that has this ability is called the “female sex”. So if someone who has the ability to produce sperm (male sex), gets attracted to someone who has the ability to produce eggs, he is considered heterosexual. Now, how do you know if someone has the ability to produce eggs or ability to produce sperm? What happens then to your sexual orientation if your partner loses this ability? Now, do this with other sex determinants, and tell me how ridiculous it can be. Do you want the government to keep a publicly accessible list of people and their “sex determinants” so that you can be “sure” that the person you are attracted to has the sex you “really” want to be attracted to? Does your process of attraction work this way? Are you that so obsessive about defining your sexual orientation for you to bother at all? Am I giving you a headache, yet? We are so taking these terms for granted, accepting them like the infallible “Word of God”. But what exactly is the same in same-sex attraction (homosexuality) and opposite in opposite-sex attraction (heterosexuality)?

For most people, it’s the genital. This is because of the genital-centric view of sex that considers the external genitalia as the locus of sex, and therefore of gender (if you have a penis you’re a man; if you don’t, you’re a woman). Yet gender, no matter how it is associated with the genitals, is simply not the genitals.

Since gender is both identity and expression, I have good reasons to assume that gender is where our sense of identity resides and from where our expressions spring: The BRAIN. But gender is also a role imposed by society. Brains have cultural contexts from which they receive instructions on how they can express gender. Brain and culture function in an endless feedback-loop system. Both are influenced by each other, forever undergoing an intrinsic dance of negotiation and reconciliation. Pardon my long digression…

Going back: The view that men who fancy transwomen are “really” gay men is brought by the belief that transwomen are “really” men. But if one accepts that transwomen are women, then it follows that these men are not gay men; hence, the attraction is hetero-erotic: they are heterosexuals. If these men are also attracted to men, they may be called bisexuals. But why bother at all in defining this attraction? Well, the psychiatric establishment is obsessed with this.

The tongue-twisting “gynandromorphophilia” was coined by Drs. Richard Blanchard and Peter Collins to describe attraction to trans people (specifically to transwomen who have not had vaginoplasty). The “philia” in this term points that this attraction is a form of “paraphilia”. Paraphilia is defined as “description of sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation and that may cause distress or serious problems for the paraphiliac or persons associated with him or her.”

Dr. Blanchard and his like-minded peers are actually proposing that gynandromorphophilia, as well as other “atypical” sexual attraction, be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Pyschiatric Association, which is considered as one of the authoritative manuals of what can be counted as a mental illness.

In her essay “Why feminists should be concerned with the impending revision of the DSM”, Julia Serano invites us to think and be vigilant about this proposal of Dr. Blanchard:

“Blanchard and other like-minded sex researchers have coined words like Gynandromorphophilia (attraction to trans women), Andromimetophilia (attraction to trans men), Abasiophilia (attraction to people who are physically disabled), Acrotomophilia (attraction to amputees), Gerontophilia (attraction to elderly people), Fat Fetishism (attraction to fat people), etc., and have forwarded them in the medical literature to denote the presumed ‘paraphilic’ nature of such attractions. This tendency reinforces the cultural belief that young, thin, able-bodied cisgender women and men are the only legitimate objects of sexual desire, and that you must be mentally disordered in some way if you are attracted to someone who falls outside of this ideal. It’s bad enough that such cultural norms exist in the first place, but to codify them in the DSM is a truly terrifying prospect.

“Another frightening aspect of Blanchard’s proposal is that any sexual interest other than ‘genital stimulation or preparatory fondling’ is now, by definition, a paraphilia. In his presentation, he claimed that paraphilias should include all ‘erotic interests that are not focused on copulatory or precopulatory behaviors, or the equivalent behaviors in same-sex adult partners.’ Copulatory is defined as related to coitus or sexual intercourse (i.e., penetration sex). So, essentially, all forms of sexual arousal and expression that are not centered around penetration sex may now be considered paraphilias.

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“So, do you and your partner occasionally role-play or talk dirty to one another over the phone? Or engage in arousing play that is not intended to necessarily lead to ‘doing the deed’? Do you masturbate? Do you get a sexual charge from wearing a particularly sexy outfit or performing any act that falls outside of ‘genital stimulation or preparatory fondling’? Well, then congratulations, you can be diagnosed with a paraphilia!”

FEAR AND HOPE

One of the storylines in the television series Dirty, Sexy, Money revolved around the love story between Patrick Darling IV (played by William Baldwin), a member of the richest family in New York who was set to run for the senate, and his mistress, Carmelita Rainer (played by real-life transwoman Candis Cayne), a transwoman studying cosmetology. At first, it seemed that this storyline was just following the commonly-heard story in the trans-dating scene: a married man having a transwoman as a “dirty” secret affair. His family, except his wife, was well-aware of this “dirty” secret as it was suggested that he had several transwomen lovers prior to Carmelita. Of course, his family was against it.

In the first episode, Patrick asked their family lawyer to go to the hotel where Carmelita was waiting and tell her it was over between them. A short discussion between Patrick and the family lawyer revealed how Patrick valued Carmelita. When the lawyer said that Carmelita was Patrick’s “dirty sex”, Patrick defended her relationship with Carmelita by saying, “It’s not dirty. It’s just different”. Patrick’s family attempted to stop the affair because it might cost him the election. But every time his family tried to separate him from Carmelita, Patrick became depressed.

The next episodes revealed that Patrick’s relationship with his wife was not really based on love but “wealth and power”. Actually, the relationship between Patrick and Carmelita was one of the most charming and genuine relationships in this show.

Later on, the wife of Patrick died because of an accident after a heated argument between them. Then Patrick won as senator. During his inauguration, against the will of his father, he invited Carmelita to be there with him because he wanted to be public about his relationship with Carmelita. Unfortunately, Carmelita was killed by a stray shot.

To be in a relationship with a transwoman can be very stigmatizing, as society tends to view this kind of relationship as perverted. Dirty, Sexy, Money offered us a possibility where a man is not ashamed of his relationship with a transwoman. Given that the man is a man of extreme affluence and influence, this seems to be a far-fetched idea (But who knows, before Barack Obama, the US having a black president was just something that happened in the movies). Nonetheless, in reality, there are men who are not ashamed of being in a relationship with a transwoman. Though stories about them are scant, we know they exist. Perhaps it’s safe to say that every transwoman knows at least one friend who is in this kind of relationship.

But the other side of the coin of reality says that there are also men who are afraid to be public about their relationship with a transwoman. Well, It’s not easy to be stigmatized, and it takes tremendous courage and fortitude to face this stigma. Whenever a man goes public about his relationship with a transwoman, he is often barraged by invasive, irritating, harassing, and stigmatizing questions such as: “Does she still have a dick?”, “How do you have sex?”, “Are you gay?”, “Are you a pervert?”, “Are you so lonely that you would settle for a freak?”, “Don’t you want to have a biological child of your own?”, “What is wrong with you?” – or just plain “Yuck! Faggot!”.

Not only that, the stigma attached to men who fancy transwomen can sometimes snowball into something disturbingly fatal. Remember the film Soldier Girl, the true story of Calpernia Adams and Barry Winchell? Barry Winchell was an infantry soldier in the US Army. He fell in love and had a relationship with Calpernia Adams, who Barry met in a transgender cabaret club. When rumors about his relationship started to circulate, his peers subjected Barry to harassment. This harassment ended in the murder of Barry by one of his peers. He was stricken several times in the head with a baseball bat while he was sleeping.

Besides this, there’s also a fear that their future relationships might be jeopardized by their past relationships with transwomen. A guy once told me that if he wanted to be honest with his future wife (he plans to get married with a cisgender woman) about his past, he fears that the girl he would like to marry might consider him a pervert, and thereby not marry him. I told him that if that happens, it tells something about the maturity level of his future wife. I also told him that perhaps deep inside him, he considers it as a perversion. There was a long pause before he uttered his reply: “Can I call you when that time comes, so you can explain to my wife that it is not?” And I willingly said yes.

Inside the trans-dating scene, transwomen have a way of attaching a stigmatizing label to the men who fancy them: Tranny Chaser. As we use it, Tranny Chaser describes those men who are only after a quick sexual relationship with a transwoman (usually pre-op or non-op transwoman) and who consider transwomen as a “fetish”. We transwomen always guard ourselves against these men. We look for any sign that a man is just a tranny chaser. Sometimes we may be right about our perception, but there are also times that we are not. Hastily labeling someone as a “tranny chaser” can be a source of suffering to the person being labeled as such, and just promotes a narrow-minded view of people.

This is a very tricky subject for sometimes it’s hard to sift those who are sincere from those who just want to play in the trans-dating field. That goes for both transwomen and the men who fancy them. However, the trans-dating scene doesn’t have a monopoly of hearts being broken, unfulfilled promises, and BS. These things happen in all dating scenes, don’t they? And don’t we transwomen engage in “men chasing” as well? Don’t we also fetishize men? Don’t we have sex with men who fulfill our sexual fantasies? Don’t we also get afraid of commitment that we would just rather have quick sexual relationships than long-term ones? Don’t we also play the field before we meet someone who we are both erotically and emotionally attracted to? We do. And for every transwoman who fears that her heart is going to be broken, there is a man whose heart has already been broken.

No matter who or what you are, finding true love can be difficult. Some say it only comes once in a long while. The journey can be tiring: all the walking, the talking, the running, the thinking, the fucking, the lying, the forgiving, the hurting, the deceiving, the listening, the hearing, the believing, the forgetting, the remembering, the falling, the blabbering, the crying, the smiling, and all the progressive verbs that you can certainly think of can certainly wear us out.

Being tired can dim the glow of our inner capacity to love, our capacity to recognize true love when it’s already there, and our passion to fight for the love we have. This glow is at its peak when we were still children – though unfortunately a lot of children in this world has never experienced glowing at all. At an early age, some have experienced this glow extinguished by those who are envious of someone’s flame gently, innocently yet bravely flickering in the darkness and misery of this world. And sometimes, we accidentally or deliberately choose paths that dim this glow.

But every now and then we try to fan the flames of this glow. Humanity has devised a lot of things to bring back the joy and sheer rupture of it. We do whatever we can do to relive once again that same glow – you can call it being children once again. Some even try to compensate their lack of glow with material pursuits, hoping that if they can’t make it flicker they can at least fool themselves that they are glowing as soon as they turn on the neon lights of their lives.

Somewhere along the way we meet people that enflame our glow. They make us aware that we still have this glow – it is just dimmed. Sometimes they will walk with us in this journey for just a moment. Sometimes they walk with us long distance until the end. The duration is not what matters. What matters is the quality of the journey shared. Love!

to ACSdJ

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

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5 Ways to #ResistTogether after #Pride

Be constantly reminded that #Pride is never (just) about partying. It’s about the ongoing struggle for the human rights of LGBTQIA people (no mater what sector they may be part of).

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ALL PHOTOS TAKEN DURING METRO MANILA PRIDE PARADE 2019

A few days into July, after the June Pride month, I was chatting with someone from Grindr; he boasted that he was at the “essence of pride: the Pride parade” (his words, not mine). The chat revolved around shaming, particularly of other LGBTQIA people; that now that the one-day celebration is over, things (including his way of “booking”) are “just back to normal.”

See… right after the “very proud” placement of the #ResistTogether hashtag in his pick-up account (particularly while he was in Marikina City), it has been refreshed, reverting back to claiming “NO chubs; NO oldies; NO femmes. Don’t dare me, I have unliblock.”

This got me thinking about this “brand” of exclusivist #Pride; and how we should instead be making (and continuing to make) it inclusive…

And so – off my head – here are five ways to #ResistTogether after the #Pride parade…

1. Stop the shaming from within the LGBTQIA community.

Change should start from within our community; and this can happen if our community members become more aware that – frequently – hatred starts from within.

Stop shaming the “oldies”; we’d all grow old.

Stop shaming the “chubs”; ALL bodies are beautiful.

Stop hating on the femmes; every gender expression is VALID.

Stop discriminating against sex workers; there is no shame in trying to make a living.

Our community is minority, as it is. Stop creating more minorities from within our community with your biases.

2. Donate… not just because you want merchs.

I get this concept of “what’s in it for me?”. This is the “driver” of so many of our actions – e.g. if companies give money to “support” Pride, they expect to get media mileage from it; and if we give money to “make Pride happen”, we may as well have that sticker (or whatever) to prove that… yes, we gave money.

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But helping should be done not because of any return; it should be done because it’s the right thing to do.

And so if/when someone asked you to donate (however small the amount may be) to help establish an actual home for senior LGBTQIA Filipinos, give.

If someone asked you to chip in (no matter how small the amount you can give) to help pay for the PhilHealth of a person living with HIV, give.

And if someone asked you to donate (whatever amount) to help finance the picket line of LGBTQIA workers who were illegally dismissed from their jobs after they (rightfully) asked to be made regular employees, give.

LGBTQIA-related issues happen EVERY DAY of the year, not just in June. So if you’re willing to cough up cash to look glamorous/fab ONLY in June, you should also be willing to do so the rest of the year…

3. Be the voice of other minorities.

This shouldn’t be a divisive issue, but it is becoming that – i.e. the supposed “hijacking of commies of Pride month” by highlighting other issues that those who complain say have nothing to do with the LGBTQIA community.

These issues include: contractualization, wage hike, extra-judicial killings, war on drugs, and so on.

Here’s the BASIC thing though: LGBTQIA people do not live in a vacuum. Some of us are contractual workers (e.g. LGBTQIA people working for – say – Zagu, or Jollibbee, or the baggers in department stores). Many of us LGBTQIA people do not get the wages we deserve (e.g. LGBTQIA people who are also nurses and teachers). There are LGBTQIA people also killed because they were allegedly involved in the drug trade; and this is even if the claim may be true or not.

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We say that LGBTQIA people are EVERYWHERE. Well, WE ARE; including among other minority sectors.

So that we can’t separate THEIR issues from OUR issues.

4. Be seen the rest of the year.

You, like many others, helped create the noise for LGBTQIA issues during Pride month. That’s all good (and thank you, truly, for this). But please, please don’t disappear after June (or worse, don’t be the source of discrimination after June – as noted in #1).

If you can’t be bothered leaving your desk, that’s your call; but continue making noise for the LGBTQIA community.

But if/when you are able to/you are keen to, join the ongoing struggle for our total liberation – e.g. join the call for rally for the anti-discrimination bill, attend gatherings pushing for marriage equality, attend events of LGBTQIA-related NGOs (including HIV-related events), physically support LGBTQIA-related shows/productions/et cetera.

Just BE SEEN BEYOND JUNE; it matters a lot.

5. Go back to the streets… and not just to party.

So you had fun attending the parade; perhaps even more so when you attended the after-parade party/ies. That’s all good. Not one to miss out on fun, I am one with you here…

BUT be reminded that #Pride is never (just) about partying. It’s about the ongoing struggle for the human rights of LGBTQIA people (no mater what sector they may be part of).

After almost 20 (THAT’S 20!) years, the anti-discrimination bill is still languishing in Congress.
Over 80% of the new HIV cases in the Philippines affect members of the LGBTQIA community (particularly gay, bi and trans people).

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Schools (including State-owned/run) still discriminate against LGBTQIA students; a handful of them barring LGBTQIA students from enroling/attending classes because of some bloody haircut or because of what they are wearing.

Because of their HIV status, people living with HIV (many of them LGBTQIA) are: still fired from work; kicked out of their homes; or not given access to life-saving HIV medicines.

LGBTQIA informal settlers – along with hetero-identifying informal settlers – are kicked out of their homes.

LGBTQIA contractual workers are still not regularized.

So – let’s state this – IF THERE IS A CALL TO RALLY FOR OUR RIGHTS, not just a call to parade and party, TAKE HEED. If 70,000+++ people can gather to parade and party, surely the same number (if not more) should also be able to gather when a call is made for us to rise again together to push for equality.

Yes, we have taken progressive steps (corporations are even considering how to profit off us now); but so much still needs to be done. And – to stress- we need to always show our force; to always take to the streets to highlight our issues.

So party on, yes; but never stop fighting as one. This is how we continue to truly #ResistTogether.

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Haircut battleground

FACT: A number of trans students fail to complete schooling because of strict implementation of uniform policies that affect their gender identity and expression. School officials claim they’re simply implementing (discriminatory) policies; while activists claim human rights violation. And while the discussions happen, the students are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi from Unsplash.com

In July 2018, Jenny* (not her real name), a transgender Senior High School (SHS) student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) was allegedly told to report to the principal’s office for the first time.

Pinatawag ako nung principal, tapos she told me that ano… kapag hindi ako nagpagupit until tomorrow morning, ganon, papalabasin niya ako ng PUP (I was told to report to the principal’s office, and there, she told me to get a haircut the next day, or risk getting asked to leave PUP),” she recalled to Outrage Magazine.

Jenny got a haircut this January. This had to be done as a prerequisite when she applied for graduation. But she said that she was promised that “after that, (I) won’t have to cut my hair again when I process my papers in the future.”

Jenny said that the experience affected her psychologically; because of this, she wasn’t able to go to school for two days. And with the eventual haircut, Jenny’s gender expression was also dictated by another, affecting her sense of self.

But in an interview with Dr. Minna L. Comuyog, PUP-SHS principal, she denied that she threatened any student, and that neither her office nor PUP-SHS’s registrar’s office denied any student of transaction or that their documents will be held if they won’t cut their hair.

Comuyog said that, in fact, PUP-SHS has a “No Discrimination Policy”, which is implemented in the entire PUP system (which includes SHS).

Hindi namin ina-identify ‘yung mga estudyante namin na bading ‘to, tomboy ‘to. Basta when they come here, estudyante namin sila (We don’t separately identify students as ‘He’s gay, she’s a lesbian’. For us, when they come here, they’re all students),” she said.

Comuyog added: “As a teacher, ang aking training ay students sila (They are students). They have their unique personalit(ies) and we adjust our lessons to their needs. So kahit anong mga bata ang dumating sa amin (So no matter what kind of student they are), we accept them for who they are.”

But notwithstanding the “No Discrimination Policy”, Comuyog believes that the haircut policy should be implemented and be observed by all students (in this case, particularly those under her care; i.e. PUP-SHS).

Comuyog claimed that she is unaware of the existence of transgender students in PUP-SHS; thus of transgender students being forced to cut their hair due to the school’s haircut policy. “It’s something na (that is) not known to me,” she said.

But Comuyog added that she looks at the students using the gender binary dictated by the assigned sex at birth – i.e. “I look at them as male, female, ganon ang classification nila (that’s how I classify them).” And so she believes that even if a student is a transgender woman, this student will still be mandated to get a haircut befitting those assigned male at birth (that is, she still won’t be allowed to have long hair, which is deemed socially acceptable only for those assigned female at birth).

On the handling of students who are transgender women (or those assigned male at birth) and with long hair, Comuyog said that she “normally asks” these students “what they needed to change or do.” As part of her training as a teacher, she lets the students think. And in this case, it is the students who often end up saying that it is their hair that they should change.

NON-DISCRIMINATION AS A POLICY

The Department of Education (DepEd) actually has pro-LGBTQIA policies, which – in December 2018 – it reiterated via a statement reminding “all public and private Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools of the necessity and importance of adopting and enforcing anti-bullying policies in their respective institutions.”

Various (specific) policies particularly touch on non-discrimination (including of LGBTQIA students).

DepEd Order No. 40, series 2012, or the “DepEd Child Protection Policy,” institutionalized zero tolerance against any form of violence against the child and provided for the establishment of a Child Protection Committee (CPC) in all public and private schools.

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DepEd Order No. 55, series 2013 (DO 55 s. 2013), or the “Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10627 (R.A. 10627) Otherwise Known as the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013,” requires all public and private schools to submit a copy of their child protection or anti-bullying policy to the Division Office.

Meanwhile, Rule IV of DO 55 s. 2013 underscores that “the bullying prevention program in schools shall be comprehensive and multifaceted, and shall involve all education stakeholders and personnel. Schools shall develop intervention strategies like counseling, life skills training, education and other activities that will enhance the psychological, emotional and psychosocial well-being of victims, bullies, and other parties who may be affected by the bullying incident.”

Particularly pertaining the uniform policy (which touches on the haircut policy), DepEd released in 2008 DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008, guidelines on “proper school attire”. It stated that “while the general policy is that the wearing of a school uniform shall not be required in public schools (as embodied in DepEd Order No. 45 s. 2008), it is necessary to provide guidance on what constitutes proper school attire.”

The following principles are offered as a guide:

  1. A student’s basic right to go to school, study and learn is of paramount importance and should be respected and promoted at all times.
  2. A student’s attire should reflect respect for the school as an institution for learning.
  3. A student’s attire should not become a cause for discrimination particularly for students belonging to a lower socio-economic status.
  4. Promoting physical hygiene and proper school decorum is part of the teaching- learning process in schools, thus a student’s attire and physical appearance should manifest learnings from this process.

Nowhere in the DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008 was “proper” haircut discussed.

According to PUP Kasarianlan’s Watson Vergara, the haircut policy implemented in schools is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”
Photo by Cassidy Kelley from Unsplash.com

Having policies and actually implementing them are – however, and also – two different things.

In 2015, for instance, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report observed that only 38% of schools submitted child protection or anti-bullying policies in 2013, and the “low rate of submission has been attributed to a low level of awareness of requirements of the Act and weak monitoring of compliance.”

Releasing a report in 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) also touched on the uniform policies (including forcing particularly transgender women to get haircuts) and stated that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.” This is made more apparent because “right to free expression of students is violated when schools limit displays of same-sex affection or gender expression solely for LGBTQIA youth” – meaning, the policies are used differently for them to make them tow some lines.

Also, according to Watson Vergara, who heads PUP Kasarianlan, the official student organization for people with diverse SOGIE in PUP, even anti-discriminatory policies (such as DepEd’s) fail to take into consideration the power dynamics within educational institutions.

Vergara said that they know of students who asked for help from PUP Kasarianlan, claiming that they feel threatened that if they won’t cut their hair, then their names will be taken out of the list of graduating students. Non-compliance may also be seen as insubordination, which means that these students won’t be given a good moral certificate (which is needed when enrolling in college/university), or will even be kicked out of PUP.

PUP Kasarianlan also documented other cases like Jenny’s – e.g. in one case, a student claimed that she was kept in an office, prohibited to go out unless she signs a statement stipulating her to cut her hair.

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Syempre (Of course), the kid, crying, shaking and afraid, signed the paper. Kasi wala siyang (Because she did not have a) choice, she wants to go out,” Vergara said.

Vergara is aware that there are people who may see this as a non-issue – i.e. it’s “just hair.”

But PUP Kasarianlan also received stories of transgender students who refused to have their graduation photos taken, and of one transgender student who “can’t do homework or even eat properly because of this (traumatizing experience).”

For Vergara, this is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”

For Kate Montecarlo Cordova, if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,”
Photo by Chen Feng from Unsplash.com

DETRACTING FROM SENSE OF SELF

According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founder of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP), “One of the identified positive benefits of school uniform is to promote a “sense of community” (which actually refers to classification or clustering). But this can be detrimental to transgender students if not properly managed/implemented for this can deprive their self-expression, their sense of identity, their authenticity.”

Cordova added that “the imposition of school uniform with strict observance to the heteronormative gender binary can be an utter threat to transgender students while serving a meaningless purpose to learning.”

There are somewhat practical efforts that can be done.

For one, Cordova suggested that if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,” Cordova said.

Secondly, Cordova said that it is important for any educational institution to “undergo extensive trainings, workshops and lectures not just about gender sensitivity but also, specifically, about transgender issues to understand the complexities of transgender human rights and health needs.”

And thirdly, Cordova suggests for transgender students to “rightfully assert and claim their rights to exist and learn by standing up to what is just and righteous to their authentic self by: 1. Being knowledgeable of their rights, 2. Being vocal about their identity, and 3. Being brave to socially present their sense of self.”

STARTING THE DISCUSSIONS

Back in PUP-SHS, the school principal Comuyog thinks that high school students are “confused” because they can see some transgender college students grow their hair, and they may also want to do the same. While she acknowledges how some of the SHS students want to “emulate” the college students, she also said that this isn’t necessarily possible because of “certain policies”.

Particularly, Comuyog noted PUP-SHS’s Code of Conduct that highlights (in Section 3) that “every student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming… dyan nakapaloob ang haircut for male and hairstyle for female.”

Section 3 of the Code of Conduct specifically states: “Every PUP student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming.

Also, to wit:

3.1 – Every PUP Senior High student is expected to demonstrate personal grooming standards of cleanliness and to wear the prescribed uniform while inside the school premises, during educational exposures or work immersion, and during official off-campus events.

3.2 – Students must observe the following provisions when wearing the prescribed school uniform:

3.2.1 – Uniforms should be kept buttoned and properly worn;
3.2.2 – School ID must be worn at all times within the school premises;
3.2.3 – The hairstyle for female should be simple and well kept, while the acceptable haircut for male must be off the eyebrows and above the collar line (EMPHASIS OURS);
3.2.4 – Moustache and side beards are not allowed;
3.2.5 – Hair color may be allowed provided that it is not vulgar.

The Code of Conduct does not discuss SOGIE (and implications to the uniform policy), but enforce these requirements based on assigned sex at birth.

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Comuyog quipped that it is only now that the said (haircut) policy is becoming an issue. And here, she also holds accountable some educators.

Yun namang teacher nila, napapabayaan sila kaya if there is a person na mas liable, itong mga teacher kasi ina-allow nila. Kasi may teacher din tayong mahaba ang buhok, may teacher tayong nakatali ang buhok. ‘Yun ang nakikita nitong mga bata (There are teachers who just let their students be, so if there’s someone liable, it’s the teacher who allows this. This may also be because some teachers assigned male at birth grow their hair long. And this is what these students see),” Comuyog said.

But – again – since there aren’t any students who talked to her and said that she is a transgender person, Comuyog said that she remains “unaware of this.” And that “just in case that she will be aware” of this, then she will have to consider the individual student’s situation.

For Professor Earl Guzman, SHS and college professor, and an open member of the LGBTQIA community, forcing the students to cut their hair, especially if they identify as gay or transgender, is abuse. “Kasi itong mga taong ‘to, itong mga kabataang ito, yung buhok nila (These kids’ hair) and how they present themselves are part of their gender identity,” he said.

Guzman added that teaching the students how to be gender sensitive yet confining them in the same heteronormative stereotypes, same heteronormative ways of expressing themselves, “kind of defeats its purpose.”

Tayo as PUPians (Products of PUP), we’re so proud of being at the frontier of fighting for sexual equality. Eh eto nga, ginigipit natin ngayon (And now we’re pressuring these students to conform). It all makes us look like hypocrites,” Guzman said.

For Guzman, the principal should listen to the students as well because what is happening most of the time is that teachers become just enforcers of rules or policies, and teachers owe it to the students to listen to them.

Anong klaseng lesson kasi ‘yung tinuturo natin sa students kapag ganon (What kind of lesson are we teaching the students), when we refuse to hear them out? Are we telling them that we know better than them? May mga pagkakataon na (There are times when) we know better than them pero kasi (but also) we’re not the ones living their lives right now, it’s them,” he said. “Maybe we should take their experiences into account; maybe we should listen to what they have to say. Kasi hindi puwedeng ano (Because the case shouldn’t be)… in our desire to enforce obedience, ang nangyayari ay (what happens is we create) blind obedience.”

For his part, PUP Kasarianlan head Vergara said that this kind of discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA community also happens in other schools – i.e. this goes beyond PUP-SHS.

In “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report” – written by Michael David C. Tan for USAID and UNDP – it was reported that forcing transgender women to get haircuts before allowing them to access education is one of the common anti-LGBTQIA policies still common in the Philippines, along with: the conduct of “masculinity tests” (where effeminate students had to “prove” they were “man enough” to be allowed to enroll, or stay in school) conducted by some schools, and instances when LGBTQIA students were made to sign “contracts” to ensure they did not express their sexual orientation or gender identity while going to school.

But Watson also acknowledges that – sadly – they can only do what little help they can.

In 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face experience especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.”
Photo by Ryan Tauss from Unsplash.com

In the end, Guzman hopes that this will be settled, with all parties involved discussing this. “Let’s be civilized. Let’s add something positive to the discourse. ‘Wag nating gawing (Let’s not turn the issue into an) excuse para siraan ‘yung mga bagay, tao, o policy na hindi naman natin dapat siraan (to destroy people or policies that need not be destroyed). And then, let’s come to an agreement. I think we should all try to understand where everyone is coming from,” Guzman said.

And while the discussions happen, the likes of Jenny are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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Lesbian Lumad

What is it like to be a lesbian and also a part of an indigenous group? For Teng Calimpang, the Tagbawa ethnic group of people at the foot of Mt. Apo accepted her, so she hopes other lesbian Lumads live good lives both as LGBTQIA community members and as Lumads.

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

Dili lisod mag-lesbian ka diri kay tanan diri murag paryente lang nako, mga pinsan lang (It isn’t hard to be a lesbian here because everyone here is just like a relative, just like my cousins),” Teng Calimpang, who is from Meohao at the foot of Mt. Apo, said. “Tanan pud mga tawo nakabalo kung kinsa ko ug unsa ko (People here also know who I am and what I am).”

Teng’s family is from the Tagbawa Manobo ethic group of people. Originally from Bansalan, her mother met her father in Meohao, where they decided to eventually settle. Also because of being based here, Teng is fluent in Bagobo Diangan, spoken by another ethnic group of people particularly at the foot of Mt. Apo.

At least in her experience, being a lesbian is a non-issue for her people (Tagbawa Manobo), as well as for her “adopted” Bagobo Diangan family.

Teng was 10 when she recognized her “otherness”; she did not like wearing girls’ clothes, and she preferred doing things that boys do. At 15, “diha na nako napansin nga… na-feel na nako nga dili gyud nako ma-love ang boy (I noticed that I was not attracted to members of the opposite sex).” Teng said that “babae ang mugawas sa akoang heart ba (I was attracted also to women).”

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Teng told her family about “ang tinuod (the truth).” And “okay lang sa ilaha. Tanggap gyud ko nila (it’s fine with them. They accepted me as a lesbian).”

Now 48, Teng works for Dole Phils. (Stanfilco Division). After work, she is also a local healer, giving “hilot (traditional massage)” to those who seek her out for the same.

Teng credits her “lolo (grandfather)” for her gift to heal.

She was 15 when she was “taught” how to “help people”; she dreamt her then-deceased grandfather show her how to do so, serving as a passing-of-the-torch to heal others.

Teng said that there are two kinds of people who help – one who expects to be grandly paid for the effort, and one who doesn’t. “Donation, okay lang sa ako-a (I’m okay with just receiving donations),” she said, adding that it already makes her happy that “nakatabang ko sa ilahang kinahanglan sa lawas (at least I’ve helped people with their needs).”

Teng had a heterosexual-identifying GF in the past; but that relationship didn’t last. She noted that there are some women who just want to be financially supported; they leave their partners when they have gotten what they wanted, or if their partner can’t offer them what they really want (i.e. wealth). “Pait kaayo ba (This makes being lesbian hard).”

Now single, Teng has other lesbian friends, and not all of them from Lumad communities. But her friends are now based overseas, where they work. She admitted that it can be lonely at times, but that technology (e.g. social networking sites) help alleviate the loneliness since she can at least chat with them even if they’re apart.

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Teng also has an adopted child, given to her when the child was only a month old. She is now 18.

Lisud gyud (sa sinugdanan) kay syempre ang acting nimo is as a boy, so nalisdan ko pagpa-dako niya (It was hard for me to raise her at first because I am masculine/not stereotypically motherly),” Teng said. “But I gradually learned how to properly raise her.”

To other lesbians who may also belong to Lumad communities, Teng said: “Kung unsa gyud sila sa ilang panginabuhi, ipadayun na nila (Continue living your true selves in living a good life).”

And in the end, “learn from me as I say that you can be good people as lesbians.”

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All hail the beauty queen

A glimpse into the life of a trans woman beauty pageant enthusiast, Ms Mandy Madrigal of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization.

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

“I feel accepted.”

That, said Mandy Madrigal, is the main appeal of joining beauty pageants.

“I feel so loved when I join pageants. Especially when people clap for us, cheer for us. And when you win… it (just) feels different.”

FINDING ACCEPTANCE

Assigned male at birth, Mandy was in primary school when her father asked her if “I was a boy or a girl”. That question scared her, she admitted, because – as the only boy among six kids – she thought she did not really have “any choice”. “So I answered my father, ‘I am a boy’.”

But Mandy’s father asked her the same question again; and this time, “I said, yes, I am gay.”

No, Mandy is NOT gay; she is a transpinay, and a straight one at that. But the misconceptions about the binary remains – i.e. in this case, she is associated with being gay mainly because she did not identify with the sex assigned her at birth.

In a way, Mandy said she’s lucky because “I believe he (my father) accepted (me) with his whole heart.”

The rest of her family did, too.

Though – speaking realistically – Mandy said this may be abetted by her “contributions” to the family. “Hindi naman aka basta naging bakla lang (I’m not a ’typical’ gay person),” she said, “na naglalandi lang o sumasali lang ng pageant (who just flirts, or just joins beauty pageants). Instead, Mandy provides financial support to her family by – among others – selling RTW clothes and beauty products. In fact, some of her winnings also go to the family’s coffers. By helping provide them with what they need, “it’s easy for them to accept me as a transgender woman.”

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Growing up, Mandy realized that while “makakapagsinungaling ka sa ibang tao, pero sarili mo, hindi mo maloloko. Kaya mas magandang tanggapin mo ang sarili mo para matanggap ka ng ibang tao (you may be able to lie to others about who you really are, but you can’t lie to yourself. So it’s better to accept your true self so that others will be able to accept you too).”

Mandy was “introduced” to beauty pageants when she was 13 or 14. At that time, a friend asked her to join a pageant; and “I won first runner up.” She never looked backed since, even – at one time – earning as much as P20,000 after winning a title. Like many regular beauconeras (beauty pageant participants), she also heads to distant provinces to compete, largely because – according to her – prizes in provincial competitions tend to be higher. The prize money earned helps one buy more paraphernalia for the next pageants, and – in Mandy’s case – also helps support her family.

Generally speaking, Mandy Madrigal said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

FORMING A FAMILY

Beauty pageants are competitions, yes; but for Mandy, pageants also allow the candidates to form bonds as they get close to each other. Pageants, she said, can be a way “na maging close kami, magkaroon ng magagandang bonding… at magkakilala kami (for us to be close, to bond and get to know the others better).”

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Pageants can be costly, Mandy admitted – for instance, “you have to invest,” she said, adding that a candidate needs to be able to provide for herself (instead of just always renting) costumes, swimsuits, casual wear, gowns, and so on.

In a way, therefore, having people who believe in you helps. In Mandy’s case, for instance, a lot of people helped (by providing necessities she needs) because “naniniwala sila na I am a queen inside and out,” she smiled.

But this support can also rack the nerves, particularly when people expect one to win (particularly because of the support given).

One will not always win, of course; and this doesn’t always give one good feelings. In 2017, for instance, Mandy joined Queen of Antipolo, and – after failing to win a crown – she said many people told her she should have won the title, or at least placed among the runners-up. “naguluhan ang utak ko (That confused me),” she said. “‘Bakit ako ang gusto ninyong manalo?’ But that’s when I realized na marami ako na-i-inspire na tao dahil marami nagtitiwala sa akin (I ask, ‘Why do you want me to win?’ But that’s when I realized that I inspire a lot of people, which is why they count on me).”

This gives her confidence; enough to deal with the nervousness that will also allow her to just enjoy any pageant she joins.

A TIME TO SHINE

Mandy believes pageants can help LGBTQI people by providing them a platform to showcase to non-LGBTQI people why “hindi tayo dapat husgahan (we should not be judged).”

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Generally speaking, Mandy said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

And she knows that not every pageant is good for every contestant. There will be pageants where you will be crowned the queen, she said, just as there will be pageants where you will lose. But over and above the winning and losing, note “what’s most important: that there’s a lot of people who supported you in a (certain) pageant.”

At the end of the day, “sa lahat ng patimpalak, pagkatandaan natin na merong nananalo at may natatalo. Depende na lang yan sa araw mo. Kung ikaw ay nakatadhanang manalo ay mananalo ka; kung nakatadhanang matalo ay matatalo ka talaga. Yun lang yun. Isipin mo na lang na meron pang araw na darating na mas maganda para sa iyo (in all competitions, remember that there will always be a winner and a loser. It all depends on your luck for the day. If you are fated to win, you will win; if you are fated to lose, you will lose. That’s that. But still remember – even when you lose – that there will always come a day that will be great for you).”

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#KaraniwangLGBT

Paolo, naked

Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino performance artist, uses his naked body as a canvas, believing that art can help the people – both the artist and those who see the artworks. “It makes people think, ask… and feel,” he said, all relevant because “we’re not robots; we’re humans.”

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

Four years ago, Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino, did his first performance art “as mema lang (out of whim),” he said. At that time, he just wanted to “tick off something from my bucket list.” But he fell in love with the form, and so stayed with it.

Here’s the thing: In his performances, Paolo is always without clothes since he is a nude artist.

There is reason behind this, he said. “It’s not because it’s something different, or because it’s something new since it’s been done before… but because for me, the feeling (when one is nude) is very vulnerable, and I think it’s my most vulnerable form, and I want to be in that state when I perform so I can emphasize with people.”

To be clear, Paolo is not a performing artist; instead, he is a performance artist.

Performance art is different from performing arts. With the latter, “you are portraying a character that is not you. So you’re using your body as a canvas to create another character. When it comes to performance art, you yourself are the character, and the message you relay is different outside of the text,” he said. “At least that’s what I am doing.”

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Paolo noted that there are people who see performances of nude artists as sexual, and he said that this is not necessarily true.

On the one hand, just because one is naked doesn’t mean the piece is sexual, as “it could be pure, it could be wholesome (even if the performer is not clothed). And I am able to show these (through my performances), and that (things aren’t) just black and white.”

And so, it is worth stressing, “it is not pornography; I am not selling my body, I am just using my body as canvas for my art.”

Paolo said that malice needs to be removed when viewing particularly his performances – i.e. “We don’t give malice when seeing a naked child, so why give malice when seeing a naked adult?” This is particularly true when “they’re not doing anything malicious or anything sexual.”

On the other hand, Paolo said with emphasis, even if the piece is also sexual, it’s not like there’s something wrong with that. “We’re all different; sensuality is different for everyone, just as sexuality is different for everyone. You can be modest and that empowers you, and that’s fine. You could be very, very promiscuous and very sexual, and that empowers you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re responsible with yourself, you’re responsible when dealing with other people, and you know for a fact you’re not stepping on other people’s toes.”

Though Paolo has been inspired by various artists, his main inspiration are the people he deals with while performing. “My interaction creates an experience for me, and from that experience, I get inspired to make more art,” he said.

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Paolo said he gets two reactions when he performs. For one, there are people who get “the vulnerability,” he said. And, secondly, “there are times when (people) get intimidated.” But with performance art, “your art is effective when you get a reaction, once it creates discourse.” And so for Paolo, the piece still works “even if only one person gets it.”

There are members of his family who disapprove of what he does, though Paolo said this is largely due to security/safety issues – e.g. he could get harassed, or he could be accused of harassing and could get in trouble for this. But Paolo said that he is actually cautious when planning performances, making sure that – yes – he does so in a safe space where he won’t be harassed, and only in contexts where he won’t knowingly end up harassing people.

For those who oversimplify what he’s doing as “just getting naked”, Paolo said performing is actually very draining, not just mentally but also physically. Which is why “I look after my body,” he said, “because I use my body as my canvas and I need to take care of it. I always make sure I am ready for it; it’s strenuous.”

If there’s one lesson his performances taught him, it’s that “we share similar stories,” Paolo said. “We share similar pain, we share similar happiness or success… The levels may be different on how we deal with these, but they’re similar.”

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And after his performances, if there is one thing he wants those who see him to take away from seeing him, it’s the ability to “ask questions,” Paolo said. “Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s a start of being curious, of interacting with other people. So if possible, ask all the questions you can ask. It’s a way to grow as a person.”

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Worsening #ARVshortage in the Phl?

On Jan. 9, the Philippines gained a new HIV and AIDS law that is supposed to better the lives of Filipinos living with HIV. But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage.

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In September 2018, Xander (not his real name; anonymity requested), a Filipino living with HIV, claimed that he was told by the person working in the pharmacy of his hub to “consume already-expired medicines (the three-in-one tablet of Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz)”, and that “it is “still good for three months after the expiration date.”

Since dealing with ARV-related issue is not new to him (it happened to him in the last quarter of 2013), he complained and was given newer meds. Noticeably, “those who didn’t complain – like I did – ended up using the expired meds,” he said.

Xander can only recall how he earlier lamented – again in 2013 – that the ARV shortage will happen again, particularly considering the continuing denial of the Department of Health (DOH) about this issue.

TAINTED ‘SUCCESS’

The 9th of January is supposed to be a happy day particularly for Filipinos living with HIV and their advocates. On that day, the newly-signed Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act was released after it was signed into law by Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte. By replacing the 20-year-old Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine National AIDS and Control Act of 1998, this new law is supposed to boost the government’s response to HIV and AIDS by making health services for HIV and AIDS more accessible to Filipinos.

But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage, which is not helped by the denial of the issue by various heads of offices – including government officials, as well as those helming treatment hubs/facilities and even select non-government organizations (NGOs).

In an unsigned statement (as if so that no one can be “chased” to be held accountable for the same statement), the DOH seemed to belittle the issue by outright claiming that there’s an ‘alleged’ shortage of ARVs; even as it also stated that they take the issue of HIV infection in the country seriously. Part of this is to take “great steps to ensure that access for HIV treatments are available for those who are diagnosed with HIV.”

The DOH statement added:
“As of October 2018, we have enrolled 32,224 persons living with HIV for treatment with ARV such as Nevirapine, Lamivudine/Tenofovir. The DOH has been providing free ARV to Filipinos living with HIV through our HIV treatment hubs.
“Based on our records, there are 3,200 registered PLHIV who are on Nevirapine and 1,791 PLHIV on Lamivudine/Tenofovir, as of December last year.

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That just about half of the total PLHIVs in the Philippines use ARVs is worth noting, even if it’s another issue altogether.

But the mention of these two meds/cocktails is important because the complaints reaching – among others – Outrage Magazine, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) other and HIV-related community-based organizations/non-government organizations particularly currently mention these.

In Quezon City, for instance, at least eight PLHIVs alleged that they have been given incomplete medications – i.e. they were supplied with either Lamivudine/Tenofovir or Lamivudine/Zidovudine, but they have not been receiving Nevirapine because this is not available. These people are, therefore, taking incomplete meds.

Pinoy Plus’s hotline, PRC, has received similar allegations of non-delivery of Nevirapine.

In Cavite (Imus, Bacoor and Dasmariñas), at least three clients surfaced to allege about the same issue. PLHIVs are now “borrowing” each others’ Nevirapine supply just so they don’t miss their required dosage because their hub does not have supplies from the DOH.

There are similar allegations in Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Zamboanga City.

And in Alabang, the pharmacy of a treatment hub even posted on January 8, 2019 an announcement that “due to the shortage and delay of the deliveries at DOH, only one bottle will be dispensed of the following medicines: Nevirapine (200mg tablet); Lamivudine (150mg)/Zidovudine (300mg tablet); and Lamivudine (300mg)/Tenofovir (300mg tablet).” The same hub is telling its clients to “wait for further announcement on stock availability.”

Note that the RITM-AIDS Research Group’s pharmacy is putting the blame on the DOH.

DOH’s CLAIM

The same DOH statement stressed that “the latest data, as of January 4, confirms that Nevirapine has already been delivered to the 16 treatment hubs to meet the requirements for February-April 2019. For Lamivudine/Tenofovir, a month’s supply has also been delivered to Regions X, VI and I. The rest of the regions will expect deliveries within this week.”

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Noticeably, the DOH statement responds to issues only this January, even if this concern has been circulating in the PLHIV community since 2018, and only peaked now.

There are fewer ARV refills now. If, in the past, the usual practice is for hubs to give PLHIVs three bottles of ARV to last them for three months, a growing number are now complaining about the supply being cut to one month in numerous hubs – e.g. there’s that post in RITM’s pharmacy. Some allege that they are even supplied ARVs just for a week or even just for three days.

Due to the ARV shortage that the DOH is not outright confronting, expired medicines are allegedly being given to PLHIVs – as in the case of Xander.

Also due to the ARV shortage, the medication of a number of PLHIVs are allegedly being changed not because it’s medically sound, but because their usual medicines are not readily available. In Mandaluyong City, there are PLHIVs who claimed to have been told to use Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz because it’s the only available ARV. If they refuse to do so, then they will have to stop taking their usual medications until such time when the delivery of supplies are normalized again.

To allow the DOH to respond to these claims, Outrage Magazine repeatedly reached out to the government body. Upon calling the media relations unit (at +63 2 651-7800 loc. 1126), we were turned over to the office of Dr. Gerard Belimac (+63 2 651-7800 locs. 2355, 2352, 2354). Five attempts were made to speak with Belimac or any other authority in his office, but he has been unavailable at those five times; and even after leaving requests for a statement from him on the ARV shortage, as of press time, the publication has not heard back.

As this is a continuing story, coordination will continue to – eventually hopefully – extensively hear from the DOH on this issue.

WHAT NOW?

The DOH statement also stated that it is “working closely with our suppliers to ensure that there are no gaps in our supply chain. In fact, we are waiting for deliveries of an additional 12,375 bottles of Nevirapine good for another three months and 7,024 bottles of Lamivudine/Tenofovir good for another two months.”

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The DOH also claimed that it is continuing to explore “for more partners in providing excellent support for Filipinos living with HIV-AIDS and in ending the deadly disease.”

As if wanting to pacify the complaining PLHIVs, the DOH statement transferred to responsibility to “HIV doctors to explore possible options”, or visit Facebook page (PLHIV Response Center) or email dohnaspcphiv@gmail.com. Note the use of a gmail account for a body with millions in budget.

No investigations on where the errors in the supply chain is happening so that these can be fixed is forthcoming. No one being held accountable here.

THE NEED TO GO BEYOND LIP SERVICE

Incidentally, Article V, Sec. 33 of the newly signed HIV law states: “The DOH shall establish a program that will provide free and accessible ART and medication for opportunistic infections to all PLHIVs who are enrolled in the program… A manual of procedures for management of PLHIV shall be developed by the DOH.”

The IRR is not even there yet, but this mandate to provide life-saving meds is now already cast in doubt.

Xander – who only had a refill of his ARVs – said that many like him who posted about this issue online were told to stop doing so “because we are supposedly creating panic among PLHIVs.”

He now says that people who cover up this issue are “as worse as those paid to work on this issue. Because if you go to the HIV community, we’ve long lived with worrying that our meds may not be given us at any moment. If some people think complaining about this is wrong, then they shouldn’t be in HIV advocacy, but work as PR people of those failing to do their jobs.”

In the end, “this needs to be resolved fast. Enough with discussing semantics on what we’re having is a shortage or a stockout; the fact remains that there are PLHIVs not getting their supplies. Lives are at stake. So supply the ARVs; now.”

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