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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.



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 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.


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.”


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.


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).

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.


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.

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.

“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!”


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.

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Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma

The Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. But Covid-19 responses actually do not include them, so what happens to them now?



Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.  

Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.

Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.

But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.

In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.

The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.

And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.

“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.

Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”

“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.

Painting and creating origami, Kate’s income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students. Everything was affected by Covid-19.
Photo by Fallon Michael from

What gov’t support?

There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.

In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.” 

DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.  

CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.   

DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.

Pre-Covid-19, Nicole could earn from P3,000 per client; nowadays, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program. 

To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.

Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.

But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.

For drag performer Lumina, Covid-19 “technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home.”

Making ends meet

And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.

In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda

Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.

Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”

Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”

To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”

Bleak future?

In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.

But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.

There are rays of hope.

Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce. 

This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).

And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while trapped inside and hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture… 

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Keeping the faith at the time of COVID-19

Many ask where God is at the time of #Covid19, including #LGBTQIA people who – prior to this – already experienced difficulties because of their #SOGIESC, and now have a hard time with their expression of faith. But #LGBTQIA faith leaders say that this is as good a time as any to also highlight humanity and, yes, the rainbow #pride.



LGBTQIA people are “no strangers to isolation, hardships and the stress of being alone,” said Bb. Kakay M. Pamaran, Director for Field Education of the Union Theological Seminary Philippines. And while stressing that she is, in no way, trying to “romanticize this, but I think of all people, we know what this level of isolation feels like because we’ve been there… many of us have been there.”

Bb. Pamaran was referring to the isolation/stress of being alone and hardships brought about by Covid-19, with many countries – the Philippines included – forcing people to stay indoors, else risk getting infected. The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”

There are those whose (religious) faith is getting them through; but there are also those who, in times like this, start questioning their faith. This includes LGBTQIA people whose lives, as it is, are often marked by religious persecution. And so for those of faith and who belong to the rainbow family… how does one keep the faith at the time of Covid-19?


“When people are afraid, they turn to God,” Bb. Pamaran said. “And the church, for the longest time, has been God’s mouthpiece.”

She, therefore, believes that “the church has a huge responsibility where this is concerned.”

This April, the WHO released “Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19”, which eyes to provide “practical guidance and recommendations to support the special role of religious leaders, faith-based organizations, and faith communities in COVID-19 education, preparedness, and response.”

WHO’s practical recommendations include: discouraging non-essential physical gatherings and, instead, organizing virtual gatherings through live-streaming, TV, radio, social media, et cetera; regulating the number and flow of people entering, attending or departing worship spaces to ensure safe distancing; management of pilgrim sites to respect physical distancing; and actual isolation of those who get ill/develop Covid-19 symptoms.

As stated by the WHO: Faith-based organizations (FBOs) “are a primary source of support, comfort, guidance, and direct health care and social service, for the communities they serve. Religious leaders of faith-based organizations and communities of faith can share health information to protect their own members and wider communities, which may be more likely to be accepted than from other sources. They can provide pastoral and spiritual support during public health emergencies and other health challenges and can advocate for the needs of vulnerable populations.”

Bb. Pamaran agrees – to an extent.

“It is very important, it is imperative for church leaders (and) faith-based organizations (FBOs) to deal with Covid-19 in factual, scientific ways,” she said. This is because “the things you say in the pulpit or all of the platforms that are available to you must always be based on scientific, medical evidence. And you have to exhaust all possible efforts to do your research because people tend to believe whoever is speaking behind the pulpit.”

Bb. Pamaran added that “people turn to superstition if scientific answers are not available. So as faith-based leaders, it is our responsibility to fuse rationality and factual scientific inquiry in these desperate (concerns).”


According to Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo, Administrative Minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Ekklesia in R. Mapa St., Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Covid-19 is an “eye-opener for us that human as we are, we are finite beings, and we don’t have the control of life.”

But Rev. Jaropillo added that this ought to make people see that “people have contributions to the suffering of life, and the suffering of Mother Earth.”


As FYI: In 2015, the Pew Research Center (PRC) noted that about 5% of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study’s 35,000-plus respondents identified themselves as members of the LGB population. And of that group, a big 59% said they are religiously affiliated. But only 48% of them reported belonging to a Christian faith group, compared with 71% of the general public.

Meaning: Although many members of the LGBTQIA community may feel that most major faiths are unwelcoming to them, a majority of them are still religiously affiliated (though not necessarily as Christian, but also as part of smaller, non-Christian denominations).

Bb. Kakay M. Pamaran, Director for Field Education of the Union Theological Seminary Philippines, said that “people turn to superstition if scientific answers are not available. So as faith-based leaders, it is our responsibility to fuse rationality and factual scientific inquiry in these desperate (concerns).”

Bb. Pamaran noted that LGBTQIA people may not be going to churches because these are unwelcoming, or “they just don’t go to church because they gave up on church altogether. It was difficult for LGBTQIA people to express their faith pre-Covid-19; and now with Covid-19, it would be harder for them, I would imagine.”

Rev. Jaropillo added that it is, therefore, the church’s role to “open its doors… in ministering to people who need God the most: the vulnerable, poor, women, children, the displaced…”

There are, of course, open and affirming (or ONA, the term used by the United Church of Christ/UCC) churches and/or faith-based organizations, or those that affirm the “full inclusion of LGBTQIA and non-binary persons in the church’s life and ministry.”

And they are just as affected by Covid-19.

According to Bishop Regen Luna of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit Philippines, which is based in the Province of Cavite, the mandate to socially distance meant they had to (temporarily) close, so “Covid-19 had a big impact on us.”

Among others, they had to forego masses, Bible studies, weddings, baptism, et cetera.

Ayaw din namin magkahawahan (We also do not one to infect each other),” he said.

Added Rev. Joseph San Jose, Administrative Pastor of the Open Table Metropolitan Community Church: In the context that we’re a small church, “we don’t have as much of the resources, the facilities that other churches have.”

For instance, the Roman Catholic Church and bigger Protestant churches can broadcast live their masses/worships, “we are unable to do that.”

The composition of the church membership is also proving to be a challenge, geographically speaking. Rev. San Jose, for instance, is in Laguna (approximately 100.3km from Mandaluyong, where the church is located); and members are from the City of Taguig, Quezon City, et cetera. “This is an issue with the Covid-19 lockdowns (that limit mobility of people),” he said.

Bb. Pamaran said that, largely, faith expressions involve corporate worship/gathering in one space. “Without that, faith expressions… significantly change.”

According to Rev. Alfred Candid M. Jaropillo, Administrative Minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Ekklesia in R. Mapa St., Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Covid-19 is an “eye-opener for us that human as we are, we are finite beings, and we don’t have the control of life.”


But Bb. Pamaran wants people to draw something from this experience.

“It is also a good demonstration to non-LGBTQIA persons that this kind of isolation… is the normal for LGBTQIA persons even without Covid-19 as far as going to church is concerned, and in belonging in church communities,” she said.

For Bishop Luna, the pandemic is (similarly) showcasing the resilience of LGBTQIA churches.

Sanay na kami sa hirap (We’re used to hardships),” he said, adding that they now know how to “stretch the budget to sustain a small church.” This is even if their main source of income (i.e. donations, for holding of sacraments like baptism, marriage/weddings, et cetera) is affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Added Rev. Joseph San Jose, Administrative Pastor of the Open Table Metropolitan Community Church: In the context that we’re a small church, “we don’t have as much of the resources, the facilities that other churches have.”


Covid-19, on its own, isn’t the only problem; just as problematic are its effects on other issues.

In the case of Bishop Luna’s church-goers, for instance, “we have members who are also living with HIV.” Issues re access to life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) medicines have been reported on; particularly affecting those who have no access to treatment hubs/facilities, again because of immobility.

Rev. San Jose admitted that it’s a “personal struggle as a pastor” not being able to help out, particularly at a time when people are asking what churches are doing to help the needy. But “with our situation, it’s almost impossible for us to mobilize in the same way that other churches (have been mobilizing).”


Covid-19 introduced a “new normal” even to FBOs – here, largely dictated by going online.

Union Theological Seminary, for one, introduced online courses. Metropolitan Community Church hosts webinars and online conversations. Catholic Diocese of One Spirit Philippines has online services – though, as Bishop Luna said, holding sacraments (e.g. weddings) are still not done this way (thus the rescheduling of pre-booked events to next year). Meanwhile, Open Table Metropolitan Community Church’s Rev. San Jose records sermon/homily for Sunday online “gatherings”; which is also the time when members videoconference to discuss their faith and, yes, Covid-19.

“I think that’s going to be the trend,” said Bb. Pamaran. “This is going to be how we facilitate conversations moving forward.”

Rev. Jaropillo – whose UCCP-Ekklesia also has worship services – said that while churches now also use technology in ministering to people, “we don’t stop there. Aside from virtual worship services, we concretize the love of God through relief operations. We address two things: the liturgical/spiritual ministry through virtual worship services, and the physical need of people. Churches should have a holistic approach (to this).”

“It’s best to respond with creativity,” Bb. Pamaran said.


At the time of Covid-19, Rev. Jaropillo said that “it’s very natural to doubt and it’s human to question one’s faith: ‘Natutulog ba ang Diyos (Is God asleep)?’ But I believe I don’t need to defend God. God understands the doubts of the people nowadays. So as a church, we need to journey with these people who are in doubt, especially at times of crises like now.”

Bishop Luna agrees.

“Some people ask why God would let something like this happen,” he said, adding that while these questions are unnecessary, that they are asked at all is “natural”/understandable. But he said that times like this offer lessons from God, and people should listen. “We believe in a loving God… We believe that God is teaching us – e.g. how to look after the environment, health, and respect of other creatures. We’ve forgotten these. We also live fast lives; we don’t even think it can end in a blink of an eye.”

For Rev. San Jose, it may be worth echoing what Pope Francis said when asked by a child why there’s human suffering. “Sometimes we just don’t know. It is what it is. There is a mystery of suffering and pain. And it would be very arrogant for us to try to answer very difficult and almost no-answer questions. The progressive faith compels us not to ask where God is, but to ask where we are and what we are doing at this time to be the channel of God’s love, comfort, hope for ourselves and for others.”

According to Bishop Regen Luna of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit Philippines, which is based in the Province of Cavite, the mandate to socially distance meant they had to (temporarily) close, so “Covid-19 had a big impact on us.”

For Bb. Pamaran: “It’s a common question to ask where God is in all these. But perhaps it’s the best time to ask where humanity is in all these. It is the best time to look into our humanity and our creativity, our innovative imaginations to pull through this.”


To LGBTQIA people of faith, Bishop Luna calls for prayers – “unified prayers” – while spending time with loved ones, and looking after oneself (e.g. mental health).

Ibigay natin laat ng ito sa Panginoon (Surrender everything to God),” Bishop Luna said, adding: “We believe that this, too, shall pass.”

LGBTQIA people are resilient, continuing to face hardships in life. “We can survive this, too,” he said, “and pass this with flying colors.”

It is also the resilience of the LGBTQIA people that Rev. Jaropillo wants to highlight. That LGBTQIA people find joy/laugh even in dark times is something that can be shared to cheer up communities. “Continue to shine as a rainbow, to inspire other people.”

Covid-19, said Rev. San Jose, is also a good time for the LGBTQIA people to reflect on social justice. “There is a need for us to be more active in engaging in the issues faced by the country, by our community,” he said. “There is really a great need to organize and mobilize.”

“No sector of people understands isolation more than the LGBTQIA community. We can imagine, we can grasp the loneliness and isolation that Covid-19 brings. And so try to remember how you pulled through all these years, and then try to help others do the same,” said Bb. Pamaran.

In the end, “now more than ever, the world needs color; the world needs our color. So be that… for yourself and for others,” Bb. Pamaran ended.

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Being trans at the time of Covid-19 lockdown

#LGBT Filipinos still face legal impediments re their #SOGIESC, so many of the gov’t responses related to #Covid19 exclude them. For #trans community members, interconnected issues include losing livelihood considering many belong to informal sectors, limited access to hormonal medications that could adversely affect mental/emotional/psychological health, and general forced invisibility that excludes them from gov’t support.



Main photo by Cecilie Johnsen from

At the moment, LGBTQIA people are (often) excluded in government assistance related to Covid-19, said Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc. There are various (and many of them interrelated) reasons why this is so – e.g. because marriage equality is not recognized in the Philippines, many LGBTQIA Filipinos live alone (“For example, they just rent rooms”) or perhaps couples live together yet are just considered as board mates, so they are not considered to belong to “homes”/”households”. “That’s a difficulty (that affects) access to the assistance of the government.”

It is the intersection/inter-connection of issues that – in truth – define the experience of transgender Filipinos in particular as they try to survive the Covid-19 lockdown.


To start, there’s the issue with accessing hormonal medications.

As noted by Jhen Latorre of the Pioneer FTM (Pioneer Filipino Trans men Movement), members of the transpinoy/trans men community already noted issues re accessing testosterone (hormonal medications). Not only because the stocks are limited, ordering is challenging, but also “mahirap ang shipping (we also encounter issues with shipping).” This is even more so for those in provinces.

Robinson added that many trans people access hormonal medications from the black market. For example, some local suppliers buy from Thailand. But there are now issues with stocks, affected by the lockdown that limits mobility of goods (from overseas, as well as locally).

Now, this is worth highlighting: According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founding chairperson of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, “people have a hard time understanding the health impact of hormones to trans people.”

Cordova said that many people now “think that taking hormones is just a luxury; that we just want it, and it’s not even needed.”

She added that often neglected in this line of conversation are the biological/physical, economic/financial, and psychological/emotional impacts of not having these hormonal medications – e.g. there are trans women who work as entertainers, and not having access to the needed meds could affect their physicality, which could affect their means of living.

In the end, “these are all interrelated,” Cordova said. “There are intersectionalities.”


Obviously this touches on the continuing “forced invisibility” of trans people in the Philippines particularly when talking legally – e.g. the country still doesn’t have gender recognition law, and basically misgenders trans people by legally pigeonholing them according to their assigned sex at birth.

According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founding chairperson of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, “people have a hard time understanding the health impact of hormones to trans people.”


According to Latorre, at least in his group, most of their members have jobs that: 1. allow them to work at home, and 2. still give them regular salaries even during the Covid-19 lockdown.

But there are also those who are affected by “no work, no pay,” he said. So these people now only rely from the support of family members.”

Shane R. Parreno, chairperson of the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization, said that the percentage of members of the trans community who hold regular jobs remains low.

Local figures continue to be limited on this, but at least in the US, 29% of trans people live in poverty, compared to 14% of the general population; and trans people experience unemployment at three times the rate of the general population, with 30% of trans people reporting being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity in the past 12 months.

For Parreno, may trans Filipinos – and LGBTQIA community members, for that matter – are informal workers, e.g. hairdressers, make-up artists/cosmetologists, and tailors/seamstresses. And with “everybody affected by the lockdown, those working in these fields/areas do not have clients, so they do not earn,” she said.

Robinson stressed the same point: There are trans women who work in the beauty industry, fashion industry, et cetera who do not have income now. “So we hope they will not be left out (in the giving of needed support from the government during the pandemic).”

Latorre – who has two kids, but who also did not qualify in the government’s definition of “household” to be given support – said that even before, LGBTQIA families have always been set aside.

And because “there are trans people who are the breadwinners,” Parreno said, “I hope that their SOGIESC won’t be reason for them not to be included in (government support).”

At the moment, LGBTQIA people are (often) excluded in government assistance related to Covid-19, said Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc.


There’s also the difficulty in getting medical care.

Recognizing that trans people may need to see medical professionals (e.g. when transitioning), Latorre also isn’t aware of clinics that are now open for them to access. This issue is ongoing, however, and is apparent even when there’s no lockdown, since there remain few – if any – trans-specific medical practitioners in the Philippines, perhaps even more particularly in provinces.

Sana di na magtagal ito ng sobra (I hope the lockdown doesn’t last long),” Latorre said, because “alam ko din naman na kailangan pa din to see a doctor lalo na sa too-serious na matters (I recognize that there is still need to see a doctor, particularly for very serious matters).”

As noted by Jhen Latorre of the Pioneer FTM (Pioneer Filipino Trans men Movement), members of the transpinoy/trans men community already noted issues re accessing testosterone (hormonal medications).


For Latorre, “nakakatulong ang organization (trans organizations help).” For instance, members of trans organizations can give tips re transitioning, or – if meds are needed – they can “lend” supplies.

In Cebu in central Philippines, Robinson said that transpinays asked their networks on where to get supplies. And when supplies are really hard to get, “we just advise them on the alternatives – e.g. maybe there are fruits that have high estrogen or anti-androgen properties.”

Some food that are estrogen-rich, and help lower testosterone levels include: soy products like edamame, tofu, soy milk and miso; spearmint and peppermint; licorice root; vegetable oils; flaxseed; and certain types of nuts.

“We give out this information so we have alternatives for them,” said Robinson, adding that those who received the information are “advised to share the same to their contacts.”

For Robinson, “everyone is experiencing difficulties,” she said, so “we have to support each other, fix each other’s crown.”

Latorre also has a practical recommendation: Since trans people are at home during the lockdown, they may want to use this to find time to talk to their families. “Baka ito na ang oras to open up (Maybe this is a good time to open up),” he said.

Cordova said that the lockdown highlights that “it’s about time that we comfort each other. We can’t expect our government, or other people to comfort us.”

Shane R. Parreno, chairperson of the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization, said that the percentage of members of the trans community who hold regular jobs remain low.

Meanwhile, Parreno has practical recommendations.

“Let’s support our government – e.g. when it says for us to stay home, stay home. Talagang malaki ang impact nito (This has a big impact),” she said. “Ipakita natin… na hindi tayo pasaway (Let’s show others we’re not troublesome).”

And in the end, “let’s pray that this will end soon para magkita-kita na tayo ulit, maka-rampa na tayo ulit (so we can see each other again, and wander/jaunt again).”

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Living with HIV at the time of Covid-19 lockdown

To date, there is still no evidence that the risk of infection of #COVID19 is different among persons living with #HIV. But the #lockdown is worsening the situation of many PLHIVs – e.g. in accessing their life-saving medicines, loss of income/livelihood, exclusion in government responses, depression, et cetera.



Nakakadagdag ng takot (Covid-19 adds to the fear) of persons living with HIV,” said Anthony Louie David, a Filipino living with HIV.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “at present there is no evidence that the risk of infection or complications of COVID-19 is different among PLHIVs who are clinically and immunologically stable on antiretroviral treatment when compared with the general population.” WHO added that “it is unknown if the immunosuppression of HIV will put a person at greater risk for COVID-19.”

However, “until more is known, additional precautions for all people with advanced HIV or poorly controlled HIV, should be employed.” This is because “PLHIVs with advanced disease, those with low CD4 and high viral load and those who are not taking antiretroviral treatment have an increased risk of infections and related complications in general.”

And so for David, because those with weaker immune systems are at higher risk of getting infected with Covid-19, “andoon yung takot (the fear is there).”

Rogeselle Burdeos Monton, also a PLHIV and the research and development officer of the Culture and Arts Managers of the Philippines, said that there’s that “worry within yourself” that because one is immunocompromised, “you might end up being infected with another virus.”

For Moses Ayuha, “PLHIVs should take precautionary measures… particularly if they go out.” Practically, “wear mask,” he said, though more importantly, “better your immune system… and stop panicking.”


The fear – not just the lockdown – has been limiting.

David, for instance, hasn’t been out of his house for weeks now – e.g. other family members have to do the groceries for him.

David is also troubled that his supply of life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) medicines is about to run out. “My treatment hub is in the City of Manila, and I am now in Biñan City, Laguna (approximately 31 kilometers away).”

With being idle affecting mental health, along with the fear of getting Covid-19 and accessing ARVs, “learn how to divert your attention,” Rogeselle Monton said. “Your fears are valid, but focus on your well-being as a PLHIV.”

Living in a different local government unit (LGU) is also an issue because people from outside Metro Manila (where his treatment hub is) are barred from entering Metro Manila.

At least for Moses Myro Ayuha, another person living with HIV, “luckily, I have supplies until May.” But Ayuha said that there are “blood brothers” who are really having difficulty in accessing their ARVs.

The Department of Health (DOH) tried to remedy this issue.

In March, DOH released an advisory that recognizes that “this current situation poses challenges in accessing life-saving medications… which may result in treatment interruption”, so it is mandating treatment facilities to “exhaust all possible methods to ensure reliable access to PLHIVs to treatment without having to risk increased exposure to Covid-19 when accessing their medicines.”

Meaning: PLHIVs can get their supplies (while the lockdown is ongoing) in other hubs that are nearest to them; or have their ARVs delivered to them, among others.

Monton’s hub delivered his ARVs for him… but he had to pay for the courier/shipping fee on his own, which may be an issue for those who do not have money to do so.

Monton also noted that there are also confusions – e.g. the process of accessing ARVs in hubs not yours, with policies supposedly announced by the DOH causing confusion instead of clarity.

And so Monton said that some end up “borrowing meds.”

David noted how non-government organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) are stepping up. For instance, there are those that deliver the ARVs to those who can’t leave their houses – e.g. #AwraSafely has some guide for PLHIVs during the time of Covid-19.

Bagot na ba beshie? O heto, basahin ang mga dapat nating malaman tungkol sa HIV at COVID-19.Tandaan: sa panahon ng #COVID19, ang pag-postpone ng awra ay pag-#AwraSafely!

Posted by AwraSafely on Sunday, March 22, 2020

Helping is also done to those who have lost their means of living – e.g. the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) gives out some amount to HIV-positive mothers and/or their kids, as well as healthcare providers who are rendering HIV-related services during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

This is particularly helpful to those “na walang kakayanang bumili ng pagkain nila ngayong may lockdown dahil wala ring trabaho ngayon,” David said.

Sadly – and this is worth highlighting – many of the existing solutions are available for PLHIVs in metropolitan areas, such as Metro Manila, where many NGOs and CBOs operate. Outside of Metro Manila, in the provinces, already problematic access to ARVs are worsened by the Covid-19 lockdown. Monton knows of a PLHIV in Laguna, for instance, who had to spend an entire day just to get through a series of checkpoints to access the nearest treatment hub to him; and then when he got there, “siguro nagmakaawa (maybe he begged) just to be given ARVs.”


Like the rest of the population, the livelihood of PLHIVs are just-as-affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ayuha, for one, said that – at least where he’s staying, a halfway house for PLHIVs – they now rely on donations of food packs. “Nakakaraos din (We get by somehow),” he said.

But Ayuha said that “I am unable to do (what I usually do daily),” including giving HIV-related lectures (while working for non-government organizations). “Nabago talaga dahil di ka nga makalabas (This really changed because you can’t go out).”

David is the same; with his income usually sourced from giving HIV-related talks. And with gatherings cancelled because of the lockdown, “walang maasahan kundi pamilya ko lang (I only rely on my family).”

Monton, meanwhile, is a freelance worker, so his earnings are also affected. He may be luckier than most because he has savings; but he knows of other PLHIVs who – even now – are already worrying where to source the money for the incoming months’ bills (e.g. rent, utilities, et cetera).

Monton actually hopes that that the government’s financial support be made more inclusive. “When it comes to evaluating people who are currently financially challenged.” At the end of the day, he added, even PLHIVs are “also tax-payers.”

For Louie David, because those with weaker immune systems are at higher risk of getting infected with Covid-19, “andoon yung takot (the fear is there).”


David said that there are other issues affecting PLHIVs now highlighted by Covid-19 – e.g. depression. To deal with this, he recommends “keeping yourself busy.”

So David said: “Better your immune system because Covid-19 isn’t just going to be here now. Even without the lockdown, Covid-19 will still be there. So gain strength so that when the lockdown is lifted and we’re finally allowed to go out, we know we’d still be safe because we’ve properly prepared.”

Monton gives three practical tips.

First, with being idle affecting mental health, along with the fear of getting Covid-19 and accessing ARVs, “learn how to divert your attention,” he said. “Your fears are valid, but focus on your well-being as a PLHIV.”

Second, take precautions – e.g. wear face mask when going out, disinfect particularly before touching the face, et cetera.

And third, “magdasal (pray),” he said. Maybe not even because one is religious, but for “peace of mind… somehow it helps.”

For Ayuha, “PLHIVs should take precautionary measures… particularly if they go out.” Practically, “wear mask,” he said, though more importantly, “better your immune system… and huwag praning (stop panicking).”

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LGBTQIA people as Covid-19’s hidden victims forced to choose between risking infection or starving

How Covid-19 – and the eventual lockdowns – is impacting the livelihood of LGBTQIA people.



Choosing to go out while the world is panicking over Covid-19 is “scary,” said Bella Abac, a freelance hairdresser/make-up artist from the City of Bacoor in the Province of Cavite. Though she knows she may be putting herself at risk of getting infected by the dreaded novel coronavirus 2019, “kailangan ko naman ay budget… kasi ito yung source of income ko (I need earn… because this is my source of income).”

The government – e.g. the barangay – gave some support; in Abac’s case, a few kilos of rice, noodles and canned goods. But since the Covid-19 lockdown is expected to last for weeks, this is obviously not going to be enough. And so putting one at risk (and others at risk, for that matter) becomes a necessity to survive.

According to Ging Cristobal, project coordinator for Asia & Pacific Islands Region of OutRight Action International: “‘Yung Covid-19, napakalaki ng pinsala sa lahat (Covid-19 did big damage do everyone)” though even more so to minority sectors like the LGBTQIA community.

To start, there’s the damage done to livelihood, she said. Many LGBTQIA people still experience discrimination that force them to engage in informal sectors; “ibig sabihin nito, sila ay hairdresser, staff sa grocery, eatery, palengke… at alam natin na ito ay ‘No work, No pay.’ Mas pagtuunan natin ng pansin yung mga marginalized sectors (this means that these people are hairdressers, staff in groceries or eateries or markets… and they don’t earn if they don’t work. We should give attention to those in the marginalized sectors).”

For Elden Lopena, owner of Top Touch Beauty Salon in Cotabato City, we should be thankful that we’re not as of yet as affected by other bigger countries; but “sana matapos na ito para di na masyado magtagal ang hirap (hopefully this ends soon so the hardships don’t last long)”.
Maureen Mejia Chan, owner of Salon de Maureen in Makati City, estimates that she’d lose over P100,000 because of the lockdown, and so “hindi ko alam ano ang gagawin ko (I don’t know what I’d do).”


The economic impact of Covid-19 is now being discussed, including in the Philippines. In February, for instance,, for instance, reported that about 75% of Filipinos perceived that the Covid-19 outbreak would affect the international economy, while 65% believed the national economy of the Philippines would be affected.

In fact, as of early March 2020, the global pandemic already contracted a decline of 2.4% in US’s GDP. Specific to the Philippines, the World Bank still sees the country’s economy to grow by 3% at best, contracting 0.5% at worst in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But really, it is still too early to see how big an impact Covid-19 will have on the economy.

What abounds now, instead, are anecdotal evidence of the difficulties experienced because of the pandemic, and the lockdowns implemented to monitor/control the same.


For Elden Lopena, owner of Top Touch Beauty Salon in Cotabato City, we should be thankful that we’re not as of yet as affected by other bigger countries; but “sana matapos na ito para di na masyado magtagal ang hirap (hopefully this ends soon so the hardships don’t last long)”.

Lopena lamented that as an owner of a salon, “meron din akong mga tauhan (I also have staff)” and he needs to help them with their daily needs, even as he worries where to source money for would-be expenses for his business (e.g. rental, utilities). Therefore, closing – even temporarily – has a big impact.

Maureen Mejia Chan, owner of Salon de Maureen in Makati City, estimates that she’d lose over P100,000 because of the lockdown, and so “hindi ko alam ano ang gagawin ko (I don’t know what I’d do).”

The difficulty is more pronounced for those who earn daily wages, said Ms Garner delos Reyes Lagare, salon owner/hair and make-up artist/PMU artist and instructor. “Ang nakaka-awa ay yung mga taong walang ipon (It’s sadder for people without savings)” because they don’t have the capacity to buy basic needs (e.g. food, milk for babies, medicines, etc).

Workers in informal sectors – as noted by Cristobal – worry day to day.

Vinz Calvin (a.k.a. Lumina), a drag queen, said that with venues where they perform closed (for three weeks now), they haven’t been earning at all.

To earn, some become more creative.

“Some drag queens, they hold shows online,” Vinz Calvin said. The viewers give “tips” by sending these to remittance centers/apps.

The “creativity” assumes, however, that everyone affected by lockdown has access to the same internet (and speed) services, which isn’t the case. Globe Telecom, for instance, urges subscribers to be ‘conscientious’ with internet use while most Filipinos are working from home, highlighting the impact of the demand on the connections/availability of connections.

Ms Garner delos Reyes Lagare, salon owner/hair and make-up artist/PMU artist and instructor. “Ang nakaka-awa ay yung mga taong walang ipon” because they don’t have the capacity to buy basic needs (e.g. food, milk for babies, medicines, etc).
Though she knows she may be putting herself at risk of getting infected by the dreaded novel coronavirus 2019, “kailangan ko naman ay budget… kasi ito yung source of income ko (I need earn… because this is my source of income)..

Like Abac, who used to occasionally take risks by still services clients out of necessity, Lopena said that he knows of others who also do home service.

Kung makakalabas… lalabas (If we can go out of our houses, we do so to serve clients),” he said, so that “kahit papaano makakatulong din sa pang-araw-araw na gastusin (so it helps in daily expenses).”

But fear (of getting infected or infecting others) is limiting this now, on top of the need to comply with the lockdowns, else risk getting arrested. And so many are basically left to be hungry.


For Cristobal, the Covid-19 lockdown also has an unwanted effects.

There’s the surfacing of anti-LGBTQIA practices – e.g. in Quezon City, a lesbian couple complained that they did not receive goods from the local government because they were not considered “household”/”family”. The city is fortunate enough to have an existing anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that prohibits discrimination of LGBTQIA people within the city, so that the issue of the lesbian couple was resolved; but other local government units (LGUs) also in lockdown do not have ADOs.

It also puts members of the LGBTQIA community to be in situations/locations where they are at risk of getting abused – e.g. students, for instance, are now forced to be at home for the whole day, even if family members may not be accepting of them, or are even abusive of them.

Itong mga darating na panahon ay hindi ko alam kung mas magiging mabuti na ang kalagayan o mas (sasama) pa. Pero kahit sana anong mangyari, hindi tayo laging iniiwan.”


Chan said that she heard of the support the government is supposed to give to small- and medium-sized businesses, like her salon. If true, she said it could help because “it’s difficult for businesspeople who are at a loss on where yo source the fund to continue financing their businesses.”

But Chan is among those at a loss on how to access/avail of this said support.

Vinz Calvin added that, in the case of drag queens for instance, who are also workers in the entertainment industry, “we’re not even sure if we qualify to ask for government support.” And this is even if this support is just-as-needed by them.

For some, giving help is becoming normal (in lieu of relying on government help). Lopena, for instance, said that “yung naitabi naming salapi, tinutulungan na rin namin sila (we use our savings to help our staff).”

But for Lopena, “yung hingi ng mamamayan kasi, yung pagkain… sana mabigyan sila ng tamang ayuda (what people are asking for, including food… hopefully the government can help them with that).”

The sentiment was shared by Lagare who said that getting help is ideal, though currently, the promised help is not reaching to target populations. “Kaya nakaka-awa talaga yung walang ipon sa ganitong panahon (Those who do not have savings are disadvantaged at times like this).”

And so Abac said that government should prioritize those who are in dire need of support. She added, though, that “yung iba naman na kaya namang makabili, huwag na daing nang daing kasi ang government ay kumikilos naman (those who can afford to buy, stop simply complaining because the government is acting anyway).”

Vinz Calvin added that, in the case of drag queens for instance, who are also workers in the entertainment industry, “we’re not even sure if we qualify to ask for government support.”

Eventually, said Vinz Calvin, people should learn to be more prepared.

“Hopefully something like this doesn’t happens again, but in case it does, at least we have savings to use,” he said.

But while everyone is affected, LGBTQIA people should be very mindful, said Cristobal.

Itong mga darating na panahon ay hindi ko alam kung mas magiging mabuti na ang kalagayan o mas (sasama) pa. Pero kahit sana anong mangyari, hindi tayo laging iniiwan (I don’t know if things will get better of worse. But whatever happens, LGBTQIA people shouldn’t be left behind),” Cristobal ended.

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Trans kagawad at the COVID-19 frontline

As a frontliner during the COVID-19 pandemic, trans barangay kagawad Kristine T. Ibardolaza of Antipolo City said that her work may be risky, but it’s gratifying because she is one of those who help the needy. Right now, she said, everyone’s fighting, but “this is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic.”



“It’s very risky to be at the frontline because (in the case of COVID-19) we can’t see the enemy,” said Kristine T. Ibardolaza, a barangay kagawad of Barangay Mayamot in Antipolo City, one of the frontliners facing COVID-19 pandemic. “But as days (pass), I am able to say that it’s gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

A barangay kagawad (in English, barangay councilor) is an elected government official, a member of the Sangguniang Barangay/Barangay Council of a particular barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines. As local leaders, they are directly in touch with people at the grassroots/communities.

With the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) due to Covid-19, barangay officials were tasked by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to helm the response to the COVOD-19 pandemic. And so “with our barangay captain… we pack food for our constituents, while monitoring how they are doing. We also give them hope that this, too, shall pass,” Kristine said.

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

The barangay – Mayamot – that Kristine serves is big. “It’s like a municipality,” she said, with “more or less 80,000 registered voters.” The number doesn’t include the other family members of these voters – e.g children.

“As much as possible, we want to reach everyone/all families,” Kristine said. But “sorry to say we still haven’t done this… for instance in the food packs made. But at the moment, I think we’ve reached 70% of the families; going to 80%.”

Service delivery is also proving to be challenging.

“I’m not sure if some people think this is a joke; they act like there’s a fiesta. Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

Already, Kristine – with the other local officials – have been working round-the-clock.

After packing the goods during the day, for instance, and “with help from the sitio chairman, we decided to distribute goods at night, when more people are asleep and are indoors.” This is because when visits are done during the day, people tend to congregate; and this is to be avoided in the time of COVID-19.

“We thought a pandemic like this only happens in movies. It never occurred to me that at a time when I’m the elected barangay kagawad, I’d face a problem like this,” Kristine said.

Kristine said it’s also challenging being a public official because sometimes, “nakalimutan ko pala na may pamilya rin ako. At hindi kami exempted sa pandemic na ito (I forget I also have family. And we’re not exempted from the pandemic).”

To other LGBTQIA elected officials, Kristine said: “Let’s be brave. This isn’t a fight only of LGBTQIA people, but of the whole Philippines and the whole world.”

She added that people should “never underestimate the power of prayers. If everyone prays, this will (soon) end.”

“Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

But Kristine said that bickering has to stop.

“Right now, everyone’s fighting; even within the LGBTQIA community. This is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic,” she said. “This is the time when we should be loving ourselves the most. This is the time when we should express our love to our loved ones. A simple smile for our frontliners. This could lift their spirits.”

And in the end, “everyone – no one is exempted – is experiencing difficulties. Hopefully, everyone is also eyeing a better future after this pandemic.”

As days pass, “I am able to say that (my work is) gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”
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