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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).

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.

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!”

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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City of Manila passes LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinance

The City of Manila finally has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) to protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos. Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso signed City Ordinance 8695, sponsored by councilor Joel Villanueva, which prohibits “any and all forms of discrimination on the basis of SOGIE”.

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The rainbow rises in the City of Manila… finally.

The City of Manila finally has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) to protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos. Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso signed City Ordinance 8695, sponsored by councilor Joel Villanueva, which prohibits “any and all forms of discrimination on the basis of SOGIE”.

“No harm will come to you while I’m mayor of Manila. Lahat kayo pantay pantay sa mata ng pamahalaang lokal,” Domagoso said before signing ADO.

Called Manila LGBTQI Protection Ordinance of 2020, the ADO prohibits:

  1. Denying or limiting access to employees the promotion, transfer, training and schooling if these are otherwise granted to others;
  2. Refusing employment based on actual or perceived SOGIE;
  3. Denying access to medical/health programs and services based on actual or perceived SOGIE;
  4. Denying admission, getting expelled or dismissed, or preventing a student from graduating or getting clearance based on actual or perceived SOGIE;
  5. Revoking accreditation or LGBTQI organizations in schools and workplaces;
  6. Subjecting any person to verbal or written insult including on any social media platforms;
  7. Refusing services based on SOGIE (e.g. accommodations, renting dwelling, malls, etc); and
  8. Organizing groups and activities that promote/incite discrimination of LGBTQI people.

The ADO also mandates the creation of the Gender Sensitivity and Development Council, which will be tasked to synchronize the city’s programs for the LGBTQI community. This council is also tasked to facilitate and assist victims of stigma and discrimination so that they get legal representation and psychological assistance.

With the ADO, every barangay is mandated to establish LGBTQI assistance desks to receive complaints related to the ADO.

By 2023, it is expected that gender-neutral toilets will be established in all venues in the City of Manila. This will be made a condition precedent to the renewal of business permits of establishments.

Violation of the ADO will be penalized with a fine of PhP1,000 and/or imprisonment of six months for the first offense; increasing to a PhP3,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to a year for the third offense.

The ADO will be funded by 5% of the appropriation to finance the city’s Gender and Development programs.

According to Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas, which helped push for the passage of this ADO: “Based on experience, we know that a law won’t end LGBTQI discrimination and violence but can enable access to justice for people who seek redress. The fight isn’t over.”

And since the ADO has no IRR yet, it also “needs to be monitored for proper implementation.”

Since this also comes on the heels of Zamboanga City passing its own ADO on October 14, Fontanos said that credit should be given to the work of LGBTQI advocates and allies in and outside LGUs tirelessly pushing for structural change.

All the same, “the struggle to pass a national anti-discrimination law also continues and our work to hold those in power to account remains,” Fontanos ended.

*This article was amended on October 30, 11.21AM to include the statements of Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas

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Enter the alter world

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting noticed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a living

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

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

Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the handles

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

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

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

The evolution, indeed, continues.

Hate from within the community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anti-discrimination ordinance passes final reading in Zamboanga City; awaits mayor’s signature

Zamboanga joins the growing number of local government units that now has an anti-discrimination ordinance.

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The rainbow rises in Zamboanga City.

The 1st class highly urbanized city in the Zamboanga Peninsula of the Philippines, Zamboanga, joins the growing number of local government units (LGUs) that now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO).

As helmed by Hon. Lilibeth Macrohon Nuño, the ADO passed the third and final reading at the Sangguniang Panglunsod of the City of Zamboanga on October 6.

The ADO is actually not only specific to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Instead, it is a more comprehensive ADO that also prohibits discrimination based on race, color, civil and social status, language, religion, national or social origin, culture and ethnicity, property, birth or age, disability and health status, creed and ideological beliefs, and physical appearance.

The ADO now goes to the desk of Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar for signing.

As the sixth most populous and third largest city by land area in the Philippines, Zamboanga has a population of 861,799 people (as of 2015). The ADO was pushed by local LGBTQIA organization, Mujer-LGBT Organization Inc.

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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?

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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 Unsplash.com

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.

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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?

RELIGIOUS FERVOR

“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).”

AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE

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.”

RAINBOW IN FAITH

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.”

RAINBOW LENS

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.”

RELATED ISSUES

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).”

DEALING WITH ‘NEW NORMAL’

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.

UNSHAKEN FAITH

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.”

LGBTQIA OF FAITH

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.

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Main photo by Cecilie Johnsen from Unsplash.com

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.

WANTED: ACCESS TO MEDS

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.”

‘FORCED INVISIBILITY’

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.”

INFORMAL WORKERS

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.

ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE

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).

HELPING EACH OTHER

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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