In June 2011, a Filipino transgender man named Ar Con decided to create a Facebook group in response to a call for solidarity from another Filipino transgender man he had gotten to know on YouTube. But what was originally intended to be a group for the very few Filipino transgender men on YouTube to socialize with each other quickly boomed into a group of dozens – in fact, within a week of creating the group, the membership count more than doubled, as other transgender men from all over the Philippines joined in, with many of these new members never meeting another transgender man before. And so the group quickly became a community devoted to being a source of support and solidarity, as well as a venue for Filipino transgender men to share what limited knowledge and resources they have.
Almost two years passed, and today, PinoyFTM has evolved into a multi-faceted organization that, among others: maintains a support group (its primary purpose, as it eyes to provide support for the community), and drives education and awareness on transgender issues.
For the new group, there are a good number of challenges coming from every possible direction.
“Within our own ranks, despite the increasing number of FTMs (female to male transgenders) coming forward and joining the group, it is still a bit of a struggle to continuously push all our activities in projects. Most of us are very new to the activist scene and juggle with activism and work or personal time,” said PinoyFTM’s Macky Joven.
Another challenge is that even within the LGBT community, education on transgender men is scarce, and “we can also inadvertently be on the receiving end of anything from erasure to transphobia,” Joven added. “This continues to be an issue even within the trans community, as many people may have a limited understanding of trans issues and etiquette.” To remedy this, “we try our best to resolve by actively promoting education and dialogue that would be beneficial to everyone. We also hold lectures and open forums to better educate others.”
Surprisingly, for Joven, a more recent hurdle has come with the sudden boom in popularity of transgender men in local media. “It has become a two pronged sword because while we are very thankful that awareness to our issues and challenges are better brought to public attention, it can also be the source of confusion and misunderstanding from those who do not fully understand what it means to be trans. Especially given Filipino culture, both in and out of the LGBT circles, people continue to confuse FTMs for butch lesbians and mistake the two as interchangeable or related.”
Joven added: “Also related is the surge in interest of aspects of medical transitioning transgender men need to live comfortable lives. Because of the lack of education, many people have recently been exposed to the concept of hormone replacement therapy, and tend to ignore the risks involved or forego the proper medical procedures to ensure their safety.”
In all these, “we feel like education really is key to improving these problems, hence we do our best to always provide the necessary information and education one might need, as well as be a reliable source of information that those in and out of the community can turn to,” Joven said.
While there exist other transgender-related organizations locally, what sets PinoyFTM apart is its focus on education over awareness. “Attention and recognition are not the goals we are striving to achieve, but rather to first better equip the community with resources and tools aimed at making their lives easier in all aspects,” said Alek Weber. “Secondary to that is the educating of the LGBT community at large to better integrate the FTM community into, and create better allies who can help us in the goals we wish to achieve and aid us in the struggles we face here in the Philippines.”
PinoyFTM’s approach also differs from most activist organizations in general, “as we tend to rather work in the background and not draw attention to ourselves if it can be helped and instead try our best to effect change in a low-key manner.”
For PinoyFTM, its crowning achievement is in making the lives of FTMs easier and safer. “We can proudly say we’ve made great strides in helping Filipino transgender men improve their lives for the better and have made things that were unthinkable of before as a possibility, especially with regards to transitioning, which plays a big part in the lives of most transgender men, be it social transition or medical transition. We’ve managed to gather a pool of professional contacts that have been able to aid us and our members in our journey,” Weber said.
“We can also boast helping spread awareness within the LGBT community by taking part in various lectures seminars and workshops, allowing others to open their minds to our perspective,” Weber added.
But there’s no rest for the group just yet. “Despite what we’ve achieved in terms of providing resources, education and assistance to the transgender men in the Philippines, we acknowledge that there is still a long way to go. It continues to be our goal to help advance both our community and society in such a way that transgender men do not have to face the numerous hurdles and problems they do at present,” Joven said.
PinoyFTM aims to create more programs that benefit both the transgender community and the LGBT community so “we may work with other groups in mutually beneficial ways. We also want to work more closely with non-LGBT organizations such as legal and medical professionals, in hopes of better improving the Philippines as a society to be compassionate towards the unique struggle transgender people face in this country,” Joven ended.
Currently, any person who falls under the definition of a transgender man of Filipino descent or residing in the Philippines can become a member of PinoyFTM. To be a member of the working group, one must be all of that and in addition, be open and willing to devote time and energy to helping make the group’s projects work. Coordinate with firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the group’s Facebook page for more information.