This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email email@example.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.
Her story is not unique. Her journey has been explored by many individuals who are also in the same situation. But what she does, and how she uses her “gift”, is what makes her exceptional.
Her name is Dani*. She is a transgender woman, a pageant queen, and an advocate of HIV awareness and rights.
“When I was a child, I didn’t know what bakla meant. That is, until I was being called one. I asked my parents what bakla means and it was only then that I got the concept of being homosexual,” Dani recalled.
It was when she was growing up that she slowly realized that she’s “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” And from then on, “I identified myself as a transwoman.”
She lived her life as a woman, and – stereotypical as it may sound – she is into joining beauty pageants (she has, in fact, won several titles).
Dani would like to think she’s also like many “traditional women” who, when love knocks on the door, give everything unconditionally and oh-so-selflessly. One time, in particular, when she fell in love, she surrendered everything to her ex-partner, even the safeness of her physical health. They practiced unprotected sex.
“I remember before 2009, I thought HIV was not yet in our country. I thought at that time that it was only happening in the US and in other countries, so why should I worry? Why should I use condoms?” she recalled.
But life took a sudden turn.
“I am now HIV positive. I was diagnosed back in 2009,” Dani disclosed.
Since then, she has started learning about HIV and AIDS. She attended seminars, and she was present in almost all of the counseling sessions at her treatment hub. She became friends with different people living with HIV (PLHIVs) and advocates. And she did all these as she pulled through her life.
When she finally gathered her confidence and strength back, she used her knowledge and experience to inspire newly diagnosed HIV-positive people to slowly recover from their misery and help them face their new lives.
“This advocacy is very close to my heart. I know what PLHIVs are going through because I speak from experience. I consider my status as an open secret – what I’m doing, that is helping PLHIVs, is a good medium for me to discuss what I went through and how I’m dealing with it,” she said.
As an HIV awareness and rights advocate, Dani is in a class of her own. She selflessly takes advantage of her own story to help other people.
When The Project Red Ribbon was established, Dani found a community of HIV positive advocates who also shared the same way of thinking: to help PLHIVs through the power of inspiration and real stories.
“We help them get through the saddest days of their lives– how they can get along with it, what they can do to have a better mindset about their situation. They need to become more aware that this is their new life already, and that there’s much to be considered,” she said.
Dani still joins beauty pageants and she still wins different titles. She still hangs-out with her transgender friends. And she still falls in love whenever she meets someone special. But this time, she values her own welfare and the safety of other people.
“Sometimes, someone will call me in the middle of the night, crying and sometimes suicidal. I gladly receive the call and just listen to their frustrations and fear. I feel responsible for them. Because I know how they feel – the feeling of being alone. I don’t want other people to feel like there’s no hope,” she said.
Being a transgender and HIV positive can be extra challenging (Read about Dabawenya Tricia Cabrera). But Dani’s spirit remains high.
“The essence of being a transgender is having the best of both worlds (so to speak). You can have a caring heart of a woman and you can have an iron fist of man,” Dani said. “And being HIV positive, you have to accept and fully understand your new life so you can also inspire new PLHIVs. And living an HIV positive life is not easy nor difficult, but it is manageable.”
*NAME CHANGED, AS REQUESTED, TO PROTECT THE INTERVIEWEE’S PRIVACY