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Pride in the eyes of those at the fringes of LGBT community

Discussions on the evolution of Pride has already been happening overseas (e.g. commercialization), even if the same has not been really happening in the Philippines. And in the midst of all the noise, what needs to be kept in mind is that Pride is supposed to celebrate the “rainbow diversity”. That is, it’s supposed to be for everyone, not just for the select few (who can afford to access it). Because there remain many members of the LGBT community whose narratives are often just left in the cutting room… the #KaraniwangLGBT. For #Pride2017, Outrage Magazine chats with some of those who are at the fringes of the already minority LGBT community.

ARTWORK BY AARON BONETTE

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Everything LGBT-related is magnified in June every year, marked as the month when LGBT Pride is supposed to be celebrated (thanks, largely, to its Western-led identification as “Pride Month” because it was when the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City in 1969).

But while discussions on the evolution of Pride has already been happening overseas (again, largely in Western contexts, with the commercialization of Pride getting flak, such as THIS, THIS and THIS; and yes, some support), the same has not been really happening in the Philippines. Yes, discussions about the annual “walk” being identified as a “march” (meaning it’s political) versus a “parade” (meaning it’s just for show) have happened in the past, but – by and large – the evolution of Pride here to end up mimicking Western model/s can be argued to be not happening.

Fact: There will be opponents and supporters of both sides.

But in the midst of the noise, what needs to be kept in mind is that Pride is supposed to celebrate the “rainbow diversity”. That is, it’s supposed to be for everyone, not just for the select few (who can afford to access it).

Because there remain many members of the LGBT community whose narratives are often just left in the cutting room, marked as “not sexy” or “not newsworthy”.

These are the #KaraniwangLGBT, our LGBT brothers and sisters who are at the fringes not just of society, but even of the LGBT community. Those whose idea of Pride is limited to “it’s not for people like us”.

Outrage Magazine chats with some of those still looking for Pride… and yet seemingly left by the very movement that’s supposed to help them find this Pride.

THE LESBIAN CONFIDANT

People always mistake them as lovers. They’ve known each other for more than five years now.

But “magkaibigan lang kami. May boyfriend siya at mga anak, tapos ako, may nililigawan (we’re just friends. She has a boyfriend and kids, and me, I’m wooing another),” Jeng said.

They both live in Tondo, among the informal settlers there. Each day, they share meals together – with the kids and other family members.

Alas-otso ng umaga nung tumawag siya sa akin. Iyak siya ng iyak. Binalita niya sa akin na nakuha na niya ‘yung HIV test niya, at positive siya (She called me at eight in the morning. She was crying. She told me she got the result of her HIV test, and that she tested positive),” Jeng continued.

Jeng is a pedicab driver. On a good day, “kumikita ako ng P150. Pero kung wala masyadong pasahero, P50 lang. Nagbibigay pa kasi ako sa may-ari ng pedicab (I earn P150. But if there aren’t many passengers, just P50. I also have to give the pedicab owner his share).”

But nowadays, “mas mahirap kumita. Kasi binabantayan at sinasamahan ko siya palagi kapag nagpupunta sa ospital. Hindi ko siya kayang pabayaan kasi ang dami na namin pinagsamahan. Noong ako ang nagkaproblema dati, nandun siya palagi sa tabi ko. Kahit na hirap ako sa sitwasyon ko, okay lang kasi masaya ako at kasama ko best friend ko (it’s harder to earn. I go with her to the hospital. I can’t leave her alone. We’ve been through a lot already. When it was me who had problems, she was there. It’s not easy but I’m happy I can be with her),” Jeng said.

Asked about Pride, and the annual march/parade, she looked confused: “Pride March? Ano ‘yun? Puro kasiyahan lang yata yan at same-sex marriage. Paano naman kami makikinabang dyan (What’s that? It’s just for partying and for same-sex marriage? What’s that to us)?” she asked.

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THE ‘KERI LANG’ WORKER

“Al – two letters lang. ‘Yan ang binigay sa akin na pangalan. Keri lang, at least madali lang tandaan (My name is Al – just two letters. That’s the name given to me, so that’s okay. At least it’s easy to remember),” he said.

Al flips burgers for a living.

Wala akong basic na sahod, porsyento lang. Kapag kumita itong store, may take home ako (I don’t get basic salary, just a percentage of what the store earns. If the store earns something, then I get to take home something),” he said.

Al works for 16 hours every day. Sometimes, he earns P500 in a day. But on a regular basis, his take home is from P150 to P200 per day.

Pinapaaral ko pa kapatid ko. Tapos nangungupahan lang kami (I also send a sibling to school. And we just rent our place),” he said.

Then trying to sound optimistic: “Keri lang, buti nga at may trabaho ako. Hindi katulad ng iba dyan, hirap na hirap maghanap ng trabaho (It’s okay, at least I have a job. Others have a hard time finding a job),” he added.

With Al only getting some five hours of rest every day, “celebrating” Pride is far from his mind. The priority, he said, is for him to earn a decent living – even a small amount – as long as “wala akong ginagawang masama (I don’t do anything illegal).”

THE DEVOTEE

Ano pangalan mo? Dadasalan kita. Sa ngalan sa Amahan, sa Anak ug sa Espiritu Santo, amen. Senyor Sto Niño, Mama Mary, Senyor San Pedro Calungsod, mga santos, mga santas. Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño…”

Her name is Gretchen. She has been a candle vendor at Magellan’s Cross in Cebu for more than 30 years now. She inherited her job from her ancestors. It was passed onto her mother, and after she passed away, Gretchen took over.

Araw-araw ako nagdadasal dito kay Senyor Sto. Niño. Si Sto. Niño, mas more na malapit kami sa kanya, maraming blessing siya binibihgay sa amin,” she shared.

As a devout Catholic and believer of Sto. Niño, Gretchen is always ridiculed because she is trans.

But she said: “Unsa ang kinahanglan nga ako kaulawan? Dili ko usa ka kriminal, dili ko usa ka kawatan (What should I be ashamed of? I’m not a criminal. I’m not a thief),” she said.

Gretchen thanks God that despite the discrimination she is experiencing, there are still many people who continue to trust her with their religious intercessions.

But – aside from praying for others – every night, she also prays for people to respect her for who and what she really is.

Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño, salamat sa pagpasaylo kanako (thank you for forgiving me). Viva Pit Senyor! Mahal na Sto. Niño,” she ended.

THE CHARMING WAITRESS

Nagkaroon ako ng boyfriend dati, estudyante lang siya. Gwapo siya, fresh na fresh ang itsura. Kaya lang tuwing nagkikita kami, binibigyan ko siya ng allowance para may panggastos siya sa school (I had a BF before. He was a student. He was handsome. But every time we met, I had to give him money, his allowance for his schooling),” Kakay shared as she prepared the pares orders. “Wala naman akong choice. Wala ako mahanap na matinong lalaki na pwedeng maging boyfriend. Isa sa marming rason, wala akong maayos na trabaho – trabaho na pwede ako ipagmalaki at iuwi sa bahay para ipakilala (It’s not like I have a choice. I couldn’t find a proper man to be my BF. One of the reasons is I don’t even have a good job – a job that will make him proud to introduce me to his family).”

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Kakay works in one of the pares houses in Manila. She has been with them for many years already, even if “mababa lang ang sahod, okay na rin (I don’t earn much, though that’s just fine).”

She tried her luck – several times actually – to apply for other jobs. But the usual answer that Kakay said she gets: “Hindi kami tumatanggap ng bakla. Mahirap na, baka magkaproblema pa kami sa iyo (We don’t take in gay people. You could just give us problems).”

Kakay identifies as a woman, and she longs to be able to transition. “Hindi ako pamhinta, hindi ako bakla, babae ako. Hindi niyo palang nakikita ang totoo kong anyo (I’m not ‘straight-acting’, I’m not gay, I’m a woman. But you haven’t seen my real personhood yet).”

Kakay is proud with her life – somehow. Pinaghirapan ko ang lahat ng ito (I worked hard for what I now have),” she said. “Pero kung may pagkakataon na mas maging okay ang sitwasyon ko, syempre attack ako doon. Pero sa tingin ko malabo na mangyari ‘yun, kasi hindi naman kami nakikita (But if there’s a chance to do better, I’d go there. Though this doesn’t seem realistic because no one really sees us).”

THE ANGEL BARKER

Outrage Magazine first met the Angel of Quezon Avenue in 2014, a transgender woman barker who said “matagal ko na ginagawa ito. Bata palang ako, barker na ako (I’ve been doing this for a while now. I was just a child, I was already a barker).”

She did not finish college because her family could not afford to send her to school. She was left with no choice but to succumb to one of the easiest ways to earn a living.

Sumubok ako rumaket sa iba last year pero walang nangyari. Tapos naghanap ako ng ibang trabaho, wala rin tumanggap sa akin (I tried looking for other jobs, but nothing happened. No one wanted to hire me),” Angel said. “Ganito talaga ang buhay, kailangan mong tanggapin ang sitwasyon mo. Ngayon tiis-tiis lang. Basta magkakasama kami ng pamilya ko (That’s life. You have to accept your situation. Now, you just put up with things. As long as I’m with my family).”

Of course, if given a chance to do a different work with a better pay, “tatanggapin ko ‘yun! Walang pagdadalawang isip (I’ll accept that – no second thoughts).”

Today, Angelo continues to be a jeepney and FX barker. She earns P50 to P60 in a day.

THE SEX WORKER

PJ just turned 18 last May. He celebrated his birthday with two of his closest friends over a bottle of Red Horse Mucho and Chippy while walking at Plaza Divisoria.

Ito lang kaya ng budget. Wala kasi masyadong customer. Okay na rin, na-celebrate ko naman birthday ko (This is all I can afford. There aren’t a lot of customers. But it’s okay, I was still able to celebrate my birthday),” he said.

PJ is from Cagayan de Oro. When he was 16 years old, he went to Manila to look for work. In just a matter of two days, he got a job at the pier. He was earning P150 per day.

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Pero wala akong tinutuluyan ‘nun, doon lang din ako sa pier natutulog. Tapos syempre maliit lang ‘yung P150 na kita. Kadalasan isang beses lang ako kumakain sa isang araw (But I was homeless then. Often, we just slept at the pier. Also, P150 isn’t a big amount. At times we just eat once a day),” PJ recalled.

To augment his income, he resorted to sex work.

Pagkatapos kong magbuhat ng mga delivery, naglalakad na ako sa Roxas Boulevard hangang Star City. Minsan may edad na babae ang kumukuha sa akin, minsan matandang bakla, minsan mag-asawa (After work, I’d walk along Roxas Blvd. until I reach Star City. At times, older women hired me, at times older gay men, and at times couples),” PJ said.

But after three weeks, he lost his raket at the pier. And since he did not have a place to stay or know anyone in Manila, he saved up – from paid sexual encounters – and went back to CDO.

Today, he is with his boyfriend and girlfriend – yes, he is in a relationship with two people. Both are also sex workers.

Wala naman masama kung tatlo kami sa relasyon. Nagmamahalan kami. Mabuti rin ito, at least tatlo kami nagtutulungan sa buhay (There’s nothing wrong with having three people in a relationship. We all love one another. It’s also good since we’re all able to help each other out),” PJ ended.

THE FATHER AND THE SON

Dati akong construction worker, pero huminto na ako ngyaon. May anak akong bakla (I used to be a construction worker. But I stopped. I have a gay son),Mang Rey shared.

His gay son is only 16 years old and they live in Quezon province. Every two months, they wake very early in the morning, around 2:00 AM, to travel to Manila.

Nalungkot ako nung nalaman ko na HIV-positive ang anak ko. Tinatanong ko siya kung saan o paano niya nakuha yung sakit, pero hindi siya nagkukwento. Tumutulo na lang ang luha niya (It saddens me knowing he has HIV. I ask him how he got infected, but he doesn’t tell me. He just sheds tears),” Mang Rey said, wiping his own tears.

Their family used to be in a better financial situation, but because of his son’s medical condition – and the insufficient support that PhilHealth gives to PLHIVMang Rey is now struggling to make ends meet.

Lumapit kami sa iba’t-ibang agencies para humingi ng suporta. Tapos nung nalaman nila na bakla ang anak ko, parang naging komplikado yung proseso. May ganun pa pala hangang ngayon (We’ve approached various agencies to ask for help. But when they found out my son’s gay, the process changed. I didn’t know things like that still happen these days),” he said, dismayed.

He added: “Sana ung mga NGO dyan o ung mga grupo para sa mga bakla at may HIV, tignan nila ung mga may kailangan talaga, hindi lang ung mga may kaya. Kami ang mas may kailangan ng atensyon at suporta (I hope NGOs, LGBT groups and groups for PLHIVs look at those who really need help, not those who are affluent. It’s us who really need attention and support).”

Pride – we say – is for everyone, including (if not particularly for) those at the fringes, the people most in need of finding this Pride.

Because sans them in the equation, ours is a tattered rainbow, with the destruction coming from within…

Living life a day at a time – and writing about it, is what Patrick King believes in. A media man, he does not only write (for print) and produce (for a credible show of a local giant network), but – on occasion – goes behind the camera for pride-worthy shots (hey, he helped make Bahaghari Center’s "I dare to care about equality" campaign happen!). He is the senior associate editor of OutrageMag, with his column, "Suspension of Disbelief", covering anything and everything. Whoever said business and pleasure couldn’t mix (that is, partying and working) has yet to meet Patrick King, that’s for sure! Patrick.King.Pascual@outragemag.com

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‘Kitilin ang diskriminasyon’

There was a time when Danmer John de Guzman attempted to end his life because of hardships encountered because of his SOGIE. He was told then that instead of ending his life, why not help in ending discrimination? He is now an LGBTQIA activist in Caloocan City.

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

Danmer John de Guzman was 15 years old when he noticed he was “different”. Sure, he said, he had female crushes; but he also felt that he was not like everybody else. And so by the time he turned 16, he already admitted – first to himself – that he’s part of the LGBTQIA community.

It wasn’t easy, he said. Family members used to hit him; and there were times when, stepping out of the house, community members ridiculed him, telling him he is worthless and that he could do no good solely because of his SOGIE. “I just wallowed in tears,” he said. “I just shed tears, in pain because of non-acceptance.”

Danmer said he went through a lot before he accepted himself. Drepressed, he even tried to kill himself. That was the time when family members sort of had a change of heart.

“They told me I didn’t need to kill myself. Instead, I should help in fighting discrimination that kills us.”

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Now 24 years old and based in Caloocan City, Danmer said that his bad experiences helped shape him. As a gay man, “I am progressive and aggressive,” he said. “I always advocate for LGBTQIA people to be recognized.”

But danger sees LGBTQIA issues as multi-layered.

When he was 14, for example, he worked for a paper manufacturer, where he noted that child workers like him (then) were not exactly protected. And then, like these abused child workers, there were LGBTQIA workers who experienced work-related discrimination – e.g. trans people were not hired because the gender identity in their documents were not aligned with the gender expressions prescribed by society for the same.

“It was difficult,” Danmer said.

Danmer said: “I learned that when serving others, you don’t expect a return. Service is sacrifice.”

Danmer is now part of an LGBTQIA organization, and he said that his activism is “sadsad sa bato” (exacting). “We don’t even have money for transportation,” he said. “In my own family, we even sometimes only eat twice a day. I tend to use the money for community organizing.”

Danmer, though, doesn’t see himself stopping doing what he’s doing.

Kapag namatay ka na may dangal at malaki ang naiambag mo sa lipunan ay parang kasingbigat mo ang bundok. Pero kapag namatay ka na waling paglaban, para ka lang singbigat ng balahibo ng pusa (When you die after greatly contributing to society, you will be as heavy as a mountain. But if you died without fighting, you’d be as weightless as a cat’s hair),” he said.

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Besides, Danmer said, “I learned that when serving others, you don’t expect a return. Service is sacrifice.”

Since becoming an LGBTQIA advocate nine years ago, Danmer said he has been telling the younger LGBTQIA people that they should not lose hope. “I always say that our rights will not be given with a snap of a finger. We fight for it. We need to show our capacity to help others.”

Danmer has a partner now; they’ve been living together for almost a year now.

For him, having a partner poses a different challenge, particularly with getting the approval of others. “But we teach that love is not only for heterosexuals. Love depends on who is in your heart,” he said.

His family now accepts his partner; even treating him as another son, one who’s part of an LGBTQIA relationship.

Since becoming an LGBTQIA advocate nine years ago, Danmer said he has been telling the younger LGBTQIA people that they should not lose hope. “I always say that our rights will not be given with a snap of a finger. We fight for it. We need to show our capacity to help others.”

But Danmer said it starts with accepting oneself; and “if we encounter discrimination, we fight it.”

Danmer is even “thankful” to those who continue to mock LGBTQIA people. For him, without the haters, “there would be no LGBTQIA movement”, “no Stonewall Riots”, and “Philippines will not have 25 years of Pride March.” These happened “because you ridicule us.”

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In the end, he said, “we are not here to pick fights with you. But know we will continue fighting for our rights. Just as you always fight for your rights, we will continue fighting for ours.”

Danmer said it starts with accepting oneself; and “if we encounter discrimination, we fight it.”

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The sign of beauty

Meet Apple Fritz Bela, a Deaf transgender woman from Antipolo, who is a regular in the beauty pageant circles. She believes that, no, her being PWD is not reason for her not to compete; and yes, exactly because she’s different, hopefully others will see the real beauty of diversity. And so she says to other PWDs: “Every time we show we can, we’re making a mark.”

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

The first time transgender woman Apple Fritz Bela, 18, joined a beauty pageant was in 2018; and it was a “challenge.” As a Deaf person, she knew that she was already at a disadvantage. For instance, during rehearsals, she did not even have an interpreter (a recurring issue in all pageants she joined, actually), and so she had to resort to just mimicking the other contestants, instead of actually getting the instructions on what she is supposed to do.

That year, she signed to me, “I did not win.”

But for Apple, the challenges she faced as a Deaf beauty pageant contestant (and even the eventual losing) are “minor issues,” she said.

She is, after all, “doing what I want to do.” And while at it, “showcasing that – if/when given the same opportunity – people like me, a Deaf transgender woman, can also shine.”

The first time I met Apple was at the Queen of Antipolo 2019, a beauty pageant helmed by the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization (TAO), helmed by Ms Shane Madrigal with Kagawad Kristine Ibardolaza of Barangay Mayamot. At that time, too, she had no interpreter; but she was gearing to be part of arguably the most prestigious beauty pageant for transgender people in these parts of Luzon.

Apple – at that time seated at the corner of this makeshift dressing room in front of a mall in Antipolo – was surrounded by over five people. These were her “handlers”, the people who made sure she looked her best before she went onstage to compete. All of her handlers are Hearing; and none knows how to sign.

Apple can speak. And so now and then, she would utter words to her handlers – e.g. the light is too bright, turn the fan that way, and so on. But the conversations with others are almost always immediately limited by her inability to hear their attempted responses.

READ:  Straight Up

Apple was chatty with me then; even if it proved difficult because her handlers were moving around her as they dolled her up. But she tried to converse anyway, now and then looking over the shoulder of any person standing in front of her so I could see her sign.

“A friend introduced me to pageantry,” she said, adding – even if it was only a year ago – with a smile: “I was younger then.”

She was shy when she first joined pageants, particularly because of her “difference”, she said. But Apple eventually got the hang of it.

Joining a pageant, said Apple, was an expected “progression” for Apple. Sans knowledge of SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression), she said she feels she is a woman; but that because she has yet to do gender affirmation surgery, she does not see herself as a transgender person. But it is this “feeling as a woman” that sort of encouraged her to join pageants; a means – for her – to celebrate beauty.

Apple was around three years old when she lost her hearing. At first, she said, she could hear; but then she gradually became deaf. Growing up, the hearing continued to deteriorate. She never knew what went wrong; just that she stopped being able to hear.

She was in high school when she started learning sign language. Her sign is a mix of Filipino Sign Language and American Sign Language; and when she doesn’t understand a sign, she almost always reverts back to fingerspelling. And always, she does this with a wide smile.

Apple’s parents are still around – i.e. her father works as a tricycle driver, and her mother is an overseas Filipino worker in Kuwait. She also has a brother. All of them are Hearing. All of them – she said – readily accept her. She still lives with them, helping sustain herself by also giving make-up services.

This makes joining beauty pageants “easy”; a means for her, she said, to show that even Deaf people like her “CAN”. This is a way “to show everyone that even Deaf people have beauty, have brains/intelligence.”

Queen of Antipolo 2019 was, in a word, competitive. And not that surprising because the prize – amounting to tens of thousands of pesos – comes with the “rare opportunity,” said Apple, to “give voice to the transgender community of Antipolo.”

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And so, not surprisingly, the organizers are “strict”. The stage director was a common face behind the scene, barking her expectations – demands, even – for the candidates to do when onstage. No overstaying, she said. Comply with what was agreed upon during rehearsals. Otherwise, “face the consequences” – e.g. a microphone will be turned off even if a candidate is still talking (if she’s talking too long), or worse, she will be singled out by a public announcement before the next exposure is made.

But all these were lost on Apple. Called for an impromptu (and closed door) meeting of the candidates, for instance, she was without an interpreter, left to read lips or get the instructions from attempts to explain by the other candidates.

No worries, she said to me.

“You really just have to follow other people’s leads; you’ll be fine.”

Onstage, the pre-recorded videos of the candidates were already playing (before they were to be called out). Apple’s video was… surprising. In it, she was actually speaking, not signing. Her use of English tentative; but her message was the same: “I want to show to the world that we may be PWDs, but we can just be like everybody if given the chance.”

The competition went fast.

The candidates went onstage for a quick production number. Candidate number 11, Apple, just had to follow everyone’s lead; no mishap happened.

They then introduced themselves. Apple again chose to speak, not sign. It was, she said to me, just a quick introduction anyway; just to say her name, her age, and the barangay/village she came from. “No big deal.”

Even as the other candidates were still introducing themselves onstage, the others (who already finished doing so) were already prepping for the next exposure: the swimsuit competition.

No mishap happened – at least initially. Apple did what she was supposed to do.

But then while she was already being prepped for the evening gown competition, a member of the organizing team went backstage. Some electric fuse exploded; and the computers used by the judges went off before the scores were saved. So the candidates had to return onstage in their swimwear; to be graded/judged again.

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Apple, already half-dressed in her white gown, was at a loss; particularly when her handlers just attempted to change her gown into her already-discarded swimsuit. “Bakit (Why)?” she asked. None could eloquently explain to her the technical glitch that happened. Tempers flared; but no words were spoken.

With the repeat of the swimsuit competition done, the candidates paraded in their evening gowns. By then, people were shouting the numbers of the candidates they were supporting. Number 11 was among them.

When the special awards were given, Apple’s name was called for Miss Photogenic. She was fixing her gown then; ironing the skirt with her palm. Unaware that she won something. Two other candidates had to tap her on her shoulders, and then signal to her that she was being called. Apple looked up, a smile growing on her face, and then strutted in front to claim her prize.

But Apple didn’t make the final cut (top five).

And so off the stage she had to go with the other candidates who also didn’t place.

Backstage, she was misty-eyed. But I’d say she was on a better state; another losing candidate can be heard wailing inside the makeshift dressing room. Her smile widened again when she saw me.

“How do I feel that I didn’t place? Okay; just okay,” she signed to me. “What’s important is that I showed that I can also compete.”

She wiped the corners of her eyes, even if her smile stayed wide.

“In life, that’s what you do. You show up to fight. Even if you lose, you fought.”

Someone behind me caught her attention. She waved, and then mouthed “What?” to this person. She then gathered the flowing skirt of her gown, quickly turned to me to sign “Thank you”, and then headed to the person who caught her attention.

And as she walked away, into the arms of her friends/supporters, many tried to sign with her. Only one was intelligible: “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”

And there goes Apple Fritz Bela, a Deaf transgender woman who’s now a regular in the trans pageant circuit, helping redefine the sign of beauty… – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR. AND JOSHUA DOLENDO

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‘Labanan ang hamon ng buhay’

Cassie Jannelle Madridazon Gallardo, from Tugatog, Malabon City, was 18 when she ran away from home. She believed then that she can face life’s challenges away from her family. Now 22 and self-identifying as bakla/gay even as she sees herself as babae/woman, she says to people who consider themselves ‘normal’, and yet mock LGBTQIA people, “perhaps you’d also have LGBTQIA children. And they, too, will experience the kind of discrimination you give.”

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

There are people who will always hold back LGBTQIA people, said Cassie Jannelle Madridazon Gallardo, 22, from Tugatog, Malabon City. But these people should “know that we will keep fighting the challenges of life. We will do so no matter what they say, no matter how many times they mock us,” she said. This is because “I believe that people like us can confront what life throws at us.”

Cassie was 11 when she realized she’s different. At first, she identified as bakla/gay; though this was mostly because of the lack of word to use what she really felt even then.

“Even as a kid, I always wanted to be a girl; always thought I had the heart of a woman who loves only to get hurt,” Cassie said. “I saw myself as someone ridiculed by others but who fights back… Even if I don’t represent the ideal woman, in my heart, I am a woman.”

“People like you who consider yourselves ‘normal’, but who do not respect people like us, perhaps one day, you’d also have LGBTQIA children. And they, too, will experience the kind of discrimination you give.”

Cassie was 18 when she ran away from home and started living with, among others, her employers, friends and even strangers.

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But – to emphasize – Cassie’s decision to leave home was not because she experienced hardships there. Even at a young age, her mother was always supportive of her; and her siblings never gave her a hard time.

But “I said to myself then that I can face the challenges of life without depending on my parents,” she said.

It was while living away from home when she started living as a woman.

“The first name I gave myself was Scarlett. I patterned this after a gay mentor from overseas. The second name I gave myself was Cassie. The name given me at birth was Ronald; but nowadays, I identify with the name Cassie Jannelle Madridazon Gallardo.”

With a smile, though, she said with emphasis: “You may call me Bibe.” This, she said, was the gender-neutral name always used to refer to her, even when she was still a kid.

Cassie now works as a nanny. “I earn P3,000 in a month. I earn P1,500 every 15 days. This is okay for me. It pays for my needs,” she said.

Cassie still has lofty dreams, though. “I dream to become a dance choreographer, working in another country,” she said, adding that “I’m a good dancer” so “my dream is to use my talent.”

It is often when dancing that Cassie said she finds that “fire” in her.

“When it comes to dancing, expect me to be competitive,” she beamed. “Even if there’s a showdown, I don’t back out. With twerking, tumbling, vertical dancing – I won’t let others beat me. Competing when dancing, that’s what I want. You can’t beat me there!”

“I dream to become a dance choreographer, working in another country,” she said, adding that “I’m a good dancer” so “my dream is to use my talent.”

Though she mainly lives away from her family, she is okay with the other members of her family.

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“I am the youngest in the family. The goddess (of the family). I flirt a lot. The one with lots of boys. I’m the one who teases others a lot. I’m the one who’s always lewd. But this lewdness always makes people laugh. The way I present myself can make people crazy; but that’s just the way that I am,” Cassie said.

Cassie recalled how her siblings used to tell her: ‘You’re already gay; don’t do anything that will (further) ruin your being.'” Instead, they said to me, do what’s right.”

And this, said Cassie, is a guiding principle for her.

“I experienced discrimination when I was younger; but I just ignored the haters. With my relatives, though, I know they are proud of me. They know I am a good person. I do not hurt/step on other people,” she said.

Cassie was once hurt by loving; during her elementary days. That was when she told herself that “no one will get serious with me. So I’ll just flirt. My heart is now like a rock. I force myself to flirt with guys, but I never fell in love ever again. If you fall in love, don’t give everything. Leave something for yourself.”

Cassie sees herself as a fighter. “It isn’t difficult (to be LGBTQIA) because I face the challenges of life,” she said.

But she also recognizes that not everyone is like her.

This is why, for younger LGBTQIA people, she said: “Study hard. As long as your parents are there, as long as your siblings are there, study hard. Don’t end up like some of us who get discriminated. Hopefully, with the next generation, the lives of members of the LGBTQIA community (and trans, in particular) will be better.”

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Cassie also thinks that “other people should not judge easily particularly people like us. (Like others, we) just love. And yet we are ridiculed. People shouldn’t be like that. People should treat others as equals.”

“I experienced discrimination when I was younger; but I just ignored the haters. With my relatives, though, I know they are proud of me. They know I am a good person. I do not hurt/step on other people,” she said.

To people who keep holding LGBTQIA people back, “who keep belittling us, know that we will keep fighting the challenges of life. We will do so no matter what you say, no matter how many times you mock us. I believe that people like us can confront what life throws at us.

“But you, people like you who consider yourselves ‘normal’, but who do not respect people like us, perhaps one day, you’d also have LGBTQIA children. And they, too, will experience the kind of discrimination you give.”

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Perya ng buhay

From Bataan, peryante Louise David Flores – who self-identifies as bakla/gay man but lives as a woman – did not get the chance to be educated, so he believes his life won’t amount to anything. He wants other LGBTQIA people to grab all opportunities to better themselves and not have regrets.

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

“As a gay person, you have to learn to enjoy life. When you’re gay, you are ridiculed. But for me, when people belittle me, I say: ‘Take a rest!’”

So said Louise David Flores, 20, from Dinalupihan, Bataan.

Self-identifying as “bakla” (gay), Louise actually “lives as a girl” – perhaps exemplifying the still commonplace confusion with sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE) particularly among those living outside metropolitan areas in the Philippines.

With his father already dead, and his mother with another family (in Lubao, Pampanga), Louise currently lives with an aunt. “I hardly see (my mother),” he said. “Sometimes, I don’t even see her in a year.”

Louise was in Grade 6 when people teased him, referring to him as gay. “That’s also when I realized I’m really gay. I actually told myself: Maybe I’m really a woman,” he said.

And then one time, “I went home with my make-up on. I also started using women’s clothes then. My family didn’t stop me from living as I am; they accepted me immediately as a girl.”

Louise was in Grade 6 when people teased him, referring to him as gay. “That’s also when I realized I’m really gay. I actually told myself: Maybe I’m really a woman,” he said.

For Louise, it isn’t necessarily difficult to be LGBTQIA in Bataan. “This will depend on you – on whether you choose to enjoy your life,” he said. “Living a sad life or living happy – that’s entirely up to you. I say just enjoy life while you’re still alive.”

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Louise admitted that he also experienced discrimination, such as “when I step out of my house, or when I go to the public market. There are some people who’d call me a faggot,” he said. But “I just ignore them. Really, why give them attention? These people do not know that it’s nicer if they have friends who belong to the LGBTQIA community. So, for me, there’s no need to give them attention. I have lots of friends who accept me for who I am anyway.”

Louise currently works as a “peryante” (one who works in a fair/carnival). “We bring the fair/carnival to different places.”

For Louise, it isn’t necessarily difficult to be LGBTQIA in Bataan. “This will depend on you – on whether you choose to enjoy your life,” he said.

He actually started working early.

“I was 13 when I started working. My first job was in a farm, planting rice. There are lots of things to do in a farm. You can plant rice, harvest rice… you can do things like that.”

And now as a “peryante“, “I make people gamble. Our salary depends on the winnings. Sometimes, we just get twenty pesos for a day’s work. Sometimes we get nothing, particularly if we (the betting house) lose. So we don’t have regular earnings.”

Louise doesn’t believe that LGBTQIA (particularly gay-with-straight-identifying-men, which is still common in provincial areas) relationships are real.

“Among 100 men, only one man will truly love a gay man. And he may already be taken by someone,” he said. “And so I don’t take men seriously. I don’t take relationships seriously because the other party isn’t serious anyway. You can always tell when one is serious.”

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To younger LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “As long as someone wants to send you to school, study. I regret not going to school. I want to have a proper job, but I can’t get one because I did not have formal education.”

This is actually also why Louise has sort of lost hope already. “I don’t think I can still have a good future. Because I didn’t get formal education, I can’t find a good job. Maybe in the future, I’ll be stuck at home. I’ll do nothing but look after my nephews and nieces. Perhaps that’s what future holds for me.”

To younger LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “As long as someone wants to send you to school, study. I regret not going to school. I want to have a proper job, but I can’t get one because I did not have formal education.”

And to people who continue to belittle LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “Your ridicule reflects badly on you. Just because a person is gay, doesn’t mean you have any right to abuse him. Those who do this have narrow minds. Put yourself in the shoes of LGBTQIA people to know what they are going through.”

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The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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

“It is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

READ:  Profits from our misery

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A devotion to public service

A former non-government organization worker on Boracay island, Raffy Cooper, 34, is the first gay barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan. While raising two of his three kids, he hopes younger LGBTQIA people to “better yourself until you’re ready to take flight.”

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

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

So said Raffy Cooper, the 34-year-old barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan (Malay is where Boracay is).

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Raffy was in Grade 1 when he said he noted having male crushes (his classmates). “I couldn’t explain why I had male crushes then,” he said, adding that he found this “peculiar so I didn’t entertain it then.”

In Grade 6, he became more effeminate; and by high school, “I got interested in using make-up, wearing clothes used by women, and joining gay beauty pageants. My life became complicated because of these.”

Initially, Raffy’s family wasn’t too shocked when they found out he’s gay. “Perhaps because slowly, they noticed I was different.”

Raffy’s aunties also used to dress him up in girls’ clothing, so the “progression” was expected.

But when he started joining beauty pageants, wearing clothes used by women, and even used hormone replacement, “they weren’t very comfortable with those,” he said, adding that the discomfort may have also been because “my family is very religious.”

Raffy has four siblings; all of them are boys. All his brothers didn’t want to have a gay sibling.

“But at the end of the day, with families, no matter the SOGIE you choose, if you love your family and if you don’t bring troubles (for the family), they’ll accept you,” he said. “They’ll come to love you, to accept you. And with what I’ve done in my life, they’re proud of me.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

Overall, by going through everything he did as a gay child, “I think it’s a good experience overall because it allowed me to discover what I can do. It also taught me how to (affect) people for them to realize that even if you are just like that, you still deserve respect.”

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Not surprisingly, Raffy calls for parents of LGBTQIA children to “respect your children. You won’t be able to change them by hitting them or by verbally abusing them, or by discriminating or treating them as less than your other children just because they are LGBTQIA. It’s important to support them so they don’t lose their way. There are parents who do not treat their LGBTQIA children rightly or equally. These LGBTQIA children lose their way; some run away. And when this happens, their lives are ruined. So it’s better to just also respect your LGBTQIA children.”

But he also wants young LGBTQIA people – particularly those still living at home – to obey their parents “because they are raising you. So, study. After studying, when you can support yourself and live away from them, then spread your wings like a butterfly and do whatever you want.”

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Coming as a surprise for many, Raffy actually had a wife; and they have three kids.

“I’m not okay with my wife now,” so “two of my kids are with me now; I send them to school. Our youngest child is with my wife because it’s still a baby.”

Raffy said that having a wife was “somewhat surprising not just for my family but even my community. But what’s important is that I’ve been a good father to my children. I do everything I can to offer the best quality of life to my children, the best education.”

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Raffy believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community. So my children are never underestimated for having a gay father. I think the community even loves them more because I am their father.”

With raising kids as a gay father, “I am more gender-sensitive. Perhaps with straight fathers, there’s this imposition on kids to be macho.”

Raffy’s son, for instance, is not into sports. “He doesn’t like getting dirty or being sweaty. Perhaps if his father isn’t gay, he’d be asked why he’s like that, and he’d be forced to play – say – basketball. For me, it’s okay if he doesn’t like sports. I don’t think (that by not being sporty) he has plans to be part of the LGBTQIA community. But whatever his plans in life are, I’ll support him.”

Raffy Cooper believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community.”

Though he finished BS Biology in college, Raffy’s career path has not be aligned with that field.

“Currently, I’m the barangay secretary of Caticlan. I started working as the barangay secretary last June (2018). This is my first time in public service. I used to work for a non-government organization. Perhaps I caught the eye of the barangay captain, who asked me to work for him. I am enjoying my work because I am directly dealing with people, and I am able to help somehow.”

This is the first time that a member of the LGBTQIA community became a barangay secretary in Raffy’s place, and “my presence there is (deemed) peculiar… a little more colorful. Many are happy with this.”

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Should he choose to also become a local leaders, “my first priority will be empowerment,” Raffy said. “I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is also actually the reigning Queen of Aklan.

When he was younger, he regularly joined beauty pageants, going to far areas just to do so. But he stopped when he had his family.

And then they had Queen of Aklan, and “I got interested to join. Its advocacy was good.”

Malay, where Boracay is, has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Aklan. Meanwhile, Aklan has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Western Visayas.

Boracay is a hotspot for HIV infection because it’s a tourism area. “Here we can say that sex work is also rampant, including members of the LGBTQIA community. This is tolerated, and even accepted, because it’s a product of the tourism industry,” Raffy said. “I’m not saying it’s the main product of the tourism industry, but it’s happening. It’s the reality.”

Raffy thinks that “if we will encourage these people to know their HIV status and teach them how to protect themselves from HIV, the number of people getting infected in Aklan will lessen.” And so for Raffy, “it is very important for a person like me who has the voice for the community to join a contest that will raise awareness about HIV.”

Luckily, he said, he won.

“I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is big on education.

“When you’re LGBTQIA, invest first in your education. Because in the future, you will need a job. You won’t just party or sleep around. It’s okay to discover yourself. But at the end of the day, you have to invest in your education.”

He also sees this as an important tool for self-empowerment.

“To members of the LGBTQIA community, continue to empower yourself. Don’t consider yourself as a lesser human being than other people. You should always be proud of yourself, and always do your best.”

And to people who may continue to frown upon LGBTQIA people: “I think it’s time (for people) to be open-minded that the world is not only filled with straight men and women. There are also people who chose different ways to express themselves/their SOGIE. So we have to be respectful. At the end of the day, your life won’t change by forcing other people to change.”

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