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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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‘Tao rin kami’

Trans community leader from Caloocan City, Jenica Madridazon, may have been accepted by her family, but she knows this is not always true for every LGBTQIA person. So – as she calls for LGBTQIA people to show their true selves – she says that society should already recognize that LGBTQIA people are no different from them, just wanting to be loved.

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Jenica Madridazon was seven years old when she realized she’s transgender. “Nung bata pa ako, may tita po akong transgender din (While growing up, I also had a transgender auntie),” she recalled. “Mga damit niya po… sinusuot ko po kung wala po siya. Ayun, na-feel ko po, I am a girl (I used to put on her clothes when she wasn’t around. And it made me feel that I am a girl).”

Her family – originally from Malabon, and which only moved to Caloocan in 2000 when her mother moved there to be with her new partner – accepted her. “Wala po akong naging problema (I didn’t have problems),” Jenica said. “Tinanggap po nila ako nang buong puso (They accepted me wholeheartedly).”

This may be because her family believes they have members who are predisposed to being LGBTQIA since there are already a number of them.

Jenica is proud to also stress that even her elder brother, a policeman – who is in a profession that is stereotypically anti-LGBTQIA – is accepting of her. “Wala po (siyang) pag-alinlangan na tanggapin ako kung ano ako (He never had misgivings accepting me as me).”

Now 31 years old, Jenica helps a relative manage a boutique shop in Malabon. This is her main source of income now.

She’s also in a six-year relationship, and she lives with her male partner. “A lot of people say that heterosexual men only have sex with gay men or transgender women in exchange for money,” Jenica said, “but not all men are like this.”

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Jenica believes that there are men “na mahal mo talaga at ang ibibigay sa iyo ay tunay na pagmamahal (who you love and will return that love).”

To other LGBTQIA people, Jenica said: “Hindi tayo isang sakit… para itago natin (We are not an illness that should be hidden).”

She recognizes that there are a growing number of LGBTQIA organizations “that can help us; so huwag na kayo matakot mag-out (don’t be afraid to come out).”

In the end, people need to wake up, she said, and realize the need to stop bullying LGBTQIA people. “Gusto po nating imulat ang (mata ng) mga tao na bata pa lang po (ang mga LGBTQIA), tanggapin na natin. Huwag po silang kutyain… dahil tatanim sa isipan nila kung paano niyo sila nilait (We want people to start accepting LGBTQIA people, even when they’re still young. Stop bullying them because they will never forget how you belittled them).”

For Jenica, “tao rin po kami na nagmamahal, nasasaktan… Sana isipin nyo rin po na tao rin po kami na kailangan ng tunay na pagmamahal. Yakapin nyo rin po kami na bilang isang tao (we’re also human beings who love, who get hurt… People should see us as just human beings also looking to be loved. Embrace us as human beings).”

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Be who you are

Lars Velasquez, a trans community leader in Barangay Sangandaan in Caloocan City, wasn’t always openly accepted by members of her family. They eventually warmed to her; and she now says that society should accept LGBTQIA people because one’s SOGIE does not make one bad, just human.

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While growing up, Lars Velasquez realized it’s really hard to be trans “because hindi naman talaga maiintindihan kung ano ka, at matatanggap kung ano ba talaga and isang transgender o LGBT (many people do not comprehend what you are, or accept your being transgender or being part of the LGBTQIA community).”

But Lars – a community leader in Caloocan City – is somewhat forgiving of this because at least for her, “hindi naman po makukuha natin agad ang simpatiya ng isang tao, or yung acceptance po para sa isang katulad natin (we really can’t expect people to immediately sympathize with us, or immediately accept people like us).”

Lars, 34, was originally from Dagupan City. She realized she’s trans when she was seven years old, even if she transitioned (only) when she was 21. She said that her mom always knew she’s part of the LGBTQIA community, so she was more accepting. Her father, however, had a harder time accepting her, so “inunti-unti niya na lang po ako tanggapin (he had to learn to accept me little by little),” she said. Her female siblings followed after her mom, immediately accepting her; but her male siblings followed after her dad, taking their time before accepting her.

Lars said life wasn’t always easy.

For instance, she is now taking up nursing. But earlier, in 2005, she actually had to stop going to school because “hindi nila allowed ang transgender na (magdamit-babae) (they used to not allow transgender people to dress according to their identity),” she said. “I just went back (to school) this year (when they changed the policy to allow transgender people to attend classes while dressed according to their gender identity).”

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Lars is now an “ate (elder sister)” for many young gay and transgender people in Barangay Sangandaan. And as such, she tries to help make the “trans-nene (colloquially: young transgender Filipinos)” have a more enjoyable life. She helped organized a beauty pageant for them, for one, to “help them showcase themselves.” For Lars, seeing the younger ones happy “inspires me.”

To other LGBTQIA people, Lars said “it’s okay to be (such) so long as you are a good person. Be who you are. Huwag mag-alipusta or gumawa ng nakakasama sa ibang tao (Don’t belittle other people, or do them harm).”

To non-LGBTQIA people, she said that it’s high time that they realize not to bully or “put down LGBTQIA people because (our SOGIE) does not make us bad.”

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Old and gay

“Ninang” Cordero from Caloocan City says it isn’t always difficult to grow old and gay in the Philippines, even as he calls for society to accept LGBTQIA people already. He wants for the younger LGBTQIA Filipinos to heed their elders and focus on learning.

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“Ninang” Cordero – who said he is used to living alone, having been doing so since after high school – was in Grade 6 when he realized he’s gay.

Ang mga kabarkada ko, mga babae (My friends were all girls),” he said, adding that his posse then was also composed of other gay boys like him.

He was “lucky” because his parents took it… quite well. This may be because they’re used to it since “may relatives din ako na T-bird tsaka gay sa mother’s side ko (I also had lesbian and gay relatives at my mother’s side of the family).”

He was – not surprisingly – closer to his mom’s family because his father’s relatives were, in his recollection, “halang and bituka (literally: bad/evil people; idiomatically: evil in nature).” Ninang believes he inherited his being gay from his mom’s side.

Growing up gay, he didn’t have a hard life, referring to it overall as “okay”. He said he was able to go where he wanted to, do what he wanted, and no one reprimanded them for it.

But Ninang admitted he also encountered criticisms for being gay, and people talking behind him because he’s gay.

All the same, “ini-ignore lang namin kasi baka gumulo lang (we just ignore them because heeding them can just cause trouble),” he said. “Ayaw namin ng magulong buhay (We don’t want a troublesome life).”

Looking back, Ninang said he’s been in multiple relationships already. But he learned that it’s difficult to “invest in love”. This is because “talo ka parati kung ibubuhos mo lahat ng pagmamahal mo sa isang lalaki (giving your all to one man is futile).”

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Though he worked as a hairdresser, now in his older age, he is a vendor, selling food for breakfast, lunch and snacks in the barangay (village) he’s at. “Yun na lang ang kinabubuhay ko (That’s now my source of income).”

Ninang said growing old as a gay man isn’t necessarily bad. “Basta masaya ka (As long as you’re happy),” he said, and “wala ka naaapakan (you don’t do harm to others).” The goal for him is to have a “peaceful life.”

With growing older, there’s this desire to help younger people that “the life of LGBTQIA people should also be respected.”

For the young LGBTQIA people, Ninang said they should prioritize education, and “huwag muna lumandi-landi (don’t be lewd/promiscuous),” he said, adding that they should listen to their parents/elders.

And for society in general, Ninang calls for acceptance because LGBTQIA people are no different from others. “Kaming mga bakla (LGBTQIA people like us), even if we’re like this, we’re still human. We also have hearts, and also fear God.”

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Being gay is no hindrance to success

Jairo Bolledo – who was raised by a single mom – once thought that living as a gay person “can break you because you are always looking over your shoulder.” But graduating Magna Cum Laude at PUP, he now says that “being gay was never, and will never be a hindrance to be successful in life.”

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John Robert “Jairo” Dela Cruz Bolledo was seven years old when he realized he was attracted to other boys. He admitted being “initially confused”, noting that he felt like he was different from other kids.

But that was also the time when his uncles forced him to shout: “Lalaki ako (I’m a man)!”, which was kind of traumatizing for him. Also, “in school, I remember (that other boys) sometimes get awkward kapag nakakasabay ko sila sa CR (when we’re in the toilet together).”

Jairo was 16 when he “fully” came out, at first to his ate (elder sister) and his  mom. He was “lucky” because they didn’t express alarm. And so he grew up in a family that helped him “find wholeness”.

Jairo – who was born to a carpenter and a dressmaker in Obando, Bulacan – has three siblings, all raised by “a mom who worked to the bone seven days a week. She worked Mondays to Saturday as a seamstress, and would be a housemaid during Sundays,” he said.

“I never felt pressued,” he said – e.g. growing up fatherless (his father died of cancer when he was about to turn one), his mom never pushed him to like girls.

Life wasn’t always easy for them. As a child, Jairo said he used to walk with “magkaibang pares ng sapatos at sira-sirang bag (different pairs of shoes, and a tattered bag)” to get through elementary and high school.

But his mom always taught him “to have pride in whatever ascpect of who (I am).”

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Jairo “went out of (my way) to pursue higher learning,” eventually pursuing a journalism degree in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Even then, he recalled some people using the word gay countless times to put him down. “My response was: ‘As if being an excellent person can be tarnished by being gay. I am gay and I excelled in everything.’”

Jairo graduated Magna Cum Laude. But he lost his mom just a month before his graduation; she wasn’t able to to see the son she taught to take pride get the diploma they all worked hard to get.

Prepare a tissue for this ❤

Posted by Rona Bolledo-Santiago on Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Right after graduating, he got hired as a researcher for a program at TV network GMA. He also  decided to return to PUP’s College of Communication to teach.

There was a time when Jairo said he thought that living as a gay person “can break you because you are always looking over your shoulder.” But now – and knowing better – “Being gay was never, and will never be a hindrance to be successful in life. Our perspectives are relative. You can’t force them to accept the reality that we believe in. I think it’s always a matter of respect. If you can’t accept, just respect.”

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Trans and Muslim

An interview with a human rights defender from General Santos City, Ali Macalintal, who is also trans and Muslim. As she calls for LGBT acceptance, she believes that the struggle for social justice needs to be holistic and shouldn’t neglect other minorities in society.

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Growing up, trans woman Ali Macalintal never wanted to do what boys her age did. “Nasa puso ko na talaga na ako ay isang nagbababae (In my heart, I always identified with being a girl),” she said. And then she started having boy crushes, and it made her further realize that, yes, she is part of the LGBTQIA community.

The big “challenge” for Ali even then was her belonging to the Maguindanao ethnic group of people in southern Philippines, which is part of the wider Moro ethnic group. And being LGBTQIA is – generally speaking – still condemned in Islam (a “great sin”).

The now 32-year-old Ali remembered one time, during Ramadan (a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims), when she was asked by her father what she wanted to be. “I sort of knew what he was asking; but I wasn’t ready to give him an answer,” she recalled.

Knowing she couldn’t lie, she said: “I want to be a lawyer.”

But her father was adamant, asking her directly if “gusto mo magka-GF o BF (if I wanted to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend)?”

With tears in her eyes, Ali told her father that she wanted to have a BF.

Her father embraced her, to her surprise, and he told her: “Alam mo na kung and ang gusto mo at sino ka. Dahil kung hindi mo matanggap kung sino ka, mahihirapan ka (Now you know who and what you are. Because if you can’t accept yourself, you will have a hard time).”

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But not everyone is as lucky as Ali, and she recognizes this.

In fact, she knows the “double discrimination” encountered by Muslims who are also LGBTQIA – i.e. you get discriminated for being a Muslim, and then you get discriminated as LGBTQIA. This does not include (even) further discrimination from within the minority communities one belongs to – e.g. Muslims can discriminate LGBTQIA people; just as LGBTQIA people can also discriminate Muslims.

This recognition of the harshness of life for people like her pushed Ali to become a human rights defender, working for a non-government organization in General Santos City, south of the Philippines.

Ali believes in a holistic approach to the struggle for human rights.

Mahirap sa LGBTQIA community na kumilos na sila lang (It’s hard for the LGBTQIA community to fight on its own),” she said. “Naniniwala aka sa sama-sama nating pagkilos (I believe in unified struggle).”

This is because, she said, the struggle for social justice of the LGBTQIA community is no different from the struggle of other minority sectors – e.g. Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, persons with disability, seniors, Muslims, et cetera.

“We will succeed only if the effort is multi-sectoral,” she said.

Particularly addressing other transgender Muslims (and Lumads/Indigenous People), Ali said that – to begin – one needs to find oneself and then find pride in that. “Remember that whatever we are, whatever our gender identity may be, we need to be open to accept ourselves,” she said.

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With self-acceptance, she said, it is easier to push others to accept “our identity also as children of God, of Allah.”

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Andrea finds her groove

What is it like to be trans in General Santos City in southern Philippines? Local trans leader Andrea Faith Mahiwaga shares how going mainstream actually helped her push for LGBTQIA human rights.

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Even as a kid, Andrea Faith Mahiwaga always knew she was “different”. The 30-year-old trans woman from General Santos City in southern Philippines recalled preferring to dress up using her mother’s bra and “kumot (blanket)” that she turned into a flowing dress. So – in a way – even as early as then, she “sort of” already knew she was a woman even if she was assigned male at birth.

At first, Andrea said she was “gay lang (a gay man).” But “na-feel ko, babae ako (I identified more as a woman).” So when she finished high school, she started identifying as a trans woman.

She was somewhat lucky since most of her family accepted – and even supported – her, including her mother and siblings. When she was “at that stage when I liked joining beauty pageants,” Andrea recalled, “my brother was my loudest cheerleader; and my sisters lent me their clothes.”

It was only her father who had misgivings, even if – in hindsight – Andrea said that it must have been because of his worry for her. And this was somewhat grounded in truth, according to Andrea. One time, for example, while walking in the plaza right in front of the city hall of General Santos, she remembered being verbally harassed. “Young men shouted at me,” she recalled, “saying: ‘Here comes a walking source of money.’”

This mockery is based on the false belief that members of the LGBTQIA community only deserve to be given attention if they “pay” for it – e.g. heterosexual-identifying men will only pay attention/have sex with gay/bi men or trans women if they pay for the “favor”.

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Andrea said that – particularly in the past – “we just had to bear the taunting” because of the absence of legal protection for LGBTQIA people.

This is why Andrea believes in the relevance of having a law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people.

Fortunately for LGBTQIA people in General Santos City, there is actually already an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that mandates their non-discrimination while in the city. So “na-enjoy na namin ngayon ang maging LGBTQIA (we can now enjoy being LGBTQIA),” Andrea said.

May batas para pangalagaan ang environment. May batas para pangalagaan ang hayop (We have laws protecting the environment. We have laws protecting animals),” she said. So “why can’t we have a law to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people?” For her, having a law gives “essence” to the struggle for human rights; that “LGBTQIA rights are also human rights.”

Andrea now works with the government, as an assistant administrator in Barangay Calumpang and in education monitoring by supervising day care workers in the barangay.

In a way, too, all her life, Andrea has been proving that she is more than a member of the LGBTQIA community, that she isn’t just doing things because she just wants to have sex with men. To her father, for instance, she had to prove that she can be “successful” even as a trans woman. And even now in her work, she continuously has to prove that she’s not there just to “biga-biga (a local term used to refer to people who are only looking for sexual partners, so that even if they do tasks, it is only to allow them to get sexual favors from doing these tasks – Ed).” Andrea, therefore, has to always police her own actions, so that “wala naman aka bastos na pinapakita (I don’t show them anything that isn’t socially acceptable).”

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For Andrea, though, “kung pursigido ka sa life, yun ang nag-ma-matter (if you work hard in life, that’s what matters).”

She also tries to inject some LGBTQIA-related teaching in her job – e.g. when asked to speak to schools, she would tell people about her struggles as a trans woman; and how others can help make sure that other LGBTQIA people do not experience the same because of discrimination.

Andrea also handles Trans GenSan Organization, a community-based organization advocating for trans rights in General Santos City.

In the end, “huwag tayong matakot ipakita kung ano tayo (we shouldn’t be afraid to show who we really are),” Andrea said. “Just be who you are.”

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