She lives on an island, a place considered by many, as the gay mecca of the Philippines. She’s already nearing her 40s, but – as she says so herself – she doesn’t look her age. She’s currently single, working as a waitress in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. She says that, at first glance, many tell her that she is a dead-ringer of Dolly Anne Carvajal, the daughter of the late popular celebrity reporter Inday Badiday. And while she lives her life as a transgender woman, she still often refers to herself as bakla (gay).
Her name is Joy Sucao.
“Sanay na ako na mapagkamalan na babae. Halos araw-araw, lahat ng kumakain dito, akala talaga nila totoong babae ako (Most people think I’m a ‘real’ woman. Almost every day, for people who dine here, they tell me they thought I’m a ‘real’ woman),” Joy said.
She has been living in Puerto Galera for almost 13 years now. Her family, on the other hand, resides in Bicol.
But then there are some locals on the island, while passing by the restaurant, who tease her as “mukhang kabayo (looks like a horse)”. She just waves at them, and then carries on with her work.
She may not be the “pinakamaganda bakla dito sa Puerto Galera, pero masasabi kong ako ang pinakamaganda sa kanilang lahat kapag may jowa ako (most beautiful gay person in Puerto Galera, but I can say I am the most beautiful when I have someone who loves me),” Joy said.
She then recalled two of her “greatest relationships”, chatting while taking the orders of the group of gay men who just arrived at the restaurant.
“May naka-relasyon ako na American. Six years kami nagsama. Isa siya sa mga rason kung bakit ako nandito sa Puerto Galera (I used to have a relationship with an American. We were together for six years. He is one of the reasons why I ended up in Puerto Galera),” she said.
She received an allowance from the American; she saved some of it, sent some to her family in Bicol, and used most of it for her hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
During the course of their relationship, Joy felt like she was the most beautiful transgender in the island. “Pinagtitinginan kami kapag magkasama kami. Syempre puti siya, maraming nagwapuhan sa kanya. Ang swerte ko daw (People stare at us when we’re together. Of course, he was Caucasian, and many found him attractive. They all told me I was very lucky).”
Sadly, their relationship didn’t last.
Joy stayed in Puerto Galera to work.
“Hindi ko masyado dinamdam ‘yung paghihiwalay namin. Kung magpapaka-depress ako dahil sa paghihiwalay namin, wala mangyayari sa buhay ko (I tried not to think too much about our break-up. If I wallow in depression because we parted ways, nothing good will happen in my life),” she said.
It was not only the American who changed Joy’s life.
Because after then she met this Cebuano, who helped her change the way she sees herself forever.
They were together for five years. The relationship was magical, according to her. It was a dream come true for Joy. They shared their dreams and plans together. The Cebuano even rented their own apartment so they can live on their own.
“Akala ko noon siya na talaga. Pero hindi rin pala (I really thought it would be us forever. But it wasn’t meant to be).”
There came a time when the Cebuano had to go abroad to find a better paying job so he can help his family. They eventually parted ways.
Although her relationships didn’t last a lifetime, Joy considers all the events that happened to her as life lessons.
“Relasyon lang ‘yan. Oo, malaking parte ng buhay ‘yan, pero dapat mas matutunan mo maging masaya sa kung ano ang mayroon ka, at dapat mo matutunan na mahalin muna ang sarili mo (Those are only relationships. Yes, they are big parts of your life, bu you have to learn how to be happy with what you have, and you need to learn to love yourself first),” she explained.
And so Joy said that she may not be the most beautiful nor the most feminine-looking transgender on the island, but she manages to get what she wants and she’s satisfied with it.
Some locals may call her “Petrang kabayo” or “ugly duckling”, but Joy may well be a “swan princess”. “Kahit sabihin nilang ‘di ako maganda, masaya pa rin ako sa buhay ko, kahit minsan (Even if people see me as beautiful, I’ve experienced real happiness, even for short periods of time).”
Because behind Joy’s smiles and engaging personality, hides a contentment – something she earned and continues to learn, as she lives her life in the beautiful island of Puerto Galera, one day at a time.