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Rob Garner: The Full-time Activist

In November 2011, after helping push for LGBT rights in Mongolia, Rob Garner moved to the Philippines. And so the country gained an activist who, “no matter how difficult or dangerous the circumstances, no matter how uphill the battle”, will never give up until everyone has equal rights.

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PHOTO BY JED YUMANG; HAIR AND MAKE-UP BY KAYE CANDAZA AND NICOLE MAGAY. PHOTO COURTESY OF BAHAGHARI CENTER.

In 2004, Rob Garner moved to Mongolia from Australia to start working for an international non-government organization (NGO) – for activists, what may be considered as a natural progression to be where the action is, so to speak. But while she was involved in human rights advocacy, as a whole, since the mid-1990s, focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community started to be magnified.

“When I first arrived in Ulaanbaatar, I tried to make contacts in the LGBT community, such as it was back then,” Rob says. “But it was very difficult; virtually everyone was closeted, the LGBT scene was very much underground, and there was no unity – or even a sense of a community – among gays and lesbians. Fear ran rampant, and at the outset I was looked upon with suspicion.”

It took a few months before Rob was able to establish any real friendships, but she acknowledged that “the fear was understandable and justified – LGBTs were arguably the most persecuted and stigmatized group in Mongolian society; discrimination existed in all spheres of society and violence was (and sadly still is) a regular occurrence.”

It was at that time that Rob met her former partner, “who was one of the original Mongolian LGBT activists. We shared a strong sense of social justice and vowed that we would take activism to a new level in Mongolia in order to effect demonstrable long-term change,” she recalled.

At the outset, their activities were largely based around community-building, documenting the human rights violations that were taking place against LGBTs, and trying (“Unsuccessfully at that point,” Rob said) to enlist support from local human rights and women’s organizations. “However, by the start of 2007 we realized that if we were to actually have any sort of real impact, we needed to set up an LGBT human rights NGO – the first such NGO to be established in Mongolia.”

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To achieve this, “we gathered together a small group of brave activists and began that process at the start of 2007, knowing full well that it would be a long and difficult battle for registration. And so it proved to be. We struck prejudice and hostility from government agencies every step of the way. But we were determined to succeed, no matter how long it took. So we dug in for a long fight and fought with all we had.”

In the end, their persistence paid off. It took them almost three years, but in December 2009, Mongolia’s first, and still only, LGBT human rights NGO, the LGBT Centre, was registered. Rob was the founding executive director of the center.

Helping shape the LGBT movement in Mongolia is something that Rob is very proud of.

“I think the thing I am most proud of is being a part of a group of people who made history in Mongolia. We did what hadn’t been done before, in an extremely hostile environment. I am so proud of my Mongolian activist friends – they are the most courageous people I have ever met. Together we stood up to hate – virulent hate – and we triumphed. We conquered fear in the face of ever-present danger and daily threats to our lives. We survived abduction attempts and overcame the wrath of a society that viewed us as sick and perverted. And in so doing, we made change happen. In what we called ‘queer saturation’, we undertook a range of cross-sectoral advocacy initiatives that had not been done before in Mongolia. We put LGBT issues firmly on the human rights agenda and embedded an understanding of our identities in the public’s consciousness,” she said.

Rob Garner in action, as part of R-Rights’ efforts to organize the first Outgames in the Philippines (and Asia) in the earlier part of 2012.

Already, with the LGBT Centre, “we transformed a government – from haters to supporters. Within a year of our registration, we had elicited a government pledge to end discrimination against LGBT people and had secured a timetable for the enactment of non-discrimination legislation (i.e. 2014). We had begun LGBT human rights training for police, who in the past were complicit in the hate crimes taking place against our community. We had changed the minds of a previously hostile media and ushered in a new era of reporting, and for the first time we witnessed positive representations of us and our issues, and responsible and compassionate reporting. We had gained support from the National Human Rights Commission, civil society, trade unions, schools and universities. We received countless emails and phone calls from people telling us that their attitudes had changed. And, perhaps most importantly, we began to see a proud, empowered and unified LGBT community.”

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Rob is, of course, realistic. “There is still a long way to go in Mongolia. Hate still exists, as does discrimination and violence. But the difference now is that there is hope. There is support. And there most definitely is change. There is no going back. Things can only continue to get better.”

In November 2011, Rob left Mongolia to move to the Philippines to be with her partner, Atty. Angie Umbac, who runs the Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (R-Rights). “Now I am doing whatever I can for the LGBT rights movement in the Philippines,” Rob smiled.

For Rob, “the Philippines is unfortunately not immune to hate crimes and discrimination. There are many areas that need improvement, and protection mechanisms that need to be put in place, notably the enactment of non-discrimination legislation. However, it’s immensely heartening to see so many activists from so many LGBT groups working hard to address these issues,” she said.

There remain many challenges for LGBTs, even within the ranks. “I guess the one thing that disappoints me is that I have seen some dissension among LGBT activists. This is ultimately counterproductive. Perhaps, though, that is to be expected with such a wealth of talented and creative people – there isn’t always going to be consensus,” Rob said. “But, on the whole, it is wonderful to see the level of activism that is taking place, be there consensus on some issues and advocacy directions or not.”

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Rob finds inspiring “the level of activism here in the Philippines – so many groups, so many committed activists, so many events and actions. Coming from Mongolia, where I could literally count the number of out LGBTs on my fingers, it makes my heart soar. My heroes are here – and, from afar, I learnt a lot from them. We always kept a close eye on what was happening in the Philippines, and derived much inspiration and many ideas from the work being done here. Like many activists around the world, we celebrated Ladlad’s victory, it gave us so much hope. To be a part of the LGBT community here now, and to be continuing in advocacy with the brilliant team at R-Rights is truly a dream come true.”

Much remains needed to be done, and Rob intends to continue doing her share. When all is said and done, “I suppose I’d like to be remembered as someone who never stopped fighting for justice and equality, no matter how difficult or dangerous the circumstances, no matter how uphill the battle. I stood up for what I believed in and I never gave up,” she said. And to this end, “as long as discrimination and injustice against LGBTs persists, I will continue to do whatever I can, in any capacity I can, to make the world a better, safer place.”

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Defining who you are…

Before discovering she’s a woman, Ruffy Yulo – an intersex person with Klinefelter syndrome – said people gossiped that she “just wanted” to be a woman so she “can sleep around.” The mockery of intersex experience, she now says, ignores the difficulties intersex people go through.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

Assigned male at birth, Ruffy Yulo, 42 from Ortigas/Pasig City, was already 29 when she discovered “I’m actually intersex.”

She recalled though that, earlier, “when I was 19, when I went to the doctor, I would always get checked. The doctor would always say I have hormonal imbalance.”

But one day, when she was 29, she met a doctor in a gathering for gay and bi men. “The first time he saw me, he asked me what I was doing in that gathering.”

The doctor then mentioned to Ruffy that she may be/is intersex; and “it was the first time I heard of such a condition,” considering her sex assignment at birth.

In hindsight, though, there were “clues” in her life on her condition.

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation),” she said. But she recalled that “one time, we went to the pediatrician who looked after me. I heard him say: ‘Did I not tell you in the past to fix this?’.”

And so when she was told she’s intersex, “I thought I’d just do the test (karyotyping). If I see from the test that I’m not intersex, that’s okay.”

But when Ryffy took the test, “I found out that I was actually a mosaic, I was really surprised. I was happy, but at the same time, I was also very confused.”

“My family actually hid it. But I don’t think it was their intention to keep it from me. I think they were also scared that society won’t understand (my situation).”

LIFE LIVED HARD

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There was a time when Ruffu met someone who’s intersex. “That time, I thought, their case is very complicated. But their situation also made it easy for them… like explaining to those who’d mock them. I was young then; and that’s what I thought – that it was easier for them.”

But after finding out she, herself, is intersex, “it turns out I was wrong. When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

For example, as an adolescent, “when my body started changing, I had difficulty going to the toilet. When I go to the male toilet, I would get questioned: ‘Ma’am, this is the male toilet; yours is on the other side.’ There came a point when I wouldn’t even go to a toilet anymore. I’d just contain myself, and use a toilet when I’m in a place with (gender-neutral facilities).”

And when she applies for a job, “I always get to the second interview. But when I undergo medical exams, I never get any more calls.”

Ruffy said: “There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

BODY AUTONOMY

For most people who know Ruffy, “from the time we were classmates to the present time, they all consider me as gay. So even if I explain my situation as an intersex person, they will not understand. In fact, I tried several times,” she said.

There were times when people gossiped about her in school, for instance.

“When we were supposed to have a reunion, I was not able to attend. There were rumours that I (had gender affirmation surgery as a trans woman). That I had surgery because I just wanted to sleep around. Those were the stories that went around. But the truth was, I was already at risk for testicular cancer. That was the main reason why I had myself checked.”

The doctor who can do the surgery Ruffy needed here in the Philippines only had around 70 cases. “Unlike in Thailand, when I went there, I met my doctor and he already did over a thousand cases. In those 1,000 cases, he did (surgery) on two intersex individuals already. So I felt a lot safer (with him).”

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It was a costly procedure, Ruffy admitted.

“But, you know, at that time when I did this, I didn’t have a choice. I was already at risk of having testicular cancer. And things needed to be removed. I also told my parents then that since there are many issues with my body, I wanted to fix everything in one go. At that time I was at risk to get testicular cancer, I had hernia… and there was that issue with my being intersex,” she said.

After her surgery, when Ruffy returned to the Philippines, she bled. “So I rushed myself to the hospital. There, while the doctor was checking me, I was surprised when nurses started gathering around me. They left their patients. They were all there trying to ask me several questions. I felt that the questions were irrelevant. They asked: How do you do sex? Why do you think you bled? Did you insert something inside you? Some of them I found really offensive,” Ruffy recalled. “But at that time, I had very little choice but to answer them. I thought, too, that maybe it’s for my own benefit.”

“When I found out (I’m intersex), that was when I realized how difficult it is to be intersex.”

In hindsight, Ruffy said that “there (isn’t a lot of study done about the intersex condition). In fact, when I was talking to a physician, he told me that when they were still in medical school, there’s only one chapter covering this topic. What they know is so limited, so that every time they encounter an intersex person, they tend to ask a lot because it’s their only chance to get answers.”

To Ruffy, though – and she stresses this – if intersex people think that getting (non-necessary) surgery is the answer, “the solution for them to be happy, let me say this isn’t the solution. In fact I discourage intersex individuals to undergo surgery. To start, it’s costly. Secondly, it’s hard. Take my case, for instance, after undergoing the procedure, there were complications. One of the complications for me was… like I had early menopause. So the tendency was… for my bones to be more brittle.”

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ON FINDING LOVE

“We know that a lot of men want someone who’s ‘normal’. They want someone who can conceive. They want someone they can grow old with… while caring for their grandchildren. This is something I can’t give,” Ruffy said.

So for a time, she didn’t date. “I mean, I also tried dating. But it’s challenging; it doesn’t work out. From the very start, even before we go on a date, I already tell them (that I am intersex).”

The doctor told her not to immediately disclose. “There was an instance after the surgery – when the doctor told me not to immediately disclose – when not disclosing gave me more problems. The guy thought I lied to him. Even if, in fact, that was not the intention.”

FINDING THE COURAGE

To younger intersex people, Ruffu said that “it’s totally normal to be scared. I will not say that you will instantly be courageous. But if you are facing hardships, these challenges are not exclusive to intersex people. Bisexuals, gays, lesbians and (even) heterosexuals – people from all spectrum, we all encounter difficulties. Perhaps it’s just more complicated for intersex people.

“But, you know, don’t limit your way of thinking that you’d amount to nothing. In fact, there are more chances to improve.”

“There was a point in time when I felt I was alone. I felt like there was no one to talk to. It’s like even if you’re talking to a loved one, they don’t really understand you. It’s like speaking in a foreign language with them.”

That there will always be people who will look down on (or at least look differently at) intersex people does not escape Ruffy.

“What I learned over time is that it is the people who discriminate who have problems. They may be afraid that what other people experience, it will also be done to them. For instance, a person may say another person is not capable. It may be because that person is the one who is not capable. They are only projecting to others their lack of capability,” she said. “The truth is, if we give others a chance, there’s more to everyone (than meets the eye).”

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Trans in Baguio

Van Sanchez, the trans woman vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan, believes LGBTQIA people should be strong in fighting for what they feel in their hearts. For her, it’s time to show haters that “we’re already here, and we’re standing up for our human rights.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

Van Sanchez, 25 years old from Baguio City, realized she’s trans when she was 15. This wasn’t… surprising for her, since “there are other LGBTQIA people in (my) clan,” she said. “There are 11 of us brothers and sisters. Two of us are ‘bakla’. We also have one sibling who’s a lesbian. So we’re totally complete in the family – we have lesbian and gay members.”

Perhaps it is this that made her family more accepting of her, since when Van’s parents found out she’s trans, “they didn’t react badly… They still fully support us.”

This isn’t to say Van’s life was always easy.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”

This is why “I’m here advocating for gender equality.”

“If I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this.”
“I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

Van was elected to be part of Sangguniang Kabataan in 2018, she said “representing the LGBTQIA community.” She also won as the vice president of the Baguio City Federation of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

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For Van, “it’s not difficult to be a public official. It’s not difficult even for me who’s part of the LGBTQIA community as a trans woman. The work you do is the same.”

Van thinks that being LGBTQIA is somewhat easier in a city like Baguio.

“Here in Baguio City, it’s not that hard to live as a trans person. Particularly now that there are people like us who advocate for gender equality in the city. I have yet to see locals discriminate against people like us,” she said.

She noted – and acknowledged – though that “perhaps they just don’t discriminate as much. It’s not bad to be trans here because people know about us… and they somehow accept us already.”

Van believes “fighting” starts within.

While completing a degree in education, “I was never intimidated while schooling. They cut my hair; they made me change how I presented myself,” she recalled. But she said she never let this stop her.

“I also don’t believe in these when teaching. What matters more is how you teach your students; that you share your knowledge to them. Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van said.

“Yes, I also experienced discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people in society still can’t accept people like us.”
“We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Now, “if I have a message to younger LGBTQIA people, it’s for them to be strong. Follow your dreams. Stand up for what you feel in your heart; and be proud of this,” Van said, adding that “trans people and LGBTQIA community members should be united in fighting for our human rights.”

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And to those who discriminate against LGBTQIA people, Van said: “Good luck. We’re already here, and there’s nothing you can do about that. We’re here standing in front of you, and we’re here standing up for our rights. In the end, we’re all humans, and we’re equals in the eyes of God.”

“Teaching should not be premised on the physical appearance of people; and even in the acquisition of knowledge/education,” Van Sanchez said.

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Forever seeking the love…

Forever Diosa may not have personally experienced discrimination as a gay man, but his life – even with supportive family – isn’t always easy. His heart has been broken, for instance. But he believes in using pain to elevate oneself – something, he said, LGBTQIA people should learn.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

People told Forever Diosa that “if being gay is a sickness, then it can be washed away,” he said. So then gay people can just shower every day to wash this away. “But you can’t wash this away. And so there’s that pain when people mock you for being gay… Every time we step out, we have to accept we’d be ridiculed even if we did nothing wrong.”

Forever Diosa (a.k.a. Geraldine Madridano; and lives in Malabon, Metro Manila) was “five years old when I knew I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I knew because I felt it,” he said, adding that nothing, in particular, triggered this realization.

He isn’t surprised, though, since “let’s say it’s in my blood. There are other family members who are also LGBTQIA.”

He has an an uncle, a designer, who’s also part of the LGBTQIA community; a sibling is trans; and another is a lesbian.

“My family is happy I’m gay. Think of it this way: Would they rather have a drug addict for a child, or a gay child? It’s practical; parents know who they’d choose to have as a child,” he said.

“You should know how to respect yourself. And you should know how to respect others.”
“You can say you helped your nieces/nephews, and your parents. But people say it’s different when you have your own child who will look after you in old age,” he said.

His eldest sibling is a policeman – and Forever Diosa is proud of this. “Just think of that: I have a brother who’s a policeman. None can imagine I have a policeman for a brother. A policeman who has two gay brothers. That seems improbable. I am proud of my brother; I salute him because he is proud of us.”

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Not surprisingly, Forever Diosa draws support from his family.

“We can’t say my siblings are perfect. But we’re there to support each other. We support those who need support. Because we can say that at the end of the day, the blood in our veins connect us.”

All too apparent, in a way, Forever Diosa is more privileged.

“I did not experience discrimination as a gay person,” he said; something he attributes to “knowing how to position yourself as a gay person. You should know how to respect yourself. And you should know how to respect others.”

But life isn’t a bed of roses for Forever Diosa.

“Oh, yes, I loved one guy before… We were together for four years,” he recalled.

But then things soured. The guy dumped him… for no apparent reason.

“Until now I want to ask him: What happened to the two of us? I believe that when leaving a relationship, the people involved should talk. That way, if we see each other again, we can smile at each other; we can still be friends.”

But Forever Diosa said that “I am not ashamed to claim him as the guy who hurt me… I don’t regret this experience. I know I was able to help him, and he also helped me.”

He added: “All of us, we have roles to play on Earth. I don’t regret this experience because I survived it. It’s like, his life was extended because of me. Actually… not necessarily because of me. But I became an instrument to help him.”

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But the experience actually changed Forever Diosa.

“In the past, people just called me Diosa. But Diosa died because Diosa was hurt. And Forever Diosa was born to show strength.”

“I believe that when leaving a relationship, the people involved should talk. That way, if we see each other again, we can smile at each other; we can still be friends.”
“All of us, we have roles to play on Earth. I don’t regret this experience because I survived it.”

Forever Diosa believes in – shall we say – limited equality.

“I can’t say I back marriage equality because I’m a religious person. I respect other people’s opinions; but I also respect what’s ‘right’. So I don’t believe in marriage equality for now,” he said.

Somewhat contradictory to this, he added: “I support the need to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill. I may not have personally experienced discrimination, but it could benefit those who are not as privileged as me. There are LGBTQIA people who are not well educated; and they should know their rights. Non-discrimination could also benefit the young, whose parents may eventually rely on. The young need to know/tackle discrimination. This is why we need equality.”

Forever Diosa said that people asked him who will look after him when he gets older.

“You can say you helped your nieces/nephews, and your parents. But people say it’s different when you have your own child who will look after you in old age,” he said.

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And so “I hope to have my own family. I hope to find a woman who will understand my past as a gay man. That’s what I will be looking for.”

Jokingly, he said: “I have a female office mate; we agreed that if she won’t find a BF by the time she turns 37, we’d be an item. She’s not yet 37, and she’s still single. I tell her to find a BF, and that our promise to each other won’t be fulfilled.”

Engaging with younger LGBTQIA people, Forever Diosa said “I tell them, ‘Study well.’ Respect yourself. Love yourself. Only you can elevate yourself. The people around you are only there to support you.”

And to people who continue to ridicule and hurt LGBTQIA people, “thank you; you inspire us to do/be more.”

“I hope to have my own family. I hope to find a woman who will understand my past as a gay man. That’s what I will be looking for.”

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Lesbian and intersex

Noting their difference even as a toddler, Alym Escultura came out as a lesbian while growing up. But they discovered that they are actually also intersex, which they said “complicates their issue for many people” because of “confusion”. As part of Intersex Philippines, Alym now educates people about intersex issues, while pushing for recognition that “intersex people should be included in discourses of equality.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

Myla “Alym” Escultura, 44 and originally from Bicol, thinks they was a toddler when “I knew I’m different. I identified – and accepted – this difference by identifying as a lesbian. But there were questions in me on why my being a lesbian was different from the other lesbian women.”

When Alym was 22. “I realized I’m not just a lesbian, I am also intersex.”

Alym knew of this from resources she obtained online, after talking to people who are also intersex from all over the world, and – just as relevant – from “personal experience”.

“To start, anatomically, I’m different from other women,” Alym said, adding that because of her “personal engagements with other women”, they was able to differentiate the ‘normal’ and ‘not so normal’.

“This difference,” Alym said, “is very vivid/apparent. So I told myself I needed to know more about this.”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym Escultura said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world.”

To date, Alym still hasn’t had chromosomal analysis, mainly because this can be costly. Genetic testing can cost from under $100 to more than $2,000 (or equivalent in peso), depending on the nature/complexity of the test. The figure can still go higher if more than one test is necessary; and these tests may also not be readily available in the Philippines.

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But Alym already owns their being intersex.

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym said.

In their case, for instance, “I am in the shadows/at the fringes of the lesbian community,” they said. “It is already complex to live as a lesbian, and then people realize, ‘What, you’re also intersex?’. You have to explain to people why you identify as a lesbian, and as intersex. People don’t necessarily know that my anatomical features are also different. And it’s hard to explain.”

And then there are the legalities – e.g. “If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym Escultura said.

Alym’s relationship with their family is, at least, fine. “They’re fine with me being a lesbian as long as I don’t bring shame to the family’s name.”

And “when they found out I’m also intersex, they took it as just a normal thing. For them, ‘We already accepted you for what you are. Your being intersex is just an add-on/bonus.'”

From Bicol, Alym eventually moved to Metro Manila.

“Resources that can help give you personal development are limited in the province. So I opted to be in a place where I can develop/cultivate myself. This way, I am not dependent on others,” they said.

For Alym, “you’re already (LGBTQIA), so you should be able to support yourself, be able to defend yourself. You should be able to help others without expecting anything in return.”

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Nowadays, “I don’t have to always tell people about my intersex condition. If they just identify me as a lesbian, that’s fine. But if they ask for more information about me, then I inject the information that I am also intersex.”

But Alym is finding their happiness now; living with their partner for almost three years now.

“If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world. Look for others like you. Nowadays, we already have the Internet and there are online support groups.”

But Alym wants the LGBTQIA community to be inclusive. “We’re fighting for the same things. We’re fighting for inclusion. Similar to the declaration of the United Nations, ‘No one left behind’, we should support each other. We all want equal opportunity. We all want gender recognition. If we join our voices, then our voices will echo louder as we make our demands.”

And to people who ridicule intersex people, “that’s fine; that’s your choice. As long as you don’t do anything to physically harm us. We can take what you throw at us. But let me tell you this: We may be intersex people, but you’ll see that we’re willing and able to help, to build and make change for the better,” Alym ended.

READ:  Manila Luzon, the Asian Glamasaurus

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Intersex Pride

Assigned female at birth, Jeff Cagandahan petitioned the court to change his name and gender marker because of his intersex condition. His case reached the Supreme Court, which sided with him in 2008. He now helms Intersex Philippines, which he hopes will help make the “I” visible in the LGBTQIA community.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”

Jeff Cagandahan – 38 years old; from Paete, Laguna – was assigned female at birth, named Jennifer Cagandahan. But even “when I was young, I knew I was different. I couldn’t exactly say when I knew; but I knew even as a kid that I’m different.”

At that time, Jeff said he didn’t know of intersex conditions, but “I knew I’m different because of my ambiguous genitalia. I was assigned female at birth, but my genitalia wasn’t what was usually found in women.”

Jeff said that it wasn’t necessarily difficult being different when he was young. But it became more difficult as he got older.

To start, “I no longer identified as a woman would. I really saw myself as a man.”

This proved to be hard because of the social expectations linked with gender. For instance, while in elementary school, “I found it difficult to wear skirts just because I was assigned female at birth. It was difficult to act as a woman just because I was given a female name at birth. Because I identified as a man, it was hard to live as a woman. I thought and felt as a man, so there was a disconnect.”

Hi parents also do not talk about his condition at home. “And as much as possible, they do not want to talk about this at home.”

And when he started looking for a job, it was also difficult because his gender marker then was female, but his gender expression was masculine. And since it was a time when “female educators were told to wear skirts”, Jeff was also expected to wear skirts for work, befitting his sex assigned at birth.

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“I couldn’t live like that anymore,” Jeff recalled, “so I decided to file a petition in court to change my name and my gender marker.”

MAKING HISTORY

On December 11, 2003, Jeff filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male). His reason: He developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH); this is one of the 40+ intersex conditions.

On January 12, 2005, the RTC granted Jeff’s petition. The RTC ordered the following changes of entries in Cagandahan’s birth certificate:
(1) The name Jennifer Cagandahan changed to Jeff Cagandahan
(2) His gender from female to male

The Office of the Solicitor General appealed the RTC’s decision. The OSG used the Silverio argument – that “Rule 108 does not allow change of sex or gender in the birth certificate”, and that “CAH does not make her a male”.

On December 11, 2003, Jeff Cagandahan filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male).

But in 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) sided with Jeff.

In its 2008 decision, the highest court stated:
“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual… thinks of his/her sex.”

The SC added:
“(The) respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy.To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what courses of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation.”

The decision was written by Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing; with Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. and Arturo D. Brion concurring.

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“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide. I felt relieved after finally getting what I desired for so long. Those were very happy days for me,” Jeff said.

LIFE CHANGES

How did people react?

“With my family… even before the SC decision, they already knew/treated me as male.” Meanwhile, “I live in a small town, and people already know me there; but they knew more of me when the court’s decision was released. A lot of people understand my situation. But it can’t be avoided that there are still people who still don’t understand my condition.”

“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

There have been major changes in Jeff’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

And because of the court’s decision, “I can now help others like me.”

One of the advocacies of intersex people is to stop gender mutilation. The LGBT community does not give this attention, said Jeff, because it’s particular to the intersex community.

But “this is one of our advocacies because we believe that a person, a child should be able to decide his/her gender. A person should be able to choose the gender he/she wants to live as.”

BECOMING AN INTERSEX ADVOCATE

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I became an advocate because I don’t want younger intersex people to experience the struggles I experienced. I want to take steps to make things easier for them.

Jeff is actually new to advocacy… even if the SC decided on his case in 2008.

“It took me so long to be an advocate because I had to learn self-acceptance first. It’s hard to help others when you can’t even help yourself. So I taught myself first about this; and to accept it. And then I became an advocate,” he said. “I accepted my intersex condition as a mission. A mission to help others. Intersex people should not be ashamed of their condition. To intersex people, you are not alone. I am here.”

There have been major changes in Jeff Cagandahan’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

Jeff also co-founded Intersex Philippines as a support group for intersex people in the Philippines.

NO LONGER INVISIBLE

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” he said. “I believe that through proper education,. and through sharing positive awareness about us, people’s minds will change.”

Moving forward, Jeff’s message to the LGBT community is: Always include “I”.

“It makes me happy that through the rainbow community, I meet other intersex people. This is because there are intersex people who ‘hide’ in the lesbian community, in the gay community,” he said.

It’s also “heartening that allies now approach to ask how they can help us. I hope you will continue helping, and include in your advocacies the intersex community.”

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

To intersex Filipinos, “Don’t be ashamed. Do not be ashamed that you are intersex. Be proud. I always believed that God did not make a mistake in creating us.”

EDUCATE THYSELF

And to people whose ways of seeing intersex people still haven’t changed, “it may be better to speak directly to us. Talk directly to those who experienced discrimination and struggles so you understand what we’re going through.”

Jeff added: “We’re also people; just like you. If you have rights, so do we. We just dream of living normally… properly. There’s nothing wrong with this.”

So “continue to educate yourselves about intersex conditions. And if you have questions, I am willing to talk, Intersex Philippines is willing to talk… so you can better understand this issue.”

For more information, email jeffcagandahan@yahoo.com, or contact 09155159819.

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#KaraniwangLGBT

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.

Published

on

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.”

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