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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.”

Para sa akin po, ang attraction ng pagsali ko po ng pageants, pakiramdam ko po kasi sa sarili ko na parang doon ko lang nailalabas lahat ng kasiyahan ko (Beauty pageants are appealing to me because they allow me to express my happiness),” Bella Abac, 24, said. “Feel ko po na hindi makukumpleto ang pagka-trans ko kung hindi sumasali ng pageant ng mga trans kasi po (dito ay) napapatunayan ko sa mga tao na karapat-dapat pa ring respectuhin, na kahit bakla ka, may talino at talent kang maipapakita sa kanila (I feel incomplete as a trans woman if I don’t join a pageant. It allows me to show to people that I still merit respect).”

Bella is, obviously, one of the now-regular trans “beauconeras (regular beauty pageant competitors/contestants)”, a staple – if you must – in a beauty pageant crazy country like the Philippines.

GROWING UP TRANS

Bella always identified as a woman. “Since nung nagkaisip na ako, nalama kong babae pala ako. Puso (ko ay) babae (For as long as I can remember, I always identified as a woman; in my heart, I am a woman),” she said.

But it was only in high school when she came out. “Nung bata pa ako may komportable po akong makipaglaro sa mga babae. Kaya masasabi ko po na naramdaman ko na trans ako dahil sa mga nakakahalubilo ko, nakakasalamuha na mga barkada (As a kid, I was more comfortable hanging out with girls. I’d say I knew I’m transgender because of the company I kept),” she said.

At the start, Bella tried to hide her true self from her family, particularly since she was the firstborn male child and grandchild. But when she deemed she already looked feminine enough, she then started living as a trans woman.

Nung nag-out po ako… siguro nabigla din sila (When I came out, perhaps they were also surprised),” Bella said. “Pero never naman po nila akong pinagbuhatan ng kamay (But they never hurt me).”

Having grown in a generally welcoming family, Bella Abac said family acceptance is important because this will have affect particularly the minds of young LGBTQIA people.

Pastora Raquel, Bella’s grandmother (who raised her) said she noted that when Bella was in high school, she had all-female friends. And so, even then, she already suspected Bella is trans.

READ:  ‘Life is too short to live inside a closet’ – Pinay Lesbian Mums

Minsan… parang tinatanong ko ang sarili ko, bakit nagkaganito ang apo kong ito (Sometimes I ask myself why my grandchild is like this),” Nanay Paz said, “pero wala naman ako magagawa kundi tanggapin (But there’s nothing I can do but accept her).”

It is also acceptance that Nanay Paz wants other parents/guardians to learn; to “learn to love your children instead of driving them away.” It’s a choice, she said, of accepting them as they are, or losing them if they are not accepted. And for her, “I’ve learned to just accept it without reservations.”

Now and then, Nanay Paz worries for Bella, “particularly in these times” when people can get in trouble even if they did nothing wrong. But she said “sinabi ko lang sa kanya, mag-ingat siya… Baka ako ang unang manigas diyan (kung may nangyari sa kanya) (I just tell her to be careful… If something happened to her, I don’t think I can bear that. Perhaps I’d die myself).”

Having grown in a generally welcoming family, Bella said family acceptance is important because this will have affect particularly the minds of young LGBTQIA people. “Maaring mag-rebelde po sila o maaring maglayas. At baka maging against pa sila sa pamilya nila (They may rebel or run away if they are not accepted. They may even think badly and be against their own families).”

After coming out and openly hanging out with other trans women, Bella was introduced by a close friend to beauty pageants; this friend encouraged her to join, and she, herself, wanted to manage Bella.

PART OF THE INFORMAL SECTOR

Based in Bacoor, Cavite, Bella now works as a hairdresser.

Right after high school, Bella’s aunt helped her study hairdressing in a vocational school. By the time she was 19, she was already working.

Masasabi ko po na sapat ang kinikita ko sa salon. Sa isang araw po, kahit P100 lang po; then pinaka-maximum po, P1,000 (I can say I earn enough while working in a salon. In a day I can earn at least P100, reaching to P1,000),” she said.

Bella doesn’t get regular salary; instead, she gets a cut of the day’s profit of the salon where she works at. She is, therefore, further driven to entice people to avail of the services that they offer, since having more customers means possibly earning more.

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Having work helps Bella in joining pageants since she has (some) money to spent.

BEAUCONERA’S LIFE

Bella “only” joins pageants as a hobby; it’s just for fun for her, and only when she has spare time.

She learned that in this industry, “hindi siya ganun kabigat (it isn’t financially burdensome),” she said; at least just give some money to the handler/s for them to be able to travel to the venue of the pageant, and then while there, at least feed them.

Usually, a candidate spends from P100 per pageant, though this obviously goes up to thousands, depending on one’s entourage and on where the pageant is being held. A big chunk of the expenses goes to the “handlers”.

In Bella’s case, “mahigit kumulang P500 din nagagastos ko per pageant (personally, I spend approximately P500 per pageant).”

Bella Abac: “I feel incomplete as a trans woman if I don’t join a pageant. It allows me to show to people that I still merit respect.”

The handlers actually do just about everything for the candidate (aside from competing), from providing the clothes to be worn, providing hair and make-up, and even training (e.g. walking, answering questions, et cetera) as needed.

The arrangements with handlers vary (e.g. some take a bigger cut of the earning, some charge fees outright whether a contestant wins or loses, and still some do it for free). And in Bella’s case at least, “it’s your call how to divide the prize money.”

The biggest cash prize Bella won totaled P4,000, after she placed first runner-up in pageants in Batangas and Nueva Ecija. “Yung kalahati po, para na po sa akin, pang-suporta po sa bahay para sa… pagkain po, unang-una po sa bigas (I kept half of that amount to myself, spending it for expenses at home… for food, to buy rice),” Bella said.

The other half, she gave to her handler. “Para fair po (To be fair),” she said, as well as to avoid possible grumblings from people who may complain that it was them who helped her clinch a title.

In total, Bella already joined around 20 beauty pageants.

And she plans to be a beauconera for as long as she is able to compete, perhaps until she reaches 40.

CONFRONTING, YET ENDING UP PROMOTING THE STATUS QUO?

A handful of trans beauconeras actually believe in “separate but equal”.

In Bella’s case, “if you ask me if trans women should be allowed to join beauty pageants like Miss Universe, I’d say: ‘No’.”

READ:  All hail the beauty queen

Bella’s belief is anchored in recognizing segregation; that “may mga inilaan naman pong patimpalak para sa mga kabaklaan… kaya hindi natin kailangan pang panghimasukan ang pageant na para lang sa kababaihan (There are pageants just for us. So we shouldn’t impose upon them to accept us to join pageants just for them).”

But this belief is also anchored in the continuing dominant belief of sex/gender binary that, obviously displaces members of the LGBTQIA community.

Dapat pa rin po nating irespecto ang kanilang pagka-babae (We should respect their womanhood),” Bella said.

Being a woman, for Bella, means being able to nurse a child. “Para sa akin po, ang babae ay isang ina na handing kumalinga sa kanyang anak. Kaya dapat irespeto ang kababaihan (For me, to be a woman is to be a mother who cares for her child. So women should be respected).”

The words “hindi ‘tunay’ na babae (not a ‘real’ woman)”, “purong babae (pure woman)” and “pusong babae (literally, woman’s heart; though also weaker heart/cowardly disposition)” also easily get thrown around in trans beauty pageants, referring to the personhood of the candidates themselves, thereby – knowingly or not – pushing for the anti-trans (and anti-LGBTQIA) narratives.

Pageants remain relevant, said Bella Abac, as they allow people to voice out their opinions on particular issues; thereby, they allow the promotion of these issues that – hopefully in the long run – promote equality.

LIFE LESSONS

Bella already had three boyfriends; none lasted. But she’s saying that “I’m not saying that trans relationships don’t last long because there are relationships that involve us that work out.” For Bella, it always “depends on the people involved”, since relationships can help develop people.

And being developed, said Bella, also happens in pageants. Which is why she recommends joining them (particularly to younger members of the LGBTQIA community). “Malay natin yung mga batang trans may kakayahan na maaring mahasa sa pamamagitan ng pagsali ng mga pageants (It’s a way for us to know if they have skills that can be developed through these pageants).”

The world of beauty pageants is “round” – one day you win, one day you won’t. So Bella Abac said not winning may be disappointing, but it isn’t everything.

Pageants remain relevant, said Bella, as they allow people to voice out their opinions on particular issues; thereby, they allow the promotion of these issues that – hopefully in the long run – promote equality. “Pageants can help solve a lot of problems facing different countries,” she quipped.

The world of beauty pageants is “round” – one day you win, one day you won’t. So Bella said not winning may be disappointing, but it isn’t everything. “Masaya (na rin ako) na nag-enjoy ako, at may sumusuporta pa rin sa akin kahit papaano (At least I enjoyed myself. And there are people who supported me somehow).”

To people who continue to look down on LGBTQIA people, Bella said that “kahit ano pang pangyuyurak sa aming pagkatao ang inyong gawin, kahit na kami ay inyong laitin, naniniwala pa rin ako na karapat-dapat pa rin kaing respetuhin (no matter how many times you step on us, and even if you belittle us, I believe that we deserve to be respected).”

But turning inwards, she added: “Sa kapuwa ko (LGBTQIA), gumawa muna tayo ng tamas a kapuw nang sa ganun ay wala silang masabi (To my fellow LGBTQIA people, let’s do something good so people won’t have anything bad to say about us).”

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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The dancemaker

When bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog – 26 years old, from Parañaque City – was told he couldn’t dance, he persevered and eventually formed his own dance group. More than a passion, dancing helped him finance his family’s needs. He now says that “if you really want to dance, even if you’re LGBT, you can – and should – dance.”

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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.”

“For me, even if you’re an LGBTQIA person, you can also dance if you really want to dance. And you can do any genres – ballet, jazz, street dance… There’s no dance that is just for LGBTQIA people. Whoever you may be, whatever you may be, if dancing is your passion, you can dance. Everyone’s equal when dancing. Any genre is accessible for people who want to dance no matter the level of their talent so long as they have the passion.”

So said bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog, 26 years old, a dancer cum choreographer with his own dance group in Parañaque City.

Lee Magdaraog thinks that “it’s also easy for (my family) to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee was in sixth grade when he knew he “may be bakla (gay).” “But I hid this from everyone because I didn’t want to be bullied. I was also afraid to come out because of discrimination,” he recalled. The realization came “when I started getting attracted to other men, but I was ashamed to show it.”

READ:  Hollywood legend Warren Beatty on transgender son: ‘He’s my hero’

Fortunately for Lee, “my family accepted me; I have another sibling who’s gay. I also know that they’ll accept me whoever/whatever I may be.”

Lee also thinks that “it’s also easy for them to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee eventually identified as bi.

He discovered dancing unintentionally”.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t really like dancing. I liked singing then. But one person made me try dancing, so I did. There was one problem: I wasn’t very good at it. But it still inspired me, it motivated me. It feels good to dance,” he said.

And then there was one person who belittled Lee, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way. My goal was to become a dancer; it was my dream and I believed I can attain this dream.”

Eventually, he founded his own dance group.

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better so that they can still fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Their dance group has approximately 100 members, divided into five sub-groups. He oversees them all, even if they are – in a way – autonomous. “Dumarating sa punto na nag-lalaban-laban kami (There are times we battle each other),” he said, “pero lagi ko sinasabi sa kanila na kahit ano pa ang desisyon ng judges, hindi kami kalaban. I-enjoy lang nila ang pagsasayaw (but I always tell them that whatever the judges’ decision may be, we’re not really competitors. So better to just enjoy the dancing).”

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His dance group does different dances – e.g. jazz, modern dance, hip hop, fire dance and poi dance. “We try everything, believing that if we can, we should do all dances.”

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better.”

Dancing, said Lee, isn’t cheap.

“To be good at dancing, we join workshops given by good choreographers from all over the Philippines and even globally. This gives us knowledge about dancing,” he said. “By joining these workshops, we are also able to share the knowledge to those who can’t afford to pay to attend these same workshops.”

Lee spends from P150 to over P1,000 to attend a workshop, depending on what the workshop is for, and who is giving the workshop.

Lee’s dance group also gives “street dancing” a literal meaning – i.e. they often rehearse on the streets.

“It’s challenging for us to rehearse on the streets because we can’t control what happens there. Like when it rains, we don’t know where to rehearse. Or sometimes, there’s no proper lighting. We do everything in the dark, just as long as we can rehearse,” he said. “Other dance groups have dance studios, where they can see all the dance moves. But for us, we just have to be meticulous when checking the moves of every member. And because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

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For Lee, while dancing can be challenging, some can make a living from it. “If you’re serious about it, you can earn from this,” he said. “Using your talent, you can earn from this. Like when doing fire dancing, which is in demand particularly during summer. Or poi dancing. Or doing backup dance in corporate events. You can definitely make a living from dancing. But you also have to invest in it.”

In his case in particular, because of dancing, “I’ve been able to help send my siblings to school. I’ve helped in buying my father’s medicines. I also give money for expenses at home. I may not be giving money regularly, but when I have earnings, I try to help out.”

There was one person who belittled Lee Magdaraog, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way.”
“Because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

Lee’s message to LGBTQIA people who want to dance: “It really feels good to dance. There will be lots of difficulties. Because when you dance, you won’t immediately be on top. You have to go through steps, through levels. But if you really want this, if you’re really serious about this, you can attain your dream to be a dancer.”

But aligned with his teaching that dancing is for everyone, he said that “I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change. The young should learn about respect, and dancing, can teach this, along with discipline and nurturing of dreams.”

To people who continue bashing the LGBTQIA community, “I pray for you,” Lee said. “I’m even thankful to you. You challenge/inspire us to do better and succeed in life.”

“I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change.”

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Rainbow rising in Bataan

Only 18, Maria Ella Danaya Gigante – self-identifying as a gay man in Bataan – already makes a living to help his family. He tells other LGBTQIA people to find happiness in what they are, and show others that LGBTQIA will find ways to show we deserve to be accepted completely.

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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.”

Maria Ella Danaya Gigante, 18 from Brgy. Payumo, Dinalupihan, Bataan, was still in elementary school when he started feeling “different” – i.g. he was attracted to other men, and he also expressed himself in an effeminate manner.

“I really just want to give my family a good life. I want to be able to buy them everything that they want.”

He was “lucky”, in a way, because his family accepted him.

“At first – when family members noticed there was something different with me – I
was scared tell them who/what I really am,” he recalled. “But an elder sister told me that when I start high school, I’d be more gutsy to be who I am and tell them the truth. And indeed, this became true. And when I finally came out to them, they accepted me immediately. They told me that there’s nothing they can do if I’m really like this.”

This is perhaps why, for Maria Ella Danaya, family always comes first.

“I read somewhere that a person who talks too much has nothing worth hearing; and those who stay silent are better thinkers.”

He is currently studying at Eastwoods College of Science & Technology, also in Dinalupihan, Bataan, where he taking up IT Programming.

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This is not the course he really wanted to take up. “But gay men are talkative. And with this course, I can work in a call center, or have any job that will allow me to use my loquaciousness,” he said. In the end, “I really just want to give my family a good life. I want to be able to buy them everything that they want.”

Maria Ella Danaya, in fact, already currently works as a freelance hairdresser.

“It started when a gay friend rebonded my hair. It didn’t work on my hair, and it angered me. I did to my mother’s hair what my gay friend did to my hair, and it worked. I also have an auntie who has five salons in Batangas. She taught me the proper ways to do hair rebonding, give Brazilian treatment, do hair cellophane, and so on. That’s how it started for me,” he said.

Everything he earns from work, “I give to my family, particularly to my mom.”

Though his family has been accepting of him, Maria Ella Danaya admitted that, “to be honest, there’s really discrimination done against LGBTQIA people, particularly outside our homes. This is an unavoidable fact. People like us become outcasts; society just doesn’t prioritize thinking about us.”

Now how does he react to this?

“I stay quiet. I read somewhere that a person who talks too much has nothing worth hearing; and those who stay silent are better thinkers,” he said.

Everything he earns from work, “I give to my family, particularly to my mom.”

For Maria Ella Danaya, “my message to other LGBTQIA people is not to mind what other people say. Instead, show who you really are. Be happy in who you really are, and what you have.”

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And to people who continue to discriminate against LGBTQIA people, “I can only say one
thing: The same LGBTQIA people you put down will rise to show you we also deserve complete acceptance.”

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A life in pink

Having experienced discrimination, trans pageant enthusiast Sophia Montecarlo even thinks this is “normal”, though she also thinks LGBTQIA people should use their bad experiences to do better in life. “Take failures and challenges to be better versions of yourselves,” she says.

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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.”

Sophia Montecarlo, 21, from Imus City in Cavite, knew of her sexual orientation since she was a child. “I always knew I’m not male,” she said. “There’s something inside me telling me that I’m really a woman.”

Perhaps to be expected (and even if this is saddening), “my family was initially shocked. And at first, they couldn’t support me for being who and what I am.”

Sophia Montecarlo sadly thinks that it is “normal” for LGBTQIA people to experience discrimination and/or bullying.

What made it difficult for her family to accept Sophia was their religious affiliation.

“I am not part of the Roman Catholic Church; I am from Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ),” she said. And “in our religion, we do not support… we do not believe in people being LGBTQIA.”

Because Sophia couldn’t deny who she is, this created a fracture in her relationship with other family members. “All family members are part of the Church of Christ. And for me not to harm them because I also love them, I chose to separate myself from them,” Sophia said. And so while she still lives with her family, “but I am no longer an active member of the Church of Christ.”

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It was this move – her “courageous step” – that allowed Sophia to start to openly express herself especially to her parents. And “that’s the time they also opened up to me and started accepting me.”

Sophia sadly thinks that it is “normal” for LGBTQIA people to experience discrimination and/or bullying.

There will always be people, she said, who will say that God only created man and woman. “These same people (will) say that LGBTQIA people were not really created by God. But one thing is for sure, I believe that the discrimination we experience can uplift us and make us stronger persons.”

When Sophia Montecarlo was in her third year in college, she started joining beauty pageants.

When Sophia was in her third year in college, she started joining beauty pageants. “I was 18 then, and this became my passion,” she said. “I and my friends decided to just join a pageant; and I had fun experiencing what was happening backstage and onstage, so I continued joining pageants.”

Since 2017, she must have joined over 20 beauty pageants already. “But I only join pageants when I have free time, or when I am readily available.”

Sophia already placed in pageants in Cavite, and even won titles already. The biggest prize money she said she got was from P7,000 to P10,000.

“It hurts when you don’t win. I particularly feel sad because of the effort given by my handler and my friends,” she said. “But I also take these failures to become better, and use them to win in the next pageants.”

“Being true to yourself will lead you to become a better person, to become a stronger individual who can influence other people as well.”

Having finished college at Cavite State University-Main Campus (with a degree of Bachelor of Science-Business Management, majoring in marketing management), Sophia is currently working as a call center agent.

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But “I am looking forward to having a stable job that will help me provide for the needs of my family.”

To younger LGBTQIA people, “be true to yourself,” Sophia said. “Being true to yourself will lead you to become a better person, to become a stronger individual who can influence other people as well.”

And to people who continue to discriminate or bully members of the LGBTQIA community, “you’re not doing anything (substantial) to us. All you do is say that we’re failures; that we’re not really members of this society. But I can say that there’s nothing you can really do; we’re already here. And we’ll prove to you that we’re living (our lives) and we’re (going for it).”

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Sa isang banda ng bahaghari

Cavite local Edson Julianda Gloriaga is part of a band, where he found a way to express his being part of the LGBTQIA community. He now says for others to use music to showcase what they can do without heeding those who are only there to pull others, like LGBTQIA people, down.

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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.”

Edson Julianda Gloriaga, 25, from Bailen, Cavite knew he’s gay since he was seven years old. “Doon ko naramdaman na iba ang pagtingin ko pagdating sa lalaki. Tapos mas gusto kong babae ang kasama ko; mas gusto kong kakumpitensiya ang babae kesa lalaki (That was when I noticed that my feelings for other men were different. I also preferred hanging out with women. I preferred playing/competing with girls, not boys).”

At first, Edson’s father couldn’t accept him – something he believes is because of machismo, e.g. the male members of his family are brusque, with his uncles even regularly get into fights because of machismo.

Nandiyan yung times na nabubugbog ka; bubugbugin ka kasi hindi ka tanggap (There were times when I was physically abused because I was not accepted),” he recalled.

“You will be ridiculed, you will be denigrated… even by your own family because you are gay, and they believe you’ll amount to nothing. But if you convert this into something positive, it will be your inspiration, your motivation to show to them that no matter what happens, no matter what I choose to do in life, I can improve to contribute better in society.”

By the time he was in fourth year high school, when Edson was already earning his own money, family members started to accept him. At that time, too, “I told them that this is the real me, I can’t change this. And I can stand up for my chosen gender identity.”

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Not surprisingly, Edson believes that “particularly at first, it’s hard to be an LGBTQIA person in (the Province of) Cavite.” However, “you learn to turn this negative experience into something positive. You teach yourself to be motivated by this… You will be ridiculed, you will be denigrated… even by your own family because you are gay, and they believe you’ll amount to nothing. But if you convert this into something positive, it will be your inspiration, your motivation to show to them that no matter what happens, no matter what I choose to do in life, I can improve to contribute better in society.”

Edson was in high school when a friend urged him to join a band.

He started as a musician (a flute player who became a clarinet player). But in 2010, he stopped being part of a band because he moved to Manila; this lasted for almost four years.

“When I returned to Bailen, Cavite, my training started again; this time as a color guard of Banda Kabataan #77,” he said.

“We also earn from being in a band, even if money isn’t that big, but for us, for people whose lives revolve around music, you don’t pay attention to money. For us, as long as you are enjoying what you’re doing, then money is not a big issue.”

Being part of a band is a “stress reliever for me,” said Edson, adding that this also: 1) allowed him to travel far and wide; and 2) allows him to explore himself to ascertain what else he can do as an individual.

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Not surprisingly, while “we also earn from being in a band, even if money isn’t that big, but for us, for people whose lives revolve around music, you don’t pay attention to money. For us, as long as you are enjoying what you’re doing, then money is not a big issue.”

Unlike his gender identity (at least in the beginning), his family is supportive of him being part of a band. This may be because family members are also band members. For instance, his cousins are also in bands, so “for my family, my being part of a band is a non-issue… But they tell me to always be careful, to look after myself. And that if this is where I can improve myself, then continue being in it.”

Being part of a band, said Edson, allows him to “show my talents to others, share these to others, particularly to those who intend to join bands. I want to share my talents, and everything I have learned.”

This is why he said he’d be “happier if all LGBTQIA people in my place join bands because in bands, no one will ridicule them or will look down at them. People who belong to bands know that LGBTQIA people can contribute a lot to bands.”

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t listen to what other people will say because – you need to remember – they do not feed you, they do not provide you sustenance, they do not dress you, they do not provide you housing. They’re just people looking to disparage you; people who want to put you down.”

Edson already had five boyfriends (the first one was in college); none of these relationships lasted long.

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But Edson learned life lessons from having relationships.

“A former BF cheated on me, so while in one relationship, I also cheated. That former cheating BF replaced me with another gay guy, and I had a hard time accepting it. That cheating ex-BF replaced me with my friend. Now I know better; that I should not do to others what was done to me because they may also do it to other people who will also unintentionally get hurt,” he said.

To younger LGBTQIA people, “continue doing what you want to do. Know yourself better by being certain with your gender identity,” Edson said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t listen to what other people will say because – you need to remember – they do not feed you, they do not provide you sustenance, they do not dress you, they do not provide you housing. They’re just people looking to disparage you; people who want to put you down.”

And to people who continue to discriminate against LGBTQIA people, “ang masasabi ko lang huwag nilag tingnan sa physical figure ang katangian ng isang tao, bagkus alamin nila kung ano ang nasa loob ng taong yun, kung bakla man siya o tomboy (I say: Don’t judge people based on their physical attributes. Instead, know people for who they really are),” Edson said. “Lagi nating tatandaan na kung ano ang kayang gawin ng lalaki at ng babae, kaya ding gawin ng isang bakla o ng tomboy (Remember that what men and women can do, LGBTQIA people can do, too).”

“I’d be happier if all LGBTQIA people in my place join bands because in bands, no one will ridicule them or will look down at them. People who belong to bands know that LGBTQIA people can contribute a lot to bands.”

In the end, to survive – and even thrive – in life, “Turn bad experiences to motivate you, to inspire you to show to them that no matter what happens to me, no matter what other people say, I will stand proud. I will stand proud because I am not alone; I am with God, who accepted me for who I am. I know these people will also accept me one day because they will also be proud of me,” Edson ended.

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Rainbow under the spotlight

Trans beautician Airah Austria also hosts events, which she said allows her to poke fun at people’s misconceptions about LGBTQIA Filipinos while sharing lessons about acceptance. She now tells younger LGBTQIA people: “Don’t mind the bullies; just do good in life.”

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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.”

Airah Austria, 37, was in Grade 3 in elementary school when she discovered – for herself – that she was “different” from boys her age.

Yung boys, masculine; pero ako, I feel feminine. Tapos ang gusto ko kalaro, mga girls. Mahilig ako sa mga larong pambabae, especially Barbie, mga paper dolls (They were masculine and I was feminine. My playmates were girls; I liked playing only games stereotypically associated with girls, especially with Barbie and paper dolls),” she recalled.

This realization made her admit then that “I discovered I’m gay.”

Airah was, in a way, luckier. Though a product of a broken family, her grandmother – who raised her – accepted her “for who I am and what I am.”

To other LGBTQIA people, especially those younger than she is, “study well. Make yourself productive so people won’t also discriminate against you. We, ourselves, decide our own fates.”

Outside her home, of course, she also experienced discrimination and bullying – e.g. getting taunted for being “different”.

But – particularly as she gets older – Airah said “binigyan ko ng magandang pananaw para maging diretso yung pananaw ko din sa buhay (I looked at these in a positive light. I did this so that I would also have a positive outlook in life).”

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A few years back, while working in a salon, Airah remembered singing with who’s on the radio. “One of our clients was a road manager. He asked me if I wanted to work in comedy bars (as a host/singer). I took this chance. So now I’m in this industry because I enjoy hosting any kind of events, and I love singing a lot.”

Being in this line of work is not (always) easy.

“This line of work can get difficult,” Airah said. For instance, she doesn’t always earn well. “There are also times when the person who asked you to host is a friend, and he/she asked for a discounted rate, you give in.”

Not that this really bothers Airah.

“Giving discounts is okay for me as long as I am happy with what I am doing. This is what’s more important for me. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing, nothing is really that difficult to do.”

Airah was, in a way, luckier. Though a product of a broken family, her grandmother – who raised her – accepted her “for who I am and what I am.”

Discrimination can also be hurled her way even when she’s onstage.

“As a singer/comedienne, when I encounter discrimination while onstage, I try to make light of the situation. But I also make it a point to leave messages for them to realize that we’re also humans created by God, and that we need to be respected. Just like them, we’re also normal people,” she said.

Just as she is about to turn 38, Airah said she is focusing on saving money “so that when I’m older, I won’t be in a pitiful state. I have encountered some older LGBTQIA people who go from one parlor to another, asking for money to sustain them. I don’t want that to happen to me. So I work hard now. So that when I get older, someone would look after me. Even if they’re only doing this because I have money.”

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Airah used to have a partner for 12 years. That turned sour when the guy got another woman pregnant, something Airah sadly said was “bound to happen because I can’t bear him children.”

And this makes her sad and “at times lonely,” she said, “especially since my grandparents are gone, and I am all alone… But kaya naman (I can bear this loneliness).”

Looking forward, Airah believes she’d continue doing what she’s doing “for as long as I can sing, for as long as I can stand onstage… I’ll try to continue making people happy.”

“As a singer/comedienne, when I encounter discrimination while onstage, I try to make light of the situation. But I also make it a point to leave messages for them to realize that we’re also humans created by God, and that we need to be respected.”

Her message to those who continue to bully LGBTQIA people: “Please stop. Because we are also human beings; we were also created by God. Ginagawa lang namin yung pamamaraang alam naming tama, na ikaliligaya din namin. Because at the end of the day, tayo-tayo din ang magtutulungan (We live our lives just as we see fit; and in ways that also make us happy. At the end of the day, people should help people). So please stop discrimination.”

And to other LGBTQIA people, especially those younger than she is, “study well. Make yourself productive so people won’t also discriminate against you. We, ourselves, decide our own fates.”

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Airah is big on resilience while just doing what’s good.

“Don’t mind those people who discriminate against you as long as you do good to your fellow citizens, you do good to your country. LGBTQIA people are not doing anything wrong as long as we don’t step on others, and we live with dignity,” Airah ended.

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Gay in the highlands

What is it like to be gay and belong to an ethnic tribe in the Philippines? For Romnick Ampi, he only knew of acceptance and being encouraged to live a better life, showing that LGBTQIA people can achieve more. And he hopes for this to be the general concept – i.e. that looking down on LGBTQIA people stop to focus on what they can achieve in life.

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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.”

Romnick Ampi, 27, from Barangay Meohao in Sitio Palusok at the foot of Mount Apo in Mindanao, was in elementary school (“Around 12 years old”) when he knew he’s gay/a member of the LGBTQIA community.

“At that time,” he said, “hindi ko maiwasan magkagusto sa kapuwa ko gender (I couldn’t help myself from getting attracted to other men).”

At first, Romnick thought that what he was feeling wasn’t real. “But I observed that what I really feel for men is different. Yung puso ko ay parang puso pa rin ng babae (Like heterosexual women, I was attracted to men).”

But – belonging to the Manobo ethnic tribe (his mother is Visayan, while my father is Diangan) – Romnick said he only knew of acceptance.

“And even when I go to more mountainous areas, no one is surprised with a gay man like me. No one there bullies people with the same gender as me.”

“Yes, I told my family about me being gay. They did not have bad reactions. I am happy that they even support what I do. They particularly support my means of living that is aligned with my being part of the LGBTQIA community,” he said.

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Romnick noted – and stressed – that “nirerespeto po nila gaya ng pagrerespeto nila sa kaloikasan atsaka ng mga ninuno. So sa tao po, nirerespeto nila kung ano po ang LGBT (members of our tribe respect LGBTQIA people, just as they respect nature and our ancestors. They respect people, including LGBTQIA people),” he said. “We are not discouraged to live as LGBTQIA people,” even if part of this acceptance is anchored in the stereotypical expectation that LGBTQIA people (gay men and trans women, in particular) “bring… happiness particularly during local celebrations.”

This acceptance makes Meohao an ideal place for Romnick. In fact, he said, if one goes even higher in mountainous areas, it’s common to see members of the LGBTQIA community. “And even when I go to more mountainous areas, no one is surprised with a gay man like me. No one there bullies people with the same gender as me.”

Not surprisingly, “ang feeling ko ay happy, sa tingin ko ay walang kalungkutan na mangyayari ditto sa Meohao dahil nakita ko naman na ang lugar na ito ay peaceful at mapagmahal yung mga tao (I feel happy here; I feel that there’s no sadness here. The place is peaceful. And people here are loving/accepting),” he said.

“Members of our tribe respect LGBTQIA people, just as they respect nature and our ancestors. They respect people, including LGBTQIA people.”

Romnick’s family was originally from Davao, but because of his father’s belonging to the Manobo tribe, they moved to Meohao.

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Romnick has four siblings; he is the only one who goes to school. “All the others stopped going to school because of financial issues,” he said. “This is why I am studying hard so I can graduate and then be able to help them. I particularly want to help my siblings make a living.”

Romnick currently takes up Bachelor of Science in Food Technology at the University of Southern Mindanao, a course that is in line with his field of interest – i.e. events organizing.

“Perhaps this is also God’s gift to me – to take a course that is in line with the skills I now have,” he said.

Now moonlighting as an events organizer, Romnick had an early start working. “I discovered I have skills in organizing events when I was still in elementary school. While watching my teachers do the decorating in school events, such as the closing ceremonies, they told me to give decorating a try,” he said.

And nowadays, “per event, I earn from P5,000 – at least for the smaller events.”

Now single, Romnick said that not having a boyfriend is, for now, ideal. “Mas mabuti yung wala pa akong jowa para makapag-focus ako sa family ko at sa sarili ko (This way I can focus on my family and myself).”

To people who belittle LGBTQIA people, Romnick said “don’t look down on us.”

For him, LGBTQIA people thrive – and this is even if they are not supported by their parents/families. “Because LGBTQIA people are skillful. They will find ways to make a living,” he said. “I’m seeing it now in the world, and for myself, that LGBTQIA people can do good things even if they’re (just) LGBTQIA people.”

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This is also what he eyes to do in life: Do acts so that others to see that not all gay men are weak, that gay people are also skilled. “What heterosexual people can do, LGBTQIA people can do, too.”

To people who belittle LGBTQIA people, Romnick Ampi said “don’t look down on us.”

Particularly for younger LGBTQIA people, Romnick advised: “Huwag kayong huminto o huwag kayong ma-discourage kahit sa ano man yung sasabihin ng ibang tao. Dahil hindi nila alam ano ang feelings ninyo as… LGBT. At ipagpapatuloy ninyo dahil alam ko sa bandang huli… and Panginoon nga may plano sa ating lahat (Not to stop being who they are; or be discouraged because of what other people say. These people do not know what you feel as LGBTQIA people. So just continue being who you are because I know that in the end, God has plans for all of us).”

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