It was the 20th of May 2000 when I walked into the doctors’ rooms to get the test results from my HIV test. Sitting across the desk of my doctor, I received the news that I only had three to six months to live because I was HIV positive and because the infection was far advanced.
But there was a glimmer of light: IF – and it was a very big IF – it was possible to access antiretrovirals (ARVs), so that my prognosis would be very different. In 2000, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was only available in South Africa to the privileged few who could import it privately.
In just two months, then President Thabo Mbeki would make his statement at the Durban International AIDS Conference that HIV did not cause AIDS, and the denial in South Africa would be in full swing. By contrast, European countries were not only making ARVs available for people living with HIV (PLHIVs) but were using African countries as guinea pigs in terms on how to control side effects.
It was into one of these drug trials that I was eventually admitted – i.e. a drug trial run from Amsterdam and executed in Johannesburg. A drug trial which looked at the introduction of steroids during the initial phase of treatment to reduce side effects related to antiretroviral therapy. The only way of monitoring side effects effectively was through blood tests, and so my blood was drawn in Soweto but tested in Amsterdam. The net result was an artificially created time lapse between test and result. A time lapse that nearly cost me my life.
It was only four years later, and with significant pressure from the Treatment Action Campaign, that ARVs became available for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and still much later for adults living with HIV in South Africa. While ART has been introduced, it was very clearly under duress, and we had to suffer under a constant litany from the then minister of health. Then, the only effective way of treating HIV was eating beetroot and drinking lemon juice and olive oil.
Accessing ARVs through the public health care system in South Africa involved a nail-biting wait on a waiting list. Your immune system had to be sufficiently depleted and only when the severely eroded immune system had been achieved did you enter into the waiting period for the available waiting slots. And so when you are eventually accepted into treatment, you knew that there was another one whose treatment failed and died to make the slot available for you.
Accessing treatment meant the once-a-month full-day sitting in endless queues to receive a script for one more month of medication. Somehow you were supposed to maintain the illusion that you could hide your HIV status if you wanted to. Choices of medications were extremely limited. Constantly one would hear of new drugs which was successfully being used in Europe and America which had not been licensed by the South African Medical Association. Whole new families of ARVs had been developed and were changing people’s lives but they were rainbows in the sky, not touching earth in Africa.
In January 2012, I moved to a new job in Sweden. Among the first things I did was to go to a hospital to be able to avail myself of the medical care offered by the Swedish state. Suddenly a viral load test was no longer an optional extra but an integral part of monitoring disease control or progression. Similarly, ARVs were prescribed according to their efficacy and in relation to your own body’s ability to tolerate side effects. And then they came the resistance tests. Who knew such a thing even existed?! The virus in my body was being put through a test to determine with the South African conditions, and if I have developed a resistance.
What was of critical importance in the Swedish system was that in my therapy, I achieved total viral suppression. Not only for my own health’s sake, but because of the clear understanding that effective treatment is also effective prevention. In Sweden, I was not merely another number who had to be fitted into the government protocol of available medications. But I was a patient with individual needs, unique side effects, and have compassionate doctors seeking to respond to my body’s individual needs in terms of ART.
On visiting the Philippines, I was privileged to meet a number of people living with HIV. Their stories and testimonies of the level of healthcare available in the Philippines both shocked and horrified me. While World Health Organization (WHO) protocols are followed, the choice of available drugs, the long waiting periods, and the frequent stock-outs were all too reminiscent of my experience in South Africa. But while South Africa, which has a population of 55 million people, provides ART to two million people, the relatively small number of people related to 100 million people in the Philippines makes the level of care provided to PLHIVs indefensible.
Low levels of caring response can only see an increase in terms of further HIV transmissions in a growing pandemic where the already challenged public health system is stretched beyond ability to respond. The time to change is now before it is too late.
Enter the alter world
Welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual engagements. Though often maligned, it actually also highlights formation of friendships, info sharing, emotional support, and even provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality.
Some time back, Kurt (a.k.a. @MoanerBottom) opened a Twitter account as a form of revenge. “I found out that my ex had an ‘alter’ account and he was fooling around with different people,” he recalled. And so “I wanted to prove to him that I can also do the same thing.”
Little did Kurt know at that time that he would become a mainstay in the alter world/community. A few months since opening his own alter account, he garnered over 130,000 followers, all of them craving – and even waiting – for what he would post, usually dominated by sexual encounters (“kalat videos,” he calls them) with mostly students, including a basketball varsitarian “who likes to penetrate deeply”, a Blue Eagle who allowed for his orgasm to be videoed, a Tamaraw who also allowed himself to be videoed as he orgasmed, and bending for a Red Lion.
“I must admit that I am a shy person in real life,” Kurt said. But “here in Twitter, it is like I have less shame and more courage to do kalat (contextually: shameless) posts and videos.”
Kurt is, obviously, only one of the people – not just Filipinos – with alter accounts, which many like him, say is similar to a “pseudonym — like Batman to Bruce Wayne, or Superman to Clark Kent; where people can have a separate account from their primary accounts, usually used to express themselves more ‘wildly’ yet more ‘discreetly’/anonymously.”
And so welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual “collaborations”, hookups, fetishes, fantasies and social engagements, with the audiences often never really knowing the content generators/producers/distributors.
That the alter world is often dominated by sexual content is a given.
Onin (a.k.a. @Onin_NuezPH), for example, sees his alter account “as an avenue for me to express myself and my sexuality. I am able to let everyone know within the community about my sexual desires without the fear of being judged.”
Looking back, it was actually “a friend who is an alter too introduced me in this alter community,” Onin said.
One of the early instances Onin trended was when some of his nude photos circulated on Twitter. Many got curious, asking the person who previously reacted or shared the photos if there were more.
It whetted Onin’s interest; and so he started posting more photos and short videos. His followers quickly increased, reaching more than 145,000.
Taking pride that he is one of the more talked about alters out there, Onin has produced content that may seem trivial… but these have been keeping the alter community and lurkers interested, from balancing a shampoo bottle on top of his erect penis, sharing a photo of his endowment while asking his followers if they want to kneel in front him, a comparison of the length of a deodorant spray with his penis, wearing a see-through underwear, and teasing his latest sexual collaboration.
Standing out in a platform where hundreds (even thousands) of alters saturate news feeds is a challenge. After all, it is not an easy feat to attract someone’s attention — what more to make them like, share, or follow an account.
For FUCKER Daddy (a.k.a. @ako_daddy), therefore, it all comes down to the type of content being posted, not just being well-endowed, willing to perform bareback sex, or how often the face is shown.
A licensed professional who has a son, FUCKER Daddy started as a “lurker’ (i.e. one who lurks, or just consumes content/views profiles) on Twitter. At that time, he wrote “my real-life sex stories, hoping it will pick up from there,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, alter peeps seem to be more into live action.”
And so FUCKER Daddy met someone from Telegram, without realizing that the person was “sort of (a) big (personality) on Twitter.” This guy discretely took a short clip of their sexual encounter, and then posted it on his alter account. “It was hit. (And) the rest is history.”
By August 2019, FUCKER Daddy said his inbox started receiving direct messages from different users – e.g. asking for more, congratulating him, wanting to collaborate, and so on.
He actually now has several sex videos in his cam. But he still doesn’t make recording the primary thing when engaging in sex “as my goal is to have hookups; videos are only secondary.”
Besides, he said that “I do not want to spoil the moment for sex and think only of it as merely for Twitter.”
But every time FUCKER Daddy posts a video, he said his over 95,000 followers respond to them “with enthusiasm, getting more curious and intrigued.”
Making a living
The concept of alter, however, isn’t set in stone.
For one, there are actually alter accounts whose owners prefer to use their real names and show their faces (like Onin), mixing their personal and private lives along the way. Following the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent analogy, there are also people who follow the Tony Stark/Iron Man mantra, i.e. openly announcing that they are one and the same.
Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.
Also, one may be part of the alter community without knowing it – i.e. one engages in alter activities without recognizing it as such.
“I do not even know that I am involved in the world of alter,” John said, adding that he did not even know what the term meant until it was presented to him. Instead, his account is used to “promote my RentMen and OnlyFans accounts”, just as he also promotes his availability for “personal appointment to people.”
John actually used to work as a brand ambassador, but because of this change in his work, he “can no longer work (in) that (field) because I am doing porn.”
He admitted that “this type of thing is double-edged.” On the one hand, “you can earn a great amount of money,” he said, “but there will be sacrifices.”
He noted, for instance, that the perception of people about me changed; most people judge you right away because of what you do, and not because of who you are as a person.”
But he ignores the naysayers; “I do not mind because this job gives more than what I expected!”
Like John, Onin also promotes his JustFor.Fans (JFF) account on Twitter to respond to the requests of his followers.
“They (my followers) want to see me in action and they are willing to subscribe too,” Onin said, with his exclusive content including: he and his partner having sex, and collaborations with other alters. “You will not earn that much, but pretty enough to compensate for the contents that we are posting.”
Not all alters think alike, obviously. FUCKER Daddy, for instance, won’t monetize his content, saying: “I value sex as it was created. I never sell any (videos) because I think it is something that is worth free. I simply treated it as making memories while those (who) watch put up the numbers.”
Behind the handles
The world of alter has actually already caught the attention of researchers.
For instance, in a study by Samuel Piamonte of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, Mark Quintos of De La Salle University Manila, and Minami Iwayama of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it was found that the alter community may seem overtly sexual, but there is more to it than that.
“The sexual aspect of alter is the core of alter, but it has been enriched by more complex social benefits to users such as including formation of new friendships, sharing of information and advocacies, reciprocations of emotional support, and provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality but find that doing so outside of the alter community could be met with stigma from their peers and family.”
Kurt sees his alter account as an avenue for him to tap his inner self and show the Twitter universe his kalat. Onin uses his alter account to broadcast his sexual side (together with his partner). And FUCKER Daddy uses his alter account as “a constant source of info, hookups, convo… and to learn social demographics as well.”
The evolution, indeed, continues.
Hate from within the community
Yes, yes, yes… with increasing numbers of followers, multiple likes and shares, and the creation of alter “celebrities”, this has not been spared from criticisms.
And sadly, said Kurt, at least in the Philippine setting, the prejudice against alters comes from within the community. “Kapuwa LGBT ang nagsisiraan at nagpapataasan sa isa’t-isa,” he said. “I know… that I cannot please everyone (but) for me it is okay, as long as I know that I am not doing anything wrong.”
Perhaps a “surprise” is the audience’s inability to “appreciate” the free content given them, with Kurt noting that there are times when “they are also pissed off with the things I post.”
This seems to contradict the findings of Piamonte, Quintos and Iwayama, since – here – the alter community can become a fearful place, too.
John, like Kurt, noted how people resort to demeaning others when they do not fit preconceived notions. But he just laughs this off, saying: “Do not hate me because I look good and make money (from) it. Life is too short to be a bitter person. If you do not like what we do, then shut the fuck up.”
The Pandora’s box, so to speak has been opened; and lessons learned along the way can just “make you stronger and bring out the best in you,” said Onin, who like many alters, “just focus on my goals.” And it is exactly because of the existence of this interchange – the content creation, and the love-hate reaction to what’s created – that alter is not going to disappear anytime soon (or at all).
Details and photos of sexual encounters were lifted from the Twitter accounts of the interviewees.
Simple but effective tips on how you can better protect trans women
Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it. So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.
These are simple but effective tips on how you can better protect the trans women in your lives in the context of a night that could go wrong. Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it.
So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.
If you are hooking up with someone, ALWAYS send a picture of the person you are hooking up with to people you trust with your life. If you are hooking up with someone from a club, bar, or any public place, ask your friend to take your picture with the person you’d be with. This can be de done discreetly or with the permission of the other person. When asking permission, tell the person that you’re taking his/her picture for security purposes.
If you are going to someone else’s house for a booty call, send your GPS location via Whatsapp OR text the address of your location to people you trust.
If you are walking someone home or dropping them off, do not leave until the person is already inside his/her house. Do not let your drunk or high friend go home alone, either invite your friend to your house or accompany them home.
4. “I’M SAFE” CALL/TEXT.
Always demand an “I’m safe” call/text from your friend as soon as they’re home.
Para kay Jennifer
For Neal Roxas, may people remember the case of Jennifer Laude as a symbol of injustice; and of a world that continues to hate the beauty of LGBTQIA people.
By Neal Roxas
maalala mo sana siya
hindi sa bakas ng mahigpit
na sakal sa kanyang leeg
o sa natapyas nyang tenga,
hindi sa pagkalublob sa inodoro
o sa puting kumot na huling
yumakap sa kanya bago—
maalala mo sana siya
sa malago niyang buhok,
mapungay na mga mata,
hatid ang init nang sya ay makilala,
sa ingay ng kalsada,
at sa sigaw ng masa,
ng pumikit-dumilat na hustisya
sa isang lipunang hindi yumayakap
kundi nananakal ng magaganda
There are two sides to every story
In the Philippines, one in five people suffers from mental health problems. Between 17% and 20% of Filipino adults experience psychiatric disorders, while 10% to 15% of Filipino children suffer from mental health problems. But addressing mental health is not yet among the priorities in the country.
It all happened one busy Monday, in between unfinished deadlines and piling up of workload. The conversation suddenly ended, and it left him dumfounded. He kept looking for answers why it happened. He questioned himself; reviewed all his replies. Everything seemed okay.
His name is Andy. He considers himself as an introvert. There may be times when he can be talkative, but “that is different; I am not face-to-face with the person.”
Sometimes, people call him a “player,” claiming that he just wants to hook them into his “game”.
What not everyone knows is that whenever he starts to be close to someone, he (un)consciously builds walls around him, preventing anyone to get through particularly when he feels there is an attempt to make a deeper connection.
Andy said his intentions are always good. But most of the time, “I am read wrong and taken negatively.”
And every time that kind of thing happens, it just contributes to the sound he has been hearing in his head.
Sometimes it takes on the form of fear… fear of the current situation or the unknown. There are times when it invades his dreams, waking him up in the middle of the night with either a bad headache or heavy breathing. It is usually mistaken as stress.
A glass of warm milk or chilled rosé, a dosage of paracetamol or Valium, counting backwards from 100 while listening to calming music – any of these usually help, but only temporary.
“I found out a few years back that I am dealing with emotional and psychological trauma. I never knew I had one,” Andy said.
A type of mental health condition, trauma is a response to a stressful event. This is usually triggered by a terrifying situation, either experiencing or witnessing it firsthand.
Edgewood Health Network Canada listed down some of the most common symptoms of psychological trauma, i.e.:
- Disruptive recollections of the trauma, including flashbacks
- Emotional and physical reactions in response to reminders
- Negative beliefs about oneself or others
- Inability to feel close to others
- Being easily startled
- Emotional numbness
- Inability to remember aspects of, or all of the traumatic event
- Avoidance of anything that reminds one of the trauma
- Hypervigilance (Always being alert, scanning and assessing for threat)
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing on reality
- Inability to fall asleep or to remain asleep, frequent and frightening nightmares
“When I am interested with someone, to either date that person or befriend him, after a few days, all of a sudden I will shut down,” Andy said. “There are even times when I would literally run away towards the other direction.”
Studies show that trauma also causes anxiety. When there are frequent occurrence of situations related to what caused the trauma or constant exposure to trigger points – confusion and overwhelming emotional and psychological pain will set in – and these translate into anxiety.
In the Philippines, one in five people suffers from mental health problems. Between 17% and 20% of Filipino adults experience psychiatric disorders, while 10% to 15% of Filipino children suffer from mental health problems.
Dealing with trauma
“Sometimes it is better to be alone because you do not need to explain yourself or adjust to them,” Andy said.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three common ways to cope with trauma:
- Avoiding alcohol and other drugs
- Spending time with loved ones and trusted friends who are supportive
- Trying to maintain normal routines for meals, exercise and sleep
How long will it last? Unfortunately, there is no way to find out since it is not possible to expedite the healing process of trauma. But the intensity of emotional and psychological pain reduces with time.
“I create distractions whenever I feel I am placed inside a box,” Andy said. “Just recently, when I did something like that, the person suddenly disappeared. I was left hanging, I felt like I was all alone.”
Distractions are created by anyone to give themselves breathing space, a moment to take a step back and look at the big picture.
Knowing the other side of the story
Before dismissing someone who seems “different” in terms of how he/she deals with situations, it is better to look a little longer first.
Here are few ways you can help someone who has experienced trauma, as listed by HuffPost:
- Realize that trauma can resurface again and again
- Know that little gestures go a long way
- Reach out on social media
- Ask before you hug someone
- Do not blame the victim
- Help them relax
- Suggest a support group
- Give them space
- Educate yourself
- Do not force them to talk about it
- Be patient
- Accompany them to the scene of the “crime”
- Watch out for warning signs
Keep in mind that it is not your experience/story that you can freely make judgements on, else “attack” it after feeling sour.
“Some five years ago everything fell apart with my life, in my career and health, my partner at that time chose to fool around and left me alone. It was shit. My friends told me that I was broken for four years,” Andy recalled.
That moment did not leave his mind until now. And it affected his trust issues with anything and everything.
A 2016 report by MIMS Today noted that in the Philippines, one in five people suffers from mental health problems. Between 17% and 20% of Filipino adults experience psychiatric disorders, while 10% to 15% of Filipino children suffer from mental health problems.
Unfortunately, it seems like addressing mental health is not yet among the priorities in the Philippines.
Stop humanizing a killer
Being jailed is supposed to punish AND rehabilitate a person. In Pemberton’s case… this is arguable. So stop humanizing him. When so many of you can’t even treat the victim – Jennifer – as a human being.
By now, we all know that when Joseph Scott Pemberton – the American serviceman who murdered Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014 – returns to the US, he will go back to school. Oh, he plans to take up Philosophy. And while studying, he also wants to do sports – e.g. swimming.
These info were provided to us by news outlets; courtesy of the Filipino lawyer who’s been pushing for the convicted American killer, Pemberton, to be freed for his “good conduct”.
And – SERIOUSLY – this has to stop.
Fact: Pemberton killed Jennifer. In cold blood.
Fact: Pemberton considered Jennifer as less of a human, repeatedly referring to her as “it”.
Fact: When he was found guilty, Pemberton was jailed in the custodial facility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Not in Muntinlupa, but in an air-conditioned “jail”.
Fact: Whether Pemberton exhibited good conduct or not is hard to ascertain EXACTLY because of the special treatment he’s been getting. (Heck, his supposed handlers should all be fired for not documenting Pemberton’s movements!)
Fact: Pemberton’s camp only recently paid what the court told him to pay the Laudes.
Fact: As mentioned in the news, Pemberton doesn’t “mind” apologizing to the family of Jennifer… though only via a statement/press release.
Being jailed is supposed to punish AND rehabilitate a person.
In Pemberton’s case… this is arguable.
So stop humanizing him.
When so many of you can’t even treat the victim – Jennifer – as a human being.
In case you’ve (conveniently) forgotten, her life was cut short.
Pemberton shoved her head in the toilet bowl until she died by asphyxiation by drowning. He then escaped after committing the crime.
She was only 26 when Pemberton killed her.
She was a breadwinner of her family.
But she is now gone.
She won’t be able to go to college.
Or study Philosophy.
Or choose any sport to have fun.
And the person who killed her will live freely, even comfortably… and unapologetically.
Stop humanizing him; push to make him accountable for his crime.
Murderer Pemberton’s ‘absolute pardon’ unacceptable, ludicrous – LGBTQIA Filipinos
Unity statement of LGBTQI organizations against Pemberton’s presidential pardon, with the move said to send out a loud and clear message that a Filipino trans woman’s life does not matter and that it is open season for discrimination and violence against trans people.
We strongly condemn the absolute pardon granted by President Rodrigo Duterte to Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US marine convicted for killing Filipino trans woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City in 2014.
President Duterte’s claim that Pemberton has suffered injustice when he served time in a special holding cell in Camp Aguinaldo for just 5 years and 10 months out of a 10-year jail sentence is unacceptable and ludicrous. Pemberton should have served time in the National Bilibid Prison, and the President could have granted presidential pardon to a Filipino instead of an American.
Such acts done by the President at this time confirm how his government has been using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to promote and kowtow to foreign interests which have caused profound suffering, indignity, and injustice to the Filipino people.
In spite of earlier pronouncements from Malacañang calling the Olongapo court’s order to release Pemberton earlier as “judicial overreach,” the President’s pardon shows that his so-called support for the LGBTQI community is just mere posturing and exposes the truth about Duterte and his legacy—that as a leader, he is nothing but unjust, misogynistic, and transphobic.
President Duterte’s pardon of Pemberton sends out a loud and clear message that a Filipino trans woman’s life does not matter, that it is open season for discrimination and violence against transgender people, and that American soldiers will continue to get away with murder in Philippine soil.
We urge the entire LGBTQI community and our allies to unite in our opposition against Duterte’s anti-transgender, anti-LGBTQI, anti-women, and anti-people policies. Contrary to propagandists’ claims that Duterte is the president who has done the most for the LGBTQI community, all he has done is to use the LGBTQI community to further his popularity. His government never served our interests nor protected our rights and lives, and today proves that only a murderer can empathize with another murderer.
Call Her Ganda Documentary
Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas
Pioneer Filipino Transgender Men Movement
Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP Kababaihan, Inc.)
Transman Equality and Awareness Movement (TEAM)
Lagablab LGBT Network
Metro Manila Pride
Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY)
Rainbow Rights Philippines
TUP DUGONG BUGHAW
Gayon Albay LGBT Org., Inc.
True Colors Coalition (TCC)
Bicol University – MAGENTA
KAIBA Academic Collective
UP Babaylan – Baguio Chapter
GALANG Philippines, Inc.
UP Babaylan – Clark Chapter
Pinay sa Holland
Trump-appointed judges void Florida bans on conversion therapy for children
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Enter the alter world
Anti-discrimination ordinance passes final reading in Zamboanga City; awaits mayor’s signature
Trans woman killed; body found in lake in Caloocan
City of Manila passes LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinance
Same-gender couples interact better than heterosexual couples
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LBG individuals use stimulants at higher rates than heterosexuals
Para kay Jennifer
Simple but effective tips on how you can better protect trans women
Transgender people who experience discrimination likelier to have poor mental health
Living with HIV in Digos City
‘Don’t ‘fix’ people; let them decide who or what they want to be’
Pansexual in Mindanao: ‘Falling in love with a person’s soul, not the body parts’
At what cost? HIV service disruptions at the time of Covid-19
Keeping the faith at the time of COVID-19
Being trans at the time of Covid-19 lockdown
Living with HIV at the time of Covid-19 lockdown
LGBTQIA people as Covid-19’s hidden victims forced to choose between risking infection or starving
Trans kagawad at the COVID-19 frontline
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