“We always have to come out every day.”
That, in not so many words, was how singer/songwriter/actor Aiza Seguerra described to Outrage Magazine his way of living with his wife, actress/model/former beauty queen Liza Diño. This may highlight Aiza’s somewhat positive take on humanity as a whole, particularly considering how society could be cruel to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community.
“Ang mga tao, perhaps ignorant lang tungkol sa atin (Perhaps people are just ignorant about LGBTQI people),” he said. “They are not necessarily judging us.”
This is why “we came to a point to be more proactive, not defensive,” Liza said. “We educate.”
And this is also why Aiza and Liza became active LGBTQI activists – a move that is, perhaps, somewhat also forced upon them considering their celebrity status that they now use to communicate to people about what may well be considered as the new normal where LGBTQI people are not seen as unusual.
BEHIND THE NEWS
Filipinos are familiar with Aiza who, basically, grew right before everyone’s eyes. Introduced to local showbiz industry in Eat Bulaga’s ‘Little Miss Philippines’, a beauty pageant for girls, Aiza built a successful career first as a co-host of the noontime TV show, and then as a child star. The acting continued as Aiza grew, but a career path as a singer/songwriter also ensued, with the introduction of highly popular “Pagdating ng Panahon” introducing Aiza as a serious voice in the music industry.
Gossips (if not jokes) about Aiza’s sexuality have been making the rounds even then, perhaps also based on the Aiza’s (stereotypically masculine) self-expression. Comic artist Nanette Inventor, for instance, had a spiel in one of her shows where she gave diva titles to local singers – e.g. Regine Velasquez is “Asia’s Songstress”, Sara Geronimo is “Pop Diva”, and Pops Fernandez is “Concert Diva”. That joke’s punchline was Aiza, who Inventor said is “Di-va-bae”, a play at “Hindi babae” or “Not a girl/woman.” It may just be dismissed as a joke, but it dehumanizes someone for not being cisgender while highlighting lack of knowledge and awareness on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE).
In 2014, Aiza first came out as a lesbian; though that same year, he subsequently came out as a transgender man (according to him, after finally understanding after reading lots of materials about being transgender, comprehension dawning on him on why he was unable to fully identify with being a lesbian).
Aiza and Liza actually first met in 1999, when – after becoming fast friends – they became an item for several months. But timing wasn’t right then, so they broke up and went their separate ways.
In 2012, Liza came back to the Philippines to shoot a film. She messaged Aiza, which led to them rekindling what they had. In 2014, Aiza asked Liza’s parents for the latter’s hand in marriage. And then on February 7, 2014, Aiza proposed to Liza. In December 2014, Aiza married Liza.
Liza herself is not new to the spotlight. A graduate of BA Speech Communication from the University of the Philippines, she acted for Dulaang UP. She joined Mutya ng Pilipinas, winning the title of Mutya ng Pilipinas-Tourism International to represent the country in Miss Tourism International pageant in 2001.
What they now have – particularly since it’s very public – is helping redefine “normal” re relationships, re families in the Philippines; and this is even if, in truth, the only main difference with what they have is the SOGIE of the people involved in the relationship.
“Kahit ako noon, ang akala ko (Early on, even me, I thought) our relationship was that of a gay person’s and his/her lover,” said Liza with a laugh. “But I’ve had relationships with heterosexual men in the past, and what we have (has the same dynamics as those relationships).”
For that matter, relationships are similar anyway, in the sense that they involve people who want to be together.
When the couple had their second ceremony in the Philippine (they first wed in the US, where the country’s Supreme Court upheld marriage equality), Aiza said to Liza: “You have no idea how happy you’ve made me. I feel different when we’re together; I’m so alive… If there’s one person who will love you and accept you for who you are, especially the bad (side), it’s me. Don’t be afraid. Whatever happens, I will be here.”
Liza, in turn, said to Aiza: “As you continue to discover yourself as a person, trust that I will be there to embrace you, to support you 100 percent.”
Liza’s seven-year-old daughter, Amara Espinosa, now calls Aiza “Dad”.
Liza is first to recognize that not everyone may be ready to accept what she and Aiza has. But “we went through a lot to make this happen,” she said in an earlier interview, citing among others seeking divorce for a previous marriage in the US, just so they had “all bases covered.” In this particular instance, the advocacy for the specific right of LGBTQI people to be with people they choose to love is stressed by “standing by what we believe in”.
This is also why Aiza is very protective of Liza – a protectiveness he once said others who are also married would understand. “I think most of us na may asawa maintindihan nila. Ako tirahin nila, wala akong pakialam. When it comes to my wife, siguro doon lang ang ‘di ko kinakaya (I think all of us with a wife will understand. They can attack me, I don’t care. When it comes to my wife, perhaps that’s what I won’t put up with),” he was quoted as saying once.
The couple initially planned to have a baby by vitro fertilization (IVF) by the end of 2016, using Aiza’s egg cell with Liza carrying the child. But the plan was shelved due to financial reasons, and because of the additional responsibilities given to both when they got government positions in the Rodrigo Roa Duterte administration. Aiza is the chairman of the National Youth Commission, while Liza is the chairperson of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP); both will serve in these positions for three years.
CHANGING WAYS OF SEEING
In their respective official positions, Aiza and Liza hope to effect changes beneficial to the LGBTQI community.
As the first transman appointed in his office now, Aiza said that he is “happy this happened. Maraming tinatanggal sa trabaho (A lot of employees are fired) due to their SOGIE and wala silang nagagawa (they can’t do anything about this),” he said. “I’m happy that I don’t have to hide (who I am).”
Beyond himself and as an LGBTQI advocate, “sa youth, napakarami na susceptible sa bullying, suicide, ‘di tinatanggap sa work (there are many who are susceptible to bullying, suicide, not accepted at work),” he said. “This is why dapat ipagalanap ang SOGIE awareness (This is why SOGIE awareness should be extensively taught).”
“Respect and acknowledgement (of LGBT people) doesn’t violate personal paniniwala (beliefs),” Liza said. “You can still be a Christian, for instance, but be respectful of others.”
Liza hopes for FDCP to be able to push forward films exploring LGBT issues (“And those that tackle not just relationships, but day to day truths,” she said) while also supporting Pride-related festivals.
There’s still much that needs to be done, Aiza and Liza admit. Even the LGBT community is rife with fighting, with members “na nag-aaway-away (that are fighting each other),” Liza said. “I’d like to think it’s not just about pera (money) and egos. The community is already marginalized, and it’s disappointing that we further marginalize ourselves.”
For Liza, “our approach should be more encompassing so we become more inclusive.”
But both Aiza and Liza are comforted by the fact that “there are a lot who want to fight for our rights.”
“It inspires me that there are those who choose this path,” Aiza said.
And the path to promoting LGBTQI inclusion need not be THAT grand.
One time, online site Rappler wrote about Aiza and Liza and they misgendered Aiza, using the female pronoun to refer to him. “Nangati ang tenga ko (Literally: ‘My ears got itchy’, though also referring to the sense of discontent after coming across something that is not liked),” Aiza said.
Liza recalled writing to Rappler, thanking it for the media coverage/article, but also asking “if they may want to change the pronoun used,” she said.
“Siguro nakasanayan lang (Perhaps they’re just used to it [the wrong practices]),” Aiza said.
And while at this stage Aiza said he “doesn’t take offense, we have to be assertive.”
And it is this assertiveness that is also being eyed to finally, FINALLY regularize being LGBTQI even as the very definition of “normal” is challenged to include those who do not necessarily conform to socially-dictated stereotypes of “acceptable”. The world can’t change fast enough, after all, to finally acknowledge that it now has a new normal…