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.”
“The biggest thing I learned in life is to ignore people who discriminate against you. Ignore whatever they say. Treat them like a barking dog. Like a stray dog that keeps barking. Because the more you ignore their discrimination, the more they shut up.”
So said Sophia Ordinan who hails from Manticao in Misamis Oriental in Mindanao, south of the Philippines.
People should “open their minds,” she said. “People should just embrace what they see. You criticize others, you discriminate, but look at yourself first and discern if you are perfect.”
Only 21, Sophia already has numerous “hugot” sources where she derives these things she’s saying.
Even before she was born, her parents already separated. So that from 1-2 years old, she stayed with her biological Mom, moving to her maternal grandparents at 3. “I tried living with my Mom again, but my stepfather didn’t want me there, as he hated me being what I am,” Sophia recalled, so that “I returned to my grandparents until I was 9, when I started living in an orphanage until I turned 18.”
Scattered throughout her short life, Sophia had to – among others – have a heart transplant, decide to allow her Mom to die while giving birth to a younger sibling, and, yes, find herself as a transgender woman living at the fringes of society. “Been through a lot,” she said to Outrage Magazine, though not even with a hint of bitterness.
Sophia knew she’s different in elementary school. “At that time, I didn’t like playing with boys. I always played with girls,” she recalled.
One of her earliest memories was using the clothes of a lesbian classmate. “I told her, ‘Lend me your dress, lend me your skirt.’ So I was the one who wore her skirt, her dress. In turn, she wore my pants, my clothes. The white undershirt she wore, I innovated as my hair.”
Her grandparents – who raised her – were initially not supportive of her. So “I only expressed myself while in school; where I was able to say, ‘This is my freedom. This is what makes me happy’,” Sophia said.
One time, her grandparents went to observe her in school. When she went home, they confronted her, asking her how she identified as. Though she initially denied, she was forced to come out, telling them “I can’t stop myself from being me, from what I really feel.”
In a way she was “lucky” since they eventually accepted her.
Before her grandmother passed away, for instance, “I remember her telling me she knew this is what makes me happy. She told me to love myself, those who accept me, and those who don’t accept me. She told me not to bear grudges when people laugh at me or discriminate me.”
A WOMAN’S HEART – LITERALLY
Turning serious, Sophia said: “I should tell you, I have a bad health condition. I am a trans woman who had transplant. My heart now is no longer mine.”
In 2013, entering her teens, Sophia was diagnosed for having tetralogy of Fallot, a rare medical condition caused by a combination of four congenital (or present at birth) heart defects. These defects that affect the structure of the heart cause oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and to the rest of the body.
Exactly how rare is TOF? In the Philippines, the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) only performs – on average – TOF surgeries to around 50 patients per year.
Thinking back, Sophia remembered being told that there was a hole between her atrium, and this – in turn – affected her in… everything – e.g. she had episodes of passing out or losing consciousness, she couldn’t eat (i.e. she threw up what was fed her), her teeth became brittle, etc.
“The doctor told me, you won’t live past 12 years old. If you live past 12, you’d be blessed. We monitor you again until you turn 18. If you live beyond 18, you’ll only live until 20. That’s the limit for you if you don’t get surgery,” Sophia said.
Nonetheless, “I refused to be depressed or sad. I said to myself, ‘There’s a God. Why listen to a doctor? He’s just a doctor.’ We don’t know God’s plans for me.”
One time, a pastor from a local orphanage approached Sophia. That orphanage – Christian’s Haven, used to be located in Tuod, just outside of Manticao – changed her life in a big way.
“The pastor asked me if I wanted to stay in the orphanage,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘If it’s what’s good for me, that’s what I want’. I didn’t know then that it was God’s way for me to get my surgery.”
Sophia’s operation was supposed to happen at the Philippine Heart Center. But a doctor there said, ‘We can’t handle her case.’ The doctor said, ‘It’s our first time to handle such a case; it’s a rare one.’ No doctor successfully handled a case like mine in the Philippines. They said there was hole in my heart; but the hole wasn’t in my heart itself, it’s in the atrium of the heart.”
By then, Sophia – with her teeth literally crumbling even when she tried chewing small food items, just as she was dealing with a really bad skin condition – was already having heart attacks. “I often fainted/collapsed. I couldn’t eat anymore. My body rejected the food given to me.I threw up everything, even water.”
The surgery happened in San Francisco, California in 2013, when she was 12. She didn’t know the person whose heart she has now; just that it was from a sickly person who was a former friend of the pastor who headed her orphanage. Her heart donor was a woman.
After heading back to the Philippines, Sophia said she noticed some changes. Particularly, “I became emotional. But the doctor told me this already; that my emotions will change. My heart now is a woman’s heart. This makes me more womanly,” she laughed.
LEARNING FROM HARSH LIFE
Sophia has a sibling via her Mom. The sibling, however, didn’t come without a price – so to speak.
Though she was already living with her grandparents, she had to visit her mom in the hospital. “Her tummy bloated; though I don’t know her medical condition. She was pregnant then, and the doctor made us choose who we wanted to be saved: my biological Mom, or my sibling,” Sophia recalled. “The doctor made me choose.”
Sophia said she chose for her sibling to live. “I thought my Mom already enjoyed what the world can offer. The last thing she said to me was sorry because she wasn’t a perfect mother. That we may lose her, but she’s leaving behind a memory: my sibling.”
Sophia is also used to hard work – e.g. when she was in high school, she used to do neighbors’ laundry so she’d have money for school. If she needed extra money, she went door-to-door, asking even more neighbors if they needed more tasks done – e.g. cleaning the house. “Don’t be choosy,” she said.
She is now taking up Business Administration at Initao College; she’s financing her education by working while studying.
Looking back, “I have experienced a lot of discrimination,” Sophia said. “My name was posted online once. They said I’m a scammer. That I cheat on people. That I’m a gay person who will amount to nothing. Everything they say about me, I hear. But I don’t keep in my mind.”
Sophia had a boyfriend for 10 months, though they eventually broke up.
“He didn’t find a woman to replace me,” she said. “But he was always working. He didn’t come home even when he didn’t have to work. I felt he lost interest in me (even if) he sent me money to support me.”
Sophia admitted having an affair, and told the guy that “if he wanted to leave me, then leave. So he did,” she said, half-laughing. “He left me crying. I cut my wrist.”
The guy supposedly wants them back together again. “But I don’t want this anymore. Because if he comes back in my life, he may hurt me again. I don’t want this anymore. I’m afraid to get hurt, but I don’t fear hurting people.”
Sophia said she has many suitors. “I bluntly tell them I’m trans. Some reject me when they find out. Some decide to stay. But… I know what they’re after. They just want money. Because (I) have a job.”
For Sophia, LGBTQIA people should also be given attention because “we’re also human.”
There are LGBTQIA issues she thinks that should be given attention.
For one, “people here in Manticao have not been properly educated about HIV.”
Secondly, “(we also) need to organize to give attention to younger LGBTQIA people.”
And lastly, there’s the need to unite the LGBTQIA community. “I’m not sure if it’s only me who experienced this as there are rich LGBTQIA people who didn’t, but when good-looking LGBTQIA people see you, an ugly one, they say, ‘What kind of LGBTQIA person is this?’, ‘Disgusting gay person!’, ‘That gay person looks like a monkey!’. They actually say this to other LGBTQIA people. We shouldn’t be saying these. Instead, we should say good things. ‘Hi, dear, how are you? Are you well? How’s life?’. We need to show kindness. Because at the end of the day, only LGBTQIA people can help each other,” Sophia said.
WORDS OF WISDOM
She wants younger trans people to study “if there’s still time to focus on your studies. Your parents won’t be with you all the time,” she said. And “when you’ve achieved something in life, it’s time for you to repay the sacrifices your parents did for you.”
Like her who was rejected by both biological parents, she said if one LGBTQIA person isn’t supported by his/her/their parent, then “succeed for yourself; do the hard work for yourself.” Just as she did in the past, doing her neighbors’ laundry, cleaning houses, etc so she could continue studying.
But she hopes that parents of LGBTQIA children will just support their kids.
“If you want to change them, and they can still be changed, then glory to God. But if they can’t be changed anymore, still give glory to God,” Sophia said. “Just be thankful for everything; just accept them as they are.”