Connect with us

Editor's Picks

There but not there (A closer look at forced LGBT invisibility)

Roxas City in the Province of Capiz as a study of forced LGBT invisibility in the Philippines.



ROXAS CITY, PROVINCE OF CAPIZ – Sometime in 2016, 19-year-old Roxas local Kyla* started “walking” the streets of the city and sell herself as a way to make a living. It wasn’t that hard of a decision, she said with a wide smile, summing up her decision with “nasasarapan na ako, kumikita pa ako; reklamo pa ba ako (I’m already having fun, and I earn from it; what’s there to complain about)?”

But behind the smile-shrouded somewhat simplistic justification are layers after layers of LGBT-related issues touching on each other.


Kyla was already in college when she stopped going to school. “Walang pera (No money),” she stated in a matter-of-fact way. At that time, she said she looked for a job to make a living, and then she came across the other sex workers who ply themselves in the plaza in Roxas City.

Kinaibigan ko sila (I befriended them),” she said, adding that while no one specifically told her to enter the sex industry, she was told “kayang-kaya mo ito (this will be an easy job for you).”

The rest – as the cliché goes – is history.

It wasn’t that hard of a decision to do sex work, Kyla said with a wide smile, summing up her decision with “nasasarapan na ako, kumikita pa ako; reklamo pa ba ako (I’m already having fun, and I earn from it; what’s there to complain about)?”

Nowadays, Kyla works almost every day, servicing up to three to four clients a day. It’s needed, she said, if she wants to earn “an okay living.” She charges P150 for oral sex; P300 for anal sex. And no, she insisted, she will not “top” (play the insertive role when having sex) “kasi babaeng babae ako (because I play the stereotypical role of a woman).”

The expanse of the city’s plaza – from the narrow street in front of Land Bank of the Philippines to the front of the city hall/church of the Immaculate Concepcion to the front of the provincial capitol – is sort of divided according to the SOGIE of the sex workers, with transwomen, women and men plying the areas, respectively. At times, though, the workers congregate, such as when dealing with common threats.

There are perils that come with the job, obviously.

Mga pulis, nanghuhuli (Policemen detain us),” she said. “Lahat ng dahilan ibibigay nila – bagansiya daw, menor daw kami, at kung ano-ano pa (They give various reasons when they arrest us – from the anti-vagrancy law (already legally rescinded, though obviously not known by many), to us being minors, or whatever).”

It is not uncommon seeing “some of us scamper,” she said.

And then there are the verbal abuses hurled at them, at times escalating to risks of getting physically abused “usually ng mga lasing na pumupunta sa plaza para maghanap ng aliw (by drunk men who come to the plaza to look for fun),” she said. Again, the scampering happens.

Of course, “naiisip din naming parati na ma-Jennifer Laude (the thought of experiencing what slain transwoman Jennifer Laude experienced also enter our minds),” she said. One time, she recalled a client who wanted to tie her up, and cut her arms with a blade. “Trips na nakakatakot (Fetishes that can be scary).”

Kyla knows of the necessity of using condoms to prevent getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When asked where she gets her supplies of condoms and lubes, she said “binibili ko ang condoms, pero… ano’ng lube (I buy my condoms; but… what’s lube)?”

READ:  Every kiss, a revolution

At 19, Kyla, by the way, isn’t the youngest among these sex workers.

A regularly cited plaza “character” is 16-year-old Ronnie*, also a freelance sex worker who is said to similarly work the streets of Roxas City. As narrated, similar to Kyla’s case, Ronnie’s life exemplifies forked concerns.

This Ronnie is said to be the eldest of 10 kids. His father, at 49, is a mang-uuling (coal-maker) in one of the barangays some five to six kilometers away from downtown Roxas City. His 39-year-old mom stays at home to look after all the other kids. He was 13 years old when he stopped going to school to start working for a construction company. Usually, he’s tasked to mix concrete, carry stuff from one area to another, or – generally – just do as the foreman would tell him. For this, Ronnie supposedly takes home around P2,500 per week. As a minor, Ronnie isn’t legally employed; and as such, his pay is under-the-table. Everything he earns, he sends back to his mom.

Now, as shared, since Ronnie’s less-than-P2,500-per-week earning is not enough to feed his nine siblings and his parents (his dad only earns from P500 per week for making coals), he was said to have been “forced” to look for another way to earn. And so – only last year – when a close friend told him to “kadto sa plaza kung way kuwarta (go to the plaza if you’re broke),” Ronnie was said to be introduced to the sex industry.

And there, in the plaza, regulars talk about how the 16-year-old approached a transwoman, allegedly asking her if she wanted “nga muduwa (to play).” She supposedly agreed to pay him P200 to “play”. He supposedly “topped” her sans protection.

Information like this bring to the fore how the issues of the likes of Kyla and Ronnie aren’t as clear-cut as they seem.

There’s sex work, long considered as the “oldest profession in the world”, though – perhaps particularly in contexts like the Philippines – it continues not to be given proper attention; or if at all, always in maligned ways. That there’s propensity to dismiss this as just “due to poverty”, there’s more to the issue than meet the eyes.

Republic Act No. 10364 (Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012), which amended the earlier RA 9208, declares unlawful “prostitution”, here defined to refer to “any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use of a person by another, for sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct in exchange for money, profit or any other consideration.”

Kyla may have been “forced” into her line of work by her circumstance, but she’s first to say “dili ko prosti (I’m not a prostitute); I’m a sex worker.” That distinction, at least as far as the country’s law is concerned, is non-existent, so that Kyla and people like her are involuntarily forcibly obscured.

A SIDE NOTE: Not surprisingly, when RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) was passed as a law, among the sectors whose silence was notable was the LGBT community, even if some of its provisions may be deemed anti-LGBT or at least not informed by realities in the lives of LGBT people. For instance, Chapter II (Punishable Acts) of RA 10175 considered as an offense “cybersex”, which was defined as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.” Again, sex work – not just prostitution – happens online (also involving LGBT people), which the law fails to even consider.

READ:  Discrimination and lack of support undermine LGBT students' right to education

The case of Ronnie is even trickier, obviously, because he’s a minor.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, local (and grassroots) LGBT leaders Charmel Catalan and Simplicio Vito Jr. claimed familiarity with “hate crimes sa (in) Roxas City.” Among commonly (and frequently) shared such stories include: the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and killings.

A related issue is HIV.

It is worth noting that the HIV/ AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), for one, only started to include those who engage in transactional sex (or those who report that they pay for sex, regularly accept payment for sex, or do both) in 2012, as if it’s a completely new development. But even with the delayed inclusion, a total of 3,941 HIV cases were already reported in HARP from December 2012 to May 2017. Ninety-six percent (3,769) were male and 4% (172) were female. For May 2017, in particular, of the 105 reported cases of HIV infections engaged in transactional sex, most (92%) were male whose ages ranged from 16 to 60 years (median: 28 years).

Suffice to say – or, for those who’d argue, even if it’s just insinuated – that the young: already actively engage in sexual relations, and put themselves at risk (for instance, HIV infection) with their behavior/s. Kyla and Ronnie may well be good examples here.

Particularly because there are community-reported cases like minor Ronnie, Outrage Magazine reached out to the City Social Welfare Development (CSWD) while in Roxas City to specifically ask about local efforts pertaining trafficking of minors here, but no one wanted to speak on an official capacity AS OF PRESS TIME. Instead, the non-official statement given was to “look at the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (RA 9208)”, which the CSWD supposedly follows; and to “only interview us when the proper authorities already agreed for this interview to take place because we’re always busy”.

Still, in the first quarter of 2016 alone, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported 2,147 cases of child abuse, with more than one–fourth of these cases said to be sexual nature. This number was nearly half of the total 4,374 child abuse cases reported in the entire year of 2015.

Surprisingly, a local Roxas City government official (who only gave an answer on this issue on the condition of anonymity) alleged that “walang sex workers sa Roxas City (there are no sex workers in Roxas City).” Officially, she purported, the stance is that “these sex workers came from places like Iloilo City. They take the last trip to Roxas City, work here, then take the first trip out of Roxas City to return home after the night is over.”

This, obviously, belies the very existence of the likes of Kyla and Ronnie.


Beyond the streets of Roxas City, however, are other LGBT-related stories that fail to gain mainstream traction.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, local (and grassroots) LGBT leaders Charmel Catalan and Simplicio Vito Jr. claimed familiarity with “hate crimes sa (in) Roxas City.” Among commonly (and frequently) shared such stories include: the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and even killings.

When validated, particularly the killings, no SOGIE of the people involved were mentioned to the police, so that these were not treated as crimes committed particularly against LGBT people. As such – and instead – “kami-kami lang nakaka-alam (it’s only us who know),” Vito said.

READ:  Firm on upholding the dignity of Filipino LGBTs

From the local LGBT community, “siguro (perhaps) two to three cases of LGBT-related hate crimes happen every year,” Vito said.

That this creates fear in the local LGBT community is a given, Catalan said. “But after a week or two, balik normal (things go back to how they were),” she said. “May magagawa ka ba (It’s not like there’s anything we can do about this)!?”


Ma. Fe S. Salgado, Health Education & Promotions Officer III of Roxas City, lamented the different – not just slow – responses related to HIV in Roxas City, and even the Province of Capiz.

In April 2017, the Province of Capiz already had 107 accumulated cases of HIV infection. “The number has been rising,” Salgado said to Outrage Magazine, “so we’ve been alarmed.”

It is this that drove the local government unit (LGU) to establish its own (satellite) treatment hub so that they can start “at least giving antiretroviral medicines (ARVs), provide counseling and treat common opportunistic infections (OIs).”

But there remain numerous challenges in their HIV-related efforts that also highlight forced invisibility if not of LGBT people, then at least of LGBT issues.

For one, when giving lectures about HIV in local educational institutions, “we’ve been forced to amend the key messages,” Salgado said. The ABC of safer sex, for instance, now no longer reflects A=Abstinence, B=Be mutually faithful, and C=Correct and consistent condom use. Instead, there have been instances when “C” was made to refer to “Close relationship to God.” This approach, Salgado said, “negates the fact that young people –including men who have sex with men – are already exposed to sex even at a young age. (Sans provision of knowledge,) they are not recognized and therefore not served.”

There’s also the issue of not being updated re current HIV-related approaches. People living with HIV in these parts of the country are referred to Iloilo City, where the treatment hub accredited by the Department of Health (DOH) is located. But there, there are practices that remain backward – e.g. allegedly not giving ARVs to PLHIVs unless they reach the AIDS stage, and even if the (inter)national policy is to start treatment as soon possible (not only when someone gets sick); and alleged withholding of giving life-saving services due to the continued delays in releasing confirmatory results from Metro Manila.

Metro Manila’s HIV practices may already be deemed backward in various aspects when compared to Western practices (e.g. availability of newer ARVs, PrEP, U=U). But outside Metro Manila, “mas malala yata (it may be worse),” Salgado said.

Sadder still, these issues do not enter mainstream discourses; and that non-inclusion highlights the invisibility.

Roxas City may be said to be developing; but are LGBT people being left behind?


Kyla thinks she’ll continue working the streets “hanggang may ma-save ako; mag-aaral siguro ulit (until I save enough; perhaps I’d go back to school),” she said. But at 19, “tingan natin. Hindi pa siguro agad-agad (we’ll see; it may not happen immediately).”

She said she knows the risks; “kahit na di pinag-uusapan o ayaw pag-usapan (even if no one talks about them or no one wants to talk about these issues).”

From the city hall, stories swirled about an attempt to tackle at least one of the LGBT-related issues. A councilor – Dr. Cesar Yap – is said to have expressed interest in filing a local ordinance to provide restrooms for LGBT people. Outrage Magazine went to the city hall, including in the office of Dr. Yap and the office of the secretary of the Sangguniang Panglungsod; but not a single person knows of the existence of such an ordinance.

At night along Roxas St., Kyla said “you’d see us. Andito lang kami. Pero kung makikita niyo lang kami (We’re just here. But only if you really see 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).


Paolo, naked

Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino performance artist, uses his naked body as a canvas, believing that art can help the people – both the artist and those who see the artworks. “It makes people think, ask… and feel,” he said, all relevant because “we’re not robots; we’re humans.”



Four years ago, Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino, did his first performance art “ as mema lang (out of whim),” he said. At that time, he just wanted to “tick off something from my bucket list.” But he fell in love with the form, and so stayed with it.

Here’s the thing: In his performances, Paolo is always in the nude since he is a nude artist.

There is reason behind this, he said. “It’s not because it’s something different, or because it’s something new since it’s been done before… but because for me, the feeling (when one is nude) is very vulnerable, and i think it’s my most vulnerable form, and I want to be in that state when I perform so I can emphasize with people.”

To be clear, Paolo is not a performing artist; instead, he is a performance artist.

Performance art is different from performing arts. With the latter, “you are portraying a character that is not you. So you’re using your body as a canvas to create another character. When it comes to performance art, you yourself are the character, and the message you relay is different outside of the text,” he said. “At least that’s what I am doing.”

Paolo noted that there are people who see performances of nude artists as sexual, and he said this is not necessarily true.

On the one hand, just because one is naked doesn’t mean the piece is sexual, as “it could be pure, it could be wholesome (even if the performer is not clothed). And I am able to show these (through my performances), and that (things aren’t) just black and white.”

READ:  Research reveals religious profanity and homophobic terminology among most common swearwords used online

And so, it is worth stressing, “it is not pornography; I am not selling my body, I am just using my body as canvas for my art.”

Paolo said that malice needs to be removed when viewing particularly his performances – i.e. “We don’t give malice when seeing a naked child, so why give malice when seeing a naked adult?” This is particularly true when “they’re not doing anything malicious or anything sexual.”

On the other hand, Paolo said with emphasis, even if the piece is also sexual, it’s not like there’s something wrong with that. “We’re all different; sensuality is different for everyone, just as sexuality is different for everyone. You can be modest and that empowers you, and that’s fine. You could be very, very promiscuous and very sexual, and that empowers you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re responsible with yourself, you’re responsible with dealing with other people, and you know for a fact you’re not stepping on other people’s toes.”

Though Paolo has been inspired by various artists, his main inspiration are the people he deals with. “My interaction creates an experience for me, and from that experience, I get inspired to make more art,” he said.

Paolo said he gets two reactions when he performs. For one, there are people who get “the vulnerability,” he said. And, secondly, “there are times when (people) get intimidated.” But with performance art, “your art is effective when you get a reaction, once it creates discourse.” And so for Paolo, the piece still works “even if only one person gets it.”

READ:  Jhane Dela Cruz elected as first transgender village chief in Hagonoy, Bulacan

There are members of his family who disapprove what he does, though Paolo said this is largely due to security issues – e.g. he could get harassed, or he could be accused of harassing and could get in trouble for this. But Paolo said that he is actually cautious when planning performances, making sure that – yes – he does so in a safe space where he won’t be harassed, and only in contexts where he won’t knowingly end up harassing people.

For those who oversimplify what he’s doing as “just getting naked”, Paolo said performing is actually very draining, not just mentally but also physically. Which is why “I look after my body,” he said, “because I use my body as my canvas and I need to take care of it. I always make sure I am ready for it; it’s strenuous.”

If there’s one lesson his performances taught him, it’s that “we share similar stories,” Paolo said. “We share similar pain, we share similar happiness or success… The levels may be different on how we deal with these, but they’re similar.”

And after his performances, if there is one thing he wants those who see him to take away from seeing him, it’s the ability to “ask questions,” Paolo said. “Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s a start of being curious, of interacting with other people. So if possible, ask all the questions you can ask. It’s a way to grow as a person.”

READ:  Firm on upholding the dignity of Filipino LGBTs

Continue Reading

Editor's Picks

Relevance of public & private sectors’ support highlighted in Quezon City’s 2018 Pride parade

Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.



Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public (including government) and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

Hanz Defensor, who helms Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC), the organizer of the annual gathering, told Outrage Magazine in an exclusive interview that Quezon City is “quite fortunate” that it now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that protects LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

Signed by mayor Herbert Bautista (whose term ends in May 2019), City Ordinance 2357-2014, otherwise known as The Quezon City Gender-Fair Ordinance, eyes to “to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that violate the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, and The Yogyakarta Principles; and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the right of all people; regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

But Defensor said that, “admittedly, kulang pa rin (this is still lacking).” This is because – even if they already have the ADO and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), the actual implementation continues to be challenging.

Quezon City, Defensor noted as an example, has “a lot of business establishments, and while they know that discriminating against LGBTQIA people in the city is prohibited by law, not all of them actually have a copy of the ADO and the IRR to know the small details.”

READ:  Time stood still

As he encouraged particularly those affected by the ADO to “download (the same) from Quezon City’s official website”, he is also encouraging other local government units to already take steps to also protect their LGBTQIA constituents, perhaps learning from Quezon City’s example.

The same sentiment was expressed in a letter sent to QCPC by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, who remarked that Quezon City’s ADO – which also mandates the annual holding of the Pride parade – “has become a source of inspiration for advocates of gay rights in the Philippines and the rest of the world” because “it has institutionalized the city’s progressive and inclusive policy that eliminates discrimination on the basis of SOGIE.”

Though criticized for pinkwashing, Duterte still expressed hope that Pride further strengthens “the solidarity of (the) community so you may inspire the entire nation with the diversity and dynamism of your talents and skills.”

To contextualize, past administrations did not openly support Pride-related events.

Also, even if Akbayan partylist – which is aligned with Liberal Party that helmed the country under Pres. Benigno Aquino III prior to Duterte’s term – has been sponsoring the anti-discrimination bill for almost 20 years now, it still fails to gain traction, including during Aquino’s administration when it was largely ignored.

As an FYI, Quezon City actually hosted the largely accepted first Pride March in Asia.

On June 26, 1994, ProGay Philippines and Metropolitan Community Church helmed a march in Quezon City. Dubbed as “Stonewall Manila” or as “Pride Revolution”, it was held in remembrance of the Stonewall Inn Riots and coincided with a bigger march against the imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT).

READ:  Pacquiao's anti-LGBT position resurfaces, questions proposed anti-discrimination law

Defensor stressed the need to be pro-active when confronting LGBTQIA-related discrimination. While the ADO is there, he said that should LGBTQIA people from Quezon City experience discrimination, “seek help” and know that “QCPC is here, and the LGU will back you.”

Continue Reading

Editor's Picks

3rd Iloilo LGBTQI gathering stresses that #PRIDEisProtest

Iloilo hosted its 3rd LGBTQI Pride parade, with the core message highlighting that Pride remains an act of protest.




The city of Iloilo hosted the third iteration of its Pride parade, with the core message highlighting that Pride remains an act of protest. In a way, this is contrary to the current direction many Pride-related parades are taking – including in Metro Manila – where advocacy is getting trumped by commercialization/partying.

Metro Manila’s LGBT gathering breaks attendance records, highlights ubiquity of LGBT people if not causes

In a statement provided to Outrage Magazine, Carlo Gabriel Evidente of the Iloilo Pride Team said that the move to focus on #PRIDEisProtest is “in recognition of the legacy of the Stonewall Riots, and the continuing gender-based violence and discrimination experienced by persons of various SOGIEs all over the world.”

Irish Granada Inoceto, vice chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, added: “Through this (gathering we hoped to) make all colors of gender visible and celebrated. This is our way of saying we are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Over 2,000 people joined this year’s gathering, the biggest for the three-year-old annual gathering.

Iloilo has actually been making rainbow waves lately.

In June, the city of Iloilo joined the ranks of local government units (LGUs) with LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs), with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) unanimously approving its ADO mandating non-discrimination of members of minority sectors including the LGBTQI community.

Iloilo City passes anti-discrimination ordinance on final reading

Following this, in August, Iloilo Mayor Jose S. Espinosa III declared the city as “LGBT-friendly”, with plan to establish an office that will develop programs and activities for the LGBT community.

Iloilo declared as ‘LGBT-friendly’ city; mayor eyes to establish office to handle LGBTQI-related efforts

For Inoceto, “as long as Pride remains inclusive of the issues of the most marginalized, when it continues to be a platform for the courage of those who stand for LGBT rights and human rights, Pride will never grow passé.”

READ:  Every kiss, a revolution


Continue Reading

Editor's Picks

Malabon passes anti-discrimination ordinance on the basis of SOGIE

Malabon City now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that prohibits: discrimination in schools and the workplace, delivery of goods or services, accommodation, restaurants, movie houses and malls. It also prohibits ridiculing a person based on gender and/or sexual orientation. Penalties for discriminatory act/s include imprisonment for one month to one year, a fine of P1,000 to P5,000, or both.



Still slow national move; better local endeavors.

In the absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos, a growing number of local government units are taking the lead in ensuring that LGBTQI-related discrimination is checked. And now the city of Malabon has joined the list of LGUs with an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO).

City Ordinance 16-2018, signed on September 10 by Mayor Antolin Oreta III, declares “as a policy of Malabon City to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that offend the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights.”

Among the prohibited acts in the ADO are: discrimination in schools and the workplace, delivery of goods or services, accommodation, restaurants, movie houses and malls. It also prohibits ridiculing a person based on gender and/or sexual orientation.

Penalties for discriminatory act/s include imprisonment for one month to one year, a fine of P1,000 to P5,000, or both.

As with other ADOs, the Malabon ordinance similarly mandates the creation of the Malabon City Pride Council, tasked to monitor complaints, assist victims of stigma and discrimination, as well as recommend to the city council additional anti-discrimination policies and review all existing resolutions, ordinances and codes if these have discriminatory policies.

The same Pride council will oversee the implementation of an anti-discrimination campaign and the organization of LGBTQI groups in the barangays of the city.

The Malabon ADO also aims to include anti-discrimination programs (including psychological counseling, legal assistance, and forming of barangay-level LGBTQI organizations), with the budged to be sourced from the gender and development (GAD) plans, projects and programs (uo to 5%).

READ:  How long does sex last?

The ADO also tasks the Malabon police station to investigate cases involving violence based on SOGIE.

Also with the ADO, Malabon will now commemorate LGBTQI-related events, including the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17; Pride parade in December; World AIDS Day on December 1; and Human Rights Day on December 10.

Continue Reading

Editor's Picks

What it’s like to be trans in Taiwan

Tamsin Wu visits gay-friendly Taiwan, where she meets Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), who said that the country is still failing its LGBTQ citizens, and particularly lags in promoting trans rights.



Photo detail by Thomas Tucker from

Taiwan may be the most gay-friendly country in Asia, but according to Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), the country still receives a “failing mark” when it comes to LGBTQ equality. Transgender people, in particular, usually bear the brunt of sex-based discrimination.

ISTSCare has a one-woman 24/7 hotline service. Abby has dealt with calls concerning struggles related to suicide attempts, job insecurity or homelessness, and even domestic violence. To provide support and assistance to hotline callers, ISTSCare also partners with NGOs and other LGBTQ-related organizations.

Aside from the hotline service, the organization does its advocacy work through protests, by maintaining an online presence, as well as directly communicating with political figures and trans-friendly journalists to rouse awareness and discussion on transgender and intersex issues.

ISTSCare in Taiwan

In 2014, four years after the first official notice regarding gender reassignment procedures in Taiwan was issued, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), with the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), announced the easement of legal requirements on changing gender identity. MOI promised that it would immediately work on letting transgender citizens change their gender marker without having to go through rigorous psychiatric assessments, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and parental approval. However, MOI backtracked since then.

“MOI, which is handling the national ID cards, they said there are still a lot of research to do about the gender issue and they try to get some professional opinions, but MOHW already said this is not a medical issue, it’s an internal affair issue. So MOI, they’re just under the pressure and paused a lot of meetings… and now the issue is still under research for four years,” Abby lamented. “We’re the first Asian country to pass the bill but it’s not implemented.”

READ:  What will Bam Aquino do?

Despite MOHW already stating that medical professionals should not have a say when it comes to determining one’s gender identification, transgender citizens are still presently forced to consider SRS. Besides that, they are also required to seek the expensive involvement of psychiatrists and, outrageously, the consent of their parents. Otherwise, their gender identity cannot be legally recognized.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity. Hence, SRS is especially discriminatory towards transgender citizens who do not wish to undergo surgery. “What is gender? Is it just based on our anatomy? Or is it in our behavior? In our mind? Or in the way we dress?… There are a lot of factors that influence what gender one identify as, but society focus on the least publicly visible aspect – our sex organ.”

Abby continued, “There are risks to surgery and that is one of the reasons why not all transgenders want to go through it. And also, they may question themselves, ‘Do I really want to have surgery or is it just for the sake of getting this ID?’”

Abby standing beside the transgender pride flag.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

“One day before the presidential election, I went to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) headquarters to talk with the Department of Woman. I told them, ‘tomorrow is already the day for voting, are you going on stage and advocate for transgender rights? This has been neglected for the past 3-4 years. Then they just told me, ‘this requires social consensus’… I went out of that meeting deeply upset,” Abby shared.

READ:  Jhane Dela Cruz elected as first transgender village chief in Hagonoy, Bulacan

With lack of funding, community support and societal understanding of trans issues, how could transgender rights obtain social consensus when this feat requires acceptance and approval from the status quo in order for the relevant social change to take effect? Why should the rights and well-being of a minority group fall in the hands of the majority? Currently, both the public and the government possess inadequate knowledge in dealing with transgender issues, which exacerbates the struggles transgender citizens face.

Prejudice against transgender folks can also be felt within LGBTQ communities. On one hand, some non-transgender members of the LGBTQ community question the gender identity of trans people. On the other hand, there is also internalized transphobia.

“A lot of transgender are more binary [in the way they see gender]. They think a man should act and look a certain way and that a woman should act and look a certain way… ISTSCare does not condone this kind of thinking,” Abby said.

Trans activist Abbygail Wu and her partner in a protest for their marriage right.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

When asked why ISTSCare is run by only three people (including Abby and her partner), she shared that many transgender citizens in Taiwan find it difficult to prioritize doing advocacy work because their life situation is oftentimes mentally and emotionally taxing. On top of having to deal with an unsupportive family, they often face discrimination in the job market. Hence, there’s a high level of difficulty for them to get a good job, gain professional working experience and make a decent living, let alone have the financial resources to go through SRS. As of now, they’re in this loop of societal discrimination and economic vulnerability with no recourse.

READ:  Nothing quite like a sibling bond

Another reason for the lack of transgender-focused activists in Taiwan is attributed to the problem of privilege. Abby adds that well-off transgender citizens tend to be exclusive in their social group. Post-surgery and after assimilating in heteronormative society, they also tend to ignore the struggles faced by less fortunate transgender citizens. They would rather not get associated for fear of being found out and face discrimination. Albeit joining Pride Parades, they are at other times nowhere to be found when it comes to advocating for transgender rights.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity.
Photo credit: Abbygail Wu

Abby said that ISTSCare’s main goal right now is to push for a non-discriminatory, comprehensive gender identity law in Taiwan.

“We hope to be like Argentina. Just file [required] papers to the courthouse and they will assign the legal gender change. No need to go through any kind of medical process.”

Having a well thought out gender identity law may not help solve all transgender issues and alleviate them from all of their struggles. However, getting the said law done and implemented right would be one significant progress for the recognition of the human rights and dignity of, not only transgender citizens, but also intersex and non-binary people.

Continue Reading

Editor's Picks

Chance of HIV-positive person with undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sex partner is scientifically zero

The PARTNER 2 study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.



Confirmed and needs to be stressed: The chance of any HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sexual partner is scientifically equivalent to zero.

This is according to researchers who released at #AIDS2018 the final results from the PARTNER study. Results originally announced in 2014 from the first phase, PARTNER 1, already indicated that “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” (U=U). But while the first study was lauded in tackling vaginal sex, the statistical certainty of the result did not convince everyone, particularly in the case of gay men, or those who engage in anal sex.

But now, PARTNER 2, the second phase, only recruited gay couples. The PARTNER study recruited HIV serodifferent couples (one partner positive, one negative) at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. They tested the HIV-negative partners every six to 12 months for HIV, and tested viral load in the HIV-positive partners. Both partners also completed behavioral surveys. In cases of HIV infection in the negative partners, their HIV was genetically analyzed to see if it came from their regular partner.

And the results indicate “a precise rate of within-couple transmission of zero” for gay men as well as for heterosexuals.

The study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

PARTNER is not the only study about viral load and infectiousness. Last year, the Opposites Attract study also found no transmissions in nearly 17,000 acts of condomless anal sex between serodifferent gay male partners. This means that no transmission has been seen in about 126,000 occasions of sex, if this study is combined with PARTNER 1 and 2.

READ:  How long does sex last?

While this is good news overall in the fight against HIV, related issues continue to plague HIV-related efforts, particularly in countries like the Philippines.

Why aren’t we talking about ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ in the Philippines?

For instance, aside from the overall silence on U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) continue to be low. As of May 2016, when the country already had 34,158 total reported cases of HIV infection, Filipinos living with HIV who are on anti-retroviral therapy (i.e. those who are taking meds) only numbered 14,356.

The antiretroviral medicines in use in the Philippines also continue to be limited, with some already phased out in developed countries.

All the same, this is considered a significant stride, with science unequivocally backing the scientific view helmed in 2008 by Dr. Pietro Vernazza who spearheaded the scientific view that viral suppression means HIV cannot be passed via a statement in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine.

Continue Reading


Most Popular