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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.”

The first time I met Khandie Segovia was sometime in December 2018; past midnight. A cousin needed to borrow something to wear to a costume party (for Christmas), and Khandie is known particularly among “beauconeras (those frequently joining beauty pageants)” to have some. So – keen to meet one of the supposed “sources” of “beaucon (beauty contest)” outfits – I joined the visit to Pasay City, carrying my cam and the hope to be allowed to also interview her.

Khandie’s place isn’t hard to find; people in her area know her (or of her), and they are more than willing to point the way to her place. They’re used to seeing people looking for her, too; going there emptyhanded, and then leaving with various costumes. This happens in reverse after a few days, when the same people go there with costumes on hand, and then leaving emptyhanded after returning what they borrowed.

Pasok lang (Just go in),” this long-haired guy (who was doing laundry in a dark front yard) told us when we entered the gate. It was dark; you had to slowly find your way inside, fearing you may step on something… or anything.

But Khandie wasn’t at home when we first got to her place. Some “trans nene (young transgender girls)” were there, instead, chatting while helping with the bead works on some gowns. They were in the one room that was well lit in the generally dark place; the one room that was apparently filled with people and their chatters.

Khandie, one of them said, just went outside; “She’s busy these days, you know. What with a nationally televised beauty pageant about to happen.”

And the, rushing, she arrived.

Shocked; perhaps even flabbergasted. That was how Khandie reacted when she saw the cam. “Keri lang (It’s okay),” she said when asked about a possible interview, wiping sweat forming on her forehead. But she immediately added: “Huwag ngayon sana; di ako naka-make up (But it’s okay if we don’t do it tonight as I didn’t fix myself)?”

All the same, Khandie toured me – us – around her “palace”: a two-floor house whose rooms are, basically, occupied by the stuff she made/makes and rents.

Her “office” (that well-lit room where the trans nene were) is at the first room at the left side of the ground floor; this is where her ideas are made and/or executed. The room beside this is where the costumes are kept; though – almost always – these costumes may also be found on the hallway leading to the second room, awaiting those who will rent them.

The right side of the house, accessible via more darkened hallway, has two other sections: the space where relatives sleep, and a room where the gowns are kept (some on them on hangers; others in plastic containers and/or on the floor).

The second floor was off-limits; but some trans nene said there are more clothes there.

Makalat talaga (Everything’s a mess),” Khandie excused, picking a gown here and there, and then hanging (or more like stuffing) them here and there.

All the while I was shooting the B roll. And Khandie was “making chika (making small talks)” – about her endeavor (i.e. costume-making), and how it has allowed her to reach out to her biological and LGBTQIA families.

Natulungang nakakatulong (It helped me help others),” she said.

And in so many ways – her contrarian beliefs notwithstanding – this is sort of how Khandie herself summarizes her role as a transgender nanay-nanayan (‘mother’) particularly for younger gay, bi and trans people in her area in Pasay City. That you help her so she can help you; and those who don’t necessarily agree with her be damned.

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Khandie Segovia takes pride in having done something with her life even if she didn’t finish high school (much more college). In fact, she believes education may be important, but people can still succeed without it; and here, she has herself as her own example.

GROWING UP TRANS

Khandie – whose age remains a secret (she mumbles the number on-cam) – originally came from Hagonoy, where her father lived. It took over a month before the interview (this time with a dolled up Khandie) took place; still around midnight, when she said she “peaks”.

In her father’s place, she said she couldn’t live her true self because “may mga paniniwala silang ewan (they had their own beliefs).” But her mom took her in when she was eight years old, which was how she ended up living in Pasay City.

In Grade 1, Khandie said she remembered having girl crushes, so she can say she didn’t know herself yet then. It was only in high school when she realized her true self as a transgender woman.

No, she did not come out; “na-discover na lang nila, nahuli nila ako (they just discovered this for themselves; they ‘caught’ me in ‘action’).” Khandie joined a beauty pageant in a neighboring barangay (village), and people told her mom (and relatives) about it.

Tanggap naman ako (They accepted me),” Khandie said, “so doon na nagsimula (and that’s how it started for me living openly as a transgender woman).”

Khandie has an elder brother, and he wasn’t accepting of her at first. “Paano ba nila ako natanggap? Nung nagkatrabaho na ako. Nung tumayo na ako sa sarili kong paa at natulungan ko na rin sila (How did everyone eventually accept me? When I started working. When I could already look after myself, and even helped support them).”

Even now, actually, Khandie looks after her mom and an aging grandmother; not to mention other relatives who may depend on her.

Khandie was 20 when she started transitioning; that was when “nagsimula akong kumita ng pera (I started earning money),” she said. She was working then as a make-up artist in a KTV bar, and from her earnings, she was able to help support her family, and save enough “para magpa-retoke (to undergo body modifications)” and have capital for a future business.

She takes pride in having done something with her life even if she didn’t finish high school (much more college). In fact, she believes education may be important, but people can still succeed without it; and here, she has herself as her own example.

MISSING INTERCONNECTIONS

Looking back, Khandie said her being trans may have affected her not finishing education.

On the one hand, she encountered anti-trans policies that made not going to school preferable – e.g. not being allowed to present herself befitting her gender identity (as a trans woman) when attending classes.

But on the other hand, or arguably perhaps because the school was not welcoming for people like her, she preferred hanging out with friends, and “naglandi at nag-party (flirt/fool around and party).”

Khandie, nonetheless, doesn’t see how the two are interconnected, and instead consider them as separate incidences.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when one of the trans nene who looks up to Khandie experienced the same discriminatory policy in her school in Pasay City, Khandie was more… “practical”. “Tiis (Put up with it),” she said, and “just graduate fast and then fly faster.”

‘NORMALIZING’ THE STRUGGLE

Nakaranas ba ako ng pam-bu-bully? Siyempre lahat naman ng trans nakaranas niyan (Have I ever experienced bullying? Of course; all transgender people experience that),” Khandie said.

One of Khandie’s earlier memories of bullying was when she was in Grade 5, when a supposed friend refused to allow her to join a party because Khandie was “bakla (gay).”

Now more aware – and even feisty – Khandie said that some people may say that LGBTQIA people should just ignore bullies, but “para sa akin, hindi. Kailangan mong patunayan sa kanila na hindi ka deserving ng discrimination… Kailangan tayo (kumilos bilang) isang baklang matapang (for me, no. We need to show to them that we don’t deserve discrimination… We need to be feisty LGBTQIA people).”

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Resilience served her well, too, so that “sa paningin ko hindi mahirap maging transgender kasi tayong mga transgender people, powerful. Pag sinabing powerful, in a way, magaling tayong dumiskarte. So hindi mahirap (maging transgender) (the way I see it, it isn’t difficult living as a transgender person because we, transgender people, are powerful. When I say powerful, I mean we’re resourceful. That makes being transgender easier).”

CONTRADICTIONS AT THE GRASSROOTS

In so many ways, Khandie is a walking contradiction – e.g. she believes in equal rights and yet is also calling for “separate but equal”/limited rights.

And here, Khandie may also be an exemplification of the “failures” of so-called LGBTQIA “leaders” and this “movement” – i.e. how existing “advanced” discourses on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) and even LGBTQIA human rights do not necessarily reach the grassroots, or even the leaders of small(er) LGBTQIA communities. A reflection – for me – of the continuing selective progress/development, and of how many in the LGBTQIA community continue to be left behind.

Kailangan natin magkaroon ng anti-discrimination bill… sa buong Pilipinas dahil hindi po natin dapat i-discriminate ang LGBTQIA dahil pantay-pantay po tayong dapat mabuhay sa mundong ibabaw (We should have an anti-discrimination policy for the whole country because LGBTQIA people should not be discriminated against because we are all equal while living in this world),” she said.

But Khandie holds strong beliefs contrary to those held (and advocated) by those pushing for LGBTQIA human rights.

For instance, she doesn’t believe trans women should be allowed to join pageants that were traditionally for those assigned female at birth (e.g. Miss Universe). “Bata pa lang ako Miss Universe (at) Miss World na yan eh. Ibig sabihin ng ‘miss’, babae. Ano ba ang babae? Nag-menstruate, a ‘real’ woman can bear a child, and a woman lactates (Even when I was young, those pageants were already for women. And what defines a woman? A woman menstruates, a woman can bear a child, a woman lactates).” And so she believes that trans women should just stick to their own pageants.

Khandie is somewhat aware that: others may not think the way she does (e.g. she mentioned Boy Abunda), and that she could get attacked/bashed for her way of thinking (“Bashers!” she’d say with a smirk). But she continues to firmly believe in gender binary, even if it disadvantages LGBTQIA people like her.

Khandie, by the way, has a live-in partner; they’ve been together for almost 20 years now. But she also doesn’t believe in marriage equality. “Tanggapin lang ng tao ang relasyon (natin) ay isang malaking bagay na. Pero pilitin pa natin sila na tanggapin ang pagpapakasal ay isang malaking bagay na hindi dapat binibigla (For people to tolerate our relationships is aready a big deal, so forcing them to accept same-sex marriage is a huge thing that shouldn’t be rushed).”

Her faith also affected her way of thinking so, as she believes “paglabag ito sa utos ng Diyos” – a reflection of religion’s eventual (harmful) effect on LGBTQIA people’s self-perceptions.

And yet again, Khandie said that her way of thinking may not be popular, but “that’s that” and her attackers/bashers be damned.

Khandie also doesn’t see the “practicality” of the “toilet war (wherein trans people are not allowed to use toilets befitting their gender identity).” Because for her, yes, changing the policies may be a long-term necessity, but if a transgender woman (for instance) isn’t allowed to use the female toilet, “just use the cubicle in a male toilet”. Doing so only takes minutes, she said, and this is better than not being able to use a toilet at all particularly when really needed.

Khandie admits being open to hearing opposing views; and “we start with that: talking.”

Khandie Segovia said that some people may say that LGBTQIA people should just ignore bullies, but “para sa akin, hindi. Kailangan mong patunayan sa kanila na hindi ka deserving ng discrimination.

CARING BY WELCOMING

Terms (such as “trans” and “bakla”) used interchangeably, Khandie noted how some transgender people now prefer to have abs (not breasts), just as how some bi men are really “bakla (gays).”

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But she also said “choice nila ‘yun; lahat naman welcome eh, go lang nang go, laban lang nang laban (that’s their choise; and everyone’s welcome, just go for it, live fighting for it).”

Khandie sees internal homophobia/transphobia (the hate/discrimination given by other LGBTQIA people to other LGBTQIA people) as due to “insecurity.” She believes that “sana tayong LGBTQIA magtulungan na lang tayo, huwag na tayo manira ng kapuwa natin. Kasi sino rin ba yung magtutulong-tulong (kundi) tayo rin naman kapuwa LGBTQIA (LGBTQIA people should instead help each other, stop pulling each other down. Because who else will help LGBTQIA people but other LGBTQIA people)?”

Giving flesh to this belief, Khandie started being “nanay-nanayan ng mga Nenita or batang bakla when I was 30 (I became a ‘mother’ of some sort to younger LGBTQIA people when I was 30).”

At first, they only joined Khandie and assisted her when she joined pageants. Eventually, though, and when Khandie already stopped joining pageants, she started supporting the younger ones in joining pageants.

And “mas marami akong hinahawakang pa-mhinta kasi mas madaling bihisan, hindi kailangan ng (I manage candidates of male beauty pageants; they’re easier to dress and they don’t need to spend a lot on) hair and make-up,” she said, adding – as a joke – that “mas matatalino (they’re more intelligent).”

Khandie makes a living renting clothes and/or costumes, many of them she herself designed and/or made. She also (sort of) finances LGBTQIA people who help her in this endeavor (e.g. doing beadworks, sewing, et cetera).

Hindi ito negosyo (This isn’t a business), she insisted. “Kasama ito sa libangan ko (This is just a hobby).”

In total, Khandie has over 100 gowns and over 85 costumes. She sources the outfits from “all over,” she said – some she made herself from scratch, others were given to her, others she bought from Divisoria, from Taytay (in Rizal Province), from ukayukay (secondhand shops), and from bazaars (particularly those where celebrity clothes are sold).

She said she spent a lot for her collection, but as a way to somewhat earn, she said investing is necessary. Spending big means possibly earning big, though it could also mean losing big, she said.

Going into this industry is also “hindi mahirap (not difficult),” Khandie said, because “sa dami ng naging trabaho ko, ito ang pinakagusto ko, pinakaminahal ko. Dito ako nag-enjoy at dito ako sumaya (among the many jobs I’ve held, this is what I like the most. I enjoy this and find happiness in doing this).”

She doesn’t give a specific price when she rents these outfits because “minsan, talo eh, kaya tulong na lang (at times they don’t win in the pageants, so giving them clothes to wear is my way of helping them).”

For Khandie, pageants will continue to be a big thing, arguably particularly among members of the LGBTQIA community. This may have to do with getting validation onstage, which is a source of happiness. And – as Khandie said – when it’s happiness that is at stake, people go to extra lengths to achieve this… including spending a lot on costumes/gowns even if there’s no guarantee that the expenses will be returned.

Looking forward, Khandie said she just wants to “maintain lahat – pera, lovelife, and health”, and that “hindi naman ako ambisyosa (I’m not ambitious).”

CONSERVATIVE EMPOWERMENT?

In so many ways, Khandie may be deemed “conservative”.

For trans nene, for instance, she said that “puwede namang maging bakla pero konting kontrol lang, huwag naman masyadong bakla kasi hindi tayo tatanggapin ng bigla-bigla (you can be LGBTQIA but be a decent LGBTQIA person because people won’t immediately warmly receive you),” she said. “Huwag yung baklang balasubas; bata ka pa lang nag-i-spaghetti ka na. Siguro yung baklang normal. Baklang tao para ituring tayong tao (Don’t be a swindling LGBTQIA person; present yourself properly like any ‘normal’ person. Act like any human would so you are treated as a human being).

But at this point in her life, too, Khandie said she already realized the value of self-empowerment.

To people who continue to discriminate, Khandie said “bahala kayo patuloy kayong humusga (judge all you want).” This is because “marami na kaming napatunayan – hindi lang sa larangan ng siyensiya, sa pagkanta, sa pagiging artista, even sa politics, meron kaming napapatunayan. Bahala kayong manghusga; pero patuloy kaming tatayo at ipagpapatuloy na ipaglalaban ang karapatan namin (we have proven our worth, not just in science, in the entertainment industry, or even in politics. Judge all you want, but we’ll continue rising up and continue fighting for our human rights).”

The interview ended, but Khandie continued chatting, even giving an invite for a future catching up (sans cam). “There’s more in life – to experience, to know, to learn, et cetera,” she said. And then with a laugh, “parang beaucon lang na sagot no (and that’s just like a contestant’s answer in a beauty pageant, right)?”

We left; it was still dark, just after 2.00AM. The promise of dawn is there, yes, but still dark all the same. Much like the state of grassroots LGBTQIA struggle… and of my mind…

Khandie Segovia believes that “sana tayong LGBTQIA magtulungan na lang tayo, huwag na tayo manira ng kapuwa natin. Kasi sino rin ba yung magtutulong-tulong (kundi) tayo rin naman kapuwa LGBTQIA?

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).

#KaraniwangLGBT

A devotion to public service

A former non-government organization worker on Boracay island, Raffy Cooper, 34, is the first gay barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan. While raising two of his three kids, he hopes younger LGBTQIA people to “better yourself until you’re ready to take flight.”

Published

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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.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

So said Raffy Cooper, the 34-year-old barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan (Malay is where Boracay is).

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Raffy was in Grade 1 when he said he noted having male crushes (his classmates). “I couldn’t explain why I had male crushes then,” he said, adding that he found this “peculiar so I didn’t entertain it then.”

In Grade 6, he became more effeminate; and by high school, “I got interested in using make-up, wearing clothes used by women, and joining gay beauty pageants. My life became complicated because of these.”

Initially, Raffy’s family wasn’t too shocked when they found out he’s gay. “Perhaps because slowly, they noticed I was different.”

Raffy’s aunties also used to dress him up in girls’ clothing, so the “progression” was expected.

But when he started joining beauty pageants, wearing clothes used by women, and even used hormone replacement, “they weren’t very comfortable with those,” he said, adding that the discomfort may have also been because “my family is very religious.”

Raffy has four siblings; all of them are boys. All his brothers didn’t want to have a gay sibling.

“But at the end of the day, with families, no matter the SOGIE you choose, if you love your family and if you don’t bring troubles (for the family), they’ll accept you,” he said. “They’ll come to love you, to accept you. And with what I’ve done in my life, they’re proud of me.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

Overall, by going through everything he did as a gay child, “I think it’s a good experience overall because it allowed me to discover what I can do. It also taught me how to (affect) people for them to realize that even if you are just like that, you still deserve respect.”

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Not surprisingly, Raffy calls for parents of LGBTQIA children to “respect your children. You won’t be able to change them by hitting them or by verbally abusing them, or by discriminating or treating them as less than your other children just because they are LGBTQIA. It’s important to support them so they don’t lose their way. There are parents who do not treat their LGBTQIA children rightly or equally. These LGBTQIA children lose their way; some run away. And when this happens, their lives are ruined. So it’s better to just also respect your LGBTQIA children.”

But he also wants young LGBTQIA people – particularly those still living at home – to obey their parents “because they are raising you. So, study. After studying, when you can support yourself and live away from them, then spread your wings like a butterfly and do whatever you want.”

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Coming as a surprise for many, Raffy actually had a wife; and they have three kids.

“I’m not okay with my wife now,” so “two of my kids are with me now; I send them to school. Our youngest child is with my wife because it’s still a baby.”

Raffy said that having a wife was “somewhat surprising not just for my family but even my community. But what’s important is that I’ve been a good father to my children. I do everything I can to offer the best quality of life to my children, the best education.”

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Raffy believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community. So my children are never underestimated for having a gay father. I think the community even loves them more because I am their father.”

With raising kids as a gay father, “I am more gender-sensitive. Perhaps with straight fathers, there’s this imposition on kids to be macho.”

Raffy’s son, for instance, is not into sports. “He doesn’t like getting dirty or being sweaty. Perhaps if his father isn’t gay, he’d be asked why he’s like that, and he’d be forced to play – say – basketball. For me, it’s okay if he doesn’t like sports. I don’t think (that by not being sporty) he has plans to be part of the LGBTQIA community. But whatever his plans in life are, I’ll support him.”

Raffy Cooper believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community.”

Though he finished BS Biology in college, Raffy’s career path has not be aligned with that field.

“Currently, I’m the barangay secretary of Caticlan. I started working as the barangay secretary last June (2018). This is my first time in public service. I used to work for a non-government organization. Perhaps I caught the eye of the barangay captain, who asked me to work for him. I am enjoying my work because I am directly dealing with people, and I am able to help somehow.”

This is the first time that a member of the LGBTQIA community became a barangay secretary in Raffy’s place, and “my presence there is (deemed) peculiar… a little more colorful. Many are happy with this.”

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Should he choose to also become a local leaders, “my first priority will be empowerment,” Raffy said. “I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is also actually the reigning Queen of Aklan.

When he was younger, he regularly joined beauty pageants, going to far areas just to do so. But he stopped when he had his family.

And then they had Queen of Aklan, and “I got interested to join. Its advocacy was good.”

Malay, where Boracay is, has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Aklan. Meanwhile, Aklan has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Western Visayas.

Boracay is a hotspot for HIV infection because it’s a tourism area. “Here we can say that sex work is also rampant, including members of the LGBTQIA community. This is tolerated, and even accepted, because it’s a product of the tourism industry,” Raffy said. “I’m not saying it’s the main product of the tourism industry, but it’s happening. It’s the reality.”

Raffy thinks that “if we will encourage these people to know their HIV status and teach them how to protect themselves from HIV, the number of people getting infected in Aklan will lessen.” And so for Raffy, “it is very important for a person like me who has the voice for the community to join a contest that will raise awareness about HIV.”

Luckily, he said, he won.

“I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is big on education.

“When you’re LGBTQIA, invest first in your education. Because in the future, you will need a job. You won’t just party or sleep around. It’s okay to discover yourself. But at the end of the day, you have to invest in your education.”

He also sees this as an important tool for self-empowerment.

“To members of the LGBTQIA community, continue to empower yourself. Don’t consider yourself as a lesser human being than other people. You should always be proud of yourself, and always do your best.”

And to people who may continue to frown upon LGBTQIA people: “I think it’s time (for people) to be open-minded that the world is not only filled with straight men and women. There are also people who chose different ways to express themselves/their SOGIE. So we have to be respectful. At the end of the day, your life won’t change by forcing other people to change.”

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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.”

Published

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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.”

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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).”

READ:  Nothing about us without us…

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.”

READ:  Men’s University Cebu: To be a group with a purpose

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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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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