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‘We’ll just keep rising up’

Khandie Segovia, a trans mother figure in Pasay City, has been through a lot in life, with her experiences shaping her somewhat contrarian beliefs. But through it all, she continues to say that people who hate LGBTQIA people may continue the hating, but ‘we’ll just keep rising up to prove we’re fighters’.

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)?”

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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.

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”.

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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

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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.

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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).”

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).”

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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?

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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?

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