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What it’s like to be a trans Lumad woman in Zamboanga City

Meet #Tausug #transgender community leader Jaya Jaud from #Zamboanga, who laments the lack of a unified #LGBTQIA voice, making #discrimination easier to happen in and out of the #rainbow community.

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“Is it difficult to be transgender in Zamboanga?” asked Jaya Jaud, 42. “It’s not that hard. But it depends on you having a well-educated and open-minded family.”

Jaya should know, as she was born as a Muslim/into Islam (“I’m a Tausūg”).

One of the largest of the Muslim ethnic groups of southwestern Philippines, Tausūg (from tau = “people of the current” and sug = “people”) are also called sa Joloano, Sulu or Suluk. Many are Sunni Muslims, and can be described as conservative.

Jaya remembered her “religious” father who “really tried to make me change (the way I see myself),” she said. “That since I was assigned male at birth, I should be masculine.”

Jaya remembered one time, when she was maybe nine years old, “my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I said I wanted to be a beauty queen, a model. He was baffled. As a child, it wasn’t my ambition to become a doctor or such. I wanted to be a woman.”

Looking back, even as a child, “I always questioned myself, thinking that my body is not what I wanted. I couldn’t understand why I preferred women’s clothes, why I was attracted to dolls, why I was feminine. There was a mismatch with my body. So even when I was young, I knew I’m different.”

Jaya’s father told her “that since I wanted to be like this, I didn’t have a choice but to change my religion. To seek another faith to believe in.”

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The “good” thing is, Jaya’s mother belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, so she ended up following her mother’s faith, thinking “acceptance is easier here than with Islam.”

Still, Jaya said that the whether a place is harsh for LGBTQIA people or not is not necessarily dependent on geography. Instead, “being accepting is in the heart of people; it has nothing to do with their location.”

Jaya remembered her “religious” father who “really tried to make me change (the way I see myself),” she said. “That since I was assigned male at birth, I should be masculine.”

BLOSSOMING OF JAYA

While still schooling, Jaya used to be a part of an artists’ club. “I had curly hair as well. I used to sing the songs of Jaya, the… singer. From that moment, I was called as Jaya.”

Later, she met someone from Malaysia, and the person “validated that the name is good. It means ‘victory’. So I really adapted the name.”

Being discriminated in the community always happens, said Jaya.

In her case, “the way I present myself can be startling to people. They tend to judge me, discriminate against me. They tell me I’m so loud. And that if I wanted to be treated as a woman, I shouldn’t act or dress in certain ways.”

Jaya is frank, telling them “I present myself in a way that’s comfortable for myself.”

There are times when discrimination happens within the family.

“For instance, as the first child, I should be consulted in decision-making. But my father told me this isn’t possible since ‘You’re gay’. So somehow I also see the discrimination within that context. Family members still see these gender roles. This is also unfair because I am capable of doing things,” Jaya said.

Jaya’s mother also has a trans sibling, “so it was easier for her (to accept me) because she already adjusted,” she said.

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Her siblings do not have issues with her being trans as well, supporting her in everything she does. “But also remember that among us, it was me who excelled. I did well academically… and in just about everything. So they’re so proud of me even if I’m like this.”

Re discrimination: “On your part, you just have to understand them. Accept that they’d also discriminate against you. But if you’re close to them, start educating them. I think that’s the best thing you can do. If they still don’t understand, make them understand.”

Jaya said that the whether a place is harsh for LGBTQIA people or not is not necessarily dependent on geography. Instead, “being accepting is in the heart of people; it has nothing to do with their location.”

LOVE WILL COME

Jaya has been single for two years now.

But love, she said, is “a destiny.”

“If God gives you love, it will come. You don’t have to look for it,” Jaya said.

Of course “you also have to do something for yourself. If you really want to be loved, you also have to sell yourself. You should show yourself to people. How will you be seen or noticed if you don’t market yourself? That’s the part you need to do.”

TRANS-CENTRIC SERVICES

Jaya’s focus now, however, is on trans and HIV advocacies.

“What trans issues should we focus on? Well, there are health concerns still not addressed by the government. For instance, the distribution of hormone therapy (to trans people) is still not legalized in our country. The government knows the existence of trans people. But trans people have special needs that need to be supported by the government. But until now, there’s still no clear policy or even health services for the trans community,” she said.

Jaya hopes that a trans community clinic will be established in Zamboanga City “so trans people here will have a place to go to for their health issues, and other services that they need. This will legitimize us, make us more acceptable. This way, we don’t have to hide. We won’t need to access treatment from the black market.”

Jaya also noted that the trans community isn’t always united.

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“Right now, trans people speak of different issues. Sometimes they’re contradicting each other; we’re not unified,” she said.

For Jaya, a good example is the belief of trans people (women, in particular), that they should not be allowed to join beauty pageants that used to be only available to those assigned female at birth. Policies have been changed by the likes of Miss Universe, for instance, to allow transgender women to also compete; and yet there are trans Filipinas who actually oppose this.

“Educating the trans community about SOGIESC is the basic knowledge that we need,” Jaya said, adding that “this will help unify our voices, unify our cause.”

She added: “It’s not all about beautification; we should fight for something.”

With HIV, Jaya has been offering community-based HIV services for years now. In 2020, in fact, when HIV-related services were affected by lockdowns, she was among the who lamented this “neglect of the other pandemic”. For her, this is problematic because even as COVID-19 is there, other health issues – like HIV – did not go away.

In the end, “the only thing I can promise is, I will be in the trans advocacy as long as I’m alive. I’ll be in HIV advocacy for as long as I can work on it. My heart is in these. My dedication is there. Don’t expect much from me… just that I’d keep going.”

EVOLVING LGBTQIA MOVEMENT

“The good thing about the LGBTQIA movement now is it’s already in barangays. There are also LGBTQIA federations in big cities,” Jaya said. But the presence of LGBTQIA communities does not guarantee all its members are fighting for the same things.

And so for Jaya, “we all need to agree on what we’re fighting for. We should not let ourselves to be used, especially by politicians. Let’s continue the legacy of those who came before us. And this time, let’s push for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill that we really need. Education is needed to capacitate ourselves. Do not be ignorant about our issues.”

Yes, Jaya recognizes that there will always be people putting down LGBTQIA people. “To (them, I say) there’s nothing you can really do about us; we exist,” she said.

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Personally, though, “I can’t do anything if they look down on me. The best thing I can do is prove myself to them. That I’m worthy to exist. I need to prove to them that nothing bad will happen just because I am true to myself. I will fight for this; and I don’t care what people will say.”

“Right now, trans people speak of different issues. Sometimes they’re contradicting each other; we’re not unified.”

Nowadays, LGBTQIA people (and those who profit off the LGBTQIA movement, including many LGBTQIA people themselves) surface for Pride in June. And Jaya said that “the fact that we observe Pride every June, we already have pride.”

But this “pride” is incomplete.

“We need to keep pushing because it’s lacking. The acceptance of society is still not how we want it to be,” Jaya said. “We’re getting there. We just need to push harder. This way, we’d have equality and recognition, which are what we really need.”

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