Thursday, 23 December 2010
Here's wishing everyone a Christmas filled with warmth, laughter and hope and a New Year that affirms our dignity, protects our right to self-determination and ensures a good quality of life for all.
Friday, 3 December 2010
The current secretary of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines Ms Adri Pangilinan graces the cover of JOIN, a Dutch travel magazine (see pic above).
Adri is featured as a young professional woman trying to break down barriers. The article focuses on her strength and courage.
The special issue of JOIN, out on the second week of December 2010, is a collection of articles about the Philippines. JOIN is distributed in almost all Dutch universities. Around 2,000 members get JOIN at home.
Friday, 26 November 2010
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
STRAP is honored to declare solidarity with Amazing Philippine Beauties and on its 8th year at that—truly an auspicious year! Eight years of showing the world amazingly beautiful transpinays has certainly brought not only luck to the girl who gets to wear the crown each year but also joy to their supporters, loved ones and communities.
Indeed Amazing Philippine Beauties has played an important part towards building a unified Filipino transgender community. Coronation night always brings hundreds of transgender and gender-variant people and those who love them together in the spirit of high-level pageantry. For sure on pageant night (on November 26 at the Manila Film Center CCP Complex Roxas Blvd., Pasay City) Amazing Philippine Beauties candidates will be raised up anew as the wonderful, unique, and stellar human beings that they are and give them respite from a life otherwise marked by discrimination and marginalization.
Thank you to the organizers and supporters of Amazing Philippine Beauties for giving our community a way to be reminded of our beauty and ultimately humanity. Long live Amazing Philippines! Mabuhay ang Amazing Philippine Beauties 2010!
The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines
Sunday, 21 November 2010
On 13 November 2010, Saturday, the members of STRAP, in support of the Stop Trans Pathologization 2012 campaign, sat down with members of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) to have a discussion on the issues that trans Filipinos face and the call to delist Gender Identity Disorder (GID) from the DSM IV and transsexualism from the ICD 10 (see pic above). Below is STRAP's statement written by Co-founder Ms Sass Rogando Sasot and edited by Chairwoman Ms Naomi Fontanos declaring full support for STP 2012.
STRAP’s Declaration in Support of the Stop Trans Pathologization 2012 Campaign
Recognizing that transsexualism is classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) of the World Health Organization (WHO);
Considering that gender is a binary classification system imposed on human beings since their birth;
Bearing in mind that the gender identities and expressions that strictly fit into the traditional norms of being either male or female are the only socially allowed gender identities and expressions;
Highlighting that this gender binary classification system has led to the discrimination, violence, and marginalization against human beings who do not conform to its standards;
Upholding the definition of gender identity in the Yogyakarta Principles, as each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms”;
Affirming the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, especially Principle 1 – The Right to the Universal Enjoyment of Human Rights, which calls on states to “undertake programmes of education and awareness to promote and enhance the full enjoyment of all human rights by all persons, irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity”; and Principle 2 – The Rights to Equality and Non Discrimination, which calls on States to “take all appropriate action, including programmes of education and training, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes or behaviours which are related to the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of any sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression”;
Endorsing the 26th of May 2010 statement of the Board of Directors of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) that calls for the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide and which affirms that “the expression of gender characteristics, including identities, that are not stereotypically associated with one's assigned sex at birth is a common and culturally-diverse human phenomenon which should not be judged as inherently pathological or negative”;
Recalling the societal vision of our organization of a nurturing society that affirms, respects, and upholds the dignity, the right to self-determination and good quality of life of all;
The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), in adopting this declaration, hereby:
Rejects the pathologization of gender identities and expressions and supports the call to Stop Trans Pathologization by the year 2012
Affirms that the development of gender identity and expression is part of the right to the free development of personality;
Affirms that gender identity and expression is a matter of self-determination and as sacred as the right to life itself;
Affirms that the role of the psychiatric and medical communities over the lives of transgender people is not to pathologize and stigmatize them but to provide patient-centred care that upholds that highest possible standards of health; and
Calls for rights-based legislation in the Philippines that would protect transgender people from discrimination and allow them to change their legal sex into their gender identity.
Friday, 5 November 2010
“I am very excited to be one of the judges of Queen of Cebu 2010 and grateful to Cary Santiago, Sal Malto and the rest of the members of Clothes for Life Foundation for inviting me here,” says Rica who holds the distinction of being the first ever transgender housemate in the Philippine version of Big Brother.
“As the current Vice Chairwoman of the only transgender rights advocacy organization in the Philippines, I am happy that Queen of Cebu exists as a platform to showcase the beauty and brilliance of transgender Cebuanas,” adds the transpinay celebrity. A day before the pageant, Rica flew to Cebu to give the 21 Queen of Cebu 2010 candidates a talk on self-empowerment, gender identity and human rights.
Thursday, 4 November 2010
The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) congratulates the organizers of Queen of Cebu on its sophomore year. Envisioned as an alternative pageant, Queen of Cebu has proven not only to be a grand showcase of the beauty, talent & splendid uniqueness of the Cebuana transpinay but as well as a magnificent platform to advocate for respect of gender diversity & the right to determine one’s gender identity.
Thank you to those who put together Queen of Cebu & for setting a very high bar indeed. As has been said, excellence is the best deterrent to sexism. Now our Cebuana transpinay sisters have another prestigious pageant that they can not only be proud to be a part of & call their own but as well as to use to break down barriers of prejudice.
May dreams come true on pageant night (6 November 2010, Saturday, 8 pm, Waterfront Hotel Cebu)! May all the candidates’ stars shine bright! And to the next Queen, may you reign in kindness & compassion, love & light!
The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines
Sunday, 19 September 2010
In the article, Fontanos discusses her growing up years, the struggles of transpinays (transgender/transsexual Filipinas) and one of the advocacy issues facing the global transgender community, the psychiatric diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID).
Fontanos has been serving STRAP as it chairwoman since 2009 and working with a dedicated team of officers including Vice Chairwoman Rica Paras of Pinoy Big Brother Double Up, Seretary Charlese Saballe, Treasurer Joy Cruz, Membership Coordinator Alessandra N. and Internal Affairs Head Santy Layno to make STRAP an upstanding activist organization.
Her UNO Magazine Philippines feature can be seen here.
Monday, 28 June 2010
The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) is honored to declare its solidarity with the Baguio Pride Network (BPN) as it holds the 4th Baguio Pride Parade. We salute all the organizers, supporters and participants of this milestone event as it signifies the commitment to human rights advocacy of Transgender Lesbian Bisexual and Gay (TLBG) activists in the Northern Luzon region.
From Baguio to Manila to Cebu to Davao, the Filipino TLBG community stands on the cusp of history with the imminent inauguration of the 15th President of our beloved Republic. May we take our Pride events this June as an opportunity to recommit to building a strong, united and empowered movement that will work in securing civil rights protections for TLBG Filipinos and eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Indeed let us continue to educate people and liberate them from the bonds of bigotry. In doing so, let us never forget to celebrate ourselves and each other and the diversity of our community. STRAP stands proudly with all those who make up BPN in their quest for equality, acceptance, empowerment and dignity.
Agbiag ti Baguio Pride Network! Agbiag ti Baguio Pride Parade!
The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines
Monday, 31 May 2010
The Congress aims to produce a document outlining the specific human rights claims of transgender people across the globe that will be used to influence policy at the international level. A preparatory pre-conference happening on June 1-3, 2010 will precede the main conference on June 4-6, 2010 at the University of Barcelona.
The International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights is spearheaded by Human Rights Watch with the support of the Spanish Government through its Ministry of Equality and Office of Human Rights. For more information, visit www.congenid.org.
Saturday, 29 May 2010
This year’s recipients include the indie film, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela and the hit reality TV show, Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) Double Up. Both portrayed transpinays in a frank but respectful and dignified way.
Receiving the Sybil for Queen Raquela was the star of the movie herself, Raquela Rios who flew to Manila from Cebu for the awarding ceremony. The Sybil for PBB Double Up was accepted by one of its creative managers, Ted Boborol. In attendance were PBB Double Up housemates Rica Paras, Paul Jake Castillo and Melai Cantiveros.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
This May 2010, the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) celebrates 8 years of struggle, standing up and successes as the first and, as yet, only human rights advocacy and support organization for transpinays (transgender/transsexual Filipinas). In line with our 8th year anniversary celebrations, it is our pleasure to present the following events:
GLBT FLOREZ DE MAYO
2 May 2010 (Sun), 7 pm
Bgy.Bagong Pag-asa Covered Court, Quezon City
The Flores de Mayo is a Filipino cultural tradition that celebrates the blooming flowers of May. The festival culminates with a procession that depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. On 2 May 2010, selected STRAP ladies will serve as sagalas and parade in Bgy. Pag-asa in Quezon City in the first Gay Lesbian Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) FlorEZ de Mayo. This event is brought to you by EZ Lubricating Jelly in cooperation with the Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC), Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PROGAY) and Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines.
TRANS+ACTION Standing Up For Your Rights
9 May 2010 (Sun), 1 pm
Isis International, UP Village, Quezon City
No STRAP anniversary will be complete without revisiting the ideas that undergird transactivism. On 9 May 2010 STRAP members will come together for an exclusive closed-door workshop on transgender human rights advocacy in the Philippines entitled Trans+Action Standing Up For Your Rights followed by a strategic planning workshop that will set STRAP’s agenda and action plan in the coming year.
22 May 2010 (Sat, 7PM)
Annabels’ Restaurant, 194 Tomas Morato Avenue corner Sct Delgado, Quezon City
On 22 May 2010, STRAP proudly presents the first Sybil Awards, right around the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHO), as a way to honor individuals, organizations, establishments and other entities that, in their own way, combat intolerance based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), uphold gender equality and promote the empowerment of sex and gender diverse people.
The Sybil Awards is named after one incarnation of the Great Mother, a goddess whose worship dates back to the Stone Age. Known by different names, she was called Sybil in various cultures. The Great Mother Sybil was venerated by transgender priestesses in pre-communal, matrilineal societies. STRAP makes history by being the first SOGI activist organization in the Philippines to pay tribute to those who have helped further its cause.
Join us as we usher in STRAP’s anniversary month in the spirit of energetic activism and empowerment. Celebrate STRAP’s 8 years of struggle, standing up and successes!
Monday, 15 March 2010
By Ida L. Bata
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:56:00 03/06/2010
Filed Under: Gender Issues, Women, Lifestyle & Leisure
“I AM a woman. I’m not gay.”
This succinct line from a song by a local artist best describes how Transpinays (or Filipino transsexuals) see and accept themselves –and hope the rest of the world would too.
The words reflect the experience of Filipino transsexual women, says Brenda R. Alegre, a clinical psychologist who has completed a study on transgenderism. Herself a transsexual, Alegre explains that they are individuals whose sex and gender are in opposition, and so they seek to hormonally or surgically alter their bodies to match their gender identities. Gays, on the other hand, do not feel the need to change their genitals, she adds.
Alegre began her research back in 1993 while completing a Psychology course at the University of Santo Tomas. “The research was something I really wanted to do. My feeling of being a woman is genuine and sprung from the time I was 5,” she shares. Her research included watching and joining gay and transsexual beauty pageants, visiting beauty salons to observe and interview hair stylists and customers, and watching TV programs and movies about characters conflicted about their sexual identities.
In 2005, Alegre met Dr. Sam Winter of Transgender Asia and Hong Kong University, as well as the founders of the Society of Transsexual Women in the Philippines (STRAP), the first advocacy and support group in the country for male to female (M2F) transgenders. They were her beacons, she says, encouraging her to complete the study within the scope of gender identity and sexual orientation.
“This is my advocacy. I want Filipinos to accept us as we are and realize that we too have equal rights and opportunities to jobs, education, marriage and political representation,” Alegre says. “It’s like a gift – you have to accept it whether it’s a good or bad one.”
The study’s 15 respondents, all aged 21 to 40, identified and presented themselves as women, not as homosexuals or a third gender. They have adopted female names, prefer to be called “ma’am” and referred to as a “she,” and would rather use the ladies’ washroom than the men’s room. They have also joined beauty pageants for transgenders and gays, considered a prelude to their transitioning ritual, which a few of them achieved through sex reassignment surgery (SRS). The surgical procedure costs at least P1 million and is available here, in the US, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Japan and Thailand.
Bemz D. Benedito, 31, national secretary of the gay organization Ang LadLad representing Transpinays, stresses the need to educate society about transsexualism and transgenderism and its distinction from homosexuality. “Most of the time, we are labeled as gays while others think that all transsexuals have undergone SRS,” she says. “Not all of us can afford this procedure,” she adds.
Their gender has been a source of discrimination, says Alegre. “Despite our academic qualifications, we can’t get the right jobs that fit our skills. There are many talented Transpinays who become entertainers and go to Japan and Thailand because of the lack of employment opportunities here. Entertainment is the only industry that shows us the quickest route to income. It has only been in the last 10 years or so, with the opening of call centers, that we’ve been given another career option. Still, it isn’t always a success story for many of us,” she says.
Alegre has worked for the last 12 years with four companies, carving a career path in Human Resources. Between these jobs, she has applied in some 100 companies.
“I have always presented myself as a transgender,” she says. “They’re impressed with my academic accomplishments and work experience, but when they see that I am transgendered, they don’t call me for further interviews. Companies in the Philippines and HR practitioners lack awareness on the transgender experience, so they’re inclined to turn us down.”
Society’s expectations also make things difficult, Alegre adds. “Companies want us to wear men’s uniforms, cut our hair, and use the men’s washroom. We cannot wear earrings and make up. They will not even allow configuration of emails based on our preferred female names. My advice to companies is: hire us first. Skills and the right attitude make a good employee,” she says.
Benedito echoes similar frustrations. Academically accomplished with degrees in Mass Communications and Sociology, she recalls unflattering remarks from colleagues while working on a research project at Ateneo.
Cruel taunts are frequently thrown her way by bystanders when she’s walking on the street or waiting for a cab. “They call me names like bakla, mang-aagaw ng lakas, or salot. Occasionally, I would challenge them to take a good look at themselves and what they’ve done to improve themselves. But most of the time, I just ignore them,” she sighs.
Like Alegre, she has been turned away by companies because of her gender identity. She remembers a male manager of a call center in Ortigas telling her during the final interview that though she performed excellently in the written and oral exams, he cannot take her in because she’s gay, wears women’s clothes, and it is against his (Mormon) religion.
Benedito doesn’t mince words when talking about how the Comelec abused its authority as a legal institution when it called the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community immoral and a threat to the youth. Ang Ladlad, she says, complied with the Partylist system law when it applied for accreditation to represent gays. Comelec however ruled that the group advocates immorality, citing Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code on lust and pornography. A false claim, she explains, because being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender isn’t an interpretation of pornography.
All transgender groups are ready to soldier on if the Supreme Court’s final decision is in their disfavor. They will then step up their education campaign on the rights of LGBTs around the country and will re-apply for party list accreditation during the next national election.
Apart from a more compassionate government, Alegre is pinning her faith on a more enlightened academe, as well as medical and social workers. “Studies on gender differences should be included in the sex and health education classes in the elementary grades and high school. Schools must include activities for transsexuals since most educational programs are designed for male and female students. Social workers must provide the right counseling and job placements for us,” she says.
Alegre and Benedito insist that they’re not batting for tolerance for their gender identity and sexual orientation, but for acceptance. Their advocacy and that of Ang LadLad is to reclaim their human rights as persons and as LGBTs. They are looking forward to that day when being transgendered in the Philippines does not make them beggars pleading for recognition and acceptance.
Says Alegre: “Believing that we are women is not a psychological disorder. This is who we are and what we are.” •
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
The struggle for Dee Mendoza to prove herself at work was a difficult one, not for reasons of capability, but because of the way she chose to express and affirm her gender. Mendoza talks intimately about being a transsexual woman; her discoveries and her struggles that ultimately led to her emancipation.
Clothes may make a man, but it doesn’t make a woman.
I have always been a woman even though I had to wear men’s clothes. Cross dressing — that is me in men’s clothes — started at a very young age. I was born with a male body. Thus, I was expected to perform conventionally in the role of male; act male, be heterosexual, have girl friends, and eventually a wife.
It never felt right. From my earliest memories I knew I was not comfortable in some way. From an early age, I identified far more with my childhood girl friends than boyfriends. It went on until college, up to the first few years of my employment in my current job.
My parents reared me to become a good, law-abiding, God-fearing boy. In my heart I know that they did this out of love and good intentions. But that did not stop me from dressing up in princess gowns using our spare curtains or wrap a towel on my head and think that it was my long hair when I was alone or in the company of my female friends.
One Christmas, I wrote Santa: Dear Santa, please give me a Barbie doll.
“Santa” (my parents) wrote me back and said: Barbie dolls are for girls, you should not ask for that. I was crushed. I thought Santa Claus was about magic. I thought he was my confidant, and my request was something that would not reach my parents. From then on, I wrote to Santa and asked for neutral toys like puzzles or books.
As I grew up, the only path open to me was the so called gay role. But I soon discovered that wasn’t me.
Meeting the word “transgender” is one of the turning points of my life. It was then that I truly began to discover who I was, who I am, who I have always been, in respect to my sexuality, and my gender. I knew then that I was, and always had been, gender female, and a heterosexual woman.
There was no transformation, there was just an AFFIRMATION. A declaration to myself and to the world that my gender is female and that I am a woman. The word “transformation” is problematic to describe my experiences. It connotes a leap from point A to point B. In retrospect, I have always thought myself to be female since the earliest recollection of my memory. It was later blurred by the dictates of society and it became clear again to me when I reached the affirmative point in my life where I rediscovered I am woman.
Before the realization, I lived a life behind a mask. Always pretending to be someone I was not. I was always unhappy, unfulfilled.
The day I rediscovered who I am was the day I was set free. I was never felt happier, more confident. It was as if a whole new world awaited me.
Before that, I felt so trapped.
This is me, free and unmasked. This is who I am. Who I have always been. I was always Dee. That wasn’t always my name. But I have always been who I am. I felt it from an early age, but as described above, rebelled against my imposed identity and now, I am myself both outwardly as well as well as inwardly.
Discovering who we are is a process all of us go through at some point in our lives, and it takes time. For some people it takes more time than for others, and for the transperson, discovery is further complicated by the restrictions of society’s conventional thinking, misunderstanding, and even hostility about sexuality, sexual identity, and gender identity.
The reality is that the conventional view that there is only male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, and that one should conform to the expected norms, is simply, wrong. Human, life, all life for that matter, is more complex and more interesting than that.
Of course, there are still some constraints for me. These are not of my choosing. Instead they are imposed by those around me, by some sections of our society, in its ignorance and bigotry, when it tries and sometimes succeeds in restricting my right to be who I am. I face this daily.
A few years ago, I was fired from my job because I started to express my real gender by growing my hair and putting on women’s garb.
The reason for termination was, of course, something else other than that. I actively searched for a job after that enduring as many as 3 interviews in a week. This went on for 6 months. I even applied for entry-level positions in Marketing, which were way below my qualifications. I would be called for an interview upon seeing my resume, but when they saw me, they’d politely come up with a reason for the rejection of my application. An unforgettable encounter I had with a prospective employer was when he said, to my face, “We’re okay with gays but not the likes of you.”
Fortunately now, I am employed by an equal opportunity employer who judges me based on my performance and not what’s between my legs or how I choose to present myself. I had to prove myself and work hard, but it paid off. I have earned the respect of my supervisor and colleagues and have been with the same company for the last 6 years.
I am currently in a healthy, loving relationship. I met my partner on-line.
You know, there’s a certain quality about meeting someone on-line; you are not lured by the trappings of the other’s beauty, the wining and dining…by the need for touch. You connect on an intellectual and deeper level.
He flew here to the Philippines a few months after we met. For the first few years, it was a long distance relationship. He would fly here every three months and would be together 6 months in a year. In 2008, he moved here.
My partner looks at me and treats me as a woman. I told him from the start that I am a transsexual woman and he said: “It doesn’t change the way I feel about you”. My partner has always been heterosexual and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I wouldn’t want to go out without a man interested in other men.
He first proposed to me on a trip to London. We were outside the church where Princess Diana got married and he knelt down and proposed. I told him it wasn’t the right time yet, and I think it may have hurt him, but after a year, he proposed again and I said yes.
I’m incredibly happy. Because of the Gender Recognition Law in the UK, ours will not be a civil partnership, it will be a marriage. Being married has always been my dream as a child to and now it’s going to happen. I’m going to make it happen. It’s the ultimate affirmation of my femininity. I am going to be part of a legitimate and recognized couple.
Suffice to say that there is nothing really that remarkable about transpeople, beyond the struggles we have to overcome to be accepted as just as normal, just as clever, just as nice just as nasty — just the same as everybody else.
We are so much more than our bodies. When we think of ourselves and others in terms of their anatomy and their genetalia, it is as if we are reducing ourselves to bits and pieces.
We all want love and long for a lifelong partner.
We just have to try harder, and do more than most to prove it. And all we want is a level playing field, an equal chance to succeed.(article originally from here)
Thursday, 4 March 2010
Mendoza has served as STRAP’s Chair for four years and has worked as a marketing manager at the Makati Central Business District in the last six years. When asked about the landmark article on her in Metro Magazine, she quipped “I hope that when people who are dealing with difficult gender and identity issues see this, they will have hope and be inspired and continue the path to becoming the real person that they are inside.”
Metro Magazine is available in all leading bookstores nationwide. Grab your copy now.
Photo by Ian Castanares
Monday, 8 February 2010
Education is the great equalizer. Rica Paras, former housemate in the current Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) series, certainly proves that.
For one, not only has Rica’s education landed her under the kleiglights of showbiz, it has also brought her to a rewarding career as a team leader and consultant in a multinational ITIT company.
But more importantly, the education she got from Philippine Science High School and Ateneo de Manila University has given her the necessary tools to face challenges as a transgender person.
“Education has given me the confidence.
It has brought me to where I am right now with work and how I present myself in public. I’m very thankful that I concentrated on my studies,” Rica quips.
FROM RICHARD TO RICA
Rica was born as Richard. Even as young as five years old, Rica says she already knew that she was going to live her life as a woman, and that changes had to be made for her so she could feel comfortable in her own skin.
“I had already accepted it bata pa lang ako. At that stage alam ko na ‘yung buhay na tatahakin ko. The only decision that I had to make was when to make the transition. But I didn’t want to be too radical with my parents kasi pinapahalagahan ko sila. And in high school, you can’t insist na dapat naka-girl’s uniform ka,” the 26-year-old Rica recalls.
She was also aware that she was a ready target for people who would not understand her situation. Schoolwork thus became a refuge.
“Habang nagkakamalay ako nagsisi-sink sa akin na there’s something wrong with me. I already knew that my father was disappointed. Sa Iloilo, ang mga batang bakla, binubugbog. Natakot din ako,” she says. “So ang ginawa ko, para maging proud ang father ko sa akin, nag-concentrate akis sa studies, aral talaga! From Grade I to Grade VI, first honors ako. Dun nag-sink in sa akin na ang bait ng tatay ko sa akin kapag first honor ako, he couldn’t hurt me, kasi kilala ako ng mga teachers, and anything na gawin sa akin would be publicized. Sabi ko, eto ang formula!’”
Her determination and her skills would get her into the Western Visayas campus of the Philippine Science High School. It was in this fiercely competitive academic environment that she was discovered as a force to be reckoned with in Mathematics -- safe from the taunts and violence often inflicted on young gay men in her province.
By the time I was in fourth year high school kinatatakutan na ako ng buong Western Visayas sa Math,” she recalls with a laugh. “I think the biggest achievement I had in high school was when I represented Western Visayas sa Philippine Math Olympiad and I finished number seven. When I graduated from Pisay, it was with honors.”
THE BIG CITY AND THE CORPORATE WORLD
Rica would then find herself Manila-bound after getting a scholarship to take up BS Math at the Ateneo de Manila University. The transfer to the city would prove to be an education for her – in more ways than one.
“Nakakaloka sa Manila kasi ang mga kaklase ko nagda-drive na ng kotse at 16! Ganito pala sa Manila! Sobrang sheltered at academic ako nung high school kaya nagulat ako,” she says with amusement. “Ateneo was also where I met Doll House. It’s like Babaylan sa UP. May mga kasama na akong mamili ng girl clothes. I started taking hormones given by older Doll Housers. That’s when I shifted from briefs to panties din.”
Ateneo would not only provide the environment for her transition towards becoming a woman, but would help her expand her mind and realize the truths about her own experience.
“With Psychology classes, gender studies, makikilala mo ‘yung sarili mo and realize that being a transgender is different from homosexuality. I used to think I was gay, but how come iba ‘yung concerns ng mga pa-mhin (Gay men acting straight – Ed.) sa mga pa-girl? I am concerned with hormone therapy and paperwork and immigration counters, at hindi ‘yun concern ng mga pa-mhin,” she explains. “Ang concern na mga pa-mhin perhaps is same sex marriage. But once I have my papers legally changed to female, I don’t need same sex marriage. It will be a heterosexual case. You learn a lot about yourself, but you also learn about your place in society, and how you can help.”
But even with the confidence she has acquired (“I graduated with honors. Batch queen pa ako sa Blue Rose! At Batch King ko si Richard Alvarez!”), Rica admits to feeling a little bit apprehensive about entering the corporate world.
“Akala ko walang kukuha sa aking employer. Inisip kong magpakalalaki to get a really nice job, pero inisip ko kailangan nila akong tanggapin na babae. I was confident. I was a Math graduate, an honor student, the president of my organization. On paper, ang ganda talaga ng resume ko,” she says. “I had an interview, mahaba ang hair ko, naka-blouse. The two lady executives said ‘We thought we were interviewing a guy.’ And I said ‘That’s exactly me.’ When they overcame the question, dun na ako nag-talak. Ma-overcome lang nila ‘yung prejudice and discomfort, kayang-kaya ko na.”
Rica says that the decision to join PBB was something of a surprise even to her, as she already had a stable and well-paying job. Joining PBB was, quite literally, a dream.
“Life for the past six years has been work and home. But then I had a dream where I saw myself on TV blabbering about why people are so quick to judge. I thought it was weird. When I turned on the TV, I saw the ad for the PBB auditions,’’ she recalls.
Rica’s audition was not without complications.
“Sa babae ako nakapila. A staff approached and said, ‘Sorry, alam ko ‘yung chismis mo. Ang ganda mo pero dun ka sa kabila.’ Pinapila ako sa lalaki! Naka-dress ako, nakakulot pa ‘yung hair ko. Ang tangkad ko pa sa ibang lalaki!” she recalls with a laugh.
“Pagdating sa harap, tinanong ako, ‘Bakit ka nandiyan?’ Sinagot ko siya ‘Your staff forced me to fall in line here, but the only similar thing between me and these people is the datum on our birth certificate! But other than that, I am a woman, in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul! I am a woman!’ Nagulat sila sa akin!”
Rica says she saw the PBB experience as her own chance to educate the public on how to treat members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
“I realized that there is really no representation from the LGBT community, except for Rustom, pero hindi siya pumasok na out and proud. Ang dala dala ko going inside PBB is that representation,” she states.
Given the moniker “Math Goddess of Bacolod”, Rica says she went into the PBB house with no small amount of apprehension.
“First, prinoblema ko na ipapasok ako ni Kuya sa kuwarto ng mga lalaki. Nakakaloka! Kelangan ko pang i-put ‘yung sarili ko sa stress! I worked hard to achieve a stable status that I can control, and now I’m putting myself in a situation that I could not control. My major apprehension was the normal characterization of gay and trans characters.
Natatakot ako na baka gawing circus at katatawanan ‘yung buhay ko. I was afraid na i-bully ako ng mga lalaki,” she admits.
Rica also found herself at the center of controversy after being the object of harsh remarks from some male housemates.
The controversy was resolved between them, but Rica soon discovered that the said conflict had become a national talking point.
“Nagulat ako pagdating sa labas, because I saw the depth of my case. Ang Ladlad had been rejected by the Comelec at the time, and then they were seeing on TV that I was being bashed. What was a personal issue to me had turned into a national issue. I understand kasi in the real world, ganun naman talaga nangyayari. People are quick to say something ill about people kahit di pa nila kilala. Sasabihan na She-Man, mumu, baka gapangin niya tayo. I’m glad that it started a discussion because people can reflect and realize na hindi siya maganda. Hindi lahat ng mga bakla, tomboy, bi, trans, are like that, kasi nasa tao naman talaga ang kabutihan,” she says.
Even if she has already been booted out of the house, Rica says that she is happy with how things turned out, and is hoping that her own experience becomes an education for other people as well.
“I wanted to show another image of us. Wala akong desire to really earn a lot of money, kasi I can work for it, I have a stable job. Even showbiz, I’m just enjoying the ride but it’s not my priority. A lot of us are comedians and hosts and entertainers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But masyado na-stereotype ng mga tao na kapag LGBT ka, ito lang ang kaya mong gawin,” she says. “With me coming out with my story, sana na-open up ko ‘yung mind ng mga tao na you can finish school and get a good degree and get a job in a good company without changing yourself. And not just with being part of the LGBT community – taga-probinsya ako, and yet na-achieve ko ito. I hope people see that you don’t have to fit in to achieve what you want.”
Article from The Manila Bulletin
Photo by Jong Clemente