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