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