Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gong Xi Fa Cai/Kiong Hee Huat Tsai/Kung Hei Fat Choi

Today the Filipino Chinese (Filchi) or Chinese Pinoy (Chinoy) community along with the rest of the Chinese world will say goodbye to the Year of the Rat and welcome the New Year of the Earth Ox. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, this is year 4707; and since the traditional color for Earth is brown, this year is also known as the Year of the Brown Cow.

Back in college I used to hang out with cool Chinoys who were my classmates in General Education (GE) courses at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City. They had their own organization called the UP Chinese Student Association (UPCSA) and it was through them that I got a glimpse of Chinese culture.

Chinese new year is also called Spring festival. Chinese households welcome it with rituals. Houses are cleaned and new clothes are worn. The color red is in abundance and lion or dragon dances with loud drums are held. Red and the sound of drums (or firecrackers) are said to scare evil spirits and bad luck away.

It is not uncommon to get "tikoy" from Chinese friends during this time. Tikoy is sticky rice pudding. Giving it to friends and family ensures that relationships stick and strong bonds are kept. The sweetness of this delicacy also means that one will have a sweet life in the coming year. Unfortunately for me, I've never liked the taste of it. So whenever I get a box, I regift it and give it to other friends.

I already looked up my horoscope for the year over at a Chinese astrology website and it's 50 percent good and 50 percent bad for me this year. Having been born in the year of the Snake, I will be lucky in terms of career and wealth but not in love and health. Thankfully that's just a prediction. So that means I have to work doubly hard on my health and my love life.

Well I don't mind that so here's to working hard in the New Year of the Ox! Happy Brown Cow Year everyone!

Friday, January 23, 2009

So we all can fly...

For me, the most poignant part of the Obama inauguration is the convergence of hundreds of stories, told and untold. There's the history of it all. The drama of the primaries. Obama's moving speeches. His speech writer. Michelle Obama. Her love story with Barack. Her fashion choices. The Obama girls. The hundreds and thousands of people who travelled far and wide for the inauguration, each one with their own stories. The teachers with their students. The foreigners invited to the event. The LGBT representatives. There are so many angles from which the inauguration can be viewed.

One of those little stories that connect to the inauguration is this quote that I saw on Although attributed to Jay-Z, the quote was actually first said by someone else. Papermag tracked the quote to its original source. Read the story here.

It's a beautiful quote and one that I feel must be shared with the world:

If you checked the story above, you will know that the quote has evolved. This shorter version though, for me, drives home the point more powerfully and thus bears repeating:

Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so that we all can fly.

Inaugural poetry (Part 2)

Fast forward to 2009, same date but different time. I had nostalgic feelings when Elizabeth Alexander read her poem at the Obama inauguration. Like the people in my office, I stayed up late again on the 20th to watch President Barack Obama's swearing in. When Alexander took the podium and read her poem, I remembered Maya Angelou fifteen years ago. In Oprah's words, it looked to me like a "full-circle moment".

Angelou and Alexander are two of only four poets to be asked to read their work at a presidential inauguration. The other two are Robert Frost who recited The Gift Outrightduring the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961 and Miller Williamns who read his poem Of History And Of Hopeduring Clinton's second swearing in in 1997.

Unlike the last three poets before her, Alexander has been overly criticized. Her poem has been called dull and too prosy. Myself, I liked it though. It was simple, full of imagery, and ended almost in the same note as Angelou's. In the end, her presence in the inauguration is what would matter most. Poetry at the US president's taking of the oath of office speaks volumes of the kind of person who will occupy the White House in the next four years.

So below is Alexander's poem, Praise Song For The Day:

Praise song for the day
A poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration
by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Inaugural poetry (Part 1)

Fifteen years ago, I stayed up late on January 20 to watch on CNN Bill Clinton sworn in as the 42nd President of the United States of America. I remember how cold it was as the people present for the inauguration were donned in their full winter regalia. I also remember the chills that ran down my spine, after a poised black lady got up on stage and read a poem. It was a powerful experience and for me the most memorable part of the Clinton inauguration: Maya Angelou reading her poem On The Pulse of the Morning. Angelou's poem follows below. Enjoy.

On the pulse of the morning
by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers--desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot ...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours--your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome home, BB Gandanghari!

Early this week, local showbiz was abuzz because a former matinee idol by the name of Rustom Padilla guested in two major entertainment talk shows to announce that she is now a woman. And that her name is Binibini (BB for short) Gandanghari. Roughly translated into English, it stands for "Miss Beauty King".

The revelation may not have been as surprising to many because it was not the first time people saw Rustom all dolled up. In October in an awards night, Rustom also showed up in women's clothing. Rustom stole the show then but did not reveal the reason for showing up "en femme". Many speculated that perhaps it was a promotional ploy to get people interested in an upcoming show featuring the actor.

It might be remembered that Rustom shot to renewed fame, after a long absence from showbiz, in 2007 upon joining the Philippine version of Big Brother. Rustom entered the Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) house but left on his own voliton on the 45th day. Before he left the show, he made waves when in a tearful episode he came out to a starlet housemate, Keanna Reeves. In an intimate moment, Rustom told Keana that in fact he was gay.

But now Rustom is dead so said BB Gandanghari in her first TV interview on GMA 7. In the place of Rustom is BB (pronounced bi-bi), alive and kicking and all woman. And people seem to accept BB with open arms. In her next television appearance on a rival station, ABS-CBN, BB was interviewed by two famous celebrities who related to her quite well. They did not problematize BB's identity and did not make a fuzz about labels. They treated BB like a woman although they asked her if she was taking hormones. BB said she was not and that she wanted to keep things natural. BB has so far also remained mum about genital reconfiguration surgery (GRS). During her first interview on GMA 7 she said she didn't want to comment on the issue because she was in the middle of everything.

Personally, I am very happy about this development and wish BB well. BB just recently came back from New York after studying modelling there and now she has an upcoming play titled Gandanghari that I hope to catch. As someone who's witnessed Rustom Padilla's career from a distance, I can imagine the courage it took for Bebe to come out in the open and say to the world that Rustom is now in the past and that Bebe is the future.

Definitely, BB has come a long way. Her journey reminds me of the song, I've Never Been To Me by Charlene. Rustom has been to paradise in some sense (enjoying a career as a matinee idol, marrying an actress, divorcing, going to the US to disappear) and yet he was never himself. Now as BB, she has arrived. She has finally come home to herself.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trans issues to be included in women's month celebrations

Last August, the Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. (R-Rights, Inc.), a legal and policy think tank composed of lesbian and gay lawyers, in cooperation with Ang Ladlad, our LGBT partylist, sponsored a forum on transgender issues and its legal dimensions. It was held at the College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) in the University of the Philippines (UP). Entitled Women nonetheless: Being a trans female in the Philippines, the forum was attended by, among others, students from the UP College of Law.

I was invited to be one of the speakers in that forum along with Sass Sasot, co-founder of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), and Atty. Germaine Leonin, the founding president of R-Rights, Inc.

Imagine my glee when this Saturday, while I was conducting a tutorial study session with a graduate class of the UP Open University, I got a text message from the current chair of R-Rights, Inc., Atty. Angie Umbac, telling me that those same students from the UP College of Law want to hold a similar forum as part of their Women's Month celebration in March. I nearly jumped out of my seat in joy.

You see it has been my wish for some time now to organize Women's Month activities that were trans-specific and this is really a realization of that. I'm hoping that in the next two months as we prepare for this forum we can get more people on board. Of course, as it were I am happy about the forum already but I hope that it can be more than just a forum and become bigger than how it was originally planned. Perhaps, we can have a film festival as well featuring trans movies. Or maybe we can hold a concert for trans equality. The possibilities are endless but we shall see. For now I am happy that finally trans issues are increasingly being seen as women's issues as well and that although we can agree that non-trans women will always be different from trans ones and vice versa, we are really more alike than we would like to acknowledge.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best LGBT Blog

Today or tomorrow, depending on where you are, voting for the 2008 Weblog Awards will close. I am happy to note that my favorite blog, Transgriot is a finalist for the Best LGBT Blog.

I hope its author Monica Roberts wins but by the looks of it that honor will go to another blog this year. Don't worry Monica, there's always next year!

You can still vote for what you think is the Best LGBT Blog here. Go now before it's too late and keep Transgriot in mind! :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Propaganda, Vatican style

I have been meaning to talk about the speech the Pope delivered to the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, before Christmas. It has become quite controversial and been vilified by many an LGBT blog after bits and pieces of it were released to the media. Of course it didn’t help that the press sort of sensationalized it as well.

After the Pope delivered his message, an AFP article said: Gays outraged by pope’s ‘homophobic attack.’ Hmmm. meanwhile had the following headline: Pope’s message angers gay rights activists. Okay. Time’s online banner headline was the one that took the cake though as it read: The Pope’s Christmas condemnation of transsexuals. Whoa!

So I went searching and found out three important things:
1. the speech was not public although its message was released to the media
2. a full and official English translation of the papal address has not been made available and may not be for some time
3. nowhere in the speech did the Pope mention gay or transsexual people

Some of you may be surprised with my reaction but I must tell you that we must never join the fray without knowing the facts first. So I went looking for an approximate but at least full translation of Pope Benedict’s pre-Christmas speech and read it and my reaction was: tell me something I don’t already know.

The Catholic Church has been and will always be anti-LGBT. (Although it is interesting to note that for the longest time, it didn’t have an official stand against transsexual people. It was only fairly recently, around 2000 to be exact, that the Church was able to articulate a coherent position on trans people. Read on it here. And what do you know? Naturally, as far as the Church is concerned, we do not exist. No matter what, we will always be the sex we were assigned at birth.) But that’s a given. We all know that already.

In his pre-Christmas address, the Pope essentially was affirming the gender binary by saying it was set by Creation itself. Respecting that and listening to the “language of creation” will be saving man from self-destruction much like saving the environment from further degradation. Using the language of environmentalism, the Pope called for an “ecology of the human being” which involves upholding the distinction between man and woman and shunning attempts at blurring it.

The media interpreted this as the Pope’s criticism of modern-day gender theory which interrogates the essentialist notions of gender that the Catholic Church espouses. Well, the way I see it, the Pope’s pre-Christmas address is not a condemnation but in fact an affirmation of the global LGBT movement particularly its gains. All around the world, the fight and struggle for equality is being taken up by more and more people and Vatican is feeling the pressure. It felt the pressure enough this year that the Pope had to mention it in a speech scheduled a few days before Christmas when the world is mostly quiet. Of course it hit home.

As LGBT rights activists we really shouldn’t waste time calling out the Church on a charge that it is already guilty of. Vatican will always be homo- and transphobic. What we should do instead is to engage the Church on its own propaganda. What ecology is the Pope talking about here, for example? High school biology text books will teach you that ecology is the study of the organism and its relationship to its environment. It studies living things as a part of a community, an ecosystem populated by other organisms. Thus, one of its major principles is biodiversity, the idea that there is a variety of life forms on Earth.

So if we will follow the Pope’s line of thinking, respecting the language of creation would entail respecting the diversity found in it. Therefore, a genuine ecology of the human being is one that affirms sexual and gender diversity! A true ecology of the human being is one that will celebrate the various ways sexual and gender identity and expression are lived out in the world. Moreover, diversity does not equal destruction! Instead, it is natural and in fact is an index of life and its abundance.

If anything, what the Pope’s pre-Christmas address should tell us is that we must get ready. As a global movement we should get our act together because this is just the beginning of an all-out propaganda war the Catholic Church will wage against us. Vatican cannot just help itself what with the many positive developments we are seeing all over the world. The LGBT community in Hong Kong for example just held their first Pride March there last year on December 13. In South Africa, trans activists recently got together to map out a plan on how best to respond to African trans people’s needs. Asian members of the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) meanwhile are trying to establish a network of Asian trans activist groups and individuals. Here in the Philippines we are all anticipating an election year in 2010 and it is my fervent hope that Ang Ladlad, our national LGBT organization will secure a seat in Congress.

The Church is a formidable foe but until it recognizes us as HUMAN, until it ceases to dismiss us and until it stops reducing us down to our sexual and gender identities and expressions, we cannot rest. We must do the work needed to correct the campaign of LGBT hatred it has been teaching the world over and will continue to preach well into the new millennium.