Saturday, September 21, 2013

The T in LGBT in the Philippines

If you are the average Filipino, most likely you’ve heard of the LGBT or GLBT or GLTB movement or community in the Philippines. Most likely, as well, you can figure out on your own what the L and G part (which stand for lesbian and gay) are all about. But to review, gay men are men who identify as gay and are emotionally and physically attracted to men. Lesbian women are those who identify as lesbian and are emotionally and physically attracted to women.

Chances are you will be confounded by the B and the T (which stand for bisexual and transgender). A bisexual person is someone who is emotionally and physically attracted to people of both genders. I don’t want to be presumptuous so I will only discuss the T part. Hopefully my avowedly bisexual friends will speak up here to tell us more about bisexuality.

But before we go any further, let me introduce some key concepts in understanding what transgender means:

Sexual orientation: refers to whom a person is emotionally and physically attracted and that person's choice to act on that attraction. It can be to a person of the same sex (homosexual), opposite sex (heterosexual), both sexes (bisexual), or all kinds of people (polysexual). Now, there are people who identify as asexual. They are people who do not engage in sexual activities that require bodily contact with others.

Gender identity: is a person’s sense of gender whether or not that person is male, female, both or neither.

Gender expression: includes a person's dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, physical appearance, and other acts that express that person's gender. Gender expression may or may not conform to people's expectations of a person.

Gender variance or gender diversity: describes those who choose not to or cannot follow birth-assigned gender norms. More people use the term gender diversity because "variance" has negative connotations.

In the initialism, LGBT, L, G. and B denote sexual orientation. T denotes gender identity or gender expression. So going back, T is for transgender. It was originally coined in the United States and is mistakenly attributed to Virginia Prince, a crossdresser who wanted to describe her desire to change her gender expression but not her anatomy. More than three decades later, the term has now evolved and is understood within and outside LGBT communities around the world as an umbrella term to describe those whose gender identities and/or gender expressions are not traditionally associated with their birth-assigned sex.

In its broadest sense, transgender can describe anybody regardless of sexual orientation, whose appearance, personal characteristics, and behaviors do not fit conventional definitions of “man” and “woman” as they were taught to us. Traditionally, this can include anyone from feminine-acting men or masculine-looking women to people who use hormones and/or surgery to align their bodies with their gender identity. Remember, transgender is not a sexual orientation and thus encompasses a wide range of people who may identify as nonsexual (asexual), heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and/or polysexual.

In the Philippines, however, the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation are blurred. It also does not help that the "homosexual" discourse is very strong, which tends to invisibilize those who are transgender. A case in point is the ordinary Miss Gay beauty pageant. Held in almost all villages in the Philippines, a Miss Gay pageant is actually a pageant for transgender women. But because we all grew up knowing only the word gay (what with the word transgender coming to our consciousness only recently), many Miss Gay contestants would actually call themselves gay or homosexual even when they are obviously transgender. This is now slowly changing with trans beauty pageants' increasing use of the word "Queen." So now, we have a pageant in Cebu in the Visayas called, Queen. Another one in Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao is called Miss De Oro Femina. Yet, another one in Antipolo is called Queen of Antipolo. A recently held pageant for transgender women on TV was dubbed, "Queen of Queens." Filipinos are also now aware that pageants for gay men are more appropriately called "Mister Gay."

What confounds this issue more is the existence of indigenous terms for gender diverse people in the Philippines, such as "bakla," which denotes a very effeminate man and "tomboy," which refers to a very masculine woman. These words were originally meant as gender terms and not terms for sexual orientation. Thus, in the Philippines, there is a popular children's rhyme that goes "Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy," an articulation of a hierarchical gender system. Filipino children use this nonsense rhyme to make fun of those who are "bakla" or "tomboy" in a game of random tag.

With the advent of psychology, anthropology and sexology in the Philippines starting in the 60s, "bakla" and "tomboy" were misinterpreted as equivalent to sexual identities in the West. "Bakla" became gay and "tomboy" became lesbian. This is unfortunate since this misinterpretation did not capture the nuance of many "bakla" claiming to be "pusong babae" or having the heart of a woman. In the same vein, many of those who called themselves "tomboy" would say they were "pusong lalake" or had the heart of man. A "bakla" who is emotionally and physically attracted to a man would therefore technically be straight. In the same way that a "tomboy" who is emotionally and physically attracted to a woman had a heterosexual orientation. Science would insist, however, that they were simply gay or lesbian respectively.

Furthermore, all others who were not named in the hierarchy that was "Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy" were subsumed under these indigenous terms as well. Transgender women or transwomen were also "bakla" and therefore gay; while transgender men or transmen were also "tomboy" and therefore lesbian. These indigenous terms were already inherently derogatory as demonstrated by the nonsense rhyme above. In the Philippines, "bakla" and "tomboy" form the lesser rungs of a pecking order. When they took on the additional layer of denoting sexual identity or sexual orientation, they turned even more pejorative. So, when someone uses these terms to disparage another person, it is meant to express disgust not only at the person's gender identity or expression but as well as that person's presumed sexual proclivities.

It is no surprise then that many of those who call themselves transgender in the modern sense in the Philippines tend to veer away from the use of these terms to call themselves with. Many transwomen are uncomfortable to be called "bakla," while transmen virulently oppose the use of "tomboy" in referring to themselves. This is understandable since to many transwomen, they are clearly female or just girls; while to many transmen, they are most definitely male or just boys. Again, the larger society would insist that they were simply "gay/bakla" or "lesbian/tomboy" respectively.

There is also a difference in stance on these terms among Filipino gay men and lesbian women. Some gay men still use "bakla" to refer to themselves, while some lesbians still use "tomboy." But in general, Filipino gay men just call themselves "gay," while lesbian Filipinas call themselves, "lesbiyana" or "lesbyana." Many transgender women continue to use the term "bakla" and other indigenous terms like "bayot" in the Visayas and "bantut" in Mindanao to refer to themselves. The same goes for transgender men who use the word "tomboy" to identify themselves. Although, I am aware of only very few who do so. What is the difference between a gay man and transgender woman who both call themselves "bakla"? Simply, the gay man is a man; while the transgender woman is a woman. What is the difference between a lesbian woman and transman who both call themselves "tomboy"? The lesbian is a woman while the transman is a man. Ideally, there should be no quarrel over this. Self-identification is a highly personal act. In the end, only a person could decide what term or name is right for him or her. Today, more and more people in the Philippines understand what it means to be transgender and Filipino. They understand that a Filipino transgender woman is a woman, and a Filipino transgender man is a man.

More importantly though, if ordinary Filipinos can decide for themselves who they are and what to call themselves with, then LGBT Filipinos have every right to do so, too. This is called self-determination, a cornerstone principle of liberation that has given birth not only to nations but as well as to social justice movements the world over.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Remembering Martial Law

On 21 September 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines. From 1972 until the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1986, the press was shut down, Congress was dissolved, and the nation was under an iron grip of terrifying military rule. Many of those who joined the underground resistance movement were tortured and killed by the military with full knowledge of those in power including the Marcos family. Someone who survived the Marcos years once said that Martial Law killed a whole generation of brilliant Filipinos who could have given so much to the nation. 

When I was young, I remember the long stretches of quiet in my small hometown in Bicol because of military rule. I remember the curfew and the fear it struck when dusk fell. You were supposed to be at home at 6 p.m. Otherwise, you would be under suspicion of anti-Martial Law activities. Back then, I was not yet aware of the excesses of the Marcoses and their cronies, of the plunder of the treasury, and of the killings of thousands of Filipinos who tried to fight the regime. I vividly recall one of many nights when our family would bang pots and pans inside our house to join a communal "noise barrage," our small hometown's way of protesting the cruel and inhumane rule of the Marcos family.

Evey year, the Filipino nation remembers Martial Law. Below is a recollection of that time by the writer, feminist and activist Ninotchka Rosca. It is one of the most powerful recollections I have ever read. You can also read it here.

The Day Manila Fell Silent
by Ninotchka Rosca

[Talk at the Bliss on Bliss Studio, Queens, New York City;  September 9, 2012;  third part of Re-Collection, A Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, the first two being an art exhibit and an installation/performance.]

Ironically, the most quiet day in Manila of contemporary times began with noise:  a loud pounding on the glass door of a penthouse apartment I was using at the time.  The friend who was hollering and shouting and bruising his knuckles on the glass, blurted out, as soon I slid the door open, “martial law na…[martial law already]”  A split second of silence;  then I pivoted and clicked on the radio.  Nothing but white noise.  Turned on the TV.   Nothing but a white screen and static.  Distraught friend said, “no TV, no radio station… everything’s closed down.”  We eyeballed each other.  The previous night’s last news item on TV flashed into my mind:  a still photo of a car, its roof collapsed, windshield shattered; a male voice saying that the car of the Secretary of National Defense had been attacked but he had not been in it… It was truncated news; I thought,  “what?  An empty car was bombed?”  As I was going to bed, I noticed that the government building behind our apartment building was all lit up:  floor after floor, from top to bottom, blazing with lights.  I said then, “something’s happening; and it’s happening all over the city.”

Now this friend stuttering about martial law triggered an avalanche of images in my brain.  This would become a habit with me ever after, this going into mental hyperdrive, correlating incidents and data, during crisis.  The cascade stopped with the face of a smiling Senator Benigno Aquino, as he said to me,  while we stood in the red carpeted foyer of the old Senate, “Marcos will not catch me lying down.”  I’d asked about Oplan Sagittarius, rumored to be the secret blueprint for martial law.  We’d all assumed that if ever, it would go into effect in November-December.  So I just teased the senator, calling him President Aquino.  It would be my last face-to-face with him.  In 1983, when he was assassinated, I muttered to myself, “I’d better fix my papers; Marcos will fall.”  I was in New York City by then.  I had filed for political asylum but it was just in stasis.

What is the point of this recollection?  It is to stress that martial law was personal… PERSONAL.  Everyone felt it, was affected by it, had an opinion, a thought, a feeling, about it.  The day it was declared, with a friend standing there, his hair practically on end, I remembered how, a week before, a minor journalist on the military beat had generously offered to check if my name and address were on an arrest order.  Young though I was, I wasn’t exactly naïve.  I gave him an old address.  Sure enough, the place was raided.

We moved quickly.  I had to find a secure telephone so I could find out what had happened, was happening.  Outside, it was so quiet, so quiet…  Manila had always been a noisy city:  music blaring from car and jeepney radios, from juke boxes;  television noises;  people yelling.  But this day, it was so very, very quiet.  Aboard a jeepney, there was only desultory human voices:  para, mama;  sa kanto lang…  No music; no talking; and we avoided one another’s eyes.  We were all beginning to be locked within; imprisoned as it were.  When the jeepney passed a newspaper building with its front doors barred by rolls of concertina wire, we all took a sidelong glance and averted our eyes.  We did not want to seem overly interested.  We were beginning to learn NOT to call attention to ourselves – a very strange thing for Filipinos who, to this day, love to strut and crow and flap wings.

Being a journalist, my first impulse was to call the National Press Club.  I asked for Tony Zumel, who was NPC president at the time.  The secretary — she was called Baby, if memory serves me right — upon hearing my name, switched to this unusually saccharine vocal inflexion :  “haaaay, hello, how are you…long time no hear” – which nobody but nobody used with me at the NPC.   I asked for Tumel, our nickname for Zumel; and she sang out, “Oooooh, he’s not here.  I don’t know where he is.”  Pause.  I asked, “military there?”  And she said, “Yessss…”  Nothing left but to say thanks, goodbye.

Years later, in 1986, with Marcos still in power, I’d be in the same building, looking for Tony Nieva’s office which was at the back of the NPC.  A young cigarette vendor asked what I was looking for;  I inadvertently said, “the office of Tony Zumel.”  His eyes glazed and he looked far, far, far away, seemingly at a caravan crossing the desert, and answered, softly, “ay, matagal na pong wala iyon…matagal na. [He’s been gone a long time. A long, long time.]”  I looked at him with wonder, a kid with an unbreakable connection to history.

It was personal.  It was not just a piece of paper with a signature, not just a voice making the announcement;  it wasn’t even the orders barked at rows of khaki- or fatigue-uniformed men.  It was an absolute threat, a palpable danger, a loss of self-power and security.  It endangered the usual, the common, the ordinary details of daily life.  Years later, Rodolfo Salas, then chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, would tell me of how about 200 students ran for their Central Luzon guerrilla base, throwing his group into a tizzy — though it’s hard to imagine Bilog, as we called him, even slightly nervous.  “We had to feed them,” he said smiling, “and used up in one day our month’s supply.”  Bilog then instructed his unit to interview each student.  Those not under direct threat would return to town or city to help in the resistance.  Those with “serious threats” would be given the choice of moving elsewhere:  northern, southern Luzon;  the Visayas;  Mindanao.  He said that some who were not under direct threat chose to be sent elsewhere, willing to take on the very difficult task of opening new guerrilla fronts.

Romantic in the telling, it wasn’t, in reality.  The half-joke then was that if one survived for a year in the countryside, one was already a veteran.  Still, many chose this manner of struggle.  Because martial law was personal.

A lexicon grew for clandestine work, so that information could be imparted without naming the information.  Sunog meant raid, capture.  Nanununog meant someone was talking.  Nasunog meant someone had been betrayed.  And of course, at the end of every meeting, INGAT, which recently is translated as “take care.”  No nothing as innocuous as that.  It meant “be careful” out there.  And as if to underscore the intellectual underpinnings of the budding movement, the Communist Party was the Q, following the symbolic logic formula, if p then q.

Thus the struggle against martial law would begin – quietly, carefully, slowly, in a process of learning,, unlearning and refinement as it went along.  It was fought not only with guns, since even guerrillas could not survive without supplies and there were no deep bases as yet.  Supply teams were set up in Manila for various regions, because while there was food of a sort in the countryside, there was little by way of cash.  Certain things just had to be bought.  I recall at the time that the request for supplies for the Cordillera region, then called Montanosa, came to a measly 800 pesos a month.  For as long as I could, I gave all of it.

One early coup de plume would cheer the city of Manila, at least.  A poem, well written, was published by a magazine controlled by Marcos’s cronies.  Just a little poem but all the letters starting each line, when scanned downward, read:  Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta…  Via the grapevine, we learned almost instantly it had been done by Pete Lacaba.  The owners tried to have all the copies recalled but one was delivered to my residence, so I was fortunate enough to have seen it with my own eyes.  This kind of daring would set the tone for the struggle’s propaganda.

The first issue of Liberation came out in 1975, I believe.  The making of it had its comedic moments.   Since the cover had to be photo-stenciled, one young man went to a Makati Gestetner store, pretended to be buying a machine, and when the sales agent was distracted by a phone call, loaded the designed front page into the machine.  Remember that one had to apply for a license to even have a mimeograph machine.  Distribution of copies was done by a Volkswagen so old its driver door kept swinging open every 350 meters, as it were, revealing all the newsletter stacks on the backseat.  But by 1986, I was assured that copies were being inserted into Marcos’s election propaganda, distributed by his party for the election.  It was no longer the mimeographed version I was familiar with; it was printed, likely by the same printing presses doing Marcos’s propaganda and equally likely, paid for by the same budget appropriation.

The struggle learned how to struggle and in that learning were many, many stories – of rage and laughter, of loss and gains.  The death of Puri Pedro, murdered by a military officer, was a palpable pain over our neighborhood.  The escape of political prisoners, on the other hand, brought an almost carnival mood.  It is my hope that one day, all stories will be told, affirming that those who were imprisoned — 100,000 by the then Secretary of Defense own admission – can be named; that those who were murdered – 3,000 plus have been documented but more died in so-called “encounters” – can be named;  and those who disappeared – 759 documented, though there were more – can be named.

For on the day Manila fell quiet, it was not only noise, music, talk, chatter, the hum of a vibrant life, that martial law sought to take away from us.  Martial law sought to reduce the millions of names in the archipelago to the handful of the Marcos clan and cronies, denying millions the right to be, to exist, to be named.  Martial law reduced the entire population of the archipelago to the Marcos clan and cronies;  nobody else was of significance;  no one else’s desire, wishes, goals and dreams mattered.  Martial law sought to erase all of us, rendering us merely props on the stage where the supposed magnificent destiny of clan and cronies would unfold.  Martial law dehumanized us, rendered us NAMELESS.  We were all rendered non-persons.  The response was to take martial law as personal and to work for both an individual and collective democracy fascism couldn’t break.  This was done in the interfaces of life which couldn’t be policed, away from surveillance, in the days most quiet need.  From time to time, the little noises would break out into a huge yell – a noise barrage protesting the fraudulent Manila election; students banging on the door bars and window rails quickly installed at university campuses.

Forty years later, here we are, in a re-collection of those times, at a cool basement gallery, in a neighborhood of a city so different from the terrain where what we have re-collected occurred.  We are on the other side of the globe, though I’m pleased to remember the first reading ever honoring the murdered poet Emman Lacaba (at the Bowery church) and the first reading honoring murdered and imprisoned Filipino poets (sponsored by PEN American Center for which it was excoriated by the head of PEN Philippines) took place in this city – two events I was fortunate to help set up.

In our own fashion, in the Philippines, in the US and wherever we were, we dealt with martial law and the continued usurpation of the archipelago by the Marcos Clan and Cronies.  We learned as we went along, as martial law was a very new thing, we had no models of resistance to it.  But we learned, making as much noise as possible as we learned, and we learned very well indeed.

Which is why the national (official) reluctance to deal with martial law, to name it for what it was,  to extract justice for the damage it inflicted upon people and the islands – this reluctance has been so distressing.  The revision of history began almost at once, and it took the form immediately of denying the power of the people in the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship.  Instead, the overthrow has been ascribed to a few names – “heroes” – and supernatural elements.  Hell, if people hadn’t taken their courage in hand, all the “heroes” would have died under tank fire.  But so it goes;  the rich and powerful preserve their own construct.   Victims of human rights violations remain bereft of justice; those who imprisoned, murdered, raped, still walk untrammeled and often in power;  those who shared in the division of loot and turf continue to hold on to what they had stolen – even as the people, yes, the people, were being reduced to metaphorical observers in the narrative of the struggle against martial law.

Because of this national (official) reluctance,  the legacy of martial law continues:  the impunity of assassinations, murder and relentless violence, warlordism and turfism, the perverse view that public money is the private treasury of those in authority and the idea that the people are unthinking lumps of matter entitled only to lies and trickery.  How steadily amnesia has taken over minds and hearts – with those who should be in disrepute elevated to pedestals of respect.  Marcos Clan and Cronies are finger-painting daisies on a curtain being drawn over the putrid night of the martial law years.  Their egos, swollen with the unlimited self-indulgence of the martial law years, have not shrunk to proper proportions.  Only truth can do that;  only justice can do that.

Forty years after Manila fell silent, let us push away the cacophony of lies and sink ourselves once more into the quiet truth of that day.  Because as martial law was personal then, it is still personal now.

As they seek to perpetuate the legacy of martial law, we must perpetuate the legacy of those who fought it.  What can we, who live so far from the hard heat of a Philippine summer, the cool of monsoon rains, what can we do – we who are on the other side of the globe, in a strange city, in a strange neighborhood and who are now gathered today in a cool basement gallery, so very different from the terrain visited by martial law?

Many of you weren’t even born yet when Marcos was overthrown, much less when martial law was declared.  And yet here we all are, fighting NOT to be nameless in this neighborhood, this city, this state, this country, in the intricate workings of capital.

Through the years I have seen and been engaged in many big and small movements, artistic and political and often both; they waxed and waned, surged and ebbed, and petered out, even as our numbers increased.  Many poets, many writers, many painters, many sculptors of  Filipino descent worked and struggled in this country, trying to bring an awareness of what has transpired, is transpiring, in 7,000 islands on the other side of the globe.  And like a Sisyphean  task, we have seen the words we wrote, images we drew, figures we shaped, shatter and fade even as we continued to write, to draw, to sculpt.

There is a need for permanence to our work, a deep-rootedness, to mark it as of this place though prism-ed by events elsewhere.  We need to affirm that we are of this place and of this time, though our lineage may be elsewhere.  We need affirm our right to be here – to be visible and engaged in this country, to be as a branch of the banyan tree which, even as it issues forth from the mother trunk, seeks to sink its own roots into the alien loam.  By affirming our right to be here, our right to fashion a life and a destiny for ourselves here, by affirming our right and duty to make history in the time and place of our lives, by affirming our right to have a name, as it were, here, we defeat the original intent of martial law.  In the process, we also help create a genuine democracy for ourselves, our communities, our brothers and sisters of different colors and different ethnicities.   And that, as we did learn in the years following the day Manila fell silent, is the path to victory.

Thank you and, because dangers continue, INGAT– #

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A criminal love

A comment piece I wrote on a proposed legislative measure to criminalize same-sex adultery in the Philippines was published in the country's leading broadsheet, the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The measure, House Bill 2352, was filed by Rep. Edcel "Grex" Lagman as an amendment to the provision on marital infidelity in the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines. You can read the piece through the link above or below:

A criminal love
By Naomi  Fontanos

In Europe, adultery is no longer a crime. In the US, around 30 states have abolished their adultery laws.  In October 2012, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice issued a joint statement calling on governments of the world to repeal their adultery laws because they lead to discrimination and violence against women. In spite of these, in August 2013, first-time lawmaker Edcel “Grex” Lagman filed House Bill (HB) 2352 in Philippine Congress to amend the provision on adultery under the Revised Penal Code (RPC). HB 2352 seeks to penalize married spouses who have sexual intercourse with same-sex partners.

My Husband’s Lover bill

HB 2353 is more popularly called My Husband’s Lover bill after the title of a primetime TV show that depicts what the proposed legislation wants to address. My Husband’s Lover is about the life of a woman, Lally, who is married to a man, Vincent with whom she has children. Later, the show reveals that Vincent is still emotionally and physically attracted to an old lover, another man named Eric. The show has become hugely popular prompting the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to call for a morality check on the show. In defense, the show’s creators issued a statement saying that their program depicts “real-life situations.”

To be clear, marriage in the Philippines remains exclusively heterosexual. That is why HB 2352 surprised many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In media interviews, Lagman asks LGBT Filipinos to support HB 2352. After all, he said the measure pushes for equal rights of LGBT people and is a step towards gender equality. In the bill’s explanatory note, he qualifies this support by saying “Although I am open and supportive of gender equality, we must not limit its concept with the positive side of things. Just like in a marriage, equality should be present ‘for better or for worse.’ Meaning, equality must be upheld both in the rewards and as well as in the sanctions given by the society. If the LGBT group insists on equal rights, they must also be prepared to accept and carry the burden of equal liability and responsibility. That is the essence of democracy.”

In actuality, no national law has ever been enacted to specifically protect or promote the rights of LGBT Filipinos. In fact, in the last 14 years starting 1999, attempts to pass into law an Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) that would penalize discriminatory practices towards members of the LGBT community have been repeatedly thwarted in Congress. Through the years, documented cases have accumulated showing LGBT Filipinos at the receiving end of abusive and discriminatory treatment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their own homes and communities, workplaces, schools and in public and private institutions and establishments. Even in places where there are local ordinances meant to protect them, LGBT Filipinos continue to experience discrimination. Not surprisingly, many LGBT rights advocates have rejected HB 2352.

Legal stigmatization of gender and sexuality

HB 2352 comes in the heels of recently passed laws that rights advocates have opposed. To the dismay of many, the Philippine government under President Benigno S. Aquino III has enacted several laws that stigmatize gender and sexuality.

In March 2012, Republic Act (RA) 10158, which seeks to decriminalize vagrancy, was signed into law. Many women’s rights organizations opposed RA 10158 because of its problematic definition of vagrancy. Under RA 10158, vagrants are only prostitutes and prostitutes are only women.  In August 2012, the president approved RA 10172 which allows change in the date of birth and gender in the birth certificate in case of clerical errors. The law explicitly states, however, that change in gender will not cover those who have undergone a “sex change or sex transplant.” Transgender rights advocates protested the inclusion of the phrase sex transplant in the wording of the law because it is a non-existent medical procedure. Its inclusion violates rules of clarity and non-ambiguity, to which pieces of legislation are expected to adhere, but to no avail. In September 2012, RA 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, was signed into law. It has become one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation under the Aquino administration. RA 10175 criminalizes cybersex along with other online activities. The law has been assailed for its intent to curtail Internet freedom and its violation of people’s freedom of speech and expression. At least 15 petitions were filed at the Supreme Court (SC), which has since issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against RA 10175, suspending its implementation.

Lagman’s My Husband’s Lover bill, no doubt, has the potential to follow in the footsteps of these laws. It would be grossly ironic, given that the show after which it was named was presumably created to enlighten people about the real-life complexities of gender and sexuality. If passed into law, HB 2352 would be the first law in the Philippines to criminalize same-sex behavior. This would be unfortunate since the winds of change to abolish adultery in law books have already reached nearby countries. In Taiwan, women’s groups in March 2013 asked the government to abolish adultery from the Criminal Code because it is unfavorable to women. According to women’s rights advocates, Taiwan’s adultery law promotes legal discrimination and maintains pervasive gender inequality. HB 2352 would undoubtedly do the same.

This is a wake-up call then for advocates to bolster the fight for greater equality and genuine sexual and gender freedom in the Philippines.

 *Naomi Fontanos is a Filipina transgender rights advocate and co-founder of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, a Manila-based nonprofit committed to promote human rights in the context of development.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Transwoman refused entry at Dubai airport

Jen Janice

Jen Janice (see pic above) is not a well-known name in transactivist circles but many see her as having done so much more than others for making great strides in the corporate world. Jen Janice is currently a Program Manager for a multinational based in the Netherlands. She has worked for the same company for many years in Singapore where she is originally from until two years ago when she decided to make the big move to their Netherlands head office.

I had the honor of meeting Jen in Copenhagen for the World Outgames where she talked about her rise in the corporate ladder as an out and proud transwoman. We hit it off really well and have kept in touch since. Besides her obvious intelligence, corporate savvy and professional credentials, Jen is a very caring, sweet and motherly person. I know for a fact that she has mentored a lot of underprivileged transgirls while living in Singapore. She is also a great cook and I have seen her whip up a storm in the kitchen producing the most delectable of foods.

It was a shock for me to learn that she was held at the Dubai airport on her way back to the Netherlands on a business trip. She wanted to visit some friend in Dubai but was not let in. You can read her full story below. Fortunately, Jen wants change at the Dubai airport and hopefully her case will be the first step towards better treatment of all especially transgender people when they enter the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Transgender being refused entry into Dubai

Being showcased like an attraction

Adapted from The Gay Krant Newspaper, The Netherlands
Photo by : GEERT VAN TOL

Baffled, sad and most of all upset. Those were the feelings which came up when Jan
Janice reported at Customs at the airport of Dubai - one of the seven Arab Emirates
- together with other passengers. What should have been a pleasant visit to friends ended up in a drama. "As a transgender, I have never ever been so humiliated onto the bone".

Without the faintest idea, Jen Janice got off the plane on that hot December day
and went through Customs. A few days ago she had decided to continue to the
United Arab Emirates to visit some friends, after a business meeting in Kuwait. She
was very much looking forward to it, as it had been a while since she seen her
friends. But in her wildest dreams she would not have guessed the end result. "I
was queuing up at customs and I was dressed modestly. When it was finally my
turn, the customs official studied my passport. He then called for help from passing-by colleague". Jen Janice was stunned. Because she is unable to speak Arabic, she could not make out any of the conversation following that. His stern
facial expression then changed when he heard a remark from a colleague. "I was clearly the subject. A few times, he looked at me in minute detail and then back into my passport. That was so humiliating." Because she has not had her Sexual Corrective Surgery (SRS), Jan Janice is still registered as a male.

And then the long wait started. Jen Janice was taken out of the queue and into a separate room. "Another man joined them and together they started asking all sorts of questions. What I wanted to do in their country and why I looked the way I do? One of the officials just could not understand why I am a man but look like a woman". The men did not know what to do with her. Next, like a criminal she was taken to yet another room where she had to wait for hours again. When I asked if I could call one of my friends, they reacted rigidly that that was absolutely not possible. They also asked me why I wanted to be a woman. They were very intimidating. On top of that, it was very humiliating that more and more customs
officials came into the room just to have a look at me. They all started laughing/giggling. Although it had not been mentioned yet, at that time it daunted upon me that I would be deported."

She still is livid having been put up as a curiosity. "My passport reads that I am a
male. But from when I was nineteen, I already felt like a women. This has never been a problem work-wise. My management and direct colleagues respect me for who I am."
In the airport the doors were opened up and Jen Janice was taken to another room by
some airport ground-handling staff. In the departure hall we caught the attention of quite some people. In the room where she subsequently had to take place were another fifty or-so people from different countries who just like Jen Janice, would be deported. "I then lost courage. I was told officially that I would have to leave the country immediately. I felt dismayed and could have easily cried. My dignity was at stake. No reason was given as to why I had to leave. I was extremely sad that this had to happen to me. I had only wanted to visit my friends and meant no harm. Via Blackberry, I then finally managed to contact my manager. She was on the road and reacted upset when she heard my story. My employer then offered
help and arranged for my return trip. Not easy, because many flights had been canceled due to the heavy snowfall at Schipol airport. I was really lucky being able to leave so quickly. Else, I might have had to stay for two days in that room amongst all those other deportees.

Back in the Netherlands, she is determined not to drop the story. Although the planned visit to her friends was purely for pleasure, her employer is supporting her wholeheartedly. "Early January, I have sent a letter to the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Singapore as I still hold a Singapore passport. But up until now I have not received a reply. The Singapore embassy in the United Arab Emirates is looking into the matter. "In future, without a doubt, I will need to travel for business to the UAE more often. So then it should be clear as to what I can expect. We've got a big leap ahead of us before transgender ladies can be themselves. All my life, I've been fighting to prove that I'm just like everyone else. The
fact that I have to continue to proof myself is inhumane."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Love Post #1


We’re at the beach waiting for sunset, my head cradled lovingly in the nook of his shoulder, when he turns to me and says in his endearing European accent, “Baby, I have a gift for you.” He shows me a picture of the sun, a pin prick in the sky, between his thumb and pointer finger (see above). “I got the sun to put in your eye.”

He struggles with English and when the words escape him he says “I don’t know for speak.” And I tell him that I understand him clearly and absolutely so. He says “Only you understand me.” I look at him with utter love and feel that everything is right and perfect in the world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Project Headshot ACT

Head shot

I almost forgot that for World AIDS Day this year, I was warmly invited by renowned photographer Niccolo Cosme and talented videographer Jethro Patalinghug to take part in the third offering of Project Headshot (see above). Project Headshot is an HIV and AIDS-focused photography campaign sponsored by UNAIDS Philippines with the tag line Saving humanity through profile pictures. It began in 2008 with the the theme "Aware". In 2009, they had a second round of shoots for the next phase called "Move." This year the campaign calls people to action to emphasize voluntary HIV and AIDS screening and counseling for the third installment called "Act." Project Headshot has a Facebook fan page that you can like here.
The head shots were released on 1 December 2010 and many web sites have carried it. You can see it on Spot here and at the Female Network here. To view the entire gallery, click here.

With Niccolo

This is not the first time I worked with Niccolo, who is a celebrated photography artist here (see pic above). I had the pleasure of being shot by him when he was not yet internationally famous for an anniversary photo shoot of one of my organizations. So it was really amazing to me when the next time I saw him was when he joined the local singing reality TV show, Duets. I am happy to note, though, that fame has not changed him one bit. He is still the self-effacing, nice and sweet guy I met years back.

With Jethro Patalinghug

I was also very happy to have met for the first time the talented Jethro Patalinghug (see above). Jethro is the person behind the promotional video for the 2010 Manila Pride March called One Love. He is also a singer and performer and his talent just inspires me. I hope we can work together some more in the future.

With Ana Santos

It was a great day doing the Project Headshot ACT shoot. Ana Santos, a long-time ally and editorial director of Sex and, was there as well (see pic above).

I would like to thank Niccolo and Jethro for inviting me to be part of the Headshot Clinic this year. For updates on the clinic, visit their blog here. The best part about ACT was the fact that I was the only transwoman there. Hopefully for the next installment, we will see more head shots of transpeople. That is definitely something to look forward to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010 Manila Pride March


Last 4 December 2010, the Transgender Lesbian Bisexual and Gay (TLBG) community in Manila concluded another historical Pride Parade. For the first time, the TLBG Pride March was sponsored by the local government of Quezon City. Of course, the girls were there and we decided to come in fiery and radical red.

Affirm the right to self-determination

We had two calls this year: AFFIRM THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION and STOP DISCRIMINATION BASED ON GENDER IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION. We also brought back the red truck last year that we rented again out of our own pockets this year.

With Princess & Seanel

Our hardworking member Seanel Caparas (rightmost in the pic above) along with her best friend Princess Jimenez (leftmost in the pic above) decorated the truck and turned it into a parade float. I was so touched when I saw the truck. Seanel and Princess truly outdid themselves and I am so grateful to them up to now.

Once again, joining the march was a tiring but fulfilling experience. Every year, it just seems to get bigger and grander. I was so proud to see that many of the people organizing the march were the first-timers when I was the co-coordinator of  two years ago. I am glad that they kept the flame alive and served Task Force Pride Philippines this year. The TFP execom did a very good job this year and they deserve a big congrats!

With best friend Rey

At last I was able to get a picture taken with my best gay friend in the world, Rey Banag (see above). A week before, Rey sent me a "surprise" Christmas card which had a picture of him and his partner, JM. I cried when I saw the pic and fell in love with them all over again. They are one of the best gay couples I know and I love them both to pieces. I was so elated to receive their loving message with a beautiful picture of them to boot. Now I have their picture in my wallet and it can finally be said that yes I am a fag hag. I am a true-blooded girl who loves boys who like boys. And the pic with me and Rey is my favorite picture from the march.

With Arnel Pineda

During the program, I was surprised when one of the stage hands went up to me and said that Arnel Pineda, the front man of Journey just arrived. Arnel made every Filipino proud when he became Journey's lead singer around 3 years ago. It was such a treat for him to drop by and give a solidarity message to the LGBT community. And of course, it was great meeting him in person (see above)!

Awarding Akbayan

One of the highlights of the program that night was seeing old allies winning a special prize. Akbayan party, the partylist that originaly filed the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) in Congress 10 years ago, attended this year's march with their usual huge contingent. The ADB seeks to penalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression but its passage has foundered since it was first filed 3 Congresses ago. Akbayan won Most Number of Participants in this year's parade. It was an honor to hand the award to Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and Akbayan Chairperson Percival Cendaña (see pic above).

With Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista

The best part of the night was meeting Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista again (see pic above). Mayor Bautista and I actually met 3 years ago when I was just a TFP volunteer and he was still the Vice-Mayor of Quezon City. We saw him in a restaurant and asked him to support the march which was going to be held in Manila then. He asked me to send in a letter to his office and I guess that gave him an idea to fully support the march in a bigger way in the future.

All in all, One Love was amazing. It was also heart-warming to see the media acknowledge the advocacy work of the transgender community. Many of the media write-ups and features on the March showed transwomen in the news. It beats me though why even if I kept saying LGBT during the program, most of the news agencies present called it the "gay pride parade" in the news the day after. I guess old habits die hard but at least now, they say LGBT as well and not only "gay and lesbian this" or "gay and lesbian" that, which is a good change.

Congratulations again to TFP. May this be the start of a long and good relationship between the annual LGBT Pride Parade and the Quezon City Government. We cannot wait for next year's Pride March!