Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

That's happy new year in Japanese! Here's wishing everyone good health, success, happiness, peace of mind and love in 2009. All the best always!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

International Symposium on Trans Cinema Studies

Below is the call for papers from Eliza Steinbock, a board member of the T-Image Foundation, the organization that has been sponsoring the bi-annual Transgender Film Festival in the Netherlands. I hope one day we can all see each other in an international gathering of scholars such as this one. It would be very interesting to say the least.

International Symposium on Trans Cinema Studies
Deadline - 01.02.2009

19th May 2009 at the University of Amsterdam - Co-sponsored by T-Image Foundation and The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis Convened by Eliza Steinbock, PhD Candidate at ASCA and board member of T-Image Foundation. Taking place in conjunction with the Netherlands Transgender Film Festival 20-24 May 2009 at de Balie Cultural Center.

In celebration of our 5th bi-annual festival, we will convene a full day of debate amongst scholars, filmmakers, the transgender community, and festival attendees. We imagine this symposium to be both reflective and forward-looking.

Susan Stryker (visiting Professor, Harvard University and Associate Professor Gender Studies, Indiana University) will present her groundbreaking work on Christine Jorgenson, a transsexual celebrity and filmmaker, as well as lead the closing plenary. We invite 20 min. presentations from scholars and/or professionals in the field. In the interest of staking out some of the concerns of “trans cinema studies,” we suggest the following issues:

History: in what ways have gay and lesbian television, cinema and festivals enabled trans visibility; what are the histories of other avenues of emergence; in what ways have film festivals shaped the films that have been made?

Accessibility/Distribution: what might we do about the identity ‘problem’ facing trans film festivals, which as a platform for trans cinema are sidelined as being too specialist or become redundant as more queer film festivals curate a trans program; what are the implications of greater or lesser distribution for certain films at festivals and elsewhere?

Reception: what work do (trans) viewers perform on films to make them trans, read them as trans, to make the films work in particular ways; what is at stake in trans perceptibility and how might we understand it?

Film Craft: to what extent have techniques and strategies from queer and feminist film been incorporated into trans cinema and vice versa; is ‘transness’ in the director, content, conventions/expectations, the market, or?

Genre: which genres has trans representation tapped into and why; which genres have not yet been explored; might trans cinema be an expansive term to include experimental cinema (new languages and strategies)?

Representation: what are the dominant and subjugated models of trans representation, especially in terms of the politics of nation, race, age, sexuality, and class; what kinds of shifts have occurred in terms of films with MTF or transfeminine characters and films with FTM or transmasculine characters?

Film Theory: how might feminist film theory overlap with trans film theory; do we mean ‘trans’ as a concept or a practice; what methods of film analysis and film history does trans cinema render obsolete; what tools of analysis does trans cinema call for and suggest?

Interdisciplinarity: in what ways might transgender/transsexual practice and cinema relate?; how might shared concepts, such as, duration, narrative, technology expand and enrich both fields of study?;

Please submit a 250 word abstract of your intended paper and a biographical note. Send to Eliza Steinbock by 1 February 2009. We look forward to your response and hope to see you in May! For more information visit

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

Rainbow holiday greetings to you and your loved ones on this special time of year. Keep the myriad-colored lights shining bright till the New Year! And as the man who has my heart is wont to say, Shalom from the bottom of my heart. :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Used to be a man"

One of the more despicable phrases ever coined by the modern media is “used to be a man.” It is more often than not used to describe a trans woman who has recently caught media attention and commonly occurs with at least to me, its equally offensive variations such as “born a man”, “born male”, “born a he”, or “female (supply profession/occupation here) used to be a he/used to be a man”.

This phrase has taken center stage anew with the winning of the RE/MAX Long Drive Championship in the US by Lana Lawless, a 55 year old, openly trans woman. One would think that with trans golfer Mianne Bagger’s success in the sport, the golfing world would be used to trans people by now. But no, Lana’s story is being sold as a golfing “scandal” of sorts and the media is once again having a field day throwing around all the above-mentioned phrases to describe her.

Lana seems to be taking it well though and in interviews she seems to be rolling with the punches and handling the situation with a sense of humor. So I really shouldn’t be reacting this way. Sometimes I just wish she’d confront the use of this phrase to describe her because it sensationalizes her.

Additionally, I can’t help but feel that our own community somehow is at fault here. The phrase “used to be a man” speaks of the kind of language we ourselves use in talking about our transgender experience. I would like to particularly problematize the concept of transition here.

In trans parlance, transition is the moment one starts changing one’s body and gender expression to that of the opposite gender (whatever that is to you). It is also the basis of the idea of the gender vector. The gender vector demonstrates the direction of gender change for people who transition, for example, from male to female, thus the abbreviation MTF for trans women and from female to male or FTM for trans men.

When I go to speaking engagements talking about Trans 101, I hardly use these terms in spite of their currency in our community in the same way that I don’t use the terms pre-op, post-op or non-op. I simply don’t feel that they should carry as much significance as others bestow on them. The problem with the terms pre-op, post-op and non-op is that they privilege the op or operation when we know that having the op is not the end-all, be-all of our trans experience. In the same vein, I view transition as an optional process. Many trans people will not transition or will not feel the need to do so. Or they may do so but not feel that it is a process of transitioning from one gender to another.

And I guess this is my point all along. I’ve always felt that we trans people have always been born the gender we now identify as. And no matter how that is explained—whether our transness is genetic or neurological—we were never the sex we were assigned at birth. In my case, I was never male. I was not born a he. I was not born a man. I was always female.

This is why the phrase “used to be a man” makes me cringe every time I hear or read it used to describe a trans woman because it is a clear case of ignorance of the trans experience. That or it’s an intentional sensationalizing of it. After all, as Monica Roberts has been pointing out in her blog, The Transgriot, the Associated Press has already outlined in its Stylebook what the press should do in talking about trans people. According to the Stylebook, when it comes to:

Transgender - Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.

But this is just pronoun usage which is the tip of the iceberg in dealing with trans people. In fact, many articles about Lana Lawless do refer to her as she but only after revealing that she used to be a he. And this to me is the missing link. What Stylebooks don’t teach is how to genuinely treat people of trans experience with RESPECT when talking and reporting about them. That should be done in journalism school not after.

And for that to be fully realized, we trans people ourselves need to rethink and perhaps transform the language we use in talking about our experience. We are more than our surgeries. We are more than the direction of gender change we take. We must accept that above all and more than anything, we are simply, people first.

A call from Julia Serano

hi everyone,

I am currently working on a web article that I hope will raise awareness about the ways in which trans women are often “hyper-sexualized” in our culture. And I am soliciting quotes, anecdotes and insights from the trans feminine/MTF community in order to help convey the impact that this sexualization has on our lives.

Of course, all women face nonconsensual sexualization (e.g., cat calls, sexual innuendos or harassment, sexually explicit remarks about our appearances, objectifying comments or depictions, sexual violation, etc.) to varying degrees. But those of us who are trans women sometimes find that strangers and acquaintances tend to be far more explicit, hardcore and/or debasing in their sexualizing comments and behaviors when they are aware of our trans status than when they presume that we are cis women (i.e., non-trans women).

Here is how I put some of my own experiences in my book Whipping Girl:

‘...when I am assumed to be cissexual [i.e., non-transsexual], the sexualizing comments I receive almost always come from random strangers in public. However, if I meet a man in a more social situation (e.g., at a party or a bar), he rarely stoops to blatantly crass, sexualizing comments, even when he is flirting with me. However, in social settings where I am known to be transsexual (e.g., at events where I perform spoken word poetry), men do often blatantly sexualize me: I have had men immediately engage me in conversations about how much they enjoy “she-male” porn, flat-out tell me “I’m turned on by ‘girls like you,’ ” and explicitly describe the sex acts they have had with other trans women in the past. And numerous times I have received unsolicited emails, presumably from men who found my website during a search using the keyword “transsexual,” in which they described their sexual fantasies about trans women in gory detail, or asked me graphic questions about my body and sexual activities. These emails are always centered on my transsexual femaleness; I do not receive similar emails from people who presume that I am a cissexual female.’

If you are a trans woman (i.e., someone who was assigned a male sex at birth, but who identifies and/or lives as female), I would be interested in possibly including your experiences in my web article. I am particularly interested in the following types of scenarios:

1) occasions where somebody sexualized you in an especially extreme or explicit manner specifically because they knew you were trans.
2) occasions where somebody assumed that you were motivated to transition to female for primarily sexual reasons (for example, to receive sexual attention from men, to engage in sex work, or to fulfill some kind of sexual fantasy or “perversion”).
3) occasions where medical or psychiatric professionals (particularly those fulfilling a “gatekeeper” role) made especially sexualizing remarks about your appearance, behaviors or motives/desire to transition, or were sexualizing in other ways.
4) occasions where someone sexualized your trans body, identity and/or motives for transitioning in order to dismiss your female identity or to insinuate that you are not a “real” woman.

For each incident you wish to share, please write a brief paragraph describing what happened (btw, you may submit more than one incident/paragraph). Obviously, other factors besides trans status (e.g., race, age, class, size, ability, to name a few) can also impact the specific ways in which women are sexualized, so feel free to include any other contextual information that you feel is necessary to accurately convey what happened. Also, keep in mind that other people may eventually be reading these quotes, so be sure to omit any unimportant info that you feel might place your (or anyone else’s) anonymity in jeopardy (e.g., where you live or work, people’s names, etc.). Also, I will not be editing these paragraphs at all (except possibly for length), so you might want to double-check for spelling mistakes and typos.

For those interested, please send your experiences to me at - I can assure you that YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFO WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED OR SHARED WITH ANYONE. Please paste the text into the body of the email (no attachments please). In the email, please also include a statement along the following lines: “I certify that all of the provided information is true to the best of my knowledge, and I give Julia Serano permission to permanently post these quotes on her website and to allow her to excerpt them in her future writings or presentations on the topic of the sexualization of trans women.” I hope to complete this article by the end of January, so I’d appreciate it if you sent me your experiences sooner rather than later.

For the record, this work is not the part of any kind of “research project.” I am approaching this subject as both a trans activist (who wants to raise awareness about an issue which has a profound negative impact trans women’s lives) and a journalist (who wants to chronicle a phenomenon that has been largely ignored by the cis mainstream and in cis feminist circles). It is my hope that the final web article will contain a series of quotes from trans women speaking in their own voices, describing the types of sexualization they have faced and the impact it has had on their lives. The article will be permanently placed on my website, as I hope that it will become a useful resource for trans activists, trans feminists, trans academics, and others who wish to analyze and/or call attention to the nonconsensual sexualization that trans women routinely face.

One last point: The purpose of this article is to highlight the ways in which trans women are nonconsensually sexualized by others. It is *not* about healthy, consensual sexuality, nor about trans women’s sexual behaviors and proclivities. Too often people who wish to sexualize women use our own sexual expressions or experiences against us in order to insinuate that we are somehow “asking for it” (i.e., asking to be sexualized). For this reason, this article will focus solely on the sexual assumptions that *other people make about us*, rather than on our own sexualities.

Feel free to cross-post this request on any trans-focused websites/blogs/email lists at your discretion. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at

Thanks in advance!

julia serano
writer, spoken word artist, trans woman activist

Trying to get my groove back

It has been two weeks since the historic 2008 Manila Pride March: Parade, Program, Pageant and Party and a week since I got back from Indonesia to attend a gathering of LGBT activists there for the 60th year anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR60). Yet I feel like I’ve been unhinged by the frenetic pace that was the Pride March preparations and leaving for another country right after did not help matters if any.

When I got back to work last Tuesday, the 16th, I felt a little lost and even now I feel like I’m still trying to get my groove back. I know this is just temporary because I have so much to do even this Christmas break from work. I’ve decided to give myself till tomorrow though to ride out this feeling. I hope to be back on track soon after.

I apologize for taking this long to say anything here. I know I promised to blog more this month and I could have done so with so many things happening before, during and after the Pride March but I just could not find the time. Any spare time I had I used for resting instead. Anyway below is an article about the Pride March written by 2008 Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines’ Media Committee Head, Danton Remoto who also happens to be the national chair of Ang Ladlad, the organization of LGBT Filipinos that I belong to. It was published on the website of ABS-CBN, a leading television network here. I also added a link to pictures of the march taken by Prof. Libay Linsangan Cantor, of the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI). Prof. Cantor is a well-respected lesbian author, film maker and teacher here. I hope this will do for now. Enjoy!

It was time once again to paint the whole country pink last December 6. Occasion: the annual Pride March of the Philippine lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Filipinos at Remedios Circle, Malate, Manila. The march is organized by Task Force Pride Philippines, an organization of LGBT groups and individuals. After the march, the Miss Queen Philippines Beauty Pageant was held at 5 p.m., followed by a street party at Maria Orosa Street with techno DJs at 10 p.m. Celebration was the theme of this year’s Pride March. And as before, we are still pushing for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill that I helped write in 1999, and which is still pending in the lethargic Congress, nine years after it was filed.

This year’s Task Force Pride was co-chaired by Miss Sass Sasot of Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippinnes (STRAP) and Miss Pau Fontanos of STRAP and Ang Ladlad, the national organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Filipinos. Changes in this year’s Pride March included a colorful website,, more floats, and the march done by new members of newly organized LGBT groups, including guys who climb mountains (Brokeback Mountain?) and lesbians who raise families. I was happy to see that we the veterans could now go behind the scenes and work at the sidelines while the young, the fabulous, and the organized got the work done, and done generally well.

This year’s Pride March was also different in that it was the first time that LGBT Pride was celebrated nationwide, in Luzon (Manila), Visayas (Cebu), and Mindanao (Lanao del Norte). In Manila , the 2008 Manila Pride March turned the streets of Malate into one big and colorful space for celebration, even if a small group of Born-Again Christians – and foreign at that! – tried but failed to rain on our parade.

In Cebu, the Visayas Pride Network, a network of LGBT organizations and individuals promoting LGBT human rights led by Joseph Patrick Ty held the first ever Pride Day in the Queen City of the South. In Lanao del Norte, the Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders United for Peace and Solidarity (GUPS) led by Ang Ladlad member Bong Enriquez celebrated LGBT Pride by conducting a reflexology and therapeutic massage training for Mindanao LGBTs on 6-7 December 2008. As part of the training, participants got free foot reflexology, foot spa, and back and head massages to NGO workers on Dec. 8 and 9.

As Chairman of Ang Ladlad, I also introduced the Yogyakarta Principles of LGBT Rights signed in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, last year as the framework for the rights of LGBT Filipinos. Grace Poore of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) explained the context of the Yogyakarta Principles.

The Yogyakarta Principles collate all the international human-rights laws and applies these legal standards to issues concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. They were put together by a distinguished group of human rights experts who met at Yogyakarta in November 2006. It has since been introduced formally to the United Nations (UN) system, translated into the six official UN languages, and launched in several countries.

The launch of the Yogyakarta Principles in Manila is part of Ang Ladlad’s response to IGLHRC’s 16 Days of Activism campaign to end violence against Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) women. Ang Ladlad – along with other groups in Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China and India – launched the Yogyakarta Principles in their respective countries, helped create a banner consisting of panels of fabric representing Asian LBT activism, and sent a representative, Pau Fontanos, to the gathering of LGBT activist and groups in Yogyakarta, Indonesia for the 60th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). For more information on the Yogyakarta Principles, please visit

But the Pride March done during Human Rights Week was not a one-shot affair. The five months leading up to the Pride March were hectic, indeed, with LGBT-related activities. They included a forum on transfemale rights, the dyke dialogues, UP Babaylan’s medical mission, the launching of a new LGBT magazine called Invoice as well as the launching of GALANG, or Gays and Lesbians Activist Network for Gender Equality. Club Government in Makati Avenue also had its 4th anniversary party, while Ang Ladlad held literary readings at Mag.Net Katipunan on the second Mondays of October and November, courtesy of its owner, the painter Rock Drilon.

One Bacardi, a group of young gay men, held their 2nd anniversary at Bed Malate Bar and Club, while Circle of Friends held a Fright Nite, Pride Nite Halloween Costume Party. GALANG also held a month-long festival of LGBT films at Katipunan. A Manhunt fund-raising party was held as well at Club Government, while an LGBT Bloggers’ Night launched the Rainbow Bloggers’ Philippines group at Red Box in Greenhills 3. Bed also held its Pride Nation fund-raising party while another Trans Dialogue was held at UP, jointly organized by Ang Ladlad, Rainbow Rights, and STRAP.

My latest book, Rampa: Mga Sanaysay, published by Anvil, was launched at Powerbooks Greenbelt 3. Powerbooks also chose me as Author of the Month for November, putting up a display stand of all my books in their branches. A pre-Pride party and launch of Miss Queen Philippines was held at Palawan 2 Bar in Cubao, while a Task Force Pride Meet-up was held at UP Diliman. A World AIDS Day Form was also organized by Girls, Woman, and HIV-AIDS Network (GWHAN) and a Pride March victory party was held at Club Government last Saturday. As you can see, it was a beehive of activity, made possible by the sheer hard work of organized groups under the fairy wand of the the three fabulous trans divas – Sass, Dee, and Pau.

As one of our international participants, a guy from Malaysia whose name I will not disclose, said: “I am still stunned at this Pride March. We do not have something like this in Malaysia. This is called freedom.”

Only, as they say, in the Philippines. But said this time, with a wide grin on the face and the rainbow colors of pride.

For pictures of the 2008 Manila Pride March, click here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


The 2008 Manila Pride March: Parade, Program, Pageant & Party was a huge success! I'm still on Pride high and want to savor it a little longer.

I will tell and show you more when I get back from Yogyagarkta Indonesia for the 60th year anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)!

In the mean time long live the united Filipino LGBT community!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao celebrate LGBT Pride

In what is being anticipated as a historic first, events celebrating Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride will happen simultaneously on 6 December 2008, in Luzon (Manila), Visayas (Cebu) and Mindanao (Lanao), making this year’s LGBT Pride festivities nation wide.

In Manila, the 2008 Manila Pride March is expected to turn the streets of Malate into one big Pride festival starting with a Parade at 3 pm, a Program and Pageant (Miss Queen Philippines 2008) at 5 pm and a street Party along Ma. Orosa St. from 10 pm onwards.

In Cebu, the Visayas Pride Network, a network of LGBT organizations and individuals promoting LGBT human rights, is gearing up for the first ever Pride Day in the Queen City of the South. To join and for more information, visit the Visayas Pride Network website here.

In Lanao, the Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders United for Peace and Solidarity (GUPS), will celebrate LGBT Pride by conducting a reflexology and therapeutic massage training for Mindanao LGBTs on 6-7 December 2008. As part of the training, participants will offer free foot reflexology, foot spa and back and head massages to NGO workers on Dec. 8 and 9. To join and for more information, visit the GUPS website here.

Live, love and unite with Pride. Join this year’s celebration of LGBT Pride in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao!

Promoting PRIDE

It can be said that we did everything we could to promote LGBT Pride to as many people as possible this year. In the beginning of our work in Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines, the official LGBT network that has been organizing the annual Pride March in Manila since 1999, we all agreed to try this year to bring the message of Pride to previously untapped sectors, groups, establishments, institutions and individuals. We hope our hard work will pay off this Saturday, 6 December 2008 when the 2008 Manila Pride March finally happens.

Some of the things we did for PRIDE inlcude, a Halloween party, called Fright Night, Pride Night. It was sponsored by a new TFP organizational member, the Circle of Friends (CoF), an NGO dedictaed to the ideals of brotherhood and friendship. I went as Morticia Addams.


We also held several fundraisers including one called PRIDE NATION hosted by Bed Malate, one of our organizing partners. That night I met a group of drag performers called the Love Dolls.


Then finally, we spoke with all the LGBT bars in Malate where the 2008 Manila Pride March will happen this year. We asked them if they could help sponsor food, performances, etc. We went around Malate to give out posters and flyers and someone from CoF even dressed up as a Filipino super heroine, Darna all in the name of promoting Pride.


We have two days to go before the Pride March. Live, love and unite in and with Pride. See you on Saturday!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Live, love and unite with PRIDE. MARCH!

This year we, the members of Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines, the official organizing network of the annual LGBT Pride March in Manila have decided to mark TFP's 10th year by paying tribute to the things that matter most: our rights, our lives, our loves and ourselves.


These are the reasons why on Saturday, 6 December 2008, together we will march in the streets of Manila to declare ourselves proudly to the world. I invite you to live, love and unite with PRIDE. MARCH!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Inside the Miss Queen Philippines Beauty Pageant

One of the exciting things to look forward to in this year’s celebration of LGBT Pride is the staging by Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines of a beauty pageant after the parade on 6 December 2008 along Ma. Orosa St. in Manila. Below is the write-up on this ground-breaking TFP project.

The program organizers of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride March in Manila have been known to stage impromptu beauty contests within the post-parade program. Contestants are usually handpicked for coming to the Pride March in intricate attire and are then asked to gamely compete for the Best Costume award in beauty-pageant fashion.

This year, Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines changes all that by bringing to you a real beauty contest featuring only the most beautiful and the smartest transgender beauty queens from all over the Philippines. Miss Queen Philippines will be the official Pride Queen of the 2008 Manila Pride March: Parade, Program, Pageant and Party and she will proudly reign until the next LGBT Pride March.


Two phases
As it aims to showcase the beauty and talent of transpinays (Filipina transgender women), Miss Queen Philippines will have two phases: a pre-pageant and coronation night. The pre-pageant night will happen on 28 November 2008, Friday, 7:30 pm at Palawan 2 Bar, Yale St., Cubao, Quezon City. The pre-pageant night also serves as TFP’s pre-pride party and fundraiser for the 2008 Manila Pride March. Tickets to the pre-pageant are at Php200 with one free drink. Part of the proceeds will go to TFP.

The second phase of the contest will happen on the day of the LGBT Pride March on 6 December 2008. The Miss Queen Philippines contestants will join the parade and after the advocacy speeches and the various campaigns of TFP 2008, the Pageant proper will commence featuring the finalists who made the cut after the pre-pageant night.

The candidates and the pageant
This year, TFP in cooperation with BRIC, an events-management company, is proud to present 18 lovely beauties who are all reigning beauty titlists. The Pageant on December 6 in Ma. Orosa St. after the Pride March is surely a must-see as these 18 women celebrate their unique talent and beauty by competing in Long Gown, Casual & Swim Wear and answering the much awaited Final Question.

Live, love and unite with Pride! Watch the pre-pageant and coronation night of the Miss Queen Philippines and take pride in the beauty of your transpinay sisters!

Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) in Manila

Below is a post written by the secretary of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), Joy Cruz on the events we're holding to commemorate TDOR in Manila.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an event in the LGBT community established to honor and remember those who were killed because of anti-transgender prejudice (transphobia). It was founded to honor Rita Hester, whose murder in 1998 kicked off the "Remembering Our Dead" web project and a candlelight vigil in 1999 in San Francisco, California. Since then, the event has grown to encompass memorials in hundreds of cities around the world.

Following this worldwide and decade-long tradition, the Society of Transsexual Women in the Philippines (STRAP) will sponsor three activities on November 22 and 23, 2008. The first activity dedicated to the Transgender Day of Remembrance is the Trans Dialogues 1 which will happen on November 22, 2008 (Saturday, 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM) at the Bernal Gallery UP Film Institute, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. It is an open forum where the issues and challenges of living as a transgender person in the Philippines will be discussed. Co-sponsors for this event are Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos and Rainbow Rights Project, a legal and policy think tank composed of lesbian and gay lawyers.

This will be followed by a solemn ceremony at the Order of St. Aelred Chapel in 82-D Masikap Street, Barangay Central, Quezon City at 5:30 PM on November 22. The STRAP Ladies will introduce during this time of prayer a new tradition, the Tree of Hope, which will symbolize the brave souls who have gone before us and will serve as a reminder that their lives were not lost in vain.

It will culminate with a mass and a candle ceremony on November 23 (Sunday, 5:30 PM) at the Metropolitan Community Church in the Philippines, 2580 A. Bonifacio Street Barangay Bangkal, Evangelista, Makati City.

Please join us during these events as we remember the dearly departed souls from our community.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

PRIDE EVENTS this weekend

This year, I am so happy to announce that so many new organizations, establishments and individuals are helping Task Force Pride (TFP), the official Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) network that has been organizing the annual LGBT Pride March in Manila since 1999, stage the 2008 Manila Pride March: Parade, Program, Pageant and Party, envisioned to be the biggest LGBT event of the year.

Just this weekend, three events are lined up that will benefit TFP. On Saturday, the Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality (GALANG) will hold the second screening of GALANG@Cinekatipunan at Mag.Net Katipunan.

This is a solidarity event so GALANG is holding the screenings of notable local and foreign LGBT movies on all Saturdays of November for free. I went to their first screening to plug the Pride March last Saturday when they showed D.E.B.S., a comical Charlie's Angel's like-movie with high school characters. It was a fun and intimate affair. Everyone was laughing at the ridiculous twists of the movie and the campiness of its characters. If you want to see what other movies are in store for the rest of the month, just go to the GALANG website.

This Saturday night, Club Government is holding a fundraiser for TFP. Dubbed, MAN HUNT, the male, bikini-open like event promises a feast of male beauty. I'm hoping TFP supporters will troop to Club Government this Saturday for this smoking hot event.


On Sunday, LGBT bloggers will meet in solidarity and song as AJ Matela, author of the blog, Bakla Ako, May Reklamo? organizes the first LGBT Bloggers' Night at a karaoke place, Red Box at Greenbelt 3 starting 7 pm. The event is meant to organize an LGBT bloggers' contingent to the Pride March on 6 December in Malate, Manila. Go to AJ's blog to pre-register. Also on that night, Rainbow Bloggers Philippines, a blog roll/network of LGBT bloggers will be launched.


I am happily looking forward to this weekend. I know it's going to be a fun one and am hoping to see old and new faces at these events. For more information, by the way, please visit the web site of the 2008 Manila Pride March.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Unite with PRIDE.MARCH!


Join the grandest Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) event of the year, the 2008 Manila Pride March: Parade, Program, Pageant and Party. For more information, visit

The Danish Girl

I was on the PC late last night sending out emails related to organizing the Pride March here on December 6 when I heard the late night news mention the words "transsexual" and "Nicole Kidman" in the same sentence. Of course I looked. It turns out that the Oscar-winning statuesque Australian beauty is set to play Lili Elbe, considered the world's first transsexual woman in The Danish Girl, the best-selling first novel of David Ebershoff.

The novel has been translated into several languages and the movie based on it boasts of a casting coup. Lili Elbe, formerly Einar Mogens Wegener, was married to another artist Gerda Gottlieb. After Lili had undergone several gender-affirming surgeries, the King of Denmark invalidated ther Wegeners' marriage. Gerda, in the movie, is going be portrayed by Charlize Theron.

I haven't read the novel but Lili and Gerda's story is a fascinating one. Google them to see. Myself, I can't wait to see the movie. Incidentally, Denmark where Lili was born is going to be the venue for the next World Outgames in the Summer of 2009. Perhaps the World Outgames in Copenhagen can celebrate this Hollywood victory!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Barack Obama

Illinois Senator Barack Obama is the new president-elect of the United States of America. I am so moved and touched by this victory. Congratulations to the American people for believing in and voting for change!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Amazing Philippine Beauties 2008

A group of us went to see the coronation night of Amazing Philippine Beauties 2008 on 24 October 2008, Friday at around 10 pm at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex in Pasay City. I was not surprised that, when we got there, there was already a sizeable crowd waiting to enter the Manila Film Center, one of the many buildings in the CCP Complex and home to the Amazing Philippine Theatre (APT), which according to its web site is the biggest “transvestite” theatre in Asia and sponsor of the now prestigious beauty pageant for Filipina transgender women.


According to those who have been watching the Amazing Philippine Beauties pageant closely, there was a time when the contest was not able to fill up entire rows of seats. The Philippines being a beauty-pageant-crazy country, that has been slowly changing in the last 6 years. And this year was a different story indeed. Not only were all seats taken it was also, in theatre parlance, an SRO (standing room only) crowd that night.


Apparently some candidates invited entire neighborhoods including their boyfriends, relatives and friends to see the show. And they were not mere spectators mind you. I saw whole rows of supporters who brought various props to cheer their candidates on including flash cards bearing the number of their candidate raised up at moments when the candidate was on center stage and balloons which were waved in the air every time their candidate received a citation, mention or award.

It was an okay show overall made more enjoyable by the very energetic audience. My main complaint is that it was too long and could have done without too many segments. Also for some reason it was very hot inside the Manila Film Center that evening. Apparently the Korean company which owns APT decided to cut costs and didn’t turn on the air conditioning full blast. The gay couple who accompanied us to the show couldn’t take the heat and just headed home.


This year’s winner is Angelika Santillan shown above with judge Dr. Sam Winter, author of Transgender Asia Research, and her runner up, Rosa Garcia who I was rooting for. Angelika bagged several awards while Rosa won best swim suit and was just absolutely stunning in her long gown. Oh well, to be second best is better than nothing. Anyway congrats to both of you girls! You deserve it. :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From the sacred to the profane to the self: A review of The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela*

Oscar Wilde once observed that “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.” This was exactly my sentiment last Monday, 20 October 2008, after I attended the evening screening of the 10th Cinemanila International Film Festival at the Cineplex, Gateway Mall, at Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City. We were there for the Philippine premiere of The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, or what its Icelandic director Olaf De Fleur calls this 80-minute combination of fact and fiction, a “visiomentary” of a transsexual from Cebu whose dreams of a better life take her from being an internet porn princess to the streets of Paris.

According to De Fleur, a “visiomentary” is a cross between documentary and narrative fiction filmmaking. Apart from this, the movie has no other pretensions. It is not about transsexualism. It is not about the “ladyboy” phenomenon or the highly sexualized version of Asian transgender women. It is not even about what most stories involving transgender characters are about: a coming of age, a reconciliation with and finding of the true self.


Many who have seen the movie have dismissed it. One commentator has already called Raquela “just another third world tranny” and the critics may be right in their skepticism. Raquela’s story, after all, is hardly remarkable by any measure and those who are familiar with the transgender community will readily attest that she is in fact a walking cliché: poor, uneducated, and turns tricks for a living. Tell us something we don’t already know, they say.

And yet there is something about Raquela that compels you to watch her: from her unorthodox looks to her inane thoughts about life to her ridiculously impish voice to her journey to Iceland to work in a fish factory and finally to her Parisian rendezvous with her porn web master. Raquela is the transgender shaman venerated in ancient times that the movie mentions in the beginning. She is also the prostitute walking the streets of Cebu. She is the royalty raised by poor farmers who will come back to reclaim her kingdom in the fairy tale told at the end of the movie. Raquela is also now the person, in front of us, who only wants a “chance to live a better life.” All these elements come together in a heartfelt way to reveal one amazing truth: that she is us.

*The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela has won Best Feature in the Teddy Awards at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival, Best International Feature and Showtime Vanguard Award at the New York LGBT Film Festival, and the Jury Prize for its Special Contribution to Contemporary Film Expression at Cinema City.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What's in a Supreme Court decision (Part 4)?

I think that the main reason why Jeff Cagandahan’s petition was granted by the Philippine Supreme Court (SC) is luck. He was lucky to have had that set of judges who decided to be compassionate to his situation and permit him to change his name and sex in his birth certificate. The SC ruling on Dr. Silverio’s case said it all: “[n]o judge or court shall decline to render judgment by reason of the silence, obscurity or insufficiency of the law.”

So that is what exactly happened here. While with Dr. Silverio’s case the SC chose to affirm the “silence, obscurity or insufficiency of the law”, it chose to do the opposite with Cagandahan. The SC went out of its way to try to understand intersex conditions (albeit in a way that left much to be desired: by depending on Wikipedia entries) and ruled in a way that affirmed what legal expert Louis Swartz calls the common sense belief that that “the law should change with the times, be up to date, should be practical and realistic.”
In spite of the fact that the law is silent on both transsexualism and intersex, this did not stop the SC from making a ruling concerning the latter. And in the practical concern of resolving Jeff Cagandahan’s gender, the SC chose to be modern and realistic. Since Cagandahan’s CAH makes him male and since he presents and thinks of himself as one in spite of chromosomal and genital evidence to the contrary, then by all intents and purposes he is male.

Why did the same thing not happen in Dr. Silverio’s/Mely case? Simple. Homophobia and/or transphobia. If you read the SC ruling on Mely, the first thing that will strike you is the fact that it begins with a quote from two creation stories, one from Genesis in the Bible and another from the Martial Law-manufactured Philippine creation myth, The Legend of Malakas (Strong) and Maganda (Beautiful).

The SC could have chosen to understand transsexualism. It is after all a medical condition recognized globally. (And there is a Wikipedia entry on it!) Add to that a ton of case law from all over the world that spotlights the issue. Just two years ago in 2006 even the South Korean Supreme Court allowed a female citizen who transitioned to male to change his gender in his registry. In his decision, ruling Justice Kim Ji-hyung said “If one is clearly recognizable as the opposite sex in both appearance and individual and social life after having sex-change surgery, he or she has the right to pursue dignity, value and happiness as a human and live humanely.”
In Europe, countries like Spain, Poland, Germany Lithuania, Romania, Netherlands, and Ireland grant legal recognition to their transsexual citizens. The UK, for instance, has a Gender Recognition Law in place that recognizes the gender of British transsexuals and their right to legal name and sex changes in documents. In Australia and New Zealand, marriages where one spouse is transsexual are now recognized. In Cuba, sex-reassignment surgery is sanctioned by the State. In some American states and jurisdictions, trans people are protected by gender-identity-and-expression-inclusive laws. In Asia, countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, China, HK and Japan all have trans friendly laws. The SC could have turned to all these to render an objective judgment but it did not.

Partly to blame in what happened is probably Mely’s own legal team. In Part 3, I said that even if Mely’s lawyer informed the court that she did not identify as the gender she was assigned at birth, he did not justify it properly. The main reason why Mely identifies as female is because that is her gender identity. And the reason why her gender identity is directly opposite to her birth-assigned sex is because she has a condition called transsexualism. They could have introduced the discourse of transgenderism/transsexualism into their argumentation but they did not. Instead they skirted the issue and simply attempted to appeal to the court’s sense of humanity. That tack did not serve them well. And in the end, unlike in Cagandahan’s case where the court was properly educated on intersex conditions like CAH, the SC in Mely’s case remained ignorant about transsexualism and its attendant issues and concerns.

So what you have here is a ruling that is clearly influenced by Judeo-Christian bias. If you compare the Cagandhan and Silverio rulings, you will see that in the former the SC uses gender-appropriate pronouns while the same could not be said of the latter. (It is mentioned somewhere as well that perhaps it is the patriarchy at work in the Cagandahan decision: a female wanting to be male is preferable and more laudable than a male wanting to be female.) In the SC ruling against Mely, she is repeatedly referred to as a he and is described as someone whose “female anatomy is all man-made. The body that he inhabits is a male-body in all aspects other than what the physician has supplied.” In denying Mely, the SC in fact touched on the issue of marriage. It said that Philippine law does not allow the marriage of a “man to another man who has undergone sex-reassignment.”
So where does this leave us, transsexual Filipinos? The only way out is through legislation. This is also what the SC said, in fact, in ruling against Mely. A law needs to be passed that will recognize the gender a transsexual person identifies as. Until that time comes, going to the courts may be the wrong thing to do. Besides, this SC ruling on Mely puts all Filipino transsexuals in a precarious legal footing. Just last year, a trans woman’s case was also brought to the CA by the OSG. After reviewing her case, the CA overturned a favorable lower court decision on her petition for a name and sex change in her birth certificate. Clearly, the local courts now cannot serve as the sole venue to clarify our legal status. Thus, the time has come for the transgender and transsexual community to come together and ask our Congress to pass a law that will recognize us, our gender as people and our rights as citizens of this country.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What's in a Supreme Court decision (Part 3)?

One of the major issues we, transsexual people, have to contend with is our legal status. Regardless of where we are in our transition (which I define here as the optional process of changing our gender expression and anatomy through hormones and surgeries), we as a community are in agreement that legal recognition of the gender we identify as and not the one wrongly assigned to us at birth should be available to all. Without a law that recognizes transsexualism as a physical and biological condition, however, many Filipino transsexuals have had no other recourse but to go to the courts for a legal change of name and sex.

Prior to the Supreme Court decisions on Jeff Cagandahan (Republic of the Philippines vs. Jennifer Cagandahan) and Dr. Mely Silverio (Silverio vs. Republic of the Philippines), there has been a substantial number of trans women whose petitions have been granted by local judges all over the Philippines. It is safe to assume that these cases were favored by the courts on the same grounds as Dr. Silverio’s was by the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) that heard her case: equity, the fact that the petitioner has undergone medical procedures resulting in significant bodily changes and the fact that the petitioner identifies as a gender directly opposite to the one assigned at birth.

Unfortunately, the first two reasons proved shaky when put through legal scrutiny as demonstrated in the Silverio case. The SC argued that granting Dr. Silverio’s request would raise public policy questions that equity alone could not justify. Moreover, even if there was no law that disallowed sex-reassignment surgery (SRS), there was also no law that legally recognized it. On these two points, Dr. Silverio’s petition was denied by the SC.

So it was shocking to see the SC rule in favor of Jeff Cagandahan because while the intersex and transgender rights movement agree that intersex conditions and transsexualism greatly differ, our issues do overlap. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of Cagandahan and Silverio. Both had biological conditions that invalidated the sex assigned to them at birth. Both were seeking the same judicial relief: a change of name and sex in the birth certificate. Both cases raised quality of life issues. Both were about gender identity.

The SC could have sided with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which was questioning the lower court decision that favored Cagandahan’s request, easily taken its cue from the Silverio ruling and denied Cagandahan by citing the same reasons it did in Silverio’s case:
1) there is no law that allows change of first name on the basis of intersex
2) there is also no law that allows change of sex in the birth certificate due to intersex and
3) that equity alone cannot justify a change in a person’s name and sex in the birth certificate

The SC could have also raised the same public policy questions it hoisted against Dr. Silverio but it did not. Instead it ruled in Cagandahan’s favor which for me, more than anything, emphasizes the arbitrariness of the law. In the Silverio ruling, the SC argued that sex as a status is permanent and that sex assignment at birth, based on genital inspection and when not attended by error, is immutable. The Cagandahan decision contradicts this. According to the SC, in Cagandahan’s case gender classification at birth is inconclusive. But the same argument could have been used to favor Dr. Silverio because she was assigned one sex at birth and grew up identifying as another. In fact because of her condition, recognized globally as transsexualism, Dr. Silverio availed of medical procedures to align her identity with her body. She underwent hormone replacement therapy and various gender affirming surgeries which should have been enough to show the court that her genitals were not only mutable her sex assignment at birth was inconclusive. Clearly, Dr. Silverio is living proof that genitalia alone do not determine gender.

In the Silverio decision, the SC defined male and female saying female is “the sex that produces ova and bears young” while male is “the sex that has organs that produces spermatozoa for fertilizing ova”. Cagandahan has internal female reproductive organs. His genitals are ambiguous. It is not known if he produces sperm. Where does he figure then in this SC definition of the sexes? Clearly, this definition is problematic because it is simplistic and unrealistic. There will always be people like Cagandahan and Dr. Silverio who will never fit such a narrow view. Does this mean that they will forever be in legal limbo? Apparently not as shown by the SC when it ruled in favor of Cagandahan. There are actually many other intersex conditions that will challenge the definition of what is male and female in the Silverio case. Cagandahan’s condition known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is just one example. I wonder though if someone intersex came forward and petitioned the court to recognize him/her as not male, nor female but intersex. Would the court have allowed it?

Finally, the SC in the Silverio case reiterated its duty of merely applying and interpreting laws and not creating or amending them. Because no law allows the recognition of the gender a transsexual identifies as, then Dr. Silverio’s sex assignment in her birth certificate cannot be changed. But the same facts apply in the Cagandahan case. There exists no legislation recognizing the gender chosen by people with intersex conditions! What’s more, there is also no law that mentions or even acknowledges their and their condition’s existence. So what gives?

I will try to answer this in the fourth and hopefully final part of this post. For now, I leave you these thoughts to ponder on. Happy weekend everyone!

Monday, September 29, 2008


Below is an ivitation to volunteer your talent and creativity to Task Force Pride (TFP), the network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations and individuals that has been organizing the annual Pride March in Manila since 1999. The call is being made by our fabulous and gorgeous Finance and Marketing Committee Head, Ms. Dee Mendoza.

Calling all Graphic Artists:

This year’s Manila Pride March will be the 10th. To mark this milestone, the ExeCom Members of Task Force Pride (TFP) 2008 plan to have a commemorative 10th year identity in line with the theme A decade of dignity: Our rights, our lives, our loves, our selves.

This commemorative emblem/logo will stand side-by-side the TFP logo. It will be used in all print/online collaterals, such as flyers, banners, posters, website, etc.

TFP, being a voluntary organization, will only be able to award the bragging rights to the winner. :) The winner must also waive the copyrights of the emblem/logo and shall not hold TFP under any copyright infringement violation.

1. We suggest that this identity play with the number 10 or a stylized form of it.
2. It can be a single color or more.
3. If colored, please render it in black and white, as well.
4. Please render the logo in high-resolution for ease of printing when rendered in large format.
5. One person may submit one or more entries.
6. Upon submission, please include your name, mobile number and email address.
Deadline for submission of entries will be on October 5, 2008. Email entries to divamanila@yahoo. com.

For questions, please feel free to call me at 0918.250.7470.

Please feel free to pass this call-out.

Thank you,

Dee Mendoza
Finance and Marketing Committee Head
TFP 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

GALANG launch solidarity message

Below is the solidarity speech I wrote for the launch of GALANG (Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality), a new LGBT organization working at the grass roots level here, at Café Rallos along Tomas Morato in Quezon City last 20 September 2008. I heard it was very successful and well-attended. I was out of town but somebody else kindly delivered it for me. I thank Anne Lim (the current president of GALANG) sincerely. :)

Good evening! Congratulations to GALANG and welcome to the family of Filipino sex and gender rights advocates. Every time there is a new organization that will fight lesbian, gay, bisexual, bakla/bayot/bantut, tomboy and transgender or LGBT oppression, it is important that we as a community come together in support.

It is important, particularly at this time, because the movement advocating for LGBT rights that we all belong to, have grown up with, and have come to love is almost pushing 20 years. That’s almost one score of rallying tirelessly in the streets, of relentlessly campaigning in and educating our communities, and of indefatigably advocating in our homes, schools, churches, places of work, legislatures and elsewhere. That’s almost two decades of truly hard work and solidarity and yet it seems there remains so much more to be done.

The fact is that after 15 years or so of LGBT activism in the country and in spite of one local ordinance in Quezon City there is no other law, municipal or national, that grants civil rights protections to LGBT Filipinos. Thus, many if not most of us remain vulnerable to violence and discrimination in education, housing, health care, the legal system, employment and other public accommodations; and this while our community is caught in the cusp of history. This year, we are not only commemorating the 60th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR60) and the 30th year of the Rainbow Flag but also putting up the10th Pride March.

Surely these are milestones in our history and before we celebrate them, isn’t it time we paused and took stock of our community and the direction it is taking? I think that the time to ask ourselves the hard questions has come. It is now. After 10 years of declaring ourselves and our dignity in the streets, of proudly marching with friends, lovers, family and equals, has the quality of life of the average LGBT Filipino changed for the better? After almost 20 years of advocacy, have we instituted real social change that would increase and improve the life chances of the generation that will come after us?

Just in the first quarter of this year, we all witnessed the sad story of Jan Jan whose rectal surgery was turned into a circus spectacle by the very practitioners who were supposed to give him competent and professional medical care; then we saw the raids by unscrupulous policemen of gay bars and bathhouses, which was also milked for ratings by several media outlets. After this we heard members of the Catholic clergy wanting to ban transgender people from joining the Santacruzan. This was followed by the Ice Vodka Bar incident where several transgender people were refused entrance. A similar incident happened in Café Havana recently involving two transwomen from Cebu. Any day now, we will hear another story of indignity involving a member of our community.

Certainly, it is a good thing when young, enthusiastic and idealistic people like the members of GALANG and others who are here come along and say “I’ve had enough! That is oppression and I want to fight it!” but it is also equally important for them to be able to look back in the past and see where others who came before them have failed, have erred and could have done so much more. It is undeniably a good thing if our community can learn our lessons and vow not to make the same mistakes and do better next time.

Because this is also ultimately how our activism will be sustained: always, always in the spirit of renewal. This is why every time a new group of people comes together and so decides to take on the challenge of advocating for LGBT equality and acceptance, we must rally behind them to show how much we appreciate it. For our community needs as many people who care as possible. Hopefully they will be fresh-faced, dynamic and vibrant people who will continue our struggle, who will explore new and inspiring ways of doing LGBT rights advocacy, who will not be afraid to face head on and challenge the institutions that oppress and marginalize us, who will willingly work together, listen to and learn from each other, and who will put aside their differences and agree to disagree but still be mature and professional enough to keep doing the work at hand. Hopefully they will not use our community for their own selfish interests but instead will always have the interests of the community at heart. Hopefully they will steer the community in the right direction and do it with integrity, humility, and unselfish service.

So GALANG faces a tall order tonight. :) But it is always good to begin with high expectations because history will unquestionably judge us. When that time comes, let us hope that posterity will look back at all of us only kindly and say we did right by them. Soon our nation will face another Presidential election and a new race to Congress. And I say, there has been no better time to be an advocate for LGBT rights than now. Almost 10 years into the 21st century and already we can see that societal mindsets are changing. Even non-LGBT people are becoming bolder and are fighting back against one of our biggest foes, the Church because of the reproductive health controversy. The political landscape as well is shifting as it is peopled more and more by young and vibrant politicians who speak our language. Meanwhile, the international community continues to offer us their unwavering support.

I hope we can take advantage of this permissive climate and seize all these opportunities to further our cause. Indeed, this is the best time to get our act together as a community and solidify our unity. And a good way to start is by welcoming the efforts of people who want to put up new organizations like GALANG, brave young activists who will hopefully take the lessons of the past and harness them into a more dynamic, vibrant, collegial, intelligent, strategic and effective activism. So congratulations GALANG! Mabuhay kayo at maraming salamat po!

What's in a Supreme Court decision (Part 2)?

As I mentioned in Part 1, last year the Philippine Supreme Court (SC) issued a ruling on a case filed by Dr. Mely Silverio, a trans woman petitioning for a legal change of first name and sex in her birth certificate. Dr. Silverio initially filed her petition in 2002 at a Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) which heard it and subsequently granted her request. The RTC ruled in her favor on the basis of her sex-reassignment and in the interest of justice and equity. In 2003 however, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to review the RTC’s decision arguing that no law allowed any change of entry in a person’s birth certificate by virtue of sex re-assignment surgery (SRS).

In 2006 the CA overturned the RTC decision which led the petitioner to bring her case to the SC. The year after in 2007 the SC released its decision on the matter. It did not only concur with the CA but also ruled that the petitioner’s case lacked merit. In the decision, penned by Associate Justice Renato Corona and agreed upon by Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Adolfo S. Azcuna, and Cancio Garcia, the SC denied the petition on the following grounds:
a) there is no law that allows change of first name on the basis of SRS
b) there is also no law that allows change of sex in the birth certificate due to SRS and
c) a person’s name and sex in the birth certificate cannot be changed merely on the basis of equity

No law allows change of first name due to SRSIn the Philippines, a Civil Code provision expressly forbids a person from changing his/her first or last name without judicial authority. This changed in 2001 upon the passage of Republic Act 9048 (RA 9048) also known as the Clerical Error Law, which allows the city/municipal civil registrar or consul general to correct a clerical/typographical error in an entry or change the first/nick name in the civil register without need of a judicial order.

In the ruling against Dr. Silverio, the SC pointed out the fact that she filed her petition in the wrong venue. Instead, she should have gone to her local Civil Registrar and asked for a change of first name there on any of the following grounds (Section 4, RA 9048):
a) The petitioner finds the first/nick name to be ridiculous, tainted with dishonor or extremely difficult to write or pronounce
b) The new first/nick name has been habitually and continuously used by the petitioner and s/he has been known by that first/nick name in the community
c) The change will avoid confusion.

The SC also argued that because Dr. Silverio used her SRS as her primary reason for seeking a legal name change and nowhere in RA 9048 is SRS mentioned as a valid ground for a change of name, her petition was denied. And if Dr. Silverio had gone to the Civil Registrar she should have been able to demonstrate that using her original name caused her undue prejudice. The SC said she failed to do that. In sum, the SC overturned the RTC’s ruling because Dr. Silverio sought the wrong remedy by going to the courts instead of the Civil Registrar’s office. The SC said that she filed her petition in the wrong venue. Moreover, using her legally recognized name did not cause her undue prejudice so her petition lacked merit.

No law allows change of sex due to SRS
Although RA 9048 allows changes in entry in the civil register in view of clerical or typographical errors, it expressly forbids any change in the petitioner’s nationality, age, status or sex. According to the SC, no error was entered in Dr.Silverio’s birth certificate therefore correcting her sex even after SRS is not necessary. Her SRS is not a valid reason for granting her request to have her sex legally changed as long as what is reflected in her birth certificate is the sex assigned to her at birth. The SC ruled that that assignment, if not attended by error, is immutable even post-SRS.

Further, the SC provides a definition of sex and what male and female is. According to the SC with no contrary legislative intent these terms are to be given their common ordinary meaning. Thus, sex is “the sum of peculiarities of structure and function that distinguish a male from a female”. Female, meanwhile, is “the sex that produces ova or bears young” while male is “the sex that has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova”. These definitions, according to the SC, clearly exclude people who’ve undergone SRS. And since no law recognizes their SRS, a request to change sex in the birth certificate has no legal basis.

Name and sex in the birth certificate cannot be changed on the basis of equityThe SC also opined that the RTC’s favorable ruling toward Dr. Silverio on the ground that it would cause no one harm, injury or prejudice was wrong. In fact, the SC claimed that granting Dr. Silverio’s request would impact on Philippine marriage laws (as it would allow the marriage of a man to another man who has undergone SRS), provisions made for women in the Labor Code and the Revised Penal Code and presumption of survivorship in case of calamities (i.e., if two people die in a calamity, and both are under 15 or over 60, the male is presumed to have survive; if they’re of the same sex, the older is presumed to have survived). The SC argued that Dr. Silverio’s petition raised questions regarding matters of public policy which could only be addressed by legislation and not a judicial ruling. The SC added that it was not its responsibility to create or change law but to apply and interpret it. Although the SC recognized the hard life facing people like Dr. Silverio whose “preferences and orientation do not fit neatly into the socially recognized parameters of social convention” it still concluded that Dr. Silverio’s petition could only be remedied through legislation, that is if a law were passed recognizing the new gender of people who’ve undergone SRS.

In the third installment of this post, I will compare these two SC rulings and argue for legislation as the best option for transsexuals in seeking legal change of first name and sex in their documents.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Boracay here I come!

I'm off to the beach for now for a long overdue mini-vacation with girl friends from work. This will be the nth time I'm flying to Boracay, one of my favorite places on Earth. I'm looking forward to a relaxing weekend under the sun and hope you have the same. Be well then and see you all when I get back! *FLYING KISSES FROM PinayTG*

What's in a Supreme Court decision (Part I)?

Last night no sooner had I caught my breath after a run at the University of the Philippines (UP) than I got a text message from Malu Marin, a long time advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the country and now the Executive Director of Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), an HIV/AIDS NGO for Filipino migrant workers. Apparently word about a Supreme Court (SC) decision allowing someone intersex to have a legal name and gender change in his documents made it to the evening news and Malu was all too happy to break it to me. I wasn’t home last night but excitedly sent out text messages about the SC decision to some of my trans friends. Everyone was hopeful it would open the doors to trans recognition in law in the future.

This morning when I got to work I accessed the SC decision online. Entitled The Republic of the Philippines vs. Jennifer Cagandahan, the September 12 ruling is nothing short of astounding. I had the same reaction as last night when I first heard about it: “OH MY GOD!” You see, Jennifer Cagandahan, the respondent has congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), an intersex condition where a baby, born with XX (female) chromosomes, masculinizes during puberty. Due to CAH, the respondent has ambiguous genitalia (in this case, a swollen clitoris with a urethral opening at the base which the court describes as appearing more male than female) and internal female reproductive organs. The respondent has a uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. But the respondent also developed male secondary sex characteristics during puberty such as facial hair and deepened voice and did not menstruate. Five years ago, the respondent petitioned a Laguna Regional Trial Court (RTC) seeking a legal change of name and sex. The petition was granted by the RTC but was challenged on a technicality involving the new Civil Registrar Law (Republic Act 9048) by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), which brought it to the SC. Six days ago, the SC ruled in favor of the respondent not only saying that the petition did not violate RA 9048 but also granting the request to change in the respondent’s birth certificate the name Jennifer to Jeff and the gender female to male.

In the ruling, penned by Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and agreed to by Associate Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbiterio J. Velasco, Jr., Arturo Brion and signed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the SC says:

“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual, like respondent, having reached the age of majority, with good reason thinks of his/her sex. Respondent here thinks of himself as a male and considering that his body produces high levels of male hormones (androgen) there is preponderant biological support for considering him as being male. Sexual development in cases of intersex persons makes the gender classification at birth inconclusive. It is at maturity that the gender of such persons, like respondent, is fixed.”

Furthermore, the court argued that Jeff was competent enough to decide his gender for himself and with Nature on his side, Jeff had already been revealed to be male. Without a law that dealt with intersex conditions, the SC could not tell Jeff what to do. They could not ask him to choose genders nor could they ask him to correct his condition through medical means. According to the ruling “Respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy. To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what course of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation.”

OH MY GOD! This is almost too good to be true. It is breathtakingly unbelievable. I can hardly believe it. I am so shocked and yet so impressed as well by this. It is such a far cry from the 2007 SC decision on a case involving a trans woman who filed the same petition but was denied by the same court (composed of a different set of people, mind you, save for the Chief Justice). While this one is compassionate, logical, reasonable and scientific that one reeked of ignorance, ill logic, homophobia and transphobia. I will write more about that now infamous ruling in the next post.

For now, I just want to congratulate Jeff and his legal team on their victory which the court interprets as their giving respect to “(1) the diversity of nature; and (2) how an individual deals with what nature has handed out.” Alas, this is the exact same thing all gender advocates have been fighting for all along: for everyone to recognize diversity in gender and an individual's agency to decide a matter as personal as gender identity! I hope that this ruling spells a brighter legal future for us transsexual Filipinos. Right now I need to catch my breath again. :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

HK airport detains Filipina trans women

Dear friends,

It has recently come to the knowledge of the members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) that it is now customary for Hong Kong (HK) immigration officials to detain Filipina transgender/transsexual (trans) women at the HK airport.

We have been receiving anecdotes of various Filipina trans women who were approached by immigration officers while waiting in line to enter HK and asked to follow them to holding rooms. When the women asked why, the officers said it was a standard "security check."

Once inside these "holding" areas, these trans women's treatment varies. Some of them are outrightly accused of being prostitutes and more often than nor asked how much money they are carrying, as if that would prove they are not there for sex work. One, in fact, suffered the inhuman experience of being strip searched. Some are held for hours without being informed of the reason for their detention; while some others have been asked to exit HK at once with no official document stating the reason why.

We are trying to document these cases because we fear that some kind of profiling is happening at the HK airport. These means that ALL Filipina trans women entering HK are immediately suspected of doing illegal activities in this Special Administrative Region (SAR)--a clear case of discrimination. Furthermore, these "security checks" are very arbitrary. There seems to be no standard process being followed in the detention and interview of these women and many of them are disrespected and treated inhumanely. The period of stay they are granted, if they are allowed to enter HK, varies as well from 2 days to 14, the standard maximum for tourists. The waiting time in the holding rooms is also inconsistent. Some are held for an hour or two while others are held for longer. And when let go, all trans women report of not having received documentation of their detention.

In this regard, we would like to ask your help in gathering information. If you know any Filipina trans woman who's been to HK and experienced this indignity, please ask her to detail what happened to her. It will help if we get the following information:

1. Name
2. Age
3. Profession/Student
4. Date/s of entry to HK when you were asked to go to the immigration office
5. Time (if you still remember) of your arrival in HK
6. Carrier you took to HK (CebuPac, PAL, Cathay, etc.) & Flight Number
7. Purpose of your trip/s to HK (tourism, business, conference, study, etc.)
8. Number of hours or minutes you were "detained"
9. Other "complaints"

We are asking our trans women friends to be brave and come forward with their stories of illegal detention at the HK airport as we plan to bring this "unspoken rule" to the attention of the Chinese/HK embassy here in Manila. We are also appealing to our lawyer friends to provide us with legal advice on the matter. Also, if you have the contact details of HK/Chinese LGBT groups, activists, LGBT-friendly media, and anybody who you think can help us shed light on this issue and rectify it, please help us get in touch with them.

We will appreciate any help. Thank you very much. Together, let’s fight LGBT oppression.

In solidarity,

Dee Mendoza
Chair, STRAP

Pau Fontanos
Secretariat, Ang Ladlad

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

...and Pride season begins in Manila...

There is a reason why I have not blogged in the past two weeks. I have not only been chasing various deadlines at work but have also been up to my neck with work for Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines. TFP, as some of you may know, is the network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations and individuals that has been organizing the annual Pride March in Manila since 1999.

This year TFP marks a milestone by holding its 10th Pride parade. Although the Pride March in Manila used to be held around June in time for the Stonewall commemorations, it was moved to December at some point because of the monsoon season. June is a very wet month in the Philippines and we’ve had Pride Marches that got drenched in rain albeit the celebrations went on. To solve this weather problem, TFP members decided to hold the Pride parade during the first weekend of December instead as part of the World Human Rights Week festivities.

This year’s Pride March is especially significant for three other reasons: 1) It coincides with the celebration of the 60th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR60), 2) It will serve as the venue for the possible launch of the Yogyakarta Principles in Manila, which is an international declaration that applies international human rights law to matters pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and 3) It will be the first time TFP will be headed by two women of transsexual experience: myself and Sass Sasot of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP).

When we had our first meeting in early August I was so moved by the turn out. We had around 9 organizations represented and 26 individuals present. We had members of Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos of which I am also part, Boys’ Legion, a gay, bisexual and trans (GBT) youth organization, Circle of Friends (CoF), a socio-civic group of discreet gay and bisexual men, Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality (GALANG), an LGBT group working at the grass roots level, Female Artists and Musicians’ Evolution (FAME), an all women’s art and music group, Lunduyan ng Sining, an artist group for women loving women, Rainbow Rights (R-Rights) Project, Inc., a policy think tank composed of LGBT lawyers, Team Pilipinas, a group of Filipino LGBTs who’ve joined the World Out Games and other international LGBT sports fests, and of course UP Babaylan, the first ever LGBT student group in the University of the Philippines System.

Everyone is excited to work for TFP because it is aiming high this year. TFP members are raring to celebrate the 10th Pride March in a big way, with more color, festivity, glitz and glamour. There are so many plans and I will tell you more about those later on. This year also marks the longest Pride Season, the period of time, set by TFP wherein its member organizations hold various activities leading up to the Pride parade.
Our kick off activity was a forum on trans women’s issues sponsored by R-Rights last August 30 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It was followed by a reproductive health community outreach activity by UP Babaylan on September 1. Then R-Rights in cooperation with LNS and Radar Pridewear, the first alternative lifestyle fashion line for women, held the 4th Dyke Dialogues featuring nationally respected women’s leader, Aida Santos last September 13. That was followed on Sunday, September 14, by the 2nd church anniversary of the Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City (QC) and the ordination of their Pastor, Pastor Ceejay Agbayani. As you know MCC is a global Christian Church that is inclusive towards LGBT people.

This week the LGBT community is getting ready to attend two other events that are part of Pride Season: the launch of INVOICE, a new LGBT magazine and GALANG. The INVOICE launch will happen this Friday, September 19 at Bed Bar in Malate while GALANG will be launched at Café Rallos, in Tomas Morato in QC on Saturday, September 20. After these two big events, TFP will celebrate the anniversary of LNS when they hold a lesbian love letter reading on the 27th of September. We are all excited about that. Anything about love and I am going. J There are more events lined up for this season's celebration of LGBT Pride so stay tuned for that.

The TFP team is also very proud of the theme we came up with this year. The 2008 LGBT Pride March will celebrate A decade of dignity: Our rights, our lives, our loves, our selves. I’ll tell you more on that later. For now, I’m just happy to announce that right now in Manila it is Pride season once again. And I hope you can help us make it a truly momentous and successful occasion.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Smart woman"

Although I generally detest spam or forwarded messages in general, I kinda liked this one I got this morning. I opened my email at work, saw the subject line which said Smart woman and was intrigued enough to read it. I think it’s a bit dated though and feel that I’ve read this before somewhere. Anyway, it made me chuckle at least. I hope it makes you react the same way.

One morning the husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap. Although not familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors, and reads her book.

Along comes a Game Warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says, ‘Good morning, Ma'am. What are you doing?'

'Reading a book,' she replies, (thinking, 'Isn't that obvious?')

'You're in a Restricted Fishing Area,' he informs her.

'I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading.'

'Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up.'

'For reading a book,' she replies.

'You're in a Restricted Fishing Area,' he informs her again.

'I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading.'

'Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up.'

'If you do that, I'll have to charge you with sexual assault,' says the woman.

'But I haven't even touched you,' says the game warden.

'That's true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment.'

'Have a nice day ma'am,' and he left.

MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads. It's likely she can also think. Send this to women who are thinkers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A road map to gender freedom

Below is the speech I delivered at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) forum entitled We Are Not Deviants at the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila sponsored by UP Stonewall, a new LGBT student organization there. Because of the 10-minute limit allotted to each speaker—there were five speakers in all—I decided not to talk about the trans in transgender but instead focused on gender.

Good morning I am here today because I’d like to talk about gender and how we must freely express it or we must be free of it. Before I do so I would like to thank members of UP Stonewall for the invitation to speak before you today. I must admit that when I first saw the title of today’s forum over an email exchange the first thing that came to my mind was “That title is so 60s!” Frankly, in the past decade of being active in the local LGBT community, I’ve never heard the word deviants mentioned in the same breath with LGBT. Divas yes, deviants, no. In fact, a quick Google search when you key in the word deviants fetches a Wikipedia entry of The Deviants (formerly The Social Deviants), an English rock band made up of manly men I suppose from, you guessed right, the 60s.

But still, I appreciate the title of today’s forum. We all know that even in this age of slogans like “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” or “One, Two, Three, Four! Open up the closet door! Five, Six, Seven, Eight! Don't assume your kids are straight!" or the classic “Bakla ako, may angal?” (by the LGBT student org UP Babaylan), many people are still not used to it, assume their kids are straight and have angal against bakla people. And so we hear very real and often times sad stories of oppression and discrimination that are largely fueled by the ignorance, bigotry and hatred of others. We hear of the woman who was not hired for a job because she told the employer she was lesbian. Or the people who were refused entry to an establishment because they were transgender. Or the teen who was ran out of his home by his own parents because he was gay, bisexual or questioning. Certainly there are more stories than these and they get worse.

One thing is certain though. Those mentioned above have one thing in common: gender and the oppression that comes with it. Before I go on further about this thing we call gender and this road map to gender freedom that I mentioned, let me introduce to you some trivia about it. Did you know that even if gender terms were already in use in language to denote, for example, male, female, and neuter nouns, it was only in 1955 when it officially entered the language of the social sciences? John Money, a psychologist from Johns Hopkins University is credited for making this possible. Money adapted the binary concept of gender from language and decided to apply it to people. The result as we all know now is a disaster. Why? Because Money also theorized that gender identity is simply determined by two things, genitalia and socialization. So if you’re a baby with a vagina and raised as a girl, you will end up female. The same goes for the baby with a penis who is raised as a boy. He should be male. If not, then--this is where Money used psychology to explain away those who did not fit his system--it’s either your parents fault for not bringing you up right or you’re mentally ill.

But life as we know it is not that simple. Case in point: David Reimer. Reimer was one of twin boys whose penis got burned off in an infant circumcision accident. It was Money who advised Reimer’s parents to have him surgically and hormonally changed into a girl and raise him as one. Money extensively talked about Reimer’s case calling it the John/Joan case and used it as evidence that his theory was right. The medical and scientific community later found out that Money deliberately lied about Reimer’s story which is documented in the novel As nature made him: The boy who was raised as a girl by John Colapinto.

It turns out that Reimer, while growing up, showed an innate sense of his correct gender and rejected all efforts to feminize him. Despite having female genitalia, he did not identify as a girl. Nor did he want to live as one. Later on, Reimer would transition back into male. His story, however, would end tragically when he committed suicide in 2004.

What does this story tell us? It confirms that gender is too complex a phenomenon that cannot be explained by simplistic theorizing alone. It is not a matter of just nature or just nurture. It is a matter of both and everything else in between such that a comprehensive theory of gender will have to take cognizance of the fact that we are complicated bio-pyscho-socio-cultural beings who will not always fit into neat categorizations. And yet, a little over half a century later Money’s theory of gender seems to continue to hold sway.

Notice that when we first meet a person our first instinct is to attribute that person either of just two genders. Is he or she a man or woman? Those who are difficult to place, according to transgender philosopher Miqqi Gilbert risk facing “ridicule, ostracism, systemic discrimination, legal and social persecution, medical mutilation, institutional isolation, state supported harassment and even death.” Perhaps this is the more important lesson we need to learn today: that in the past 50 years, the dichotomous gender system has become an oppressive institution.

Thus our job as LGBT activists is to seek to democratize it. We can do that by first rejecting the notion that gender is dual. A more profitable way of looking at gender, according to Dr. Carl Bushong, is to treat it not as bipolar or bimodal but as a matrix, a spectrum. This will make room for people who for various reasons do not identify clearly as male or female and those who identify as somewhere in between, a combination of both or neither. This system will also recognize that women can have breasts and a penis and men can have vaginas with the world not worse off for it.

Second, in a gender democracy, gender is inconsequential, insignificant, and irrelevant. This will wrest away the power to attribute gender to persons from other persons and institutions. This means that we have to consciously stop attributing gender to people and stop caring if the person we meet is a man or woman or both or neither. It should not be important in the same way that in today’s world that person’s sexual orientation, skin color, disability, social status, religious beliefs, political persuasions, etc. are not important. This means that gender should have no place in official documents. Do your documents say if you’re bisexual, black, a double amputee, rich, or Moslem? Lastly, the best way to gender freedom is to let the individual decide his/her gender identity and expression. In this case gender is not a privilege practiced correctly by others based on arbitrary standards but a right that is determined solely by each and every person. Gender ultimately is a matter of self-determination.

If this is not possible then we do the next best thing: we must eradicate it. We must destroy gender. Thank you and once again good morning.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two talks this week

My job requires me to log hours during the weekends particularly on Saturdays. That’s when the rest of the people involved in the project I am working on as well are all free. So we usually devote Saturdays for meetings. This past one, while my boss was wrapping up our project meeting, I had a sense that the new week was going to be busy. I not only had work related deadlines to meet this week but also two talks to prepare for:

28 August 2008
Thursday, 10 am -12 nn

NEDA Conference Room, College of Arts and Letters
Padre Faura, UP Manila

In celebration of Sociology Week, UP Stonewall (Ang Ladlad UP Manila) a new lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student organization in the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM), invites you to an LGBT forum on Thursday, 28 August 2008 at UP Manila from 10 am - 12 nn. Speakers include yours truly (transgender issues), Eva Callueng (lesbian issues), Fire Sia (bisexual issues), Fr. Richard Mickley (LGBT spirituality) and Danton Remoto (keynote speech). For more details please contact UP Stonewall president Reighben Labiles thru mobile 0926-721-5042.

30 August 2008
Saturday, 1:30 pm – 5 pm
Rita Estrada Room (Rm. 201)

College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD)
Woman nonetheless: Being a trans female in the Philippines

This forum on transgender issues is sponsored by the Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. (R Rights Inc.), a legal think tank composed of LGBT lawyers, and slated for 30 August 2008, Saturday from 1:30 pm - 4 pm,at the 2nd Floor Conference Room or the Rita Padilla Room (Rm 201) of the College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. Speakers include Atty. Germaine Leonin of R Rights Inc., Sass Sasot of Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) and PinayTG of Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos.

Both of these talks are open to all so if you want to know more about transgenderism in general or the issues facing Filipino trans women in particular, please come, tell and bring your friends, family and loved ones. I hope to see you there!