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!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two fairy tales

I saw these short narratives on a good friend’s blog. I’m reposting them here because I agree that these are the fairy tales we should have been reading as little girls and boys. (Thanks to Atty. Germaine Leonin’s class, WD 227, at the University of the Philippines Diliman for these.)


Once upon a time, a guy asked a girl 'Will you marry me?' The girl said: 'NO!' And the girl lived happily ever-after and went shopping, dancing, camping, drank martinis, always had a clean house, never had to cook, did whatever the hell she wanted, never argued, didn't get fat, traveled more, had many lovers, didn't save money, and had all the hot water to herself. She went to the theater, never watched sports, never wore friggin' lacy lingerie that went up her ass, had high self esteem, never cried or yelled, felt and looked fabulous in sweat pants and was pleasant all the time.


Once upon a time, in a land far away, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog as she sat, contemplating ecological issues on the shores of an unpolluted pond in a verdant meadow near her castle. The frog hopped into the princess' lap and said: Elegant Lady, I was once a handsome prince, until an evil witch cast a spell upon me. One kiss from you, however, and I will turn back into the dapper, young prince that I am and then, my sweet, we can marry and set up housekeeping in your castle with my mother, where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children, and forever feel grateful and happy doing so. That night, as the princess dined sumptuously on lightly sauteed frog legs seasoned in a white wine and onion cream sauce, she chuckled and thought to herself: I don't f_ _king think so.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

From Transamerica to Top Model: trans people’s increasing visibility on film and television

In 2005, I could not contain myself when I heard about a movie which was slowly getting Oscar buzz: Transamerica. Transamerica is the road movie starring Felicity Huffman (from Desperate Housewives) who plays a transsexual, Bree Osbourne formerly Stanley Schupack, on her way to genital reconfiguration surgery (GRS). On the eve of her GRS, Bree gets a call from a boy claiming to be Stanley Schupack’s son. What follows is a journey that takes Bree back to her roots and then ultimately to herself. When I saw it and saw Felicity Huffman portray her transgender character with grace and depth, I couldn’t help but cry. I was so moved. I was moved to tears again when she won the Golden Globe best actress the next year and she said the following when she accepted her award: “I know as actors our job is usually to shed our skins, but I think as people our job is to become who we really are, and so I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are.”

Before Transamerica, trans people were slowly inching their way to mainstream visibility on film and television. There was The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert in 1994, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar in 1995, Different for Girls in 1996, the tragic Boys Don’t Cry in 1999, and Soldier’s Girl in 2003. One of the more memorable trans characters I’ve seen on film so far is the Lady Chablis in Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil (1997). In the book, Lady Chablis was a trans woman with an attitude and I had so much fun reading the sub plot involving her. She was so sexy and sassy.

After Transamerica I knew it was just a matter of time before trans people became visible on TV as well. And true enough, in 2006 ABC in the US gave the world Ugly Betty where Rebecca Romjin plays transsexual heiress, Alexis Meade. After Alexis came Candis Cayne’s character in Dirty Sexy Money (2007), Carmelita, the transsexual mistress of William Baldwin’s character, Patrick Darling. Let’s also not forget, Max, a trans man who joined The L Word’s stable of character on its 3rd season and the transgender character introduced in 2006 on ABC’s day time soap All My Children.

On the reality TV front, recently I read on my favorite blog, TransGriot that there will be two exciting trans people to watch out for: La Verne Cox who is competing on a show called I Want To Work For Diddy and Isis who will be on Cycle 11, the latest season of America’s Next Top Model(ANTM) competing with 13 other women. Although the Diddy show sounds obscure, I hope that it will get shown here in the Philippines some time in the future on cable as ANTM is. I know that ANTM has a worldwide following of young people because when I used to do consultancy work for an English language learning institute here, it’s all my 14-15 year old female Korean students could talk about. So Isis, who is 22, has the chance to represent us all in a big way and I can only hope she will do a great job at it. We all know how catty the girls can be on that show but let’s not expect Isis to be a saint. I just want her to stay true to herself.

In the Philippines, we have our own trans successes on film. There’s The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (2008), which is being touted as a trans Cinderella story and Thank You Girls (2008), which takes a comedic look at the beauty pageant culture in the Philippines. Although I have not seen Raquela, members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) have given it their seal of approval after a special screening here with the movie’s director, Olaf De Fleur. Thank You Girls meanwhile will be shown at the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) later this month. As I work inside UP, I am sure I won’t miss it. As well, there’s a transgender contestant in Project Runway Philippines. Her name is Jaz Cerezo and she’s done quite well in the first three episodes of the show. She follows in the foot steps of the beautiful Rianne Barrameda, the reigning Miss Amazing Beauty, a prestigious beauty pageant for trans women, who competed in a dancing show called Shall We Dance also this year.

I am just glad that more and more trans people are playing trans people or themselves in movies and television. We’ve always been a part of the human story so it’s about time we saw ourselves more both on the big and small screens. Yes, it's about time indeed!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Femininity and the Olympics

I first saw the following article from the New York Times online Op/Ed section posted on the Ang Ladlad e group by a nationally respected feminist leader, Aida Santos. It’s about the Chinese Olympic committee’s decision to bring back gender testing to the Beijing games. Read it and tell me what you think. I don’t think I could have said it any better.

By Jennifer Finney Boylan

IN the 1936 Olympic Games, the sprinter Stella Walsh — running for Poland and known as the fastest woman in the world — was beaten by Helen Stephens of St. Louis, who set a world record by running 100 meters in 11.4 seconds. After the race, a Polish journalist protested that Stephens must be a man. After all, no woman in the world could run that fast.

Olympic officials performed a “sex test” on Stephens, who was found, in fact, to be female, proving once and for all that a person could be incredibly fast and female at the same time.
Forty-four years later, Walsh, who had become an American citizen, was shot to death in the parking lot of a discount store in Cleveland. Her autopsy revealed a surprise: It was Stella Walsh, and not Helen Stephens, who turned out to have been male all along, at least according to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office.

Last week, the organizers of the Beijing Olympics announced that they had set up a “gender determination lab” to test female athletes suspected of being male. “Experts” at the lab will evaluate athletes based on their physical appearance and take blood samples to test hormones, genes and chromosomes.

On the surface, it seems reasonable for there to be some sort of system by which Olympians can be certain that female medalists really are female. The problem is that China’s tests are likely to produce the wrong answers, because they measure maleness and femaleness by the wrong yardsticks, and in the process ruin the lives of the innocent.

It would be nice to live in a world in which maleness and femaleness were firm and unwavering poles. People can be forgiven for wanting to live in a world as simple as this, a place in which something as basic as gender didn’t shift unsettlingly beneath our feet.
But gender is malleable and elusive, and we need to become comfortable with this fact, rather than afraid of it.

At the original Olympic Games, no gender testing was considered necessary. Back in 776 B.C., the Games were for men only, and they were conducted in the nude (with female spectators prohibited).

The modern era of gender testing began in 1968, at the Games in Mexico City, when it was believed that Communist countries in Eastern Europe were using male athletes in women’s competitions. (The truth was that some of the Eastern European athletes had been on a regimen of testosterone and steroids, giving them the physiques of young Arnold Schwarzeneggers.)

The test, which began as a crude physical inspection, has become more sophisticated over the years. In the 1970s and ’80s, the test was performed by a buccal smear — the scraping of cells from the inside of the mouth — and the sample studied for chromosomal material.

Over the past 40 years, dozens of female athletes tested in this manner have tested “positively” for maleness. That’s because these tests don’t measure “maleness” or “femaleness.” They measure — and not always reliably — the presence of a Y chromosome, or Y chromosomal material, which no small number of females have.

The condition, known as androgen insensitivity, occurs in about 1 in 20,000 individuals. Basically, a woman may have a Y chromosome, but her body does not respond to the genetic information that it contains. Some women with androgen insensitivity live their lives unaware that they have it. By any measure, though (except the measure of the Olympic test), they are women.

In 1996, eight female athletes at the Atlanta Games tested positively. Seven of these women were found to have some degree of androgen insensitivity, and one an enzyme defect. All were subsequently allowed to return to competition.

Ten years later, however, Santhi Soundarajan, a runner from India, was stripped of her silver medal in the 800 meters at the Asian Games for “failing” a sex test. An Indian athletics official told The Associated Press that Soundarajan had “abnormal chromosomes.” She was ridiculed in the press, and her career was destroyed. In the wake of her global humiliation, she attempted suicide.

You might think that gender testing at the Olympics is conducted to weed out transsexual women, who might be perceived to have some sort of physical advantage over natal females. Yet this is not the case. Since 2004, the International Olympic Committee has allowed transsexuals to compete as long as they have had sex-reassignment surgery and have gone through a minimum of two years of post-operative hormone replacement therapy. (As for the advantages that people born male supposedly have in competing against people born female, the combination of surgery and hormones appears to eliminate it entirely. Studies show that postoperative transsexual women perform at or near the baseline for female athletes in general.)

In the four years since the ruling, there have been no transsexuals — or at least no athletes who are open about it — in Olympic competition. But this year, Kristen Worley, a Canadian cyclist, came close to qualifying. If transgender athletes are now allowed to compete officially, and if gender testing has been shown frequently to render false results, then what exactly are the Chinese authorities testing for?

The Olympic hosts seem to want to impose a binary order upon the messy continuum of gender. They are searching for concreteness and certainty in a world that contains neither.

Most efforts to rigidly quantify the sexes are bound to fail. For every supposedly unmovable gender marker, there is an exception. There are women with androgen insensitivity, who have Y chromosomes. There are women who have had hysterectomies, women who cannot become pregnant, women who hate makeup, women whose object of affection is other women.

So what makes someone female then? If it’s not chromosomes, or a uterus, or the ability to get pregnant, or femininity, or being attracted to men, then what is it, and how can you possibly test for it?

The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day. Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within her, or his, heart.

How do we test for the gender of the heart, then? How do we avoid out-and-out frauds, like Hermann Ratjen, who said he was forced by the Nazis to compete as “Dora” in the 1936 high jump? (He lost, finishing fourth.)

A quick look at the reality of an athlete’s life ought to settle the question. Ratjen was male not because of what was in his genes, but because of who he was. He returned to his life as Hermann after the Berlin Games. “For three years I lived the life of a girl,” he said in 1957. “It was most dull.”

It’s hard to imagine a case like Ratjen’s recurring today, but if it did and he slipped through the cracks, then so be it. Surely policy for the Olympics — and civilization — shouldn’t be based on one improbable stunt perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

Which brings us back to Stella Walsh. While the autopsy revealed that she had male sex organs, a chromosome test ordered by the coroner was more ambiguous. She may well have had androgen insensitivity or some other intersex condition. More important, she spent the whole of her life as a woman. She should be celebrated for her accomplishments as an athlete, not turned into an asterisk because of a condition beyond her control.

The triumphant fact of a life lived as a woman made Walsh female, and the inexact measurements performed by strangers cannot render her life untrue.
Maybe this means that Olympic officials have to learn to live with ambiguity, and make peace with a world in which things are not always quantifiable and clear.

That, if you ask me, would be a good thing, not just for Olympians, but for us all.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College, is the author of “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders” and “I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted.”

* Retrieved August 14, 2008 from

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A letter from Rio

To those of you who’ve been asking about Mae and Rio, here’s an open letter from the latter. Rio Moreno, a woman of transsexual experience and nursing student, has decided, along with her family, to take a stand and let her story be known to everyone who cares about the plight of transgender people.

Absence of care in a caring institution

Having passed the entrance exam for transferees and submitting all requirements, including Birth Certificate, Transcript of Records from QCMC, I was eligible to enroll as an irregular Nursing Student at the Emilio Aguinaldo Colleges.As a bona-fide student, I secured my school ID card with my latest photo and true personal data, indicated therein.I wore the uniform as appropriately designed for girls in the Nursing Department, which is a blouse and a skirt. The above conditions did not in anyway cause any conflict during the succeeding 5 semesters I was enrolled as a regular EAC student, in terms of:
a. Name – I am known as Leo Moreno to my teachers and classmates but they respectfully call me with my preferred name, which is Rio.
b. Gender – I am treated as a girl in all my subjects and school activities
c. Physical Stature – I never encountered any issue for or against my physical being from teachers nor from co-students
d. Discipline – I am always conscious that as a student, I am abiding with all the policies of the school including my choice of uniform, since there is no provision or item in the school handbook that forbid or disallow transgender student to wear any particular uniform.
JUNE 30, 2008
On this day, I had difficulty swiping through my ID at Gate 5. Hence, I sought the assistance of the Security Guard on Duty to help me. After he had successfully swiped my ID, he glanced at it and commented "Bakit Leo? (Why is your name Leo?)". I just ignored the question and thanked him for the help.
JULY 7, 2008
I was notified verbally to report to the Nursing Department's Dean's Office. Upon arrival at the Dean's Office, both Ms. Dumadag (Dean of Nursing) and Mr. Boquiron (Dean of the Office of Student's Affairs) immediately accused me of submitting fraudulent documents for admission to the school. Surprised by this accusation, I told them that all documents, including my birth certificate, were authentic and true. In the course of their insinuations and harsh words, they themselves verified that all my documents are indeed authentic and non-fraudulent.Not finding any other issue with my documents, Mr. Boquiron verbally required me to be identified as a boy and as such, I was required to wear a nursing student's uniform for boys to identify me as a boy and not as a girl. I tried to explain my condition and my identity as a transgender but to no avail, Mr. Boquiron would not consider such gender related talk but instead, insisted that I have to wear what is prescribed for boys/men or else I would be given disciplinary action.
JULY 21, 2008
I submitted the a letter (copy attached) to the President of the School, copy furnished Ms. Dumadag and Mr. Boquiron. This letter was received by Lorie, the Secretary of the President. I was advised by Ms. Lorie that she will give me a call when Mr. Campos, the President is available to see me.
14 July 2008
Office of the PresidentEmilio Aguinaldo College
Dear Sir
I enrolled at Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) because I was impressed by its philosophy that it is "committed to promote, disseminate and propagate an egalitarian education which aims to develop a total person, aware of his identity as a Filipino, yet conscious of his role to promote global peace for the improvement of the quality of human life. "My experience convinced me that EAC is sincere in its philosophy.
The past five semesters were moments of great joy, peace of mind, and productive learning. I was welcomed, accepted and respected for what I am, a woman of transsexual experience.Nobody showed any sign of disrespect and discrimination. I have been identified and treated by my classmates, my professors, and even by members of the school's staff as how I wanted to be identified and treated: as a woman.
They all related to me as a woman, as Miss Moreno. And since I started studying here, I have been wearing the uniform appropriate to my gender identity: the women's uniform. Their respect, compassion, and benevolence made me feel accepted, appreciated, and valued for what I am. Their positive treatment of my individuality and my very humanity made it possible for me to live in peace with my professors, with my classmates, with this school, but above all with myself. Because my psychological well being has been esteemed by this school, I have been deeply inspired to perform very well. Hence, despite the stress that accompanies the life of a working student, my academic performance is beyond reproach. EAC was truly an "egalitarian institution" .
But, alas, on the 7th of July, I was called to report to the dean's office. Ms Dumadag asked me a couple of questions regarding my gender and the documents I use. Then Mr Boquiron asked me the same questions; he then verified that the documents I submitted; they were proven to be authentic. After our meeting, Mr Boquiron required me to wear men's uniform and that I have to be identified and treated as male in this school. This broke my heart, crippled my spirit, and disturbed my peace. He is forcing me to live as my shadow rather than as my authentic self. I have been so stressed about this and found it so hard to concentrate both in my studies and in my work. Nobody deserves such an unnecessary and very unnerving pressure.For five semesters, my gender identity, my gender expression, and my very humanity were questioned by nobody. I have been treated with respect, with dignity, with understanding, and with compassion.
I understand where Mr Boquiron is coming from. He wanted to remain faithful to outdated and oppressive gender norms rather than understand and respect the diversity that my life embodies.I do respect his opinion about me. Nonetheless, I feel that his actions challenge the sincerity of the philosophy of this school. And they run contrary to EAC's objective of designing its practices "after global standards to make the students more equipped in their chosen endeavor".
Having a gender identity opposite to your sex assignment at birth, a condition called transsexualism, is a globally recognized and accepted medical condition. There is a medical consensus, which is now being recognized by humane national governments, that forcing a transsexual person to live according to the norms of their sex assignment at birth would seriously damage their psychological well-being, not to mention that this act is an utter disrespect of that person's right to freedom of expression.
I'd like to finish my studies with my psychological well-being intact and with my human right to express the diversity my life embodies kept respected and supported by EAC.Sir, my future profession as a nurse entails me to afford my patients care, understanding, and compassion. I hope that EAC would be able to inculcate these values not by preaching them but by practicing them.
I hope that EAC would remain faithful in upholding its commitment in "propagating an egalitarian education." I hold a deep profound faith that EAC would take a proactive, progressive, responsive, and compassionate action at par with 21st century global standards. I ardently believe that EAC would consider this as an opportunity to understand what transsexualism is so that EAC will be able to craft policies that will enable our school administrators deal with this issue in a responsible, respectful, civilized, and sensitive way.I trust that EAC will prove that I wasn't wrong at all in choosing it as my university, as my partner in fulfilling my dream to become a nurse.
My warmest gratitude.
Ms Rio Moreno
Legal name: Leo Moreno
Student Number: 06-1-42039
cc: Mr Boquiron Ms Dumadag
JULY 25, 2008
I called up Ms. Lorie to follow up my request to talk to the President but again I was given the same reason that Mr. Campos is still busy. I explained to her that I have been absent from my classes for the past 2 weeks because the Security Guards would not allow me to go inside the campus using my blouse and skirt uniform (girl's uniform). However, Ms. Lorie ignored such explanation in a manner that made me feel that the President does not care about the issue.
JULY 28, 2008
I was accompanied to school by Ms Sass Rogando Sasot, a founding member of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), a non-profit organization. We went to talk to Mr. Boquiron, Office of Student Affairs dean, to clarify the issue and educate them about transsexualism.
Sass began by inquiring whether Mr Boquiron knew anything about transsexualism. Mr Boquiron admitted that he does not know anything about it since he is not a medical person.Mr. Boquiron and Sass then began talking about transsexualism. Sass explained what transsexualism is.
At no point did Mr. Boquiron considered Ms Sasot's explanation of what transsexualism is. He told us not to "force" what we like and that they were just following the rules of the school. Ms Sasot asked whether the school has a rule that transsexuals shall be treated according to their sex assignment at birth. Mr Boquiron said that since that my birth certificate says male, I shall be treated as male.
There had been an exchange of temper and raising of voices between the two of them. Mr Boquiron is not open to the reality that transsexualism is existent and that it is globally and medically recognized. He kept on addressing me as "he and him".
He kept on emphasizing that since the documents I submitted shows that my sex is Male, I should be treated as male. He stated that he is going by what shows on my records.
We were able to resolve the uniform issue. Mr. Boquiron agreed that I could wear the female uniform as long as I wear the pants.
However, Mr Boquiron remained indifferent and disturbingly apathetic when Ms Sasot was pointing out the medical fact that "forcing a transsexual person to live according to the norms of their sex assignment at birth would seriously damage their psychological well-being."
Mr Boquiron and his assistant Mr. Jimmy, said that it is already given that my psychological well being will be damaged.
Ms Sasot clarified their disturbing position of Mr Boquiron and Mr Jimmy about them not being concern about my psychological well-being.
Mr. Jimmy just replied "So?" and he also told Sass that what she was talking about was nonsense as my birth certificate says I'm "male".
This made Ms Sasot raise her voice again and expressed her disgust about a caring institution not caring about the psychological well being of its student. I myself was shocked how they reacted to Ms Sasot's question. This only means that they do not care about their student's psychological well being.

For now, I am going to continue to finish this semester. I will abide by their rules, I will wear an all white women's uniform (pants).
Nurses in the Philippines are exported to different first world countries. These countries, such as America and the U.K., are very open to this issue and they are educated on how to handle these issues. Gender identity is not a criteria to be accepted for school enrollment or employment. It is as long as you are competent and fit for the job.

Medical schools such as Emilio Aguinaldo College should learn the global standards in the medical field. It is a shame that those running this medical school are not only ignorant about these issues but do not show any concern at all to the psychological well being of their student. Their minds and spirits are also closed with this matter. They would rather remain faithful to the oppressive and outdated gender norms rather than show compassion and care.
The way Mr. Boquiron and his assistant Jimmy handled my concern made feel so unappreciated, undervalued, and disrespected.
As a future nurse, I will be encountering patients of all kinds. Understanding, respecting, and appreciating the diversity of patients is a must in the 21st century way of doing business and providing services. There's no better way for me to be able to understand and appreciate the diversity of humanity other than in my school, EAC, showing its respect, understanding, and appreciation of the diversity of its students. Do hospitals ask someone like me to dress in a man's clothing before they provide service? Obviously not.So making me wear men's uniform will surely not improve my psychological well-being, will not help EAC in fulfilling its mission statement, and will not help me appreciate, understand, and respect the diversity of my future patients.I like to be an instrument of change. This is enough.
My family and I would like to bring up this issue to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), to the Philippine Nurses Association, and to the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.
We appreciate any help from anybody who cares about the psychological well-being of transgender people. You may contact me through email: rioizphils@yahoo. com or through my mobile number: +63 906 520 5165.
Sincerely, Ms Rio MorenoMember, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Notorious bar apologizes to trans women, promises to issue statement

On August 7, 2008, Thursday, at around 8:30 pm while I was at the gym, I got a call from Magda and Samantha, two trans women from Cebu who were in Manila on personal business. Samantha who first spoke with me sounded very upset because they had just been refused entrance to Café Havana, a popular night spot in Greenbelt 3 at the Ayala Malls in Makati City. Samantha was furious because just the night before they had dinner at the same place with no incident. She could not understand why all of a sudden they were being turned away. Magda took over the phone and recounted what happened.

Samantha and Magda arrived at Café Havana and upon seeing an empty table outside asked a nearby waiter if they could take it. The waiter did not quickly respond. Instead, he looked at the two women and with a smirk on his face said, “Madumi eh. (It’s dirty.)” then walked away. Puzzled at the waiter’s reaction, the women decided to proceed inside to look for a table. At the door, their path was blocked by a bouncer who told them, “Bawal kayo dito. Bawal ang cross dressers. (You’re not allowed here. Cross dressers are not allowed.).”Appalled, Magda and Samantha tried to argue with the bouncer telling him that they were not cross dressers but women. The bouncer just looked away as if he did not hear anything. Feeling helpless, the two decided to walk into the mall first to blow off steam. That’s when they decided to call me.

I immediately contacted Sass Sasot, Ang Ladlad* member and co-founder of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), told her about the incident and asked her to kindly check on the girls as she lived closer to Makati. Sass gladly obliged and went to Greenbelt 3, met the two and accompanied Magda to the office of Mr. Dennis Galimba, Operations Engineer of Ayala Property Management Corporation. There, Magda wrote and filed a complaint against Café Havana. Mr. Galimba assured Sass and Magda that all Ayala Malls including Trinoma, Alabang Town Center (ATC) and Ayala Center Cebu are strictly enforcing a non-discrimination policy. A security officer from the Operations Engineer's office then dropped by Café Havana to speak to its Manager, Mr. Vic Panganiban about the incident.

On my way to Makati I alerted several other members of Ang Ladlad, including Rey Banag, Anne Lim, Atty. Lynley Salome, Atty. Angie Umbac, Atty. Germaine Leonin and our national Chair, Danton Remoto. Danton right away contacted members of the Larry J. Cruz (LJC) Chain of Restaurants which owns Café Havana to inform them of the incident. Danton told them that if Café Havana’s discriminatory policy is not removed, Ang Ladlad will raise the issue to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and start a media campaign against the restaurant. Members of the LJC Chain of Restaurants immediately conducted an investigation into the matter and assured Danton that they would do everything in their power to rectify the situation.

When I got to Makati, the complaint had already been filed by Sass and Magda. I along with the three other girls then proceeded to Café Havana to speak with its manager, Mr. Panganiban. I introduced myself, showed him my Ang Ladlad ID card and asked him to explain what happened. The manager said what happened was a mistake and apologized to all of us. He also asked the erring waiter to apologize to Magda and Samantha. I told Mr. Panganiban that Café Havana has become notorious for refusing entrance to trans women which not only goes against the Ayala Mall’s policy of nondiscrimination but also codes of human decency. I then asked him to issue a written apology that will also say that their establishment does not discriminate. Mr. Panganiban agreed and even offered us girls the VIP treatment. We politely declined but told him that we would take him up on it another time.

I hope that this will be the last we will hear of Café Havana and its anti trans policy. I am so happy that through our concerted effort, something has finally been done about this. It had to take two women from Cebu who refused to be mistreated to make this possible. I hope Magda and Samantha will serve as an example of people who will stand up for themselves, who will not cooperate in their own oppression, who will assert their right to be treated with dignity and respect and more importantly, their right to be themselves.

*Ang Ladlad is the national organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, bakla/bayot/bantut, tomboy and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos. Visit

Friday, August 8, 2008

T community meeting

On July 25, 2008, a Friday, The Library Foundation Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective (TLF SHARE Collective) held an “exploratory discussion” among members of the transgender community at Chopstick Restaurant in Cubao, Quezon City. In attendance were people representing Laguna, Marikina, and Manila. The meeting was meant for those present to talk about their “life situations, sexual health and rights concerns.” I was there and the coordinator of the event, Shane, asked me to give a “trigger” presentation about my life story. Of course, I was more than willing to oblige.

After me, each participant was asked to react to anything I said that struck a chord with them. I started my story when I was very young. As far as I could remember, I always felt a certain difference about me compared to kids my age, a feeling like something was missing, a feeling of being incomplete. When I was 6 years old I remember feeling so jealous of my sister. It was her birthday and my mother had a dress made for her. The dress was simple and made of ruffles. It had tiers of cloth that moved from the lightest to the darkest pink. Just one look and I knew I wanted to wear it. One afternoon while my sister was away in school and my mother was downstairs in the living room watching TV, I snatched the dress from where it was hanging and giddily put it on. When I saw myself in it, immediately I was awash in pure joy. I was ecstatic. I thought I was the prettiest girl in the world.

So naturally I just had to show off. I crept downstairs and jumped in front of the TV. I thought Mama was going to be happy to see me. Of course I was wrong. She started screaming at me, yelling for me to take the dress off. At first I didn’t understand her anger. She grabbed a soft broom and started hitting me. Only then did I become afraid and begin to cry. From then on, I knew better. And until I was in college I did not once act on that feeling. Until now, long after I have reconciled with the person I know I must be I can still remember how it feels. It feels like something is not right, like you are unhinged, empty, missing out, lost, uncertain, unprepared, inadequate, undone, unremarkable, pathetic, dirty, a loser, unlovable, in the dark, ugly. It’s not a good feeling. Imagine having to carry it for almost 20 years.

That is why I was very happy about this meeting that TLF initiated. It’s always good to meet people you have something in common with, people who are like you somehow, who went through some of the same things that you did. It makes you feel you are part of a community—one that values your story, who you are, where you came from. And if it is a community that listens, that cares, that welcomes you, accepts you, loves you, it makes you feel that you are not alone.

This is just a first and there will be more meetings to come. I told the group that came last Friday that hopefully in the next meeting each of us could bring another person, a friend, a member of our community. So if you know someone transgender who would like to attend that meeting please pass this along. You never know. Maybe you will help that person feel, finally, that he/she belongs. :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mae and Rio: Two stories of discrimination Part II


For five semesters, Rio attended Nursing school wearing the women’s uniform. All her classmates and teachers referred to her as Miss Rio and she looked forward to finishing her studies and becoming a nurse. Rio has spent the last five semesters happy in the university which her boyfriend also attends.

Sometime in July, after one of the security guards saw that Rio’s name on her ID was male, Rio was asked to go into the Office of Student Affairs (OSA). There the OSA Head discussed the next steps to take regarding Rio’s “true” identity. The OSA Head decided that from then on Rio should be addressed as male and required to wear the men’s uniform.

Rio protested and made it clear to the school official that she did not identify as male, which is why she did not once come to school as one. The OSA head argued that until Rio’s gender in her official documents remains unchanged, the school is officially treating her as a man.

Rio decided that her best recourse was to meet immediately with the President of the university to discuss her case. The President’s secretary scheduled a meeting but the President remains out of the country on a trip. In the mean time, Rio showed up in school dressed as she had always been the last three years. The security guard, who let her in, in the past, now refused her entry. According to him, the OSA head left instructions to make sure that Rio came in wearing the prescribed uniform for male students. Feeling shamed and helpless, Rio just went back home. Already, she has missed classes. Rio has spent the last few days, restless, anxious and afraid. Like Mae, she fears for her future.

Education and employment remain the two crucial areas where Filipino transgender people struggle for full participation. Despite comprising a big chunk of the total population and being acknowledged as part of a culture that dates back to pre-colonial times, transgender citizens of this country continue to face hurdles in trying to finish school and being gainfully employed. It’s time to put a stop to this oppression. It’s time to open the doors to full transgender inclusion.

Mae and Rio: Two stories of discrimination Part I


When Mae attended her pre-employment orientation, she was informed that she could dress female as long as she followed the company’s dress code. So that’s exactly what she did. From Monday to Thursday last week, she dressed in business casual. On Friday, she wore a blouse over black pants and sneakers. Needing to use the bathroom upon arrival at work Friday afternoon, she rushed to the women’s bathroom as was her wont.

Five minutes later while powdering her face in front of the bathroom mirror, Mae heard the voice of a security guard ordering her to get out. The guard stood by the bathroom door barking reasons at Mae why she did not belong to the women’s bathroom. Shocked, Mae tried to explain to the guard that she was female. The guard was belligerent, however, and threatened her if she did not step out.

Humiliated and scandalized by the growing number of onlookers, Mae thought she had no choice. She left the bathroom in tears. Later, Mae’s trainer told her that the company had an unspoken rule that bakla employees were not allowed to use the women’s bathroom. Mae said that she understood that if by bakla the trainer meant men who identified as male and presented as such and were attracted to other males. Mae tried to explain that she did not identify as one and that her gender identity was female as evinced by how she presented in public. Moreover, Mae pointed out the company’s core values which included belief in diversity. Mae thought this explained the company’s allowance for employees to wear the clothing of the gender they identify as. If the company lets her dress as female because that’s how she sees herself and is seen by others, then why can’t she use the corresponding bathroom?

The trainer could not give Mae clear answers but promised Mae that she would do something about it. Mae decided to raise her concerns with the Human Resources (HR) department. Soon, Mae is set to meet with HR. She is apprehensive about this impending meeting. It’s all that she could think about.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reproductive rights and the LGBT community

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (Latin Of Human Life), an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 which explicitly directs the Catholic faithful to rely only on the rhythm method to space and control births in family planning and eschew any artificial means of contraception. A prayer rally on July 25, 2008 was, in fact, organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to commemorate the encyclical, which also condemns abortion, at the Parade Ground of the University of Santo Tomas (UST).

This document is significant because it has figured prominently in the very public feud recently between the CBCP and some members of Philippine Congress over provisions of proposed House Bill (HB) 812 or the Reproductive Health Care Act. The CBCP are against everything about the bill. During media engagements, for example, CBCP members point to the bill’s proposal to make available starting Grade 5 sexuality and reproductive health education in public schools. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that but you can guess that the Church is claiming that it will promote promiscuity. They are also uncomfortable about barangay (local government unit) health centers giving out free contraceptives which the bill ensures if ever it gets passed. A CBCP spokesperson argues that our local government units’ clinics cannot even provide the most basic of medicines, what more contraceptives. These are just a few of the charges being leveled against HB 812. What is more alarming is the framework the Church is using to campaign against it. It’s called Stop D.E.A.T.H. D.E.A.T.H. here stands for Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health/Contraception and Homosexuality.

Defenders of the bill are countering that the CBCP is spreading an outright lie. The bill does not allow abortion. I just read it and in fact it contains a provision that re-affirms the illegality and criminality of abortion in this country. The bill, although biased towards heterosexual women, is surprisingly well rounded as it uses a comprehensive framework for reproductive health programs. It contains elements that uphold the principles of informed choice, responsible parenthood, respect for life and birth spacing. Church pundits of course know very well that the only way to kill this bill is to discredit it via baseless propaganda.

How does the reproductive health debate affect LGBT people? Simple. We are as much sexual and gendered beings as we are reproductive ones. Our right to express our sexual orientations and gender identities is tied up with our right to bear offspring. In rights parlance they are called sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR). Theoretically they should be covered by the Constitutional provisions on liberty, equality and privacy. In reality though, we know the flak that LGBT people get when they start exercising their rights over their own bodies. So we hear of lesbians being raped to be cured of their lesbianism, of transgender people being disallowed to be parents to their own children because they are simply not good role models, of gay men being barred from donating sperm, etc. The list goes on and on.

HB 812, as expected, is silent on the reproductive needs, issues and concerns of LGBT people but I am hopeful that somehow it will cover us. It is clear though that we, as a community, should support it. The truth is that choice has already been made for us by the Church by its mere mention of abortion and homosexuality in the same breath. Even if we do not see ourselves as reproductive beings, we have to see this bill through for those among us who will and want to be parents and raise families in the future. At the very least, I am confident that this bill will protect every Filipino’s right to competent reproductive health care and reproductive self-determination. Who doesn’t want that?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Transgenderism: The Philippine experience

Transgenderism in the Philippines dates back to pre-colonial times. Thanks to the babaylan chronicles (accounts of Spanish friars), it is now known that transgender people called asog/bayoguin held socially prestigious occupations as priestesses and healers in pre-Hispanic Philippine tribes, villages and communities.

The asog/bayoguin although “genitally male” had the gender identity and/or expression of a female. She worked as a babaylan/catalonan/daetan/baliana and served as a religious leader, equal in status to the community’s political leader. This tradition of transgender shamanism can also be found in many other Asian countries such as Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, India, China, and others. Like their counterparts in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Africa, these transgender priestesses from ancient times were venerated as either a third gender or a female variant and were thought to possess knowledge ordinary people did not. It is not known if “genitally female” persons with male gender identity and expression were viewed in the same way by the same cultures.

The asog/bayoguin is considered the pre-cursor of the modern-day bakla or bayot (from the Visayas) and bantut (from Mindanao). It is important to note that asog, bayoguin, bakla, bayot and bantut were not originally meant as categories of sexual orientation but rather gender terms. This means that Filipino culture is amenable to the idea of gender variance or gender diversity, that there are not only two but instead possibly a variety of genders. Clearly, ancient Philippine culture adopted a supernumerary gender system and not just a binary one.

More than three centuries of European colonization sadly erased and invisibilized this interesting tidbit about our pre-colonial past. Today, because the discourse of homosexuality has become so deeply entrenched in Philippine daily life and due to a lack of understanding of transgenderism or gender variance/diversity in our country, the bakla, bayot and bantut have been misinterpreted as the local equivalent of gay identity. The same goes for the tomboy which I feel was originally ascribed to people assigned female at birth but looked and acted male. The tomboy was possibly not lesbian but transgender.

Instead of looking at them as patterns and proof of gender variation, they are now thought of as patterns of homosexuality. The same mistake has been made in the West in the past in fact when so-called experts classified behaviors that crossed the genders as extreme forms of gayness or lesbianism. Precisely because homosexuality itself was a gender-nonconforming behavior it was not difficult to make the connection. Many of those who exhibited these “gender crossing” behaviors, however, did not identify as gay or lesbian. They were transgender.

In the Philippines, it is now more common for Filipinos, assigned male at birth by virtue of genitalia, who grow up with a male gender identity and expression and are emotionally and sexually attracted to other males, to call themselves bakla or bayot. These indigenous terms are said to have now become homosexualized. People whose gender identities and expressions mismatch the sex they were assigned at birth must then use transgender, an admittedly Western term, for now to identify and distinguish themselves or create an entirely new one that resonates locally.

I like Pinoy/Pinay TG hence the site and blog name. My friend Sass who co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) likes Trans (short for transgender) Pinoy/Pinay. What do you think?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Welcome to PinayTG!

Welcome to PinayTG, the diary of a Filipino woman (Pinay for short) of transgender (TG) experience. What exactly constitutes that experience, I have no idea. This blog certainly lays no claims to being representative of the life of the average Filipina transgender. After all, there is no one way to be anybody, somebody in this world.

What I do want this blog to do is serve as a looking glass for my life, thoughts, and interests. Ergo it will reflect (or refract, depending from where you’re looking) who I am, what I do and what I think. So here you will read about my friends, family, loved ones, my advocacy, the books that move me, the movies that tickle my fancy, fashion, languages, travel, shopping (and maybe love too, if I’m lucky!). Hopefully that will give you a glimpse into what it means to be transgender in the Philippines albeit from the perspective of one.

So sit back and browse around. I hope you like it here. :)