Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gearing up for the Miss Universe

The last time I rooted for the Philippines' candidate in the Miss Universe was around a decade ago in 2000 during the reign of Binibining (Bb.) Pilipinas Universe Nina Ricci Alagao. Nina was a model at that time and just graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. The first time I saw her on TV, I thought, "You go girl! Show them how it's done." Nina was very sassy during the pageant night. She moved and behaved like a winner and looked like she was just having fun. I totally loved her personality. I loved her so much that for an undergrad class at UP, I insisted we interviewed Nina. She was a riot in person. She was funny, cheeky and really smart. I was very sad when her name was not called among the 10 or 15 semi-finalists during the Miss Universe pageant in Cyprus. One of the hosts said they were expecting to see Miss Philippines make the cut. But alas, Nina didn't make it.

After Nina, nobody who held the Bb. Pilipinas Universe crown caught my fancy. I felt that most of the girls were too boring and too washed out (no offense) until this year when I saw Pamela Bianca Manalo (see her pic above) bag so many awards that it was but fitting for her to win the crown and represent the Philippines in the Bahamas.

Pamela is 22 and works as a flight attendant. She is 5'10" and almost 150 lbs., something that I really like about her. She's not reed thin. Although the pre-pageant footage of her in the Miss Universe preliminaries show that she has lost a little weight. Her middle body is tighter. Moreover, whereas during the Bb. Pilipinas, she wore curls, this time in the Bahamas, her hair is dead straight just like mine. I do not mind this image change but I hope they do her some good. Some pageant commentators say that what we really need is a contestant with a big personality and a sharp wit backed by great catwalk moves and a really good wardrobe (read: name designer for her evening gown and other accessories). I agree. After all, it is a pageant and you need to wow the crowd. Nina was perfect for this and according to her, she was also one of the judges' favorites. I don't know what went wrong during Nina's time but she would have aced the question and answer portion had she been given the chance. I hope Pamela will be dazzling come pageant night in a designer gown that will make her stand out. Also, I hope she answers all the questions thrown her way way well.

She really did not give the best answer during the Bb. Pilipinas and I was not impressed with how she answered her final question. It was cliched and you could see that she was struggling to put her ideas together. Sometimes I wish the Bb. Pilipinas would allow its contestants to speak in Filipino or their regional languages and not just English. It is unfair to expect these girls to answer in perfect, flawless English when they are not there for that purpose. They're also not there to be tested on linguistic ability. If they are allowed to express themselves in languages that they feel comfortable in, I am sure we will hear profound and well-thought out opinions. In the same vein, our bets in international pageants should be allowed to speak in Filipino and have an interpreter translate their answers. The other countries are doing it, why can we not have the same option?

Anyway, come Sunday I will be rooting for Pamela. I hope she becomes the third Filipina to reign over the Universe. It's about time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Out is in!

Out is in poster

When I was in college at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, one of the exciting things to look forward to every semester was the Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE). The ACLE was conceptualized by the University Student Council (USC) as a respite from the tedium of students' regular classes. It started out as a yearly activity which later became a semestral one. Every semester, the USC coordinates with different student organizations that volunteer to hold various fora on topics of their choice. The idea is for each organization (or in students' speak, org) to exercise as much freedom as possible and talk about issues that are not the usual fodder for classroom discussion. The best-selling ones would usually be around sexuality, religion, and politics. Of course, there is more to choose from than that.

Classes are suspended during the ACLE; but students who have classes on the day in which it falls are required by their teachers to attend an ACLE session. There, the students get an attendance slip which they need to present back to their professors. Each time the ACLE is held, the USC releases a list of organizations, the topics they will deal with and the venue of the forum, which are usually classrooms all around the UP campus. The orgs try to outdo each other in publicizing their ACLE activity by releasing catchy fliers and posters and going around or online to advertise. They also try to make things interesting by inviting speakers that catch students' fancy: celebrities, politicians and other high-profile personalities from different fields and professions.

This first semester, UP Babaylan, the first LGBT students' organization in the UP system, has invited me to be one of the speakers in their ACLE forum on coming out entitled Out Is In (see poster above). The poster uses the logo of a popular motel chain and has a line in Filipino that says "There are no secrets that won't come out." It's a really good poster and I'm sure it will be an equally enjoyable session. The forum will be held on Thursday, August 20 and I hope you can come and join me on that day. Along with a gay man, a lesbian woman and a bisexual speaker, I have been given 15-20 minutes to talk about being out and coming out from a trans perspective. I cannot wait to be among UP students that day. UP students, aside from being the best of their generation, are also know for being outspoken, irreverent and opinionated; so I am sure that this Thursday's talk will be an unforgettable experience.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Warning to all: Be very very careful

I just read from someone's email in a community mailing group that it seems that the "serial killer" who has been targeting gay men and who has not yet been apprehended by police has struck again. Around three to four years ago, if I'm not mistaken, several gay men were found dead via multiple stab wounds in their apartments around the Quezon City area. The victims included a fashion designer, TV producer, hair stylist and many others. There were rumors that have remained unconfirmed until now that one of the killer's victims was, in fact, a priest.

The serial killer angle came to a head when one of the alleged victims' stories was solved. That person was someone I knew personally: Larry Estandarte. Larry was one of the founding members of the University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan, the first LGBT students' organization in the UP system. By the time I became a member of UP Babaylan, Larry was already one of our alumni members and had long been working as a researcher for ABS-CBN, a major TV network in the Philippines. One time, a good friend of mine Telly, also a Babaylan member, asked me to accompany him to Larry's house near the UP campus. It was not my first time to meet Larry as we had met in Babaylan activities in the past; but it was the first time we had a chance to sit down and chat.

With all due respect, I'd like to refer to Larry in the feminine. I knew that Larry never identified herself out and out as a woman but I was aware that she was taking female hormones to feminize herself. She wore her hair long, behaved in a very feminine way, had a girlish voice and dressed up en femme at home and at work. Everybody knew her as Larry though and I guess that she just wanted to retain her name.

My first impression of Larry was that she was, physically, very soft and frail. She was also very accommodating and was genuinely interested in what I had to say. She kept asking me questions that ranged from my relationship status to my family to my job. I found it really sweet. We were sitting outside the house where she was renting a room and she was wearing very skimpy shorts and a baby t-shirt at that time. I remarked at how pretty she was and how fair her skin was. She thanked me for my compliments. That was more than 10 or so years ago and the last time I'd ever see her. The next time I heard of her was in the news in August 2005 when her decomposing body was found in her room, in the same place we visited her a decade or so back. The neighbors discovered her body because of the smell. When the police came, they saw Larry's body on the floor with her arms up. She had stab wounds on her palms and arms. That meant she tried to shield herself from her attackers using her hands.

The police did their work fortunately and caught Larry's killers. It was a group of young men in Larry's neighborhood. The police captured them through Larry's missing cellphone. One of the cops investigating the case or at least someone ordered by the police pretended to be a random mobile phone user who just happened to send Larry's number a message. The person using Larry's missing phone or SIM card responded. A friendly relationship began via SMS. When the guy asked to meet later, the police showed up and arrested him. Later, the guy would tell the police what happened to Larry that night and who was responsible. Larry's case was solved. It demonstrated that Larry's case was an isolated incident and raised doubts on the existence of a serial killer.

UP Babaylan honored Larry's death by publishing a literary folio, which included one of my short, long-forgotten poems that I had written in an old log book back in college. Back in the day, if you found yourself hanging around the org kiosk at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) building, you could while the time away by doodling, writing, and drawing on the Babaylan log book. The folio editor decided to include something I had written in one of the old log books for that special tribute to Larry. I am very thankful for that.

After Larry's case, the serial killer was not heard from again until recently. This week, another gay man was found in his apartment dead from multiple stab wounds. His name was Winton Lou Ynion. He was a writer and a teacher at De La Salle University. I hope the police do everything in their power to arrest Winton's murderer. It can be that serial killer from four years ago or it can also be an impostor. Either way, someone's son, best friend, boy friend, cousin, mentor, favorite teacher, etc. is now gone.

I am sure this recent case will be used to argue for hate crimes legislation in the Philippines. I am all for it as long as the debates do not invisibilize trans people and due accommodation is made to punish crimes motivated by prejudice based on actual or perceived gender and/or gender identity and expression. In the mean time, I urge everyone to choose who you let into your house. Sexual needs can make people reckless but with your life potentially on the line, it does not hurt to be very very careful.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hate is in the mail

Well in this case, it came in the form of a rather badly written, nasty and creepy comment in a community blog where I cross-post my entries from here. The site is called Rainbow Bloggers Philippines (RBP). The idea behind RBP is to serve as a venue for bloggers of Filipino descent anywhere in the world to share their opinions on various issues facing them. It was also meant to connect LGBT Filipinos who just happen to blog in a single place on the web. This is why the RBP tag line reads, "Uniting LGBT Filipino bloggers worldwide." In 2008, RBP proudly marched during the 2008 Manila Pride March.

The transphobic comment is signed anonymously and you can access it here. I want to share it in full with all of you though:

Anonymous, August 11, 2009 10:29 AM

Please be sure they read the following:

No matter how you put it you still men, When are you going to understand ? You are nothing but a sex fantasy, nothing but an excuse for those men who are afraid to accept they are gay, they feel better fucking a man with makeup and tits, somehow inside their mind it makes them feel less guilty. GET IT? you are nothing but a fantasy, a toy. A way to deal with homosexuality without feeling 100% guilty, nothing but whores looking for acceptance, you dont believe it? just ask yourselves how many men actually talk to you just because of who you are? The truth is they talk to you because they want to fuck something like you, because they are curious how you look naked and how you suck dick and fuck, they are curious how your tits grow, look and feel ("are those real"?) sounds familiar?, they want to have a fantasy they saw in a movie, Those are just a few of the real reasons and not the ones you tell yourselves. Some of us will tell you, you are beautiful and many other crap because we know that will take you to bed with us maybe not right away but one thing for sure, it will be fast enough, and lets be honest, when bullshit is fed to you, you will give away your ass fast, that's why here we call you "the easy bullshit one nightstand whores" because that's what you are. No matter how you put it, you can keep telling yourselves lies, at the end just look in a mirror and look down. What you see? a dick you stupid whores. I know a couple of you, I wont tell if is in person or via internet, lets just say soon I'll be getting closer or more friendly to one of them so we can become "friends" and then "intimate", why? well is typical within the Philippine transgenders when they meet some one they like to give their ass fast, I guess not having self-respect and been a whore is a part of your culture, thats why us western guys love to make "friends" with asian transgenders, so easy to fuck when you tell them what they want to hear, so I'm telling you, you so damn easy to fool when bullshit is fed to you and a a nice picture is given, so now I'm among you and I'll keep my eyes on you. My objective is to show others how whores you all are, activists, divas or not and that you shouldn't go around pretending to be what you are not. I'll be around my dear friends. At the end we both are going to have what we want, you will have the best sex of your lives and I'll have the proof I want.


The other person to whom this comment is also addressed, found out about this via a website she maintains. When that person opened the organization's email, there was a message from someone called "Tranny Chaser." The email contained a link to the comment on RBP. What's more, the email address used was under Ang Ladlad is the national organization of LGBT Filipinos for which I have been volunteering in the last year and a half. Currently I am the Project Coordinator of Ang Ladlad's Yogyakarta Principles (YyP)Project which aims to popularize the YyP among LGBT groups and individuals, in particular, and educate Philippine society about LGBT human rights, in general. Using Ang Ladlad's name for this act of transphobia is truly malice of the highest order. It is a blatant attempt to create discord between organizations.

Immediately, we alerted friends and allies about this idiotic but threatening comment. People from the Philippines and other parts of the world have given their words of support, encouragement and love regarding this incident. I also sent an email to transfriends reminding them of three important things which I quote below:

1. that we need to stick together even more so now for there are forces out there that will try to sow discord among us;

2. that we need to constantly look at each other with truly kind & compassionate eyes, to see each other's beauty & imperfections, strengths & weaknesses and yet love each one for who they truly are. This means we must eradicate hate even among our ranks and must never put a sister down. The transpinay exists to raise up other transpinays. Within our circle, we must never commit cruelty to each other.

3. that we who do advocacy work have to take the necessary precaution to protect ourselves from harm. Part of our public persona is the fact that we are more vulnerable to being reached by people with ominous motives, personal grudges, or just pure hate. We must be able to shield ourselves from such characters for the sake of our sanity and personal safety. Consequently, we must also strive constantly to never do others harm in the course of advocating for our community.

When I saw this vile comment the first time, my first thought was "How sad." Then I felt afraid, angry and anxious. It reminded me of a very strong-minded Filipina politician who used to head the notorious Bureau of Immigration where she had to fight with organized crime groups and even petty criminals involved in human trafficking. She once said something that has now become a very famous quote, "I eat death threats for breakfast." Although this blog comment is not actually a death threat and can be dismissed as something isolated and therefore irrelevant, it does drive home the point: that the world is not safe for people who want to change it. People who advocate noble causes are putting their life and limb on the line and there will be forces out there that will try to silence them and snuff out the light that they shine to the world. What can I say? In the line of fire, is truly, the place of honor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The 2nd International Conference on LGBT Human Rights

Finally, the World Outgames 2009 is over and I am back home safe. I am still nursing my jet lag though. I flew into Manila on Monday afternoon, August 3, and I have been very sleepy and lethargic since. Every night beginning Monday, I have been waking up at around 3 am. I would then be up for an hour or so (sometimes more) until sleep beckons again. The last week has been really hellish. I have not slept well and have been waking up bedraggled and a little haggard so I hope to overcome this within the week.

As I promised in my last post, I will talk about the 2nd International Conference on LGBT Human Rights. The conference was the main reason why I went to Copenhagen. It was one of three tracks that the Outgames offered to its participants, the other two being Sports and Culture. The conference was scheduled from July 27-29 and those three days covered 6 plenary sessions (one in the morning and one in the afternoon of each day) and more than 100 workshops dealing with nine conference themes: Human Rights & Politics, Out for Business, Workers Out!, Culture & Media, Health, Education, Sport, Family & Relationships, and Sexuality, Pleasure & Body Politics.

Georgina speaking

The plenary sessions had two distinguished trans-identified women speaking on different days: Amaranta Gomez Regalado, an indigenous transwoman, to be exact a Muxe from Mexico and Georgina Beyer, who is of Maori descent and the first transsexual woman in the world to be elected Mayor and Member of Parliament in New Zealand (see her pic above). As I may have mentioned in other posts, I have been looking forward to hearing Georgina speak and meeting her in person at last. For many trans people across the world, Georgina is one of our many heroines. She has led a truly inspiring life from being a sex worker to becoming a cabaret performer. Then from that she went on to become an actress and later became the first out trans woman to be elected Mayor and member of the New Zealand Parliament.

Georgina was a dynamite in person. The word that comes to mind now is "fierce". She truly is, in the words of Cosmo magazine, a fun, fearless female. She was so full of energy, life and wit. When she spoke, she commanded the attention of the plenary hall completely. You could see that every single lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person in that room was hanging on to her every word. More importantly too, you could also feel that Georgina had nothing but love for all. With every word she uttered, she was raising us all up. It was also splendid that she chose not to speak behind the lectern provided for the keynote speakers. Instead, like anyone who is so attuned to themselves and comfortable in their own skin, she chose to move freely on stage, talking candidly, comfortably and tenderly to the worldwide LGBT community that loves her so. It was truly an honor seeing her in this light.

After the plenary session where she spoke, I could not hide my agitation waiting for her to come out. I was chatting with some people outside the hall who had nothing but high praises for Georgina, when at the corner of my eye, I saw her come out of the plenary hall. I immediately excused myself and rushed to her. She was speaking to another trans activist and I just cut in and introduced myself. I handed my camera to one of the women I was talking to who also rushed to Georgina's side and told her to take pictures immediately ( see my pic with Georgina below).

Meeting Georgina

I felt like a giddy fan when Georgina shook my hand and told me that she had met someone from the Philippines the night before. I told her that I was a big fan of hers. I adored her and just wanted to thank her for the inspiration she has given to so many trans people across the world. By her life and her achievements, she has empowered many of us who have only known defeat. By her example, she has shown the LGBT community the heights that one could reach if they just believed in themselves and the power of their dreams. By simply being herself, she has demonstrated to the whole world that change is possible and that that change can be facilitated one person at a time by people like Georgina who live their lives openly, honestly and as humanly possible as can be.

It was such a thrill meeting Georgie Girl as Georgina is fondly called. That moniker incidentally is also the title of a movie based on her life released in 2001. It's always momentous to finally meet people you hold in such high esteem and it becomes even more a treat when they turn out as expected. This was my experience meeting Georgina in person but I know that such a thing does not happen all the time which led a writer friend of mine to once quip "Even the gods when approached lose their halos." Georgina did not lose her halo at the 2nd International Conference on LGBT Human Rights. What's more I think she became even more prominent in the eyes of the global LGBT community. Her presence there added to her myth and mystique. I do wish her all the happiness in the world.

Aside form Georgina I also had the privilege of meeting transgender rights advocates and allies from other parts of the world. I met people from South and Southeast Asia, Africa, North America, Latin America and Europe (see pic below). It was really a life-changing experience to know that we are everywhere and that our issues share similarities wherever we are in the world. More importantly, it was heart-warming to know that there are people in every nation and continent standing up for the human right to be oneself and to live a life of dignity.

With other transgender rights advocates