Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Same, But Different

With Lisa Marie and Hender

The Same, But Different is the title of a documentary by Lisa Marie Evans, which takes a look at the lives of four trans people from the American Midwest. Yesterday, Tuesday, 22 September 2009,it was shown at the UP Diliman Gender Office (UPDGO) as the closing activity of the 17th year anniversary celebrations of the first LGBT student organization in the UP System, UP Babaylan. The current chair of UP Babaylan, Ms. Hender Gercio invited me to come see the movie and it was a treat to meet the film maker who was also there. The three of us took a picture together after the movie ended (see pic above). The film showing was attended by students, staff of the UPDGO, and members of UP Babaylan.

The documentary itself is ordinary but it is the people in it that make it extraordinary. The movie features Jaron, a trans man who transitioned in his 40s. After identifying for a long time as a lesbian, he finally reconciles with the fact that he has always felt male. The same is true with Claven who also lived life as a lesbian before taking male hormones to masculinize himself. Claven is a self-identified fundamentalist Christian who is shown later in the film to have detransitioned or gone back to presenting as female ultimately following her religious beliefs. Then there is Pooch or Andrea, a Social Science professor, who presents as male on days marked blue and female on days marked pink in the calendar by his/her girlfriend. The last character is Nicole, a transsexual woman who is divorced from her wife but maintains a close relationship with their children.

All four people show the audience a slice of life as lived by a person of transgender experience. Jaron talks about his personal life, the difficulty of dating women and coming out to his parents. Claven discusses his religious leanings and his difficulty finding a church that would accept him. Pooch or Andrea talks about relationship, work, and being able to dress up as both a man and a woman. Nicole, on the other hand, begins by talking about how much she has spent on McDonald's working as a trucker, her work as a comic, and her relationship with her kids. All four allow the audience an intimate peak into the real lives they are living right in the heart of Middle America. The film shows us that as human beings with hopes, desires, aspirations and dreams, we are all different but ultimately the same. Our commonality is our humanity.

After the screening, Lisa gave out DVDs to audience members who mustered the courage to ask questions. I think she gave away around 5 DVDs in all. We also took more pictures together (see our pic below). After, it was time to say goodbye. Lisa will go to a place outside Manila next and on Saturday will fly back home to the US. It was truly a pleasure meeting her. I wish her all the best in her future artistic endeavors.

With Lisa Marie Evans

Monday, September 14, 2009

Beautiful things

Last weekend I had the privilege of witnessing two beautiful things in action: youth and love. On Saturday, along with other officers of Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos, I braved the rains and went to the University Hotel inside the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus for Ang Ladlad's Meet & Greet with a youth social network, OneBacardi. OneBacardi is a group of gay and bisexual youth who set up mainly cultural and socio-civic activities aimed at bringing the local LGBT community together. They currently have almost 100 members from the Metro Manila area alone (see pic below). When I met them last Saturday, my heart just melted because they lived up to their claim of being a bold, brilliant and beautiful group of guys. They were all so good-looking and charming!

With OneBacardi

For some time now, OneBacardi, through its officers led by current head, Angelo "Gelo" Camaya, had been expressing their desire to partner with Ang Ladlad so that both organizations could support each other in its activities and endeavors. Last Saturday, Ang Ladlad and OneBacardi finally got the chance to meet and know each other a little more.

The program started with an invocation led by Ang Ladlad Secretary Bemz Benedito. After the prayer, Gelo, the president presented OneBacardi to the entire group (see pic below). OneBacardi also had new members coming in that night so the orientation was both for the representatives from Ang Ladlad and them. Gelo discussed OneBacardi's vision, mission and goals (VMG) and outlined their group's activities in the coming months. I was impressed when Gelo spoke about OneBacardi's three main advocacy goals for the coming year: a) promote unity within the LGBT community; b) educate the youth and its members about current social issues facing the LGBT community; and c) reach out to abandoned and financially-challenged LGBT elderly and youth. If that does not warm your heart, I do not know what will! :)

Gelo talks about OneBacard

Next up was Danton Remoto (see pic below), the chair of Ang Ladlad who, like his counterpart Gelo, spoke about Ang Ladlad's VMG and various campaigns and involvements.

Danton talks about Ang Ladlad

After Danton, it was my turn to talk about the Yogyakarta Principles (see pic below). I informed OneBacardi that last year Ang Ladlad was able to secure funding to popularize the Yogyakarta Principles (YyP), or the application of international human rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity in the country. Ang Ladlad has committed itself to bringing the message of the YyP to as many LGBT and non-LGBT organizations and individuals as possible including NGOs and government agencies in the Philippines. Hopefully in the future, Ang Ladlad can petition lawmakers to adopt the principles as a basis for implementing laws that recognize, uphold and protect the human rights of LGBT people in the Philippines. In the meantime, Ang Ladlad has had the Principles translated into Filipino already so that they could be more accessible to a greater number of people.

Pau talks about the YyP

Lastly, Ms. Christian Joy Cruz, a researcher from the UP Population Institute presented on HIV/AIDS and its impact on Filipino LGBT youth (see pic below). OneBacardi requested Ang Ladlad to provide a speaker on a topic of their choice. They chose HIV/AIDS and fortunately Joy was available to give just what OneBacardi requested us to provide.

Joy talks about HIV/AIDS

The meet and greet with OneBacardi was an amazing experience. Being surrounded by such a vibrant, smart, and young group lifted up my spirits. I really love OneBacardi. They touched my heart so deeply with their energy and dynamism and I left the University Hotel that night very inspired. :)

The next day, Sunday, I felt more than grateful to have been invited to attend the third year anniversary of the Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City (MCCQC). Their new chapel along Mindanao avenue was filled to overflowing as that afternoon, MCCQC was not only celebrating their third year with a mass and program after but there was also going to be a surprise holy union in between!

I was so thrilled and excited when the ceremonial wedding between the Rev. CeeJay Agbayani and his long-time partner Marlon started. It was nothing short of a wonderful and utterly beautiful experience. CeeJay and Marlon exchanged vows and rings (see pic below) which they also sealed with a kiss! In between they were serenaded by love songs. Both of them were in white and the atmosphere in the MCCQC chapel just filled with love, affection and joy. Congratulations to Rev.CeeJay and Marlon! Married life has it ups and downs but I know that with faith both of them will be able to weather whatever challenges come their way.

Exchange of rings

It was quite a weekend, I would say. It reminded me of a quote from Longfellow who once said "Enjoy the Spring of Love and Youth, to some good angel leave the rest; For Time will teach thee soon the truth, there are no birds in last year's nest!" For me this means, live in the present, seize the day and do what you must. More importantly I think it means, while you are young, love! :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ang Ladlad-One Bacardi* meet and greet

One Bacardi logo

Ang Ladlad, the national organization of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Filipinos, is holding a Meet and Greet with the bold, brilliant and beautiful clan, OneBacardi* (see their logo above).

WHEN: 12 September 2009, Saturday
WHERE: Seminar Room 104, University Hotel, UP Diliman, Quezon City
WHAT TIME: 6:30-10:30 pm

This event is part of Ang Ladlad’s Membership Renewal Campaign in the National Capital Region (NCR) and is open to all bona fide Ang Ladlad members who want to renew their membership for the year.

Come one! Come all! And let’s meet One Bacardi*!!!

*ONEBACARDI is a dynamic social network organization whose aim is to strengthen the members’ awareness and involvement in LGBT issues, and promote unity and camaraderie within the entire LGBT community. They envision a community of socially mature individuals who are free-spirited, well-rounded and socially responsible. They provide their members a ready and expanding community of contacts to share extracurricular and social activities with.

For the past 3 years, OneBacardi has produced successful events and activities such as Revelation, Gods and Goddesses, Detention, OneBacardi Anniversary Parties, 1[heart]Christmas, OneBacardi Sportsfest and the recently concluded Bacardi Idol. Also, they have been actively participating in community development and social awareness programs such as OneBacardi Charity, Manila Pride March, and their partnership with Ang Ladlad.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

August highlights

Speaker at UP Babaylan's Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE) Forum

I just realized, based on my experience last month, that I am an overly-scheduled person. On top of work, I am also working on my Master's thesis at the University of the Philippines, attending Spanish classes every Saturday, running three times a week and going to the gym for the same number of days. Add to these doing advocacy work for the LGBT community. My life will probably look more hectic compared to the average person. No matter, I like it this way. I enjoy being busy and I hate being idle although I do feel sometimes that there are just too many things to do in so little time.

Last month alone I was in several activities involving the LGBT community. First I was a speaker at the Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE) forum on coming out (see pic above) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan, an LGBT students rights advocacy group in the UP system. I shared my coming out experience with the mainly student audience. I told them that in the past because I did not know any better and nobody told me otherwise, I identified and came out as gay to my family first. Later on as I tried to make sense of my experience however, I realized that even if I had a sexual preference for men, I saw myself largely as a woman. That's when I realized that I was not a gay man but a transsexual woman. Clarifying the difference required me to separate sexual orientation from gender identity and researching transgenderism and its attendant issues. At any rate, the experience required me to come out once again. This time, I proudly declared myself a Filipina of transgender experience.

Next I was invited to a meeting with the publisher and writers of Ketchup, the only remaining LGBT-oriented magazine on print in the Philippines. The people behind Ketchup wanted to meet with LGBT leaders to explore possible tie-ups in the future. They asked various organizations to attend a lunch at Dencio's Restaurant, located near the compound of a major TV network here, ABS-CBN to ask for support and any other kind of help we could extend them given the financial crisis and Ketchup's relative unfamiliarity in the community. I told them that I was willing to do my part and asked them to a meet-and-greet meeting with members of STRAP so that they could learn more about the experiences of trans-identified Filipino women. At the meeting was Hender Gercio, also a member of STRAP and the current chair of UP Babaylan (see pic below).

With Hender Gercio, UP Babaylan President, at the Ketchup  Mag meeting

Last weekend, I flew to Cagayan De Oro (CDO) City which is also known as the City of Golden Friendship. To the younger set though it is just CDO. I was there to meet with an exclusively lesbian organization called People Like Us (PLUS) CDO (see pic below). Members of PLUS CDO met me at the airport where I gave them a tarp for Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos. PLUS CDO individual members have signed up to become members of Ang Ladlad and they assured me that they would do their best to spread the word about Ang Ladlad in their city. Already they have reached out to gay and transgender residents of CDO to talk about Ang Ladlad. Before I left back for Manila, they proposed a possible joint project between Ang Ladlad and PLUS CDO involving the gay and transgender communities there which so far have no organized groups yet. I am very excited about this future prospect.

With members of People Like Us (PLUS) Cagayan De Oro (CDO)

That same day, members of the Gays, Bisexuals & Transgenders United for Peace & Solidarity (GUPS), an organized group in Iligan City, which is two hours away from CDO, picked me up to bring me to Iligan that night. GUPS founder, Bong Enriquez, a long-time member of Ang Ladlad, has been inviting Ang Ladlad officers to visit GUPS in Lanao Del Norte. GUPS members number close to a hundred and many of them are trans and so Bong was happy to have me in Iligan for the weekend. I went there to orient GUPS members on Ang Ladlad, give a Trans 101 lecture and talk about the Yogyakarta Principles (YyP). Before the day ended, all of the almost 20 members of GUPS who were there signed up to be part of Ang Ladlad (see pic below).

With members of the Gays, Bisexuals & Transgenders United for Peace & Solidarity (GUPS)

On Sunday, Bong and his partner JayR brought me back to CDO where they were having a staff training for their office. Members of PLUS CDO then fetched me at a mall to bring me to the house of their president, Norma Adecer, for lunch. It was a hearty meal of sweet and sour fish and shrimp. Over lunch the PLUS CDO members told me about their lives in CDO, their experience organizing in their city and their plans for the future. Like the people in Iligan, they touched my heart with their sincerity and their genuine desire for things to change for the better for them and for the generations to come. I hope that we will have a working relationship that will last a long time. After lunch, they graciously offered to take me back to the airport (see pic below) using Norma's amazing yellow jeep and I found it really sweet and touching. I will never forget the kindness, generosity and hospitality of the people in Iligan and CDO. They are truly a class of their own and I cannot wait to work with them and see them again soon.

On the way to the airport

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rowena Joy*

rowena joy Pictures, Images and Photos

Rowena Joy* (see pic above) is the title of a new mini-series being shown on GMA Network, a major TV station here. It is about a gay man, RJ who runs away from home after his homophobic father finds out about his sexual preference. RJ leaves for Japan to work and years later returns as a woman now called Rowena Joy. The show airs every Thursday night and so far it has had two episodes already.

It has its ups and downs of course. While at the same time portraying Rowena Joy as a kindhearted soul, the show also perpetrates the biggest misconception about transsexual women: that they are gay men who desire to be women, playing on that transphobic concept of "women trapped in men's bodies." In this case, the woman Rowena Joy has been unleashed and yet still acts and thinks like a gay man. The show gives me a feeling of being spoken for. I feel like the show was put together by a bunch of gay men who then decided that this is how a transsexual is, feels and thinks. It leaves much too much to be desired.

I decided to send the show a letter below:

Cast and Crew
SRO Cinemaserye
GMA Network
Quezon City

Dear Cast and Crew of Rowena Joy,

RE: Reaction to Rowena Joy of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP)

We, the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), a transgender rights advocacy organization and support group for girls and women of transsexual experience, would like to commend you for wanting to tell the story of Rowena Joy. Given the dearth of positive and empowering images of transgender Filipinas or transpinays on TV, we welcomed the idea behind Rowena Joy and looked forward to its screening.

Sadly, after the first episode shown last 20 August 2009, Thursday, it was very clear to us that Rowena Joy was not being portrayed as a transsexual woman but as the embodiment of people’s misconception of what a transsexual woman is: a gay man wanting to be a woman. We in STRAP understand that this stereotype of us stems mainly from the conflation between sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to the Yogyakakarta Principles, the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, these two concepts are vastly different. Sexual orientation is understood to refer to each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender. Thus, being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a sexual orientation. On the other hand, gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.

Being transgender, therefore, is about gender identity first. For example, using your titular character Rowena Joy, if she identifies as a woman and is emotionally and sexually attracted to a man then her sexual orientation will be classified as heterosexual. She will only be homosexual if she is attracted to other women.

Transgenderism is indeed a complex phenomenon but thanks to a growing worldwide movement that advocates for transgender human rights, information is now available online and elsewhere if one wishes to understand the needs, issues and concerns that trans (short for transgender) people around the world face. We will be happy to direct you to these resources if you wish. We hope that in its quest to deliver superior entertainment, GMA Network will only tell any story with the utmost responsibility. Any show on a major TV network such as yours can either perpetrate ignorance and inequity or promote enlightenment and equality. We hope that in telling the story of anybody, including a person of transgender experience, you will look at them not just as caricatures but as human beings above all.

The wind of change is blowing across the world and more and more trans people are coming out of the shadows and breaking stereotypes and barriers by openly living their lives as they are and succeeding against all odds in their chosen fields. Television, itself, has many examples. There is Isis King, the first transsexual woman contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Then there is also Calpernia Adams, the first transsexual woman to have a dating show called Transamerican Love Story. There is also Candice Cayne, a trans actress who plays a trans character on Dirty Sexy Money. The STRAP membership certainly reflects this change and we are very proud to have members who are working in IT, education, marketing, design, human resource development, fashion and other professions.

Against the backdrop of this worldwide evolution, we know that more and more trans people will be seen on TV. We hope that GMA Network will truly live up to its being Kapuso (one in heart) with its audience including its transgender viewers by letting trans people play themselves and allowing them the space to tell their stories with their own voices. We in STRAP look forward to the day when one’s trans status is no longer an issue and trans characters on TV are shown living perfectly normal lives.

Thank you for you time. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. We will be happy to start a dialogue.


Society of Transsexual Woman of the Philippines

I really do not mind other people talking about being trans as long as they get it right. But this one misses the point sorely and manages nothing but keep the status quo. I find no liberation in Rowena Joy. In fact it does nothing to the trans cause and traps all of us in its ignorance and transphobia. Trans women are not gay men! I hope, once and for all, that gay men will stop deciding for us what our lives are like and have the grace to let us speak for ourselves. We certainly do not dare to speak for them and so they must accord us the same respect.