Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy days

Rica's poster

On Thursday, 18 March 2010, we headed to the University of the Philippines Diliman Gender Office (UPDGO) to hold a talk with selected undergraduate students of Psychology (see poster above). The event was a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Transgender 101 by Joy

A brief Transgender 101 talk was given just to get everybody on the same page (see pic above).

Rica takes the floor

The we had the main talk.

The STRAP girls with Rica

The audience was very receptive and after the talk the floor was opened for the students to ask questions. Their queries ranged from personal questions to questions clarifying transgender advocacy. After the open forum, the students asked to have their pictures taken us.

Beautiful bunch

After the talk, our next activity was the monthly Support Group Meeting (SGM) which was held this Sunday, 21 March 2010. There were many girls present, which made me really happy (see pic above). The main agenda of this month’s SGM was the art and science of make-up.

STRAP beauty session

For the session, we asked one of our members who have long years of experience working in the beauty industry, Seanel Caparas (right in the pic above), to take the lead and give the girls a demonstration. Seanel is well-known in the local transgender beauty pageant circuit. It was such a great session but as usual we lacked time to discuss things in-depth. Seanel left the group with this morsel of wisdom in doing make-up: “Light conceal, dark reveal.” Literally it means, if you want something covered up, you use light make up on it. If you want to emphasize something on your face like your eyes, then you use dark colors.

All the girls agreed to devote another SGM on hair and make-up because the time we had this time was just too limited. Seanel thankfully agreed to be the resource persons again for that planned meeting. I am so happy that we have people like Seanel who generously share their time, energy and talent with the rest of the girls. Most people will think little of transwomen who work in the beauty industry and will actually dismiss them. They do not understand that what these transwomen have is actually a gift, an eye, a talent that not everyone possesses. Being a member of a human rights group only adds another layer to the already established fact that they are smart, beautiful and empowered women. I salute these sisters of mine and am proud just to be associated with them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Philippine government must apologize and start giving back to the Filipino transsexual community

Today, I came across news related to a story that came out in early January about Filipino transsexual women entering Japan with fake passports bearing the identity of non-trans women from the Philippines to marry Japanese men with whom they have had long-term relationships. You can read the news item here or below:

Philippine transsexuals nabbed for illegally entering Japan

Three Philippine nationals have been arrested in western Japan for entering the country on forged women's passports after undergoing sex change operations, local media reported on Tuesday.

The three had the illegal passports made by forgers in the Philippines using women's identification so that they could live in Japan as the "wives" of Japanese men they had met, Kyodo News said.

While working at nightclubs in Fukuoka, they secured spouse visas from local authorities, said Kyodo and other news reports, quoting local immigration authorities.

They were quoted as telling investigators they wanted to live as women and lead their lives with their loved ones, Kyodo said.

"They looked female. We could not tell they are men," an immigration official said, according to the Nishinihon Shimbun.

News like this makes me feel helpless, tired and angry at the same time. I feel helpless, because even if I want to be of help to these women there is really nothing I can do about it with those involved very far away. I feel tired because of the repeated assault by the media on the dignity of these women by continuously referring to them as men or women in quotes. I feel angry because it is a public secret in this country that Filipino transsexual women formed a major part of the Filipino diaspora that began in the late 70s. With no job prospects here and the economy in bad shape, millions of Filipinos started going abroad risking life and limb in many a foreign land to earn their keep and have a dignified life.

Transpinays were part of the early migration of Filipinos to other lands to seek greener pastures. Japan opened its doors to many of them, granting them visas as entertainers so that waves of these transwomen could work as singers and dancers in bars, pubs and night clubs in Japan. The last batches of these transwomen who entered Japan stopped around the turn of the millennium when the US and UN started pressuring Japan regarding trafficking activities within its borders. The response of the Japanese government was to close down all the bars which left many transpinays with no work and no prospects.

Even when the transpinay migration to Japan started in the early 80s, the Philippines government did nothing to ensure that their working conditions were safe and that they were being treated properly as productive employees of Japanese establishments. No reference even has ever been made to them when the Philippine government started a myth-making campaign hailing the Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) as a new hero of the country whose foreign remittances keeps this country afloat.

Yet if you speak with these faceless transwomen, they have toiled with their hands, and suffered hard and back breaking work just so they could send those precious yens to help their families in the Philippines survive for years and years. But instead of showing gratitude to these thousands of women, the Philippine government has chosen to continue oppressing and marginalizing them by allowing a cruel Supreme Court (SC) decision in 2007 to stand which denied a transpinay's petition to change her name and sex in her birth certificate--in effect not granting transwomen status as people recognized in their gender in the eyes of the law.

This news item is clear evidence of what a discriminated minority will do when their chance at a dignified life is at stake: they will do something illegal. In Filipino, we have a phrase for situations like this: kapit sa patalim. Literally it means, clutching a knife's blade. With nothing else to hang on to and nowhere to go, generations of transpinays have clutched the sharp blade of a knife by going to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe and many other countries and continents to survive. They do no one any harm. All they want is an equal chance at life and yet it seems the world will not stop until these transsexual Filipinas themselves give up clutching the knife and instead use it on themselves. Dignity only at the price of death.

I say enough! And I am demanding this country, this government to apologize to my community and start giving back to us! NOW!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The right to self-determination

Last Saturday, 13 March 2010 we had forum on the right to self-determination. The forum was co-sponsored by Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines and the Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC).

The audience

The forum was very well-attended (see pic above). After the talk, we opened the floor to questions. One particular question that struck me was from a human rights defender who asked if there really could be a separate category that could be called "transgender human rights" to which I replied with a loud, resounding "YES!" The language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was so general that TLBG activists needed to clarify what this set of human rights standards had to say regarding issues on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). This is the primary reason why the Yogyakarta Principles came into being. This is also the reason why the concept of SOGI rights is being articulated by TLBG activists now to affirm the idea that different people experience discrimination, marginalization and persecution on different grounds. Some are oppressed because of their sexual orientation while some are treated badly and with disrespect because of their gender identity or expression. Of course there will be overlaps.

But the Yogyakarta Principles themselves are a set of general rights that do not explicitly outline what exact entitlements people deserve as transgender human beings. For example, there is no provision in the Principles that states outright that people have the freedom to determine their own gender. The idea is only referred to as a premise to the Right to Recognition before the Law. This is why transadvocates from around the world plan to come together to articulate clearly a set of rights in response to the human rights violations committed against transpeople. Of course some of these rights will be similar with existing human rights standards but they will be nuanced by the experience of transpeople. For example, the Right to Found a Family should be clarified by the idea that in many parts of the world transpeople are required to be sterilized which tramples their right to be parents and rear children.

Organizational representatives

After the Open Forum, we took several pictures.

The STRAP ladies at the forum

And of course the night would not have been complete without the required picture of the ladies present at the forum (see pic above).

Friday, March 5, 2010


Last 20 February 2010, Sunday,we held our Support Group Meeting (SGM) for the month of love. We met at the conference room of Isis International once again and after the personal sharing we had a discussion on transgender human rights. That day we had two new girls who were attending their first SGM. I hope they will be able to sustain their own momentum and that I will see more of them in the coming months. We were also joined by students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, a state university here. The students, Shara, Divine and Cindy (left most in the pic below) are working on their undergraduate thesis in Sociology and they decided to study the issue of transgender discrimination. We are the main respondents for the study. I am looking forward to seeing their final research paper as it will be the first institutional document that will talk about the discriminatory experiences of transgender women in the Philippines.

February 2010 Support Group Meeting

The week after, we trooped to the University Hotel at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman for the national consultation meeting of Ang Ladlad, the national organization of TLBG Filipinos. One of the highlights of the day is the election of Ang Ladlad’s nominees for Congress, if ever the Supreme Court (SC) finally allows it to run in the partylist system after being denied by the Commission on Election (Comelec) on grounds of immorality. If Ang Ladlad gets a seat in Congress it will open a new chapter in TLBG rights advocacy in the Philippines.

STRAP girls at the Ang Ladlad Consultation Meeting

Yesterday, 5 March 2010, Friday, I was invited to guest in a radio show called Radio Iskool (Radio School) at DZUP, the radio station of the UP Diliman College of Mass Communications (CMC). The hosts of the show, faculty members of CMC, were posing as students and each guest would be their “teacher for the day.” I was Teacher Naomi in the show and I talked about the TLBG community, the issues they face and the efforts that various TLBG organizations in the Philippines have done to fight for their rights and better their lives. I am disappointed when members of our community go on record and focus on sob stories involving us, talking only about our marginalization and zeroing in on our various oppressions. It depresses me when ever that happens because the TLBG community and its members come off as helpless victims who do not use their own agency to make things better for themselves. It is not only misrepresentation of the highest order but it also invisibilizes the efforts that people are making to empower themselves. I say enough of this victimhood nonsense!

Teacher Naomi in Radio Iskool

We are starting to get busy again after a two-month hiatus focusing on internal housekeeping. We are working on getting SEC registered so we can finally open a bank account in the organization’s name. Slowly slowly we are making things happen. I am excited about the prospects that being a duly recognized organization will bring. I feel like we are on the verge of a new beginning—one that is full of promise and light. We will have a series of activities in the coming days and I will tell you about those here. Stay tuned!