Friday, April 30, 2010

GLBT FlorEZ de Mayo

GLBT FlorEZ de Mayo

Two days from now on 2 May 2010, STRAP women bedecked in beautiful gowns and Filipiniana couture will brave the summer heat and parade in a much awaited santacruzan in the streets of Bgy. Bagong Pag-asa in Quezon City (see poster above). Entitled FlorEZ de Mayo, this Pride event is co-organized by the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PROGAY), Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC), and Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines. The santacruzan is a parade that usually closes the month-long festival of flowers in different parts of the Philippines each May. Catholics in different towns all over the Philippines celebrate the many flowers that bloom in May and in anticipation of the June rains gather together the most good-looking men and women of their town in a procession that depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine.

The santacruzan was a dying tradition until the Department of Tourism (DOT) sometime back decided to revive it with a splash. The DOT asked the country’s top designers to lend their most beautiful Filipiniana gowns to be worn by selected transwomen who paraded in the old walled city, the historic Intramuros. Since then, the gimmick caught on with other towns throughout the country imitating the DOT which put the Catholic Church in a pickle.

On the one hand, an almost extinct custom was being revived which was also almost always a fundraiser that directly benefited the Church. On the other hand, it was being organized by TLBG people with transpinays taking center stage in the hallowed tradition. Of course at the end of the day, bigotry reigned supreme and in 2008 the Church bishops took a stand by outlawing santacruzan activities involving transsexual women. Because May is also the month when most town fiestas are celebrated, the Church also forbade local governments from holding beauty pageants involving transgender people. The worst hit of all in this witch hunt was Cebu, which has the great misfortune of having a hateful bishop who announced that he would withhold his blessings to parishes caught staging a beauty pageant involving transwomen. Nobody dared disobey him, of course, to the great dismay of the community of Cebuana transpinays.

Many transpinays are born to Catholic families so it is not surprising to find transpinays who are Marian devotees. The Flores de Mayo is actually a tradition meant to honor the Blessed Virgin. Many who participate in this tradition are actually coming from a place of devotion. Of course others join the Flores de Mayo procession for the experience, prestige, and the proverbial 15-minutes of fame as transpinay-attended santacruzans attract media attention.

This Sunday, STRAP, for the first time, will participate as a group in a santacruzan that is much-awaited by the TLBG community. This is our way of starting our anniversary celebrations with a bang. I would like to believe that we are also doing this above-all for the visibility. I may not be a Marian devotee but I certainly would like to experience this Filipino tradition and I am not letting anyone stop me.

When I went to Cebu two years ago, I had the honor of meeting a long-time activist there, a famous lesbian lawyer who, in my opinion, gave the best analysis of why the Catholic Church was so opposed to the participation of TLBG people in the Flores de Mayo. She said that it was mainly because the Church was afraid of our numbers. Transwomen-led santacruzans bring out the TLBG community in full-force and from Luzon to Visayas to Mindanao we are everywhere and there are so many of us. And the Church hates that families come out to watch beautiful transpinays parading in the streets as if it were the most normal thing on earth. Children and old ladies alike have been seen cheering us on!

Well as they say in Filipino “Hindi nyo na kami mabubura.” You can no longer invisibilize us. Join us on 2 May 2010 at 7 pm and see beautiful transpinays bloom in the summer night as they strut in the streets in this first-ever TLBG santacruzan. See you there!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This May, another anniversary!

This May 2010, the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) celebrates 8 years. In line with our 8th year anniversary celebrations, it is our pleasure to present the following events:

2 May 2010 (Sun), 7 pm
Bgy.Bagong Pag-asa Covered Court, Quezon City

The Flores de Mayo is a Filipino cultural tradition that celebrates the blooming flowers of May. The festival culminates with a procession that depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. On 2 May 2010, selected ladies will serve as sagalas and parade in Bgy. Pag-asa in Quezon City in the first Gay Lesbian Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) FlorEZ de Mayo. This event is brought to you by EZ Lubricating Jelly in cooperation with the Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC), Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PROGAY) and Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines.

TRANS+ACTION Standing Up For Your Rights
9 May 2010 (Sun), 1 pm
Isis International, UP Village, Quezon City

No anniversary will be complete without revisiting the ideas that undergird transactivism. On 9 May 2010  members will come together for an exclusive closed-door workshop on transgender human rights advocacy in the Philippines entitled Trans+Action Standing Up For Your Rights followed by a strategic planning workshop that will set our agenda and action plan in the coming year.

22 May 2010 (Sat), 7 pm
Something Fishy, Eastwood, Libis, Quezon City

On 22 May 2010, we present the first Sybil Awards, right around the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHO), as a way to honor individuals, organizations, establishments and other entities that, in their own way, combat intolerance based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), uphold gender equality and promote the empowerment of sex and gender diverse people.

The Sybil Awards is named after one incarnation of the Great Mother, a goddess whose worship dates back to the Stone Age. Known by different names, she was called Sybil in various cultures. The Great Mother Sybil was venerated by transgender priestesses in pre-communal, matrilineal societies.

Yours sincerely,

Naomi Fontanos

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The company we keep


Last Sunday, 25 April 2010, we held our monthly Support Group Meeting (SGM). I was very pleased because a lot of girls showed up. We were 15 all in all (see pic above). Since December, we have been averaging between 12-16 members every meeting. I hope we can continue this momentum till the end of my term as chair in October.

Self-defense orientation

For the April SGM we decided to have a session on basic self-defense. This came from one member’s suggestion after she had an unpleasant experience with street thugs. We invited Fire Sia, founder of the first online community of bisexual Filipinas, WomenBiNet, to give us a talk on ensuring personal security at home, in the streets and at work and a demo on basic self-defense moves. Fire began with an orientation on ensuring personal safety in different situations. She gave the girls tips on how to make one’s home more secure and what one could bring to call for help in case one was attacked in the streets. Fire said that maze and pepper sprays were unwieldy because you had to reach for them and sometimes you could actually accidentally spray it on yourself. She suggested for the girls to be more practical by bringing whistles or pens placed near their reach. If someone attacked them a whistle attached to an ID lanyard or a pen in the back pocket would be easier to work with than a spray.

Maffie in action

After the talk, we moved to the garage so Fire could teach us some self-defense moves. She would demonstrate with a partner first then asked the girls in pairs to imitate her. Fire taught us how to react when our arm was grabbed or when we are grabbed from behind or when a knife is put to our side by an attacker. Fire would go around to check if every one got what she taught. It was great seeing the girls go at it. One of our new and very active members, Maffie immensely enjoyed herself while aping what Fire taught (see pic above).

We plan to hold more self-defense sessions like these in the future. It feels good to know that we are helping our own members empower themselves this way. We say no to victimhood and yes to transwoman power!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anti-trans violence

Below is a letter that a STRAP member wrote to our e-group detailing her violent brush with street vagrants while she was out with her boyfriend. The incident did not result in a physical scuffle and yet it was as callous psychologically. The vitriol to which our STRAP girl was subjected was uncalled for and extremely humiliating. I am glad that she spoke up but share her sentiments on how to handle the same situation.

I post it below as I try to think about the many laws that protect women in my country from violence. While such laws recognize that violence can be of the physical, sexual and psychological kind and uphold ideas of gender equality and equity, I wonder if they will actually give refuge to transwomen. Perhaps it can be argued but I fear that the debate might lead to what kind of genitalia one has or what sex one was assigned when one was born.

In the mean time, transwomen are dying at faster and faster rates. Just recently I heard news of a transwoman strangled to death in her own home in New York. In Mexico, transwomen are being targeted for decapitation. The inhumanity of it all is just insufferable. I hope that those who are advocating for women’s rights will truly fight for the liberation of all the victims of the cruelty and brutality of the patriarchy.

Dear Angels,

I would like to share what happened to me just a few minutes ago. I hope you girls would be able to know what to do next if this situation ever occurred to you.

I was walking with my boyfriend Luke to the nearest 7/11 to buy some ice cream (around 1:30 am, Monday, 5 April 2010). It was a very peaceful night that there would be no possibility of a fight or something bad happening. Little did we know that someone from the streets would call me out. A guy screamed the "LB" (ladyboy) word.

There were two of them: the first one was aggressive but the other one said some awful words. Luke came up to the guy and asked if he was talking about him. Then the guy pointed at me and said that I'm the person he was talking about. I was surprised that he would be honest about it because the people that we go back to and ask what they said would just deny everything and say that they didn't say anything. Luke pointed at me and told him that I'm his wife. The guy said "You know that your wife is a boy" and he just kept insisting that I was a boy and no matter what I say I will still have a "lawit" (Filipino slang phrase for penis).

Then I went ballistic and lashed out on the guy. I was so angry and said some degrading things to put him in his place. It was a critical situation for us because the guy was kind of going after us and looking for something on the ground, maybe something to throw or some broken glass he could stab us with. After that we just left and decided to still go to the 7/11. We decided to cool down at this waiting shed and decided to talk about what happened. Luke told me that the guy was a drug dealer. After that I paused and told him I suddenly got scared. I even suggested to tip him off to the cops roaming around but Luke decided that he would just go back and talk to them just for the sake of our safety whenever our paths crossed. He made me wait at the apartment lobby and it was the 10 most terrifying minutes of my life. I was so paranoid.

After 10 minutes, Luke came back to me and he told me that those guys wouldn't do anything to us. Luke told the two guys that he knew how difficult life in the streets was; but Luke also told them that we deserved respect, the same respect that Luke had for them. One of the guys told Luke that he was not like most of the guys in the streets who carried guns and knives and that he was known around the area. The guy said that the last thing he wanted was to call attention to himself. He wanted to remain low key while working in the streets. As a peace offering, Luke brought them beer. He assured that everything would fine and that I shouldn't worry about it anymore.

I do love my boyfriend very much. I have a lot of respect for him and admire how he showed me that he didn’t want anything bad said about or done to me. Sometimes it’s just wise to just walk away like there’s paparazzi following you or if you cant help it just talk to those transphobic people calmly and just tell them nicely that its not really nice what they are doing.But I think it’s better to just walk away from the situation and just deal with the fact that some people can be just mean and disrespectful. Maybe we should carry a pepper spray just in case. Or maybe we can have a Support Group Meeting (SGM) dedicated to self defense. :-)

Lesson learned. I do suggest that we should start documenting these things. Maybe it would be useful in the future.

With much love,
Luke and Rebecca
(names changed upon request)

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Class Picture of the RTD

In the latter part of March, International Women’s Month, I had the privilege of being invited to two events organized by women’s rights advocates or those who make up the community of Filipino women activists that collectively call themselves kawomenan (literally, the women or the womanhood or the womankind). On 25 March 2010, Thursday, I along with around 40 others participated in a roundtable discussion (RTD) on sex and culture and how issues surrounding the same impact on the lives of young Filipino women today. The RTD was organized by the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) in collaboration with Women’s Education Development and Productivity Research Organization (WeDpro) Philippines with funding support from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem). After the RTD, a class picture was taken but since some of the participants left early not everyone was included (see pic above).

With Atty. Angie Umbac

The RTD was meant to bring women’s rights advocates together to identify advocacy areas where they could work hand-in-hand in promoting sexual rights and sexual justice in the contexts of young women in the Philippines of today. Several key issues were discussed in the whole-day workshop including women and their relationship with Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), raunch culture, narratives of “hotness” in the 21st century and how they can be more empowering for women and issues of sex, power and agency. I was very happy to spend that day with one of the long-time activists of the TLBG community here, Atty. Angie Umbac who I very much admire and look up to (see pic above). Angie is the president of the Rainbow Rights (R-Rights) Project, Inc. and is one of the TLBG community leaders here who has truly served the local community for years—doing so quietly, loyally and by turning in solid and hard work without making grand claims about or shamelessly promoting herself. The kind of work that they have done in R-Rights under her leadership has touched many people’s lives and is truly worth emulating. I am so proud to call her my personal friend.

Aida Santos

Over-all the RTD was a very fruitful exchange and I hope to attend more of them in the future. Already, I have agreed with one of the pillars of the feminist movement here in the Philippines, Aida Santos who moderated the RTD (see pic above) for WeDpro of which she is a Managing Trustee and STRAP to work together in the area of trafficking. WeDpro is currently conducting research among women sex workers in a certain area in the Philippines many of whom are transwomen.

STRAP ladies at the launch

On 26 March 2010, Friday, I along with STRAP Treasurer Joy Cruz (middle, in the pic above) and one of our new and very active members in STRAP, Yasmin Lee (rightmost in the pic above) attended the launch of the book The Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004, written by a long-time ally of STRAP in the women’s movement, Atty. Bing Guanzon. The book is about a Philippine law of the same name, Republic Act (RA) 9262 and discusses RA 9262’s salient features, its constitutionality, problems in its enforcement and recommendations on how to strengthen its implementation and what interest groups including the judiciary, most importantly, can do to affirm and uphold the spirit and intent of the law.

With Sen. Leticia Ramos-Shahani

The highlight of the evening’s event was the presence of the former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani who was instrumental in getting the new rape law passed which includes male rape. The STRAP girls did not waste the chance to get a pic with the former Senator taken along with Atty. Guanzon Iin pink in the pic above) especially since we were seated at the same table as the former Senator.

With Atty. Bing Guanzon

Atty. Guanzon gave different groups present at the launch a complimentary copy of her book. STRAP got a signed copy of course (see pic above). I was touched by the dedication that the good lawyer wrote in the front cover of the book. It says: Dear STRAP, To all women of the world, more power to us all. I truly love Atty. Guanzon and I look forward to years of friendship and advocacy work with her. Long live the women’s movement in the Philippines! Mabuhay ang kawomen! Mabuhay ang Pinay!