Suspension of Disbelief

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Pride in the eyes of those at the fringes of LGBT community

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Outrage Magazine | 23 June 2017

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Everything LGBT-related is magnified in June every year, marked as the month when LGBT Pride is supposed to be celebrated (thanks, largely, to its Western-led identification as “Pride Month” because it was when the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City in 1969).

But while discussions on the evolution of Pride has already been happening overseas (again, largely in Western contexts, with the commercialization of Pride getting flak, such as THIS, THIS and THIS; and yes, some support), the same has not been really happening in the Philippines. Yes, discussions about the annual “walk” being identified as a “march” (meaning it’s political) versus a “parade” (meaning it’s just for show) have happened in the past, but – by and large – the evolution of Pride here to end up mimicking Western model/s can be argued to be not happening.

Fact: There will be opponents and supporters of both sides.

But in the midst of the noise, what needs to be kept in mind is that Pride is supposed to celebrate the “rainbow diversity”. That is, it’s supposed to be for everyone, not just for the select few (who can afford to access it).

Because there remain many members of the LGBT community whose narratives are often just left in the cutting room, marked as “not sexy” or “not newsworthy”.

These are the #KaraniwangLGBT, our LGBT brothers and sisters who are at the fringes not just of society, but even of the LGBT community. Those whose idea of Pride is limited to “it’s not for people like us”.

Outrage Magazine chats with some of those still looking for Pride… and yet seemingly left by the very movement that’s supposed to help them find this Pride.

THE LESBIAN CONFIDANT 

People always mistake them as lovers. They’ve known each other for more than five years now.

But “magkaibigan lang kami. May boyfriend siya at mga anak, tapos ako, may nililigawan (we’re just friends. She has a boyfriend and kids, and me, I’m wooing another),” Jeng said.

They both live in Tondo, among the informal settlers there. Each day, they share meals together – with the kids and other family members.

Alas-otso ng umaga nung tumawag siya sa akin. Iyak siya ng iyak. Binalita niya sa akin na nakuha na niya ‘yung HIV test niya, at positive siya (She called me at eight in the morning. She was crying. She told me she got the result of her HIV test, and that she tested positive),” Jeng continued.

Jeng is a pedicab driver. On a good day, “kumikita ako ng P150. Pero kung wala masyadong pasahero, P50lang. Nagbibigay pa kasi ako sa may-ari ng pedicab (I earn P150. But if there aren’t many passengers, just P50. I also have to give the pedicab owner his share).”

But nowadays, “mas mahirap kumita. Kasi binabantayan at sinasamahan ko siya palagi kapag nagpupunta sa ospital. Hindi ko siya kayang pabayaan kasi ang dami na namin pinagsamahan. Noong ako ang nagkaproblema dati, nandun siya palagi sa tabi ko. Kahit na hirap ako sa sitwasyon ko, okay lang kasi masaya ako at kasama ko best friend ko (it’s harder to earn. I go with her to the hospital. I can’t leave her alone. We’ve been through a lot already. When it was me who had problems, she was there. It’s not easy but, I’m happy I can be with her),” Jeng said.

Asked about Pride, and the annual march/parade, she looked confused: “Pride March? Ano ‘yun? Puro kasiyahan lang yata yan at same-sex marriage. Paano naman kami makikinabang dyan (What’s that? It’s just for partying and for same-sex marriage? What’s that to us)?” she asked.

THE ‘KERI LANG’ WORKER 

“Al – two letters lang. ‘Yan ang binigay sa akin na pangalan. Keri lang, at least madali lang tandaan (My name is Al – just two letters. That’s the name given to me, so that’s okay. At least it’s easy to remember),” he said.

Al flips burgers for a living.

Wala akong basic na sahod, porsyento lang. Kapag kumita itong store, may take home ako (I don’t get basic salary, just a percentage of what the store earns. If the store earns something, then I get to take home something),” he said.

Al works for 16 hours every day. Sometimes, he earns P500 in a day. But on a regular basis, his take home is from P150 to P200 per day.

Pinapaaral ko pa kapatid ko. Tapos nangungupahan lang kami (I also send a sibling to school. And we just rent our place),” he said.

Then trying to sound optimistic: “Keri lang, buti nga at may trabaho ako. Hindi katulad ng iba dyan, hirap na hirap maghanap ng trabaho (It’s okay, at least I have a job. Others have a hard time finding a job),” he added.

With Al only getting some five hours of rest every day, “celebrating” Pride is far from his mind. The priority, he said, is for him to earn a decent living – even a small amount – as long as “wala akong ginagawang masama (I don’t do anything illegal).”

THE DEVOTEE

Ano pangalan mo? Dadasalan kita. Sa ngalan sa Amahan, sa Anak ug sa Espiritu Santo, amen. Senyor Sto Niño, Mama Mary, Senyor San Pedro Calungsod, mga santos, mga santas. Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño…”

Her name is Gretchen. She has been a candle vendor at Magellan’s Cross in Cebu for more than 30 years now. She inherited her job from her ancestors. It was passed onto her mother, and after she passed away, Gretchen took over.

Araw-araw ako nagdadasal dito kay Senyor Sto. Niño. Si Sto. Niño, mas more na malapit kami sa kanya, maraming blessing siya binibihgay sa amin,” she shared.

As a devout Catholic and believer of Sto. Niño, Gretchen is always ridiculed because she is trans.

But she said: “Unsa ang kinahanglan nga ako kaulawan? Dili ko usa ka kriminal, dili ko usa ka kawatan (What should I be ashamed of? I’m not a criminal. I’m not a thief),” she said.

Gretchen thanks God that despite the discrimination she is experiencing, there are still many people who continue to trust her with their religious intercessions.

But – aside from praying for others – every night, she also prays for people to respect her for who and what she really is.

Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño, salamat sa pagpasaylo kanako (thank you for forgiving me). Viva Pit Senyor! Mahal na Sto. Niño,” she ended. 

THE CHARMING WAITRESS

Nagkaroon ako ng boyfriend dati, estudyante lang siya. Gwapo siya, fresh na fresh ang itsura. Kaya lang tuwing nagkikita kami, binibigyan ko siya ng allowance para may panggastos siya sa school (I had a BF before. He was a student. He was handsome. But every time we met, I had to give him money, his allowance for his schooling),” Kakay shared as she prepared the paresorders. “Wala naman akong choice. Wala ako mahanap na matinong lalaki na pwedeng maging boyfriend. Isa sa marming rason, wala akong maayos na trabaho – trabaho na pwede ako ipagmalaki at iuwi sa bahay para ipakilala (It’s not like I have a choice. I couldn’t find a proper man to be my BF. One of the reasons is I don’t even have a good job – a job that will make him proud to introduce me to his family).”

Kakay works in one of the pares houses in Manila. She has been with them for many years already, even if“mababa lang ang sahod, okay na rin (I don’t earn much, though that’s just fine).”

She tried her luck – several times actually – to apply for other jobs. But the usual answer that Kakay said she gets: “Hindi kami tumatanggap ng bakla. Mahirap na, baka magkaproblema pa kami sa iyo (We don’t take in gay people. You could just give us problems).”

Kakay identifies as a woman, and she longs to be able to transition. “Hindi ako pamhinta, hindi ako bakla, babae ako. Hindi niyo palang nakikita ang totoo kong anyo (I’m not ‘straight-acting’, I’m not gay, I’m a woman. But you haven’t seen my real personhood yet).”

Kakay is proud with her life – somehow. Pinaghirapan ko ang lahat ng ito (I worked hard for what I now have),” she said. “Pero kung may pagkakataon na mas maging okay ang sitwasyon ko, syempre attack ako doon. Pero sa tingin ko malabo na mangyari ‘yun, kasi hindi naman kami nakikita (But if there’s a chance to do better, I’d go there. Though this doesn’t seem realistic because no one really sees us).”

THE ANGEL BARKER

Outrage Magazine first met the Angel of Quezon Avenue in 2014, a transgender woman barker who said “matagal ko na ginagawa ito. Bata palang ako,barker na ako (I’ve been doing this for a while now. I was just a child, I was already a barker).”

She did not finish college because her family could not afford to send her to school. She was left with no choice but to succumb to one of the easiest ways to earn a living.

Sumubok ako rumaket sa iba last year pero walang nangyari. Tapos naghanap ako ng ibang trabaho, wala rin tumanggap sa akin (I tried looking for other jobs, but nothing happened. No one wanted to hire me),” Angel said. “Ganito talaga ang buhay, kailangan mong tanggapin ang sitwasyon mo. Ngayon tiis-tiis lang. Basta magkakasama kami ng pamilya ko (That’s life. You have to accept your situation. Now, you just put up with things. As long as I’m with my family).”

Of course, if given a chance to do a different work with a better pay, “tatanggapin ko ‘yun! Walang pagdadalawang isip (I’ll accept that – no second thoughts).”

Today, Angelo continues to be a jeepney and FX barker. She earns P50 to P60 in a day.

THE SEX WORKER

PJ just turned 18 last May. He celebrated his birthday with two of his closest friends over a bottle of Red Horse Mucho and Chippy while walking at Plaza Divisoria.

Ito lang kaya ng budget. Wala kasi masyadongcustomer. Okay na rin, na-celebrate ko namanbirthday ko (This is all I can afford. There aren’t a lot of customers. But it’s okay, I was still able to celebrate my birthday),” he said.

PJ is from Cagayan de Oro. When he was 16 years old, he went to Manila to look for work. In just a matter of two days, he got a job at the pier. He was earning P150 per day.

Pero wala akong tinutuluyan ‘nun, doon lang din ako sapier natutulog. Tapos syempre maliit lang ‘yung P150 na kita. Kadalasan isang beses lang ako kumakain sa isang araw (But I was homeless then. Often, we just slept at the pier. Also, P150 isn’t a big amount. At times we just eat once a day),” PJ recalled.

To augment his income, he resorted to sex work.

Pagkatapos kong magbuhat ng mga delivery, naglalakad na ako sa Roxas Boulevard hangang Star City. Minsan may edad na babae ang kumukuha sa akin, minsan matandang bakla, minsan mag-asawa (After work, I’d walk along Roxas Blvd. until I reach Star City. At times, older women hired me, at times older gay men, and at times couples),” PJ said.

But after three weeks, he lost his raket at the pier. And since he did not have a place to stay or know anyone in Manila, he saved up – from paid sexual encounters – and went back to CDO.

Today, he is with his boyfriend and girlfriend – yes, he is in a relationship with two people. Both are also sex workers.

Wala naman masama kung tatlo kami sa relasyon. Nagmamahalan kami. Mabuti rin ito, at least tatlo kami nagtutulungan sa buhay (There’s nothing wrong with having three people in a relationship. We all love one another. It’s also good since we’re all able to help each other out),” PJ ended.

THE FATHER AND THE SON

Dati akong construction worker, pero huminto na ako ngyaon. May anak akong bakla (I used to be a construction worker. But I stopped. I have a gay son),Mang Rey shared.

His gay son is only 16 years old and they live in Quezon province. Every two months, they wake very early in the morning, around 2:00 AM, to travel to Manila.

Nalungkot ako nung nalaman ko na HIV-positive ang anak ko. Tinatanong ko siya kung saan o paano niya nakuha yung sakit, pero hindi siya nagkukwento. Tumutulo na lang ang luha niya (It saddens me knowing he has HIV. I ask him how he got infected, but he doesn’t tell me. He just sheds tears),” Mang Rey said, wiping his own tears.

Their family used to be in a better financial situation, but because of his son’s medical condition – and the insufficient support that PhilHealth gives to PLHIVMang Rey is now struggling to make ends meet.

Lumapit kami sa iba’t-ibang agencies para humingi ng suporta. Tapos nung nalaman nila na bakla ang anak ko, parang naging komplikado yung proseso. May ganun pa pala hangang ngayon (We’ve approached various agencies to ask for help. But when they found out my son’s gay, the process changed. I didn’t know things like that still happen these days),” he said, dismayed.

He added: “Sana ung mga NGO dyan o ung mga grupo para sa mga bakla at may HIV, tignan nila ung mga may kailangan talaga, hindi lang ung mga may kaya. Kami ang mas may kailangan ng atensyon at suporta (I hope NGOs, LGBT groups and groups for PLHIVs look at those who really need help, not those who are affluent. It’s us who really need attention and support).”

Pride – we say – is for everyone, including (if not particularly for) those at the fringes, the people most in need of finding this Pride.

Because sans them in the equation, ours is a tattered rainbow, with the destruction coming from within…

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(Established in April 2007, Outrage Magazine remains the only publication exclusive for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allied community in the Philippines.)

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Once there was a golden showgirl

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Outrage Magazine | 21 March 2015

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The-Showgirl

What he does for a living is merely a “passion to entertain the audience,” he said.  He performs on stage – miming different songs, dances to a familiar tune, and presents different acts in a comedic way.

He goes under the name Gloria Manila.

He is from a group of Filipino gay senior citizens, most popularly known as the Golden Gays.

And at 68 years old, he doesn’t see himself slowing down. He is, he stressed, “still a showgirl”.

A PLACE TO CALL HOME

Gloria moved into the house of the late Justo Justo (known to many as JJ) when he was only 15 years old, living there until he reached his twilight years.

Mula noong namatay ang mga magulang ko, nagsosolo na ako sa buhay. Ang mga kapatid ko naman nasa Visayas lahat. Talagang nag-iisa nalang ako sa buhay ngayon (From that time when my parents died, I have been alone. My siblings are all in the Visayas. So I am really by myself now),” he said.

Gloria added: “Doon na ako sa bahay ni JJ lumaki. Kinuha nila ako at inampon. Sa kanila na ako lumaki, inalagaan ako ni Konsehal JJ (I really grew up in JJ’s house. His family took me in. They looked after me).”

In that former shelter for (mostly senior) gay men, the so-called Golden Gays had a family that they can call their own. It was something that most of them did not have. And for a time, they had a place they can call home.

Mas masaya kami noon, noong magkakasama pa kami sa isang bahay. ‘Yung iba sa amin hindi na iniisip kung saan titira o kung may sapat na pera para pangkain kinabukasan. Dahil magkakasama kami sa isang bubong, hindi ganun kahirap (We were happy then, while we were living together. Some of us didn’t have to worry where to live or if we had enough money to buy food for the next days. Because we were living together under one roof, life didn’t seem so hard),” Gloria said.

Unfortunately, it only lasted until JJ died.  His halfway shelter for the Golden Gays shut its doors.

He alleged that “mga barumbado ‘yung mga apo niya (JJ). Pinabayaan kami, pinalayas lahat ng Golden Gays. Ngayon, parang pagsubok na lahat ng mga bagay (JJ’s grandchildren were harsh. We were neglected, we were kicked out. So now, it seems that everything in life is a challenge),” he lamented.

COMEDY IN THE LIMELIGHT

But unlike some of the Golden Gays, Gloria continues to have a drive – that is, to get his share of applause from an audience, even now that he’s already in his sunset years.

Gloria started performing during the 1970s, as a regular at some of bars and clubs that offered alternative entertainment. Now, even as decades passed, he continues to perform on stage, although not as active as when he was younger.

Naalala ko noong kabataan ko, okay ang mga raket ko, kaliwa’t kanan. Pero ngayong tumanda na ako, nahihirapan na ako. Sa mga comedy bar na lang ako nakakapag-showngayon. Wala kasi akong alam na ibang trabaho kung hindi ang mag-show lang (I remember when I was young, I had numerous projects. But now that I am older, I am having a hard time. I now only perform in comedy bars where I get gigs. I don’t know of anything else to do aside from doing shows),” he said.  “Isa talaga akong showgirl (I am a true showgirl).”

Sadly, as his age – and the physical beauty that goes with it – progresses, the workload lessened. He is no longer a regular at any comedy bar, even if he gets occasional gigs.

Gloria is also frequent at some town fiestas, plays slapstick acts that often ridicule the ugly part of being gay or sometimes his old age.

Kahit magkano lang ang ibigay sa akin, okay lang. I don’t ask for a big amount of money,pakikisama lang ang kailangan ko, ‘yung pang-u-unawa nila. Hindi ko kailangan ng malaking pera. Kung magbibigay sila, kahit pamasahe lang, okay lang (It’s okay with me whatever amount is handed to me. I don’t ask for a big amount of money, just the companionship, and their understanding. I don’t need a lot of money. If they give me something, even if it’s just for my fare, that’s fine by me),” Gloria added.

Aside from his stint as a showgirl, he is also pre-occupied with his small beauty salon in Quezon City.

Binigyan ako ng parlor ng asawa ko. Pero minsan mahina ang kita doon. Alam mo naman ang kita sa parlor – minsan wala, minsan mayroon. Kung wala akong mga shows, sa parlorako nag-s-stay at nagbabantay (My partner gave me a parlor. But sometimes that doesn’t earn. You know how parlors are – sometimes they earn, sometimes not. If I don’t have shows, I stay at the parlor and look after it),” Gloria said. “Pero sa ngayon, pinagkatiwala ko sa kapatid ko ‘yung parlor, ‘yung pera na kita napupunta sa kanya. Binibigyan naman niya ako ng pangkain sa araw-araw, 60 pesos (But now I entrusted the parlor to a sibling, so the money the place earns goes to that sibling who just gives me money for food every day, 60 pesos).”

OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

For every struggle Gloria experiences, he finds solace through one of the greatest things that happened to him – his almost lifelong relationship with his partner.

He met this wonderful man during his 40s and they have been together for 26 years and still counting.

Gloria-Manila

“Kahit magkano lang ang ibigay sa akin, okay lang. I don’t ask for a big amount of money, pakikisama lang ang kailangan ko, ‘yung pang-u-unawa nila. Hindi ko kailangan ng malaking pera. Kung magbibigay sila, kahit pamasahe lang, okay lang,” Gloria Manila says.

Malungkot ako ngayon, wala akong katabi sa pagtulog. One and a half years na siyang nasa Mindanao kasama ang pamilya niya. Pero tinatawagan naman niya ako sa cellphone, kinakamusta niya ako (I am sad now because I have no one beside me when I sleep. He’s been in Mindanao for one and a half years now to be with his family. But he calls me to ask how I am),” Gloria said.

He remains hopeful that in the near future, his partner will come back to Manila to be with him again.

Alam ko babalik pa siya para magkasama ulit kami. Minsan tinanong ko siya kung may asawa na siyang iba dahil ang tagal na niyang hindi umuuwi dito, wala naman daw (I know he will come back so we can be together again. Sometimes I ask him if he has found someone else, and this is why he hasn’t been with me for a while; but he said he doesn’t have anybody else),” he added.

So for the time being, Gloria said that he will continue to entertain people through his knack in making everyone smile. Because after all, even if he’s already in his sunset years, he is and always will be a showgirl.

Wala akong gustong baguhin sa buhay ko. Naging masaya ako sa mga napagdaanan ko. Bakit ako may babaguhin? Magaganda naman ang naging buhay namin, pati na ang naging samahan namin ng mga Golden Gays (There is nothing I will change in my life. I’ve been happy with what I went through. Why would I want to change anything? Life has been beautiful, particularly the relationships we’ve formed with the Golden Gays),” Gloria ended.

To donate or extend help to The Home for the Golden Gays, visit http://homeforthegoldengays.org/ or email homeforthegoldengays@gmail.com.

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Club BuddhaKan: Disenchanted in Mandaluyong

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Outrage Magazine | 10 March 2015

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Buddhakan1

Located at the back of GA Tower along EDSA, Club BuddhaKan reopened after it left the not-that-clean (read: filthy) yet somewhat-mysterious old cinema that used to house it along Aurora Blvd. in Cubao, Quezon City.

Buddhakan2For those not in the know, BuddhaKan initially gained traction as one of the (at that time) newest concepts in LGBTQ clubbing in Metro Manila, when it introduced itself as “that club inside an abandoned cinema house.” The concept worked perfectly – and should I say, not surprisingly. Those who used to frequent rundown cinemas to get action got curious.  So did those looking for novel places (after all, if Western countries have bars inside former churches, a club inside a former cinema was worth checking out). And so did those who have nowhere else to go to (or who were sick of the existing scene).  In no time, (the former) BuddhaKan gained regular patrons, from members of different clans, young members of the gay community, and even some veteran clubbers.

But sadly, it was not immune to the here-now-gone-tomorrow problem plaguing the gay party scene.  Just like the other bars/clubs before it, it slowly… died.

And now, after a short hiatus, BuddhaKan re-opens its doors in a new location.

Situated at the back of one of the biggest condominiums along Boni Avenue, along the residential stretch of the area, is the revamped version of the club.

Now – with the novelty of the older version in mind – how does this new one stack up?

First, the interiors of the place are a let-down – looking at the place now, I can’t help but think that it’s a step backwards considering the “grandness” of the old BuddhaKan (It was a cinema, hello!). This one dons layers and layers of draperies; and the area, aside from the spotlights, is illuminated by fancy-looking chandeliers.

Secondly, the drink list remains limited – should I say, just like how it was in the old place in Cubao. As such, when here, just expect the usual local beers and some simple cocktails (emphasis on “simple”).

Thirdly, and worth highlighting, is the attitude of the place’s staff members. We remain critical of people who do not seem to give proper service to the very people giving them business (for instance, we’ve been critical of O Bar in the past).  And so, I’d have to say this is another notable drawback of the new BuddhaKan.

When Outrage Magazine visited the club to attend its Red Party after they sent out a text invite, the people working there were actually unpleasant.  The receptionists, for instance, could not be bothered answering questions, and after they received the payment for the cover charge, just continued conversing with each other. Once inside, we were notified by one of the servers/waiters that there were no seats available, and that we just have to stand by the bar.  Interestingly, the club wasn’t even half full. And when we went to the bar to get our drinks, we were told that they ran out of ice, and so we were forced to have warm drinks.

If there’s a saving grace to this place, I’d say it’s the more-than-okay stand-up performers. The jokes are not all tired; and the comedians/comediennes have a not-that-bad comedic timing.  So if you’re up for a night of comedy (i.e. green and slapstick jokes thrown side by side), then you will probably enjoy what this place has to offer.

It saddens me to say that this place has a lot – make that “A LOT!” – of catching up to do for it to be a place you would like to be seen in regularly.  But try to visit if:

  1. You’re in Mandaluyong and you have nowhere else to go;
  2. You are looking for better-than-good performers;
  3. You have time (and money) to waste;
  4. You’re not over-particular when clubbing;
  5. You wanna check a (somewhat) new place;
  6. You were assigned to check out the venues that members of the LGBT community can go to; or
  7. You have an event there/You were invited to an event there.

As for me, well, you know where I stand…

BuddhaKan

Club BuddhaKan is located at 79 Sierra Madre St., Mandaluyong City.
For more information, visit the club’s Facebook page.

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Once there was a proud gay father

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Outrage Magazine | 02 September 2014

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Emerson2

He tried to run away from his real self. He used to spend his days living a kind of life that will satisfy the norms of society. He never thought of himself as a defender of LGBTQIA rights.

But then everything changed.

One day, he met this “beautiful and special woman”. He fell in love with her. And in no time, they got married.

The love they shared brought to the world “three beautiful princesses”. The eldest is already in 3rd year in college, followed by a high school student, and the youngest is a 5th grader.

Emerson3His name is Emerson Soriano. He’s (still) happily married to a heterosexual woman. He is an artist, a defender of human rights, and a proud gay father.

“There came a time na pakiramdam ko nasasakal na ako sa pagiging closeta (I felt stifled hiding in the closet). I was so afraid to come out before,” Emerson recalled.

He used to teach in one of the schools in the Cordillera region. The pressure Emerson felt during that time didn’t help the anxiety he had when he was battling with himself on whether to come out of the closet or continue to pretend and lie about his true gender identity.

But Emerson then took a big risk.

“I came out to my officemates and sinabi ko na (I told them) I’m like this.‘Yung takot noon na kapag nalaman nila kung ano talaga ako, hindi naman talaga ganoon nangyari (The fear I had in the past if they found out my real identity, well, that’s not what transpired). It was a positive response,” he said.

Aside from the feeling of being free, Emerson was also pleased to discover that his friends and community have accepted him for who he really was, and nothing has changed after he came out.

His family, the children in particular, learned about his true sexuality in an unexpected situation.

“During the Pride celebration last year, an AM radio station invited me and another transgender activist to talk on their show. We were asked about the LGBTQIA movement, what it’s like to love a gay person, among other things,” Emerson recalled. Pero ang hindi ko alam, nakikinig rin pala ‘yung family members ko sa radio station nayun (What I didn’t know was my entire family was also listening to that radio station). And they heard the whole interview.”

Emerson paused, took a deep breath, and smiled. Nakaoff ‘yung cellphone ko (My mobile phone was turned off) that time because I was in an interview. When I switched it back on after the program, the messages started coming in. I opened it one by one. I was smiling and teary-eyed at the same time as I read the messages. ‘Yung mga anak ko ‘yung nag-text. Sabi nila, tanggap nila kung ano talaga ako, at mahal na mahal nila ako (My children sent text messages. They said they accept me for who I am, and that they really, really love me).”

Emerson paused for a few seconds again, this time, a bit teary-eyed. “They accepted me for who I really am. And said that they love me,” he repeated.

Lahat ng ginagawa ko at mga pinaghihirapan ko, para lahatyun sa mga mga anak ko (Everything that I do and work hard for, it’s all for my children),” Emerson added.

Since then, a lot of things have changed.

He is now more active in various LGBTQIA events. The wariness he felt before, every time he speaks in front of the crowd, is no longer there.

“Ever since I came out, I feel so much free. Kahit sa Facebook, ‘yung mga friends ng mga anak ko (Even on Facebook, the friends of my children)they are all friendly. They don’t find being gay negative, they don’t have the concept that being gay is negative, that it is only limited to cross-dressing. They tell me that I am a positive influence to them, because I did what is right,” Emerson added.

Aside from being a human rights activist, Emerson spends his spare time making artworks and exhibiting them.

“My job, being an activist, medyo palaging nagkukulang ako pagdating sa (often, I run out of) allowance. My skill in the arts has helped me gain extra income,” he said.

Emerson is currently commissioned by the Ecological Sanctuary of Baguio to design the walls of “Earth House”, a structure completely made of clay and stones.

He is able to express his emotions through his artworks. “Sometimes, yung depression na nararamdaman ko (the depression I feel), you will see them in my works. It’s a great avenue for me to express what I really feel.”

Emerson’s message to those who are not yet out?

“Kung gaano niyo kamahal ang inyong pamilya, ganoon din ang ibabalik sa inyo. Kung gaano niyo sila nirerespeto, ganoon din ang ibabalik sa inyo. My advice is, pakiramdaman niyo muna ang kapaligiran niyo, malalaman niyo naman kung tama na ang panahon. Kasi mahirap pilitin ang isang environment na tanggapin ang isang bagay na hindi nila nakasanayan (The love you give your family, that’s the love they will give to you. The respect you give them, is the respect they will give to you. My advice is, get a sense if it’s the right time to come out. Because it’s hard to forcefully come out in an environment that is not yet ready).”

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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State of the Nation: The Grievances of PLHIVs

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Outrage Magazine | 22 July 2014

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WAD2013

“It is clear: The state was established to serve you. If you have health problems, the government must care for you. In times of illness, it should be there to give aid and support. What has our government done in this regard?”

That was the question posed by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III himself during his fourth State of the Nation Address last year.

And this year, four years since Filipinos were led to the daang matuwid (righteous/right path)”, the commitment made by PNoy to Filipinos – that there will be a better tomorrow – seems to be untenable.  In fact, there seems to be no decent stopovers along the way, only obstacles.

The plight of Filipino people living with HIV (PLHIVs) exemplify this.

‘WITCH HUNT’

In an earlier interview on ABS-CBN News Channel, Department of Health (DOH) assistant secretary Eric Tayag said that the government agency is working on the details to make HIV tests compulsory.

“(DOH) Sec. Enrique Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that’s compulsory. We want health providers to screen adults who may have a risk for HIV, so that they can be properly counseled on what to do next,” Tayag was quoted as saying.

While the DOH blindly considers this move to be beneficial to everyone, especially to those who are “unaware and reckless with their lifestyle”, different HIV-related organizations and support groups believe otherwise.

“We were surprised and very alarmed by the pronouncement of the DOH. We feel that the mandatory testing, other than being very violative of the AIDS law, will also violate fundamental human rights. If HIV testing would be required for employment or upon entry to educational institutions, then that’s a violation of the socio-economic and socio-cultural rights. It will promote greater stigma and discrimination,” Perci Cedaña, National Youth Commission’s commissioner-at-large, said.

The DOH also noted that the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) is really alarming and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What the DOH leadership fails to see is the diversity of the LGBTQ community, whose members don’t follow the stereotyped images that the media or the everyday Filipino perceive.

“Even (if) DOH possesses evidence that show the complexity of Filipino behavior, in a concentrated epidemic among MSM and transgenders, who do you actually require to get tested? This population does not conveniently fit whatever stereotypical images that Sec. Ona may have about the (LGBTQ) community. Would DOH require all of them to get tested? The problem is not simply about increasing uptake of HIV testing. There’s a more fundamental issue: it’s Sec. Ona himself,” Network to Stop AIDS (NSAP) said in a statement.

Project Red Ribbon, an organization that composes mainly of PLHIV, noted that typecasting a certain group will not solve the growing problem of HIV in the country.

“It’s basically a witch hunt, and different organizations and institutions, especially BPOs, will be affected by this. (We are) so against this because it’s basically typcasting a certain group. The problem is, when you say MSM, not all MSM are gay. So does this mean that they will only focus with this group? What about the other groups? This is a clear typecasting of MSM. We don’t think it’s going to work,” said Pozzie Pinoy, founder of the Project Red Ribbon.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

While the government is “trying” to decrease the prevalence of HIV infection in the country, the quality of service and professionalism among medical practitioners in some health centers and treatment hubs continue to be lacking.

One PLHIV, RT, found out that he’s HIV-positive while he was finishing the requirements needed for a job application in Dubai.

“When I went back to the clinic in Malate to get my confirmatory test, the nurses and medical technicians who were on duty immediately went to the reception area to take a good look at me and they whispered to each other,” he recalled.

And what the attending physician told RT was even more alarming. “Okay lang ‘yan, matagal pa naman ang 10 years. Mga five years pa bago mo maramdaman na may AIDS ka. Marami ka pa naman pwedeng magawa (That’s okay; you still have 10 years. It will take five years before you start feeling the effects of having AIDS. You can still do a lot ’til then).” After hearing that, he just left the clinic.

Several days later, he consulted with another doctor in San Lazaro Hospital.

It has been three years since that incident.

RT is now taking antiretroviral medicines (ARV) to help control the growth and spread of the HIV virus in his body. His doctor told him that he’s in superb shape – he goes to the gym every other day and he hasn’t experienced any opportunistic infections.

Despite the unfortunate initial experience, RT is still “luckier” than most PLHIVs.

In the case of Paolo (not his real name), a 22-year-old barista who is also HIV-positive, the available resources in the Visayas region to attend to the needs of PLHIVs is insufficient, if not lacking.

Mahirap ang kalagayan ng mga may HIV dito sa Visayas. Minsan nangyayari na hindi kami naasikaso kasi hindi available ‘yung doktor namin. Kaya ‘yung iba sa aminnagbibyahe pa papuntang Cebu para macheck-up at makakuha ng ARV (Our status in the Visayas is difficult. At times, no one looks after us because there’s no doctor available. So, some of us have to travel to Cebu just to get checked, as well as to get ARV supplies),” he said.

As a minimum wage earner, Paolo cannot afford to skip work just so he can go to Cebu.

Naalala ko five or six months ago, nagkalagnat ako for three weeks, tapos noong nagpunta ako sa hospital namin ditonakaleave daw ‘yung doktor na naka-assign sa amin, at pinapapunta ako sa Cebu para matignan. Sumabay pa noon, naubos na ‘yung supply ko ng ARV, kaya hindi rin ako nakainom ng gamot ng almost one month. Tapos nag-consult na lang ako sa general practitioner doctor, at sinabi ko ang status ko. Wala naman akong choice (I remember five or six months ago, I had a fever for three weeks, so I went to the hub here, but the doctor was on leave; I was told to go to Cebu for me to get checked. It was also that time that I ran out of ARVs, so I have not been able to take my medicines for a month. I was forced to consult with a general practitioner; I disclosed my status to him. It’s not like I had a choice),” he recalled.

UNNECESSARY PANIC?

Although Filipino PLHIV benefit from PhilHealth’s Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment Package, which covers the majority of their hospital and treatment expenses, there is also the growing problem that the government is facing in terms of ARV supplies.

“Actually, we don’t have a problem in ARV supplies. It just so happened that there was an abnormal situation. There was a miscalculation when they ordered the supply, that’s why there was a delay for a few months,” said Dr. Rossana Ditangco, research chief of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).  “We experienced the shortage not because we didn’t have a budget, there was just a delay in the delivery. There’s no need to cause unnecessary panic towards this. As far as the budget is concerned, I don’t think we will experience any problem because the ARVs that we are buying are very cheap, they are just generics. And PhilHealth is there and ready to take over eventually for the cost of treatment.”

Supposedly pacifying words that don’t hold sway to so many PLHIVs.

In the case of JB, who lives in Quezon City, going to RITM Alabang to get ARV supplies is a tedious task, especially if he will only be given one to two weeks’ supply.

“I have been taking ARVs for more than four years now, and this year was the hardest for me, not because of the side effects I feel whenever I take the medicines, but the stress I experience every time I go to RITM. The nurses told me that they cannot give three and half months worth of ARVs, which I normally get, because they are ‘budgeting’ it to accommodate other patients. They only gave me two weeks’ worth of ARVs and I was asked to go back after I finish them,” he said.

The government, it seems, is covering up the real situation by not being open about this, as a consequence, some organizations supporting the PLHIV community end up making their own efforts to help augment the problem.

“The PLHIV community has been panicking for months now. The DOH has not been that transparent with its programs when it comes to antiretroviral medicines. The Project Red Ribbon itself has already purchased ARVs to support the community. So if there’s no problem, why is it that we are buying from other countries to supplement the problems with the stocks?” Pozzie Pinoy said.

(IN)TANGIBLE EFFORTS

PLHIV in the Philippines is protected by the Republic Act 8504 (The Philippine AIDS Law), which includes the following provisions: HIV and AIDS education in the workplace; prohibiting compulsory HIV testing; medical confidentiality; and prohibiting discriminatory acts and policies in the workplace.

But while RA 8504 may be beneficial, it is not fully functional. Truth be told, it is not even being practiced by the people who are dealing with PLHIVs.

As RT, who remains traumatized by the treatment he received at the hands of healthcare providers when he went to the clinic in Malate, is right in saying that he didn’t deserve to be judged by the people who are supposed to take care and make him feel better.

Paolo shouldn’t have suffered for three weeks because the attending physician for HIV patients in his locality was on leave.

JB could have used the time he spent traveling back and forth to Alabang to do other things.

If the government is really doing anything to improve the lives of PLHIVs, then why are there PLHIVs experiencing unnecessary distress?

In the end, as far as healthcare provision is concerned, how long must Filipino PLHIVs should wait until they see concrete efforts from this government? When will they stop questioning the decisions made affecting them, and just enjoy the supposed benefits?

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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State of the Nation: The Plight of the Golden Gays

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Outrage Magazine | 18 July 2014

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For the likes of Mother Leony of Home for the Golden Gays, life is a constant struggle – discriminated for being gay when he was young, with an added layer of discrimination encountered now as a senior gay man…

For the likes of Mother Leony of Home for the Golden Gays, life is a constant struggle – discriminated for being gay when he was young, with an added layer of discrimination encountered now as a senior gay man…

Four years ago, Filipinos were reminded to remember an idea, an idea that there is hope for a better tomorrow.

This is no small thanks to the yellow fever Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III brought during his campaign for the Presidency, largely banking on the death of his mother. It was during the rise to power of his mother, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, when Filipinos felt the same, as she represented the opposition to former President Ferdinand E. marcos.  And while everything changed after her term, with discontent marking her reign, when Noynoy won in the 2010 Presidential elections, the country surprisingly turned yellow once again.

UNQUEENLY MOVE OF THE SOUTH

It was also during that time when ‘Nay Josie, a 65-year-old gay living in Mandaue City, felt that her life would improve.

“I remember voting for Noynoy back in 2010. Some people tried to convince me to vote for another candidate, they said that Noynoy was just all talk, and that I would be just wasting my vote. I didn’t listen to them and still voted for him,” ‘Nay Josie recalled, speaking in the vernacular.

‘Nay Josie has been living on his own for more than 10 years. His family asked him to move out of their house after he lost his job. They told him that they never wanted to see him again because he’s a disgrace to the family. He now lives on the streets. He works as a part-time assistant in a small beauty parlor in Mandaue.

“I understand their reasons. I don’t want to give my family a hard time taking care of me, especially now that I don’t have a job, and I don’t have the capacity to give any monetary support to them. My situation is really hard, but I don’t have a choice,” ‘Nay Josie said, wiping away tears.

There was a time, some two years ago, when he tried to reach out to their barangay, but they also turned him away, saying that “we don’t offer help to LGBT people.  Ginusto niyo maging bayot, kayo ang may kasalanan kung bakit kayo nagkaganyan (You decided to be gay, so it’s your fault your life ended up that way).”

For many senior LGBT people, only their memories (and not even happy ones) keep them company…

For many senior LGBT people, only their memories (and not even happy ones) keep them company…

A couple of months after this, when he gathered back his strength to reach out for help again, he went to the City Hall of Mandaue. But, what he heard made him completely hopeless. “Our government doesn’t have a budget for homeless people.  And even if we do, it might be hard for us to accommodate you because of what you are. We’re not saying we don’t accept you, but other people might be offended,” he was reportedly told.

“Sometimes, the young gays I meet in the beauty parlor, they give me some money so I can buy clothes in ukay-ukay.  O minsan, pinapagamit nila ako ng CR nila para makaligo ako. Hindi ko na alam ang gagawin ko kapag nawala ang raket ko saparlor (“Sometimes, the young gays I meet in the beauty parlor, they give me some money so I can buy secondhand clothes.  Or sometimes, they let me use their bathroom so I can shower.  I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my job in the beauty parlor),” ‘Nay Josie said.

DEMISE OF THE GOLDEN GAYS

Alas, ‘Nay Josie isn’t allowing in what she’s going through.  This is because in the Philippines, the government doesn’t have a solution to accommodate homeless LGBT people; or, for that matter, it does not have any concrete programs specifically catering to LGBT people’s needs. Instead, even if it’s hard, people who are in dire situations are forced to come up with their own solutions to remedy their problems.

This way, for the government to serve as the go-to of the citizens who are in need is but a dream.

A few years back, there was a self-sustaining home for the elderly gays in Pasay City. It operated for several years, with the doors open to anyone who has no place to go to. This community built and sustained a small community of elderly gays, becoming each other’s family. But everything ended when Justo Justo, the founder of the home, passed away. All the members were asked to vacate the house by the family of Justo.

Simula noong nawalan kami ng tirahan, nagkahiwa-hiwalay na kami. May mga iba sa amin na sa kalye na lang natutulog. ‘Yung iba naman, umuwi sa mga distant relatives nila.Nagkakasama-sama lang kami kapag may mga activities (Since then, we’ve lost the home we’ve known; we parted ways.  Some of us slept on sidewalks. Others stayed with distant relatives.  We just see each other if there are activities),” Ramon Busa, president of The Home for the Golden Gays, said.

Sophia, an 85-year-old gay, stayed at The Home for the Golden Gays for more than 15 years. After they were sent away, he didn’t have choice but to go back to his family, who never showed compassion to him after they found out he’s gay.

“Wala din naman kaming choice kung hindi pilitin namin na umuwi na lang sa kanya-kanya naming bahay. Dahil sa edad kong ito, hindi ko na kakayanin ‘yung walang maayos na matutulugan (We don’t have a choice but to return to our families. Because in my age, I won’t survive not having a proper place to live in),” Sophia said. “Kahit na sa bahay namin hindi nila ako inaasikasoat least alam ko na ligtas ako kapag may dumating man na bagyo (Even if no one cares for me in that house, at least I am safe when there are natural disasters).”

Rica Ramasamy, a 60-year-old gay, has been a member of the “Golden Gays” since 1982. He ran away from home when he was young because his family, particularly his mother, refused to recognize him because he’s gay.

Unlike Sophia, Rica didn’t have the same option of returning to his family.  He has no one to run back to. He lived on the streets, sleep on sidewalks, and run for cover whenever the rain came.

Nakita ako ng barangay captain na natutulog sa kalye, tapos kinuha niya ako. Nakiusap siya doon sa may-ari ng isang bulok na apartment para payagan akong tumira doon. Kahit na sira-sira na ‘yung apartment at butas-butas na ‘yung bubong, malaking pasasalamat ko na doon. At least hindi na ako sa kalye natutulog (The barangay captain saw me sleeping on the streets, so he saved me. He spoke with the owner of a dilapidated bulding to allow me to live there. Even if that building is dilapidated, I am still thankful.  At least I don’t live on the streets anymore),” he recalled.  Ginawa akong barangay sweeper ni kapitan (He gave me job as a street sweeper).” 

SUNSET IN THE “DAANG MATUWID

In Negros, there’s a 55-year-old gay who lives in jeepneys. His name is Mang Joseph. His family disowned him because of the supposed “choices” he made when he was younger. He is currently unemployed. And he’s suffering from bronchitis.

With their government failing them, with the society continuing discriminating against them, many senior LGBT people have no one to turn to…

With their government failing them, with the society continuing discriminating against them, many senior LGBT people have no one to turn to…

“Sinubukan kong lumapit sa health centerdito, pero hindi nila ako pinayagan ma-confine, dahil daw baka may AIDS ako at makahawa ako sa iba. Binigyan lang ako ng mga gamot at pinababalik na lang ako kapag naubos ko na (I went to the health center here, but they won’t admit me because they said I may have AIDS and I’ll infect others. They just gave me medicines, and told me to return when I’m finished taking the medicines),” he said.

He went to the City Hall of Negros to ask for assistance, but he was also turned away because he didn’t have the necessary requirements needed to process his request.

Namamalimos lang ako para may pambili ako ng pagkain. Kapag hindi sapat ‘yung nakukuha kong pera, naghahanap na lang ako ng mga natirang pagkain sa mga basura (I just beg so I can have money to buy food. If the money is not enough, I scavenge to find food in garbage),” he added.

He tried to go back to his family, but they still refused him, especially now with his illness.

“Ang pinakagusto kong ginagawa kapag dapithapon ay ‘yung panoorin ‘yung unti-unting paglubog ng araw. Minsan naiisip ko, sana kasabay ng paglubog ng araw ay ‘yung pagkawala ng mga problema ko at ang pagkakaroon ng solusyon sa mga ito (What I like doing is watching the sun set. Sometimes it makes me wish that with the setting of the sun, my problems will also disappear),” he lamented.

‘Nay Josie didn’t choose to be gay to be treated unfairly.

Sophia, meanwhile, was lucky to have a family who begrudgingly welcomed him back, though not all golden gays have the same privilege.

Rica was lucky to have met the barangay captain with a golden heart, though if it wasn’t for thebarangay captain, what would have happened to him?

And then there’s Mang Joseph who doesn’t deserve to suffer the way he is suffering now, as it was never his choice to be gay or to be burdened by an illness.

At desperate times like this, the government is supposed to serve as the beacon of hope that the people could look to to ensure that their welfare is taken care.  And this is regardless of their social status, gender identity and sexual orientation, or the problems that they currently face.

But as their plights highlight, where is the daang matuwid (right/righteous path)” promised them?

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Robin Tomas: Pinoy Pride on the world stage

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Outrage Magazine | 15 April 2014

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Meet-Robin-Tomas

TomasIt was in mid-2000 when this Filipino designer slowly made a name in the world of fashion.

He was born and raised in the Philippines.  His mother, a famous comedienne, TV host, and a veteran actress, supported all his endeavors.

He calls himself an artist, a designer, a gastronome, a class clown, and many others. But most importantly, he is proud to be a Filipino.

Meet Robin Tomas.

THE CALLING

In an exclusive interview withOutrage Magazine, Tomas recalled how he got interested in fashion.

“I was in college then, studying Fine Arts in U.P. It was then that I started getting curious about the fashion industry,” he recalled.

After he graduated from college, he decided to pursue further studies in New York.  He took up fashion design at Parsons School of Design. He also interned at Anna Sui and Valentino.

“It was a memorable experience for me (as) I was really interested in fashion,” Tomas said. With his enthusiasm and passion, he graduated with flying colors.

In no time, he got hired in the fashion industry in New York City after he graduated.

And in 2011, Tomas won the Supima Design Competition, a T-shirt design contest participated by six other designers. His winning piece was a “re-invention of the classic T-shirt.” His winning design, a “V-neck T-shirt in layered tonal Supima cotton knit,” was launched and sold at Bloomingdales.

It was also in 2011 when Tomas started his retail market in New York.

“The competition in New York is very fierce! It’s a very saturated and small industry, and the competition is really quite tough,” Tomas said. “You need to have the right combination of skill, personality, and luck.”

ON THE WORLD STAGE

Since then, Tomas has started creating couture pieces that reflect class and glamour.

“I have always admired similar works of the masters in this field – YSL, Valentino, Lagerfeld, et cetera. It was just something that I loved,” Tomas said.

His pieces are being carried by several boutiques in Manhattan.

He also said that most of his creations were inspired by some of the classic designers. “YSL is one of my inspirations, so are the early works of the late Gianni Versace. But overall, many aspects inspire me – architecture, art, films, and many others. Oh, and of course, my major inspiration is New York City!”

Apart from mounting successful fashion shows and events in New York, Tomas also contributed to the budding Philippine fashion industry.

In 2009, he showcased some of his creations during the Philippine fashion week.  Designers who witnessed the spectacle of Tomas’ designs dubbed it as “very strong”, and that “women will drool at it.”

He also partnered with a local clothing brand, Penshoppe, and released a 12-style collection for men and women. “It was a move to reach a different market. And I also want to bring my designs here (in the Philippines).”

Just recently, Tomas mounted another successful trunk show at Raffles Makati, showcasing his whole Holiday/Resort 2013 collection.

“I wanted to share my collection to the Philippine market, and the reception I received just affirmed the opportunity to open a store in Manila,” Tomas proudly said. “I would also like to open stores in other Asian and European cities.

He also launched a retail store last year “to make the creations more accessible to everyone,” he said.  In short, it was a move to make sure that he would reach a wider market.

Although Tomas has only been in the industry for some time, he is already slowly making a mark in the world of fashion, thereby paving the way for many budding Filipino designers to continue dreaming big and to reach for their goals no matter how difficult it may seem to be.

Robin Tomas is a New York-based designer for his own label, TOMAS.
Visit his online store at TOMASNYC.com.

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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