Suspension of Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘#KaraniwangLGBT

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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Fulfilling a lifelong dream to be in the spotlight

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Outrage Magazine | 8 June 2017

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“Two hundred binayad sa akin noong una akong mag-perform, pero masaya na ako. Okay lang kasi matagal ko na itong pinangarap (I was paid P200 the first time I performed, but I was already happy. It’s okay because this has been my dream for so long).”

That was how Richard Fabella, better known by her stage name as Princess Jolens, broke into the drag scene, perhaps highlighting how her journey into the spotlight was not an easy one. But more than the failed attempts, it was perseverance that “paved the way for the fulfillment of my dreams,” she said.

Princess Jolen’s exposure to the drag scene was somewhat atypical.

“One time, nagkaayaan kaming mag-barkada, mga workmates ko, na pumunta sa isang hosto bar. Habang aliw na aliw sila sa mga macho dancer, ako naman manghang-mangha sa gay impersonator. Sobrang na-impress ako sa host (One time, me and friends went to a male go-go bar. While there, they were so fascinated with the macho dancers; but me, I was fascinated with the gay impersonator. I was so impressed with that host),” Princess Jolens said.

That first exposure to the world of drag left an indelible mark on her.

Habang pinapanood ko ung impersonator, maraming sumagi sa imagination ko – kung ako ung nasastage, sisiguraduhin ko na magandang-maganda ung suot kong gown (While watching the impersonator, a lot of things entered my mind. I was thinking that if I’m the one onstage, I’d make sure I’d be wearing a really fabulous gown),” she laughed.

When the night ended, as they headed out of the bar, Princess Jolens saw the impersonators eating outside. She didn’t let the opportunity pass. She walked over to them and introduced herself.

“Mama, magkano per night niyo dito sa bar (Girls, how much do you earn every night here in the bar)? Princess Jolens asked. “P150 a night lang; tapos kung walang tao, P100 lang (They earn P150 per night; and if there aren’t any people, just P100 per night). Oh my God!

She was shocked after hearing how much the performers were earning, “but they seemed happy with what they were doing, and that’s the most important thing.”

That encounter encouraged her to pursue her desire to perform.

During one of her night-outs, she stumbled upon an opportunity to make her dreams a reality.

“I went to this bar in Pasay and I saw at the counter a poster announcing the bar’s annual beauty pageant. The floor manager approached me and asked if I was interested. I immediately said ‘no’. It never crossed my mind to join beauty pageants,” Princess Jolens said. “I told the manager that I prefer performing than be a ‘beauconera‘.”

The floor manager told Princess Jolens “that one of the prizes that I would get if I win the pageant would be a regular set at the bar,” she recalled. With some hesitations, Princess Jolens joined the contest.

She was able to reach the grand finals. But, unfortunately, she did not win

A few days later, she joined another pageant in Cubao. And this time, she won the title.

Princess Jolens went back to the bar in Pasay to let the performers – with whom she became friends with during the contest – know about her victory.

That night at the bar, she met the floor manager again.

“He introduced me to the owner. They asked me what my talents are. I told them that I can do anything – that I’m even willing to perform for free. I just want to perform,” Princess Jolens said.

And that was the turning point for her, as she “officially” entered the drag scene.

She earned P200 on her first night and she was happy with it.

It was a thankless beginning to a drag career.

Different bars noticed her, and eventually, she started getting bookings left and right.

“I started from P200 a night, but when I started performing in other bars, it became P3,000 per night,” she said.

She juggled her daytime job and the demands of being a performer.

“It’s all good. I love what I was doing. It did not matter if I was only able to sleep for a few hours because of rehearsals. There was also a time when I made costumes while at work. It was tiring, but it was really fun… because I love what I was doing,” Princess Jolens said.

But then, another chapter of her life started. Princess Jolens got an offer to work abroad with her ex.

She gave up everything for love. Princess Jolens and her partner at that time went to Jeddah.

Pero isang taon pa lang ang nakakalipas (But after only a year), I felt that my ex could not love me the way I was hoping he would. After I gave up everything, that was what happened,” she recalled.

When she finished her contract, she went back to the Philippines.

Princess Jolens got in touch with the bars that she was connected with before – and in no time, she started performing again.

“The art of drag is slowly dying,” she sadly said. Nowadays, “there is no production value, especially those who perform in small bars. That’s wrong. Regardless if it’s a small or a big venue, you should always be at your best. Your next performance will depend on your last performance. If you do well with your last performance, expect that you will have another set the following day. But if you did not do well, don’t expect another booking the following day.”

Although there is a growing number of drag performers in Manila, for Princess Jolens, “the quality of their performance is no longer that good.”

“It’s not always about how much you are earning. It’s not always about the money. It’s about entertaining the audience. It’s about being beautiful on stage and giving your best performance,” she said.

Princess Jolens also said that some drag performers now do not value the opportunity given to them. “You will see that they are not taking their job seriously, like as if they are just playing on stage. Some of them are prima donnas.”

For Princess Jolens, “whenever you perform on stage, put yourself in the position of the audience. Ask yourself what you would like to see and experience. That’s what you should give. The audience should be in awe when they watch you. And if you successfully achieve that, then that’s the only time you would leave a mark as a performer.”

And Princess Jolens ought to know, of course; considering what she had to go through to be where she is now.

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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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Divided we fall

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Outrage Magazine | 18 June 2016

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Faces-of-LGBT

We love to say that the LGBT community revels in diversity – after all, our multi-colored rainbow flag is supposed to highlight that even if there are many of us who may come from different walks of life, we are still united in our struggle for the same cause (i.e. seeking equal rights for all).

Suffice it to say, I have seen the various faces that constitute the LGBT community in the Philippines.

I have met some who claim to represent (and – perhaps reflective of the elevating of the rich in a largely elitist heterosexual society – with actual pride at that) the “coño/conyo/konyo LGBT”, the elite who fail to see their privilege.

I have met some of the “karaniwan (common)”, whose main concern is to ensure day-to-day survival.

And I have met some of the “bekinals (a play with “beking kanal” or gays from the gutters; a term that may be politically incorrect, but is still used by many when referring to themselves to highlight their lowly status), those who are at the fringes of society; and whose very existence is marked by the hardships encountered not only by being LGBT, but also by their social status.

I’d have to say that, unfortunately, these segregations do not at all “blend”. That is, at least as far as my experience in the Philippines is showing, there’s no “waving of the same banner/flag” for the LGBT community.

We are too… broken; too divided.

And this could spell our fall.

Hear so many of the “coño/conyo/konyo LGBT” speak supposedly on behalf of the “entire LGBT community” while only focusing on such issues as marriage equality and passing the anti-discrimination bill in Congress (they do this in between parties or photoshoots or the likes). The mainstream media gives them the platform; and their allies in the ruling class (from politicians to celebrities) only “consult” with them on just about every LGBT-related issue (before publicly claiming they already spoke with the entire LGBT community). But they remain mum on other day-to-day issues, e.g. the policies being developed in Muslim areas in Mindanao that also affect LGBT people there, the effect among LGBT pensioners of the veto for SSS pension hike, and the failure of the Department of Health and PhilHealth to deal with the disparity of services offered in treatment hubs. Here, there seems to be more concern with faux publicity stunts that supposedly banned the expression of LGBT love, than actually finding practical solutions to deal with those who perpetuate the ills that affect us.

And then hear many of the karaniwan and bekinal LGBT people, whose stance is – because they are often ignored anyway – to just keep to themselves.

We call our divisions “diversity”, as if by doing so the cracks from within are covered up and are therefore made more appealing. In reality, there is nothing empowering about this often unspoken great divide.

We have to bridge the divide.

Because there is always room for everyone on the table.

Start getting immersed in different contexts. Ask the karaniwan and bekinal LGBT people to speak about their issues (in Congress/Senate, in the media). Stop only talking about the glamorous and start including issues of those who are unable to speak.

Because only if everyone is represented will our community be truly united.

And only then will we be truly a “community of diversity”.

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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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What the SSS pension hike means to senior LGBTs

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Outrage Magazine | 01 February 2016

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Growing-old-and-gay

Poverty knows no sexual orientation or gender identity.

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino III vetoing the bill that would have increased the pension to be received by beneficiaries of the Social Security System (SSS), pensioners who are also members of the LGBT community are joining the fray against the move considered as both “inhumane” and “anti-poor”.

Dati akong nagtatrabaho sa isang kooperatiba (I used to work in a cooperative),” said 62-year-old gay pensioner Andrea del Rosario. “As an SSS member, my contributions were automatically deducted from my salary; and during that time, hindi ko masyadong pinag-aralan kung ano mangyayari sa kontribusyon kobasta ang alam ko, may aasahan ako pagtanda ko (I didn’t closely look at how my contributions were handled; I just knew that when I grow old, I’d have something to fall back on).”

And now that Aquino’s government refused to “give us minimal increase, even if the SSS executives profit from us, talagang pinapahirapan kami (we’re really placed in a difficult situation),” Del Rosario said.

FAILED JOURNEY

As early as March 2011 a bill seeking for an increase in monthly retirement pension to a minimum of P7,000 a month was already submitted to Congress. This did not pass, so that in January 2013, a new bill substituted the previous version, this time looking into a reduced increase of a maximum P2,000-a-month pension. In July of the same year, another bill was passed in response to the substitution, again highlighting the need for the proposed increase.

Not incidentally, also in July 2013, Aquino said in his State of the Nation Address that “it is time to amend the SSS pension scheme. We must establish measures that remedy the outflow of funds.” Interestingly, Aquino is also a defender of granting SSS executives hefty bonuses.

It was only in 2015 when, finally, the Congress approved the P2,000 across-the-board pension hike.

However, Aquino vetoed the increase in January, stating that “while we recognize the objective of the bill to promote the well-being of the country’s private sector retirees, we cannot support the bill in its present form because of its dire financial consequences.”

GROWING OLD AS LGBT

For Del Rosario, the effects of Aquino’s “anti-poor SSS stance” are very defined among LGBT pensioners like himself.

Kaming mga gay senior citizens na walang binubuhay ang mas may kailangan (Gay senior citizens like us who do not support anyone, need the money most),” he said.

On one hand, exactly because they do not support others, “wala rin kaming aasahang susuporta sa amin pagtanda namin (We expect no one to support us when we grow old),” Del Rosario said. As such, “we only live on what we get.”

On the other hand – and this is reflective of the Philippine society expecting those who supposedly do not have families of their own (such as LGBT people) to help look after the families of their relatives – Del Rosario said that his pension is also used “para makatulong sa mga pamangkin at apo (to help my nephews/nieces and grandchildren),” he said. “Sila ang aking tinutustusan at pinagbibigyan kung may hinihingi o pangangailangan sila (I support them when they ask or need something).”

The small pension he receives makes it “difficult to live, much more to help out.”

FALSE HOPE

Del Rosario said that “many like me resort to utang (borrowing money).”

Talagang hindi sapat ang nakukuha naming pensyon. Nababaon kami sa utang at ang mga lending institutions na may matataas na interest rates lamang ang nakikinabang, pinapahirapan nila kami lalo (The pension we receive is not enough. We are deep in debts, and only lending institutions with high interest rates benefit from this, as they make our lives more miserable),” del Rosario said.

He also added that he is one of many seniors – LGBT and non-LGBT – still hoping for some changes to happen to “acknowledge ang pinagdadaanan namin (what we’re going through), considering that we have to spend more sa gamot, pantustos sa mas maraming tao (for medicines, to support a bigger family)…”

But beyond this, though, Del Rosario said he hopes for a change of heart to “start ensuring that the elderly are taken care.”

Magkaroon sana sila ng magandang pananaw at kabuuang malasakit para sa mga senior citizens (I hope they gain better understanding of the plight, and have more compassion for the senior citizens),” del Rosario ended.

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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 poz trans advocate

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Outrage Magazine | 21 October 2014

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This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email editor@outragemag.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

Dani

PHOTO BY RED CASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY OF DANI

Her story is not unique. Her journey has been explored by many individuals who are also in the same situation. But what she does, and how she uses her “gift”, is what makes her exceptional.

Her name is Dani*. She is a transgender woman, a pageant queen, and an advocate of HIV awareness and rights.

“When I was a child, I didn’t know what bakla meant. That is, until I was being called one. I asked my parents what bakla means and it was only then that I got the concept of being homosexual,” Dani recalled.

It was when she was growing up that she slowly realized that she’s “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” And from then on, “I identified myself as a transwoman.”

She lived her life as a woman, and – stereotypical as it may sound – she is into joining beauty pageants (she has, in fact, won several titles).

Dani would like to think she’s also like many “traditional women” who, when love knocks on the door, give everything unconditionally and oh-so-selflessly. One time, in particular, when she fell in love, she surrendered everything to her ex-partner, even the safeness of her physical health.  They practiced unprotected sex.

“I remember before 2009, I thought HIV was not yet in our country. I thought at that time that it was only happening in the US and in other countries, so why should I worry? Why should I use condoms?” she recalled.

But life took a sudden turn.

“I am now HIV positive. I was diagnosed back in 2009,” Dani disclosed.

Since then, she has started learning about HIV and AIDS. She attended seminars, and she was present in almost all of the counseling sessions at her treatment hub. She became friends with different people living with HIV (PLHIVs) and advocates. And she did all these as she pulled through her life.

When she finally gathered her confidence and strength back, she used her knowledge and experience to inspire newly diagnosed HIV-positive people to slowly recover from their misery and help them face their new lives.

“This advocacy is very close to my heart. I know what PLHIVs are going through because I speak from experience. I consider my status as an open secret – what I’m doing, that is helping PLHIVs, is a good medium for me to discuss what I went through and how I’m dealing with it,” she said.

As an HIV awareness and rights advocate, Dani is in a class of her own. She selflessly takes advantage of her own story to help other people.

When The Project Red Ribbon was established, Dani found a community of HIV positive advocates who also shared the same way of thinking: to help PLHIVs through the power of inspiration and real stories.

“We help them get through the saddest days of their lives– how they can get along with it, what they can do to have a better mindset about their situation. They need to become more aware that this is their new life already, and that there’s much to be considered,” she said.

Dani still joins beauty pageants and she still wins different titles.  She still hangs-out with her transgender friends. And she still falls in love whenever she meets someone special.  But this time, she values her own welfare and the safety of other people.

“Sometimes, someone will call me in the middle of the night, crying and sometimes suicidal. I gladly receive the call and just listen to their frustrations and fear. I feel responsible for them. Because I know how they feel – the feeling of being alone. I don’t want other people to feel like there’s no hope,” she said.

Being a transgender and HIV positive can be extra challenging (Read about Dabawenya Tricia Cabrera). But Dani’s spirit remains high.

“The essence of being a transgender is having the best of both worlds (so to speak). You can have a caring heart of a woman and you can have an iron fist of man,” Dani said.  “And being HIV positive, you have to accept and fully understand your new life so you can also inspire new PLHIVs. And living an HIV positive life is not easy nor difficult, but it is manageable.”

*NAME CHANGED, AS REQUESTED, TO PROTECT THE INTERVIEWEE’S PRIVACY

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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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