EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the opinion of Danicar Mariano on recent events concerning transgender celebrities, such as Ate Glow and Angelina King.
Transgenderism seems to be in the news lately with Ate Glow marrying her boyfriend in London and Ian King's transformation into Angelina King. A friend even commented that Angelina King can be considered the Bruce jenner of the Philippines, with both coming from prominent families. Bruce jenner is step father to the Kardashians, star of their very own reality show, while the Kings own the successful chain of motels, Victoria Court. The coming out of both are also quite unexpected.
Now, to be clear, coming out as gay and coming out as transgender, or coming out as a woman is very different. Transgenderism is the T in the LGBTQ queer spectrum, with L standing for Lesbian, G for Gay, B for Bisexual. Within the queer community, it is said that transgenders have been the most marginalized since they are often viewed as "confused" since transgenders have a gender identity, or gender expression, that differs from their assigned sex.
According to Bemz Benedito, Ang Ladlad forerunner and transgender advocate: "Gender identity does not change personality, and gender identity does not determine who you love."
In other words, you can be a transgender woman, like Angelina King, who was and still is in love with a fellow woman, as transgenderism is not about sexual orientation, as it is about what gender you feel you are. This is different from gays, lesbians and bisexuals who are defined by the attraction to people of the same sex, or in the case of bisexuals, to both sexes. One can be lesbian and still be a feminine woman, or one can be gay and still be a masculine man, or what we call "pamin-ta" in the gay parlance -a word play on "pa-men" or "nagpapaka-lalaki".
Transgenderism is viewed as one of the most radical propositions in society as it reveals what famous gender scholar, Judith Butler says: that "we are all in drag." Dressing up in drag highlights the performativity of gender: that gender is different from the sex that we were assigned at birth. Gender is a costume, and we are either dressing up according to the norms and rules that society wants us to clothe ourselves in or we are not.
King's brand of transgenderism is especially radical as her continuing relationship with Joey Mead shows that her gender identity-being a woman- is separate from who she is attracted to. In other words, a transgender male to female can feel she is a woman, but still want to be with a woman, in which case, could we dare say Joey Mead and Angelina King are lesbians?
Surprisingly, some of King's siblings from the wealthy Chinese family have expressed their acceptance and even joy at Angelina King's coming out, with atticusking's instagram saying "here's a pic with my former kuya who is now my ate." with the hashtag #yesiwillshaveit.
Traditionally, Chinese cultures have idealized heterosexuality and frowned upon homosexual identities, with the Chinese ideogram for good or "hao" comprised of man and woman together.
Philippine history, on the other hand, has a long legacy of male to female transgenderism dating back to the pre-colonial period when babaylans or ancient female shaman, 1/3 of which were actually biologically male, were revered. Although the babaylan is very well respected in society, transgenders in modern Filipino society are often discriminated against. Consider the true story of a transgender who was a UP valedictorian but had difficulty finding work. Transgenders are considered weak, abnormal, sexually perverted. Rarely is it the case that they are accepted in the family, as in the film, "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros". The typical reaction of a father upon learning his child is transgender is actually best encapsulated in the joke where the father dunks his child's head in the drum full of water and asks "babae ka ba or lalaki??" "Babae." "Babae ka ba or lalaki??"Over and over until the transgender child says: "sirena."
Transgenderism is not accepted in cultures where gender norms are very strict and constantly dictated: this is how it is to be a woman, this is how it is to be a man. A man cannot cry. A man cannot do household chores. A woman can't be brave. A woman cannot do carpentry. a man cannot ever be a real woman, no matter how hard he tries or how beautiful he looks (even better than most women, in some instances, or how many surgeries undergoes because gender, according to conservatives is determined by what's in your pants, period, and not by the identity that makes you happy to perform. Many transgender children, who feel like they are women trapped in a man's body, or the converse, a man trapped in a woman's body, undergo debilitating depression and suicide because their parents or society often force them to conform to the gender they were born into simply because the gender has to match the genitals.
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Indeed, there is an idea that if you can force a girl to wear bestida or dresses all the time, then she won't be a lesbian or a transgender anymore, and if you can just force a boy to like cars or dress macho, then he won't be gay or transgender anymore. Conversion therapy, or forcing LGBTs to change against their will, in an age where homosexuality and transgenderism has long been removed in the list of psychological diseases is not only achaic-it is also a violation of human rights, people's right to self-determination.
Besides, we witnessed Aiza Seguerra wear dresses in Eat bulaga all the time, however, it still didn't stop her from becoming a female to male transgender. In its most violent permutation, the pressure to conform wreaks havoc on the psyche of a queer person until self-annihilation seems to be the only escape. the daughter of thespian and actor Noni Buencamino, for instance, committed suicide and allegedly left the following message on her Tumblr account:
"My name was Julia Louise Buencamino and my gender neutral name was Lee. i was 15, assigned female at birth, and i identified as non-binary(surprise mom and dad I've known I was trans since I was 13)
(yall can bury me as a girl because i know how queerphobic this country is but I know I was never comfortable being seen as one). "
It is no wonder that, in reaction to "Ate Glow" getting married to a handsome Brit, many transgenders in the country had commented: "naku, mga ateh! Mag-ibang bansa na tayo! Dun talaga ang market natin!!" Many filipino transgenders find the love and acceptance they cannot find here in their own soil from citizens of more open minded cultures.
OTHER FAMOUS TRANSGENDERS IN PHILIPPINE SHOWBIZ WHO RECENTLY CAME OUT
Rustom Padilla, ex husband of Carmina from the otherwise very macho Padilla clan, has also come out as BB Gandang Hari (?) in the Pinoy Big Brother house.
Aisa Seguerra, famous child actress now tatooed recording artist who we all witnessed getting married with long time girlfriend, Lisa Dino.
Another famous singer: Charisse Pempengco, who guested in Oprah and came out in the international TV series, Glee also had a tiff with her mother because of her coming out as transgender male to female.
Although Vice Ganda identifies as "bading" or "bakla" in her show sometimes, it is uncertain if she is just a gay person that crossdresses or if she is transgender male to female as many already refer to her as "she". A gay person who cross dresses on ocassion is not necessarily transgender as transgenderism is about how that individual sees himself, the gender she or he identifies with.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Kami.com.ph.
Danicar Mariano was an Asia Research Institute fellow when she took up her Phd, Geography in NUS (National University of Singapore). She has her MA from University of San Francisco where she was a Yuchengco scholar and an MA from Ateneo de Manila University, where she was on a Robert Southwell fellowship.