MANILA, Philippines – Weeks after changing his name online from Charice to Jake Zyrus, the singer/songwriter spoke to Rappler about his journey as a transgender man. (READ: Charice changes name to Jake Zyrus)
Jake, formerly known as Charice Pempengco, shot to international fame in 2007, when he appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' show. In the years that followed, he would perform for former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, guest on Orprah Winfrey's show, and be mentored by David Foster. He also played a recurring role on Glee. At the time, Jake was known for belting out songs by the likes of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.
But in 2013, Jake publicly came out as a lesbian and clarified in interviews over the years that he identifies as male. (READ: Charice to Oprah on coming out: 'I was ready to lose my career')
On June 19, the singer officially changed his name on social media to Jake Zyrus – a move that drew both support and criticism. While many fans online cheered him on, his grandmother took to Facebook to say that she would never accept him with his new name.
On Friday, June 30, Jake told Rappler that he hasn't spoken to his family since his name change, and while he admits that things aren't fine, they're normal – "Katulad din ng ibang (Just like other) families out there I'm sure they're having the same problem," he said. (READ: Singer Charice reconciles with mother)
After reiterating that a lot of parents react the same way to their children coming out, Jake added: "It's fine, kasi this is just another challenge for us, as a family. I just hope na sana mas private lang. Pero it's out there. So sana lang, sa ibang tao, siguro maintindihan lang na family, ganoon talaga, magkaaway, magkakasundo."
(It's fine, because this is just another challenge for us, as a family. I just hope that it was more private. But it's out there. So I hope other people will understand that when it comes to families, sometimes you fight, sometimes you get along.)
"No matter what, we're still a family," Jake said later. "And here, we don't give up. I know that my grandma said na [she won't accept me]... she will. I'm sure she will. And I understand her, and I hope she understands where I'm coming from as well."
Watch our full interview in the video above.
Aside from the difficulty of coming out while being in the public eye, Jake also had a hard time coming out as a transgender person because of the lack of discourse on the subject in the Philippines.
Jake said that he knew, even when he was a child, that he was a transgender person.
"It's just when I came out 4 years ago, ang hirap, kasi parang natatakot ako to actually tell people na... I didn't have enough strength to tell the world na 'Hey, I'm a man. And I'm a transgender person,'" he said, recalling the time he came out as a lesbian.
(It's just that when I came out 4 years ago, it was so hard, because I was afraid to actually tell people that... I didn't have enough strength to tell the world that 'Hey, I'm a man. And I'm a transgender person.)
Jake decided to come out as a lesbian because he couldn't perform as Charice Pempengco anymore, he said.
"Feeling ko [noon] na I'm gonna come out as a lesbian because feeling ko nung time na 'yon, sabi ko, either bakla or tomboy ang nare-recognize," he explained. "Kahit na, dati, i-explain mo na lalaki ako, [ang sasabihin sa akin], 'Hindi, tomboy ka eh.' Parang 'yon lang 'yung meron."
(I felt [before] that I'm going to come out as lesbian because I felt at the time, I said only being gay or being lesbian was recognized. Even though, before, I explained that I was a man, [what people would tell me was], 'No, you're a lesbian.' It's as if it was the only thing there was before.)
Today, he said, it's different – more people talk about being a transgender person, there are more people who are open-minded about it, and people are more accepting.
Under the knife
Jake said on June 30 that he had top surgery done on March 29 by cosmetic surgeon Manny Calayan and he had his first shot of testosterone on April 19.
He said doctors told him that right before he became unconscious during his top surgery, he was singing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."
"Na-touch naman ako sa sarili ko, alam mo yun, kahit wala ka na sa sarili mo, alam mo pa rin. Alam mo pa rin talaga na you are born this way," said Jake.
(I was touched by myself, you know, that even though you aren't conscious anymore, you still know. You really know that you are born this way.)
On the day of our interview, Jake's first shot of testosterone had been more than a month ago and he had some light but noticeable facial hair. It's a change he's been observing and documenting along with his voice, he said.
"It's been an amazing time," he said, adding that he was looking forward to the coming weeks. "It's been only two months pa lang. So masaya ako kasi alam kong mawi-witness ng mga tao yung journey, yung change and everything. So excited na ako."
(It's been only two months. So I'm happy because I know people will witness my journey, the changes, everything. So I'm excited.)
Since changing his name, Jake has gone back to the studio to produce new music, and will soon come out with his first single as Jake Zyrus, the man. – Rappler.com