WATCH: Growing up as a Pinoy transman
MANILA, Philippines – When Deiniel* was in high school, he secretly felt uncomfortable wearing female uniforms, using the lady’s washroom, and being addressed as a female. For years, he questioned his identity before finally accepting himself as a transgender man at age 15.
Wearing a black shirt, loose jeans, and a big analog watch, Deiniel sported a short haircut. He is now 22.
Transgender men or transmen are “people who are assigned as female at birth but see themselves as male,” according to Anne Lim, executive director of Galang Philippines, a non-governmental organization working with and empowering lesbians, gays, bisexual women and transmen (LGBT) among urban poor communities.
“Before, I isolated myself from the society, I didn’t want to talk with anyone. I was confused that I was the only kind of person. I really had a hard time finding myself,” Deiniel narrated.
Just like the other Filipino transmen, Deiniel experienced discrimination at school, work, and his very own neighborhood.
Today, Deiniel has been with his girlfriend for nearly 8 years.
Sex is, conventionally and officially, identified by two types – female and male. One’s assigned sex at birth may or may not match with one’s gender identity, which is how a person identifies herself or himself.
The term transgender may still be confusing to some Filipinos.
According to Nil Nodalo, president of "Transman Pilipinas", their organization has around 130 registered members, with most of them living in Metro Manila. Transman Pilipinas is a community born from Facebook which educates Filipino transmen about various issues such as health and gender rights.
Today, gender-based discrimination – mostly rooting from misinformation – not only puts transmen in difficult personal situations, but also puts them in a tight social position, compromising their job opportunities and professional lives.
This impacts urban poor transmen the most.
Deiniel was born in Quezon City and is currently living in Marikina. Growing up, he felt that Philippine schools did not provide a supportive environment for transgender students.
“It was one of the main reasons I don’t want to continue in a formal school (high school), I’d rather study at home, not a formal one, where I need to wear a uniform like the female [students],” Deiniel said.
Among the youth, there is a lot of pressure to conform to gender norms. “Students who are identified as LGBT get bullied a lot in schools,” Lim said. “For instance, some LGBT are taunted by their teachers or classmates; such that, they drop out of school altogether.”
Poverty reduces their access to education. Aside from this, the lack of supportive environments in school discourages transgender students like Deiniel from pursuing their studies. All these could hinder their chances of finding decent jobs as adults.
Lim stressed that the lack of employment opportunities is the primary challenge faced by urban poor LGBTs. “Even in factories where, basically, it should be about skills and not about how one looks, LGBTs in general are shut out of factories as well,” Lim explained.
Deiniel, sitting on a bright orange sofa, smiled as he recalled his adolescence. He said he never felt disappointed about his life. He has always tried to perceive things from a different perspective.
After dropping out from school in 2009, he decided to be part of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) in Nangka Elementary School to graduate. “It’s not a formal school where we go to school every day. I only have one class in one week, on Saturday," he said. "I took many exams. When I complete exams, it considered passing high school.”
He did research with his personal computer and a smartphone to have a better understanding of what a transman is. He also looked up the process on transitioning from female to male. He went on Google, YouTube, and social network sites to learn as much as he could about sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
During his online research, he also met some friends and fellow Filipino transmen.
In 2011, he decided to start his transition.
Deiniel then decided to start working instead of going to college. He applied for jobs and ended up working as a call center agent. At work, he had a hard time explaining his gender identity, so he quit his job. He then started taking online courses on entrepreneurship. This would be his new career path, he thought.
Now Deiniel is an entrepreneur at a local online company involved with household products.
From his own experiences, Deiniel shared that self-discovery is very important, stressing that transmen also need help with health education. Two years ago, he took part in organizing Transman Pilipinas.
Just like what Deiniel did, informal self-education could be an option for anyone who wishes to learn more about themselves. Now Deiniel is actively advocating for the rights of Filipino transmen, especially those who lack fair opportunities.
Deiniel was raised by his father, a tricycle driver. Despite financial constraints, Deiniel never let go of education. For him, discrimination does not matter as long as LGBTs have access to education.
"I don't think it is based on what level of class you have. It actually is really about yourself; how you educate yourself, how you understand yourself," said Deiniel. "Because only when you understand yourself will people find it easier to understand you."
“Now I find the ways and begin to study a lot. I disciplined and taught myself as I want to be successful,” he continued. – Rappler.com
*Deiniel is a pseudonym. The subject chose not to reveal his real name to keep his privacy.
Monyneath Reth and Sokummono Khan are Rappler interns from Cambodia.
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