Meet Jek dela Cerna, 1st transwoman pageant queen of Mapua Makati
MANILA, Philippines – What is the true essence of a woman? Is it being able to give birth? Is it defined by beauty, or a deep sense of caring and sweetness? Is it indicated by what you have "down there"?
For 19-year-old Jericho "Jek" dela Cerna, being a woman goes far beyond all of these. A BS Accountancy student of the ETYSBM in Mapua Makati, Dela Cerna was crowned Ms ETYSBM, her department's beauty pageant queen, last January 10. She was the first-ever transgender woman in the whole school to join the tilt.
A transgender is someone whose sex assignment at birth differs with his/her gender identity or expression. In Dela Cerna's case, she was born in a male body, but she fully identifies as a woman.
Inclusivity in pageantry
Before Dela Cerna's win, Mapua's pageants were strict about candidates being "naturally born women/men." Fortunately, Ryan Leonardo, an organizer of the event, adjusted the old policies so they could finally include transgender participants.
Winning the pageant in the Makati campus, while a huge achievement, also led to a second and bigger challenge for Dela Cerna. This meant she had to compete in the next and larger Mapua pageant, Mr and Ms Cardinals, where department winners from both the Makati and Intramuros campuses would face off.
She had actually considered withdrawing from Ms and Ms Cardinals, as she had since received criticism and doubt from her community because she was not a biological female.
Mark Garcia, Dela Cerna's escort-partner in the original pageant, admitted that Dela Cerna had several naysayers.
"May mga naiinis. Bakit raw pinasali si Jek. Hindi daw dapat," said Garcia. (There were people who were pissed. They asked why they allowed Jek to join.They said that wasn't right.)
Nevertheless, Dela Cerna pushed through with the second pageant, furthering her message of gender inclusivity and equal rights for the LGBT to an even larger audience.
"Deserve ko 'to," she said. "Alam ko sa sarili ko na babae ako."(I deserve this. I know in my heart that I am a woman.) It's not just a fight for my department. It's not just to represent Mapua Makati. I am representing the LGBT community of our university."
Dela Cerna ended up not placing in the second pageant, but her presence alone was a triumph in itself.
Battles and victories
When it comes down to it, Dela Cerna's pageant win was nothing compared to the victories she won growing up, being subject to much physical and verbal abuse because of her gender.
"I come from a very religious and conservative family," she shared. "Nu'ng lumalaki ako, pinapa-join talaga ako sa mga religious organizations. One time, pinag-pray over nila ako kasi raw demonyo daw ako, salot daw ako."
(I come from a very religious and conservative family. While I was growing up, I was really made to join religious organizations. One time, members of an organization even prayed over me because they said that I was a demon and a plague.)
Dela Cerna also has battles against herself because of gender dysphoria. Individuals who have this feel strongly that their assigned physical gender does not match with the gender with which they identify.
"Every time I see my genitalia, nandidiri ako sobra. Tapos hindi talaga siya nagfu-function, for urinating lang." (Every time I see my genitalia, I am incredibly disgusted by it. And it doesn't really function properly; it's just for urinating.)
However, she has informed medical professionals and loved ones regarding her state, and is working on her issues.
Dela Cerna, fortunately, is not alone in her fight. Her mother, for one, had her back and acted as a shield.
"Tanggap naman ni Mommy na transgender ako. Pinagtatanggol niya ako and tanggap niya 'yung boyfriend ko." (My mom accepts that I am transgender. She always defends me and also accepts my boyfriend.)
Her classmates also defend her when she gets into trouble at school.
"One time, reporting namin so corporate attire. We were not allowed to report dahil 'yung suot ko daw hindi panlalaki. Bakit daw ako nakapambabae, sabi ng professor ko," she shared. (One time, we had to do a report so we had to wear corporate attire. We were not allowed to report because I wasn't wearing guy’s clothes. The professor asked why was I wearing women’s clothes.)
Her classmates defended her, explaining that she was a woman to begin with. The day after, her professor sent her a private message, apologizing for the incident.
The LGBT clearly still struggles for acceptance, but Dela Cerna is committed to pushing for her community's rights.
"We should accept people as what they prefer to be," she said. "Acceptance should start not just because it is the 'demand' of society, but because it is a basic right of a human person." - Rappler.com
Ella Aquino is a Rappler intern from Mapua University.
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